Through the first 10 games of the NBA regular season the Phoenix Suns have blown it more than... okay, I won't go there, but this team can't close a window right now! Youth and inexperience have combined to create the ultimate equalizer for passion and, here comes a nasty word that the D-backs are fond of, grit. Grit puts you in a position to win, skill gets it done. While highly entertaining, which is what I wanted them to be, this team has quickly found a way to also be highly frustrating, which I predicted in a previous article (see Welcome back, Phoenix Suns). While some growing pains are to be expected for the 2nd most inexperienced team in the NBA, it is increasingly heartbreaking to watch this team continue to fold like a bad poker hand every time the last 3 minutes of the 4th quarter roll around. Granted, they are the only team in the NBA to hold a lead in the 4th quarter of every game this season and all 5 losses have been extremely close to mostly playoff-caliber, if not championship-caliber teams, not counting the Kings, of course. That said, can we claim moral victory in all 5 of these losses and proclaim the Suns undefeated? Can we argue that the lessons learned and experience gained in each of those losses was worth a tally in the "L" column and possibly a few more ping-pong balls in the upcoming draft lottery? In a word, no.
There are no moral victories in sports
Yes, the Suns are learning a lot in every game that they play. But it is possible that they are learning how to lose a little too well. The last thing you want as a young team is to develop a habit of losing in such excruciatingly close fashion. Youth brings a fire and energy that is putting them in these positions with a chance to win. That same youth brings inexperience and anxiety in big moments, which leads to bad decisions, which lead to turnovers and missed shots and defensive lapses, which lead to big, fat, painful losses. We can find a positive in every loss, as we can find a criticism in every win, but there has to come a point where we stop sugarcoating it and admit that this early trend has become a bit irritating and troubling. Irritating because this team has already forced me to care way more than I planned to this season and troubling because I don't want these young players getting used to losing this way. Fun isn't so fun when you get all the way to the end and can't finish it off, just ask Buffalo Bills fans.
Stats gone crazy
As previously stated, the Suns are the only team in the league to have held a 4th quarter lead in every game so far this season. According to espn.com they rank 26th in the league with 17.4 turnovers per game. According to me they rank 1st in the league with 5 gut-wrenching losses. In 4 of those losses they have been without either Goran Dragic or Eric Bledsoe. The Suns have lost 5 games by a total of 16 points (that's 3.2 per game for those of you who struggle with math). They have lost on a Sunday, a Tuesday, a Wednesday (twice) and a Friday. They have lost all 5 games in which they allowed more points than they scored. Alex Len played 5 underwhelming minutes Tuesday night in Sacramento. His line? 0 pts on 0-1 shooting (and it was a horrible shot that was obviously a forced attempt to get him involved), 0 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 2 knee braces and 2 ankle braces.
Alex Len tangent time
I didn't like this draft pick. A thin big man with bad wheels at such a young age has very little chance of having an impactful career in the NBA. While we haven't seen much of Alex Len so far this season he has given me plenty to worry about. I don't think McLemore was a good fit for this team, but maybe a trade down or a Michael Carter-Williams would have been a better choice? It's way too early to call Len a bust because we haven't seen him play, but I wonder if we ever will. He just doesn't look athletic at all when he is on the floor, probably because he has bear traps for ankles. If he gets healthy, I wonder what he can really offer this team. So far this is the only McDonough move that I don't heartily approve of.
The Goodwin news
Archie Goodwin really stood out for the first time all season against the Kings. At times he still looked like a lost puppy, but he also had a stretch in the 2nd quarter during which he displayed his potential and gave us a glimpse of what he might be able to do once he matures and gets over the rookie jitters. He showed great defensive instincts on consecutive steals for fast break dunks and he led the team with at least 4 exuberant outbursts during the game. There's something great about watching a kid smile and show how happy he is when he makes a big play rather than take on the "Jason Terry-face" that so many players now put on after hitting a big shot. Whatever happened to being happy when you win like MJ used to be? Instead now we have guys pounding their chests and mean-mugging like victory isn't as important as being "the man."
All tangents aside, my point here is that while there are some valuable learning experiences to be extrapolated from all of these games we shouldn't be fooling ourselves as fans. These are not "feel-good" losses. They hurt. There is no "we would/could/should be 10-0." The reality is we're 5-5 with 3 really bad implosions under our belts. Will it get better? We'll have to wait and see. A good indicator will be how this team comes out against the same Sacramento team that embarassed them last night. I'll be looking for the Suns to win their first laugher of the season tonight. I could use a blowout.