When things go the unexpected route in professional wrestling it is designated as a "swerve" in which they made you look right, and all the while were moon-walking to the left. That feels appropriate to what the Phoenix Suns (2-1) have done to start the season.
Most projections, rightfully so, had the Suns as a bottom five team with no real shot at winning anything other than a lottery.
The reality of the team is likely somewhere between their undefeated start and the projection to finish near the bottom. Anyway you slice it the team has kicked their critics through the proverbial Barber Shop Window, shed the perception of them, and have proven to be show-stoppers in terms of excitement. Who would have known?
Twenty-Third Topic: What does a 2-1 start feel like?
1. Breaking the Ice: The team has been saying all along that they are not trying to lose games on purpose. It seems that their first two opponents are not playing along with the theory that the Suns are supposed to be one of the worst teams in the NBA; thoughts?
Jim Coughenour: We are still in the inchoate stages of this season. Maybe some teams tend to somnambulate through the preseason and underestimate these upstart squads who have everything to prove after being insulted and discounted leading up to the season. These less talented squads come in with voracious appetites. They are hungrier than some of the teams that are ultimately better than them. Maybe. We've all heard of the dead coach bounce. Maybe this is the dead season bounce. Like I referenced in my Pelicans game preview, the Bobcats were 7-5 last season before ending up 21-61. Maybe.
Jacob Padilla: I've been pleasantly surprised by the way the team has played early on. They have taken several strides forward from last season, and Jeff Hornacek has done a terrific job so far. This team is better than I thought. However, it's still a shallow team and I'm not convinced Miles Plumlee is a double-double machine. If this team is without either Eric Bledsoe or Goran Dragic, they are going to have a difficult time trying to win.
Dave King: GMs set up a team to win, tank or ride the fence. Players and coaches, on the other hand, try to win. All the time. It's way too early to take these indications as indicative of how the rest of the season plays out, but you can see what a difference attitude, spirit and trust makes with the performance of a team. Last year's team was more talented than 25-57 but the front office eroded the team's spirit. This year's team is arguably less talented than last year, but may do better this season because they believe in the same cause.
Kris Habbas: If Miles Plumlee played to his reputation (13 points 22 rebounds 3 blocks in 14 games, 55 total minutes) rather than the super-version of that (31 points 33 rebounds 7 blocks in 3 games, 99 total minutes) then maybe this would be a different conversation. Eric Bledsoe and the rest of the team have statistically and stylistically played to my expectation. That is the big difference.
Sreekar Jasthi: Did Jim just use the word "somnambulate?" I'm just going to use this opportunity to help our poor readers out - somnambulate: to walk or perform another act while asleep or in a sleep-like condition.
Sean Sullivan: It's still early, and I wouldn't get your hopes up too high that this Suns team will continue their winning ways. That said, I believed all along that this team would be better than people were giving them credit for. I still think they'll be "bad", in the sense that they will lose more games than they win and end up with a lottery pick, but I don't see them losing on purpose or being completely non-competitive either.
2. Is this Eric Bledsoe's team?
JP: Not exclusively, no. Both he and Goran Dragic have stepped up at different times and had big games and clutch moments for the team. They are the captain and they are the best players, This team will only go as far as DeagonBlade takes them.
DK: I think it's a lot more Bledsoe's team than most of us thought. Dragic may still be the better player, but Bledsoe is the better long-term talent. I don't see Bledsoe getting traded or let go with the way he's playing. He plays both ends of the court very well and while he has some holes he's got a lot of skills that few players in the NBA can match.
KH: Short answer yes, long answer, ask me after the trade deadline. This is his team as long as he is on it and so far this season he has done a great job of transforming into an alpha. Bledsoe can be an alpha for max money on a different team or for market value here, so again, ask me this after the trade deadline.
SJ: I still want to say that it's only half-Bledsoe's team. Yes, he's done a great job through three games of establishing his grip on this team but I still think Dragic will deserve a lot of the control. There is a reason Hornacek appointed both of them as co-captains. Everything starts and ends with DragonBlade.
SS: I think they (coaching staff and front office) wants it to be, but I don't see it yet. When I heard they made both Dragic and Bledsoe co-captains, to me that seemed a bit forced. Now I haven't been out to practices so maybe I'm wrong, maybe Bledsoe is a leader on the court when the cameras aren't on him. But from what I've seen, this is still Dragic's team. He is the heart and sole of the Suns, and the face of the franchise, at least for now. Although he's taken games over in the fourth, and already hit a huge game-winning shot, Bledsoe still feels like a hired gun at the moment, while Dragic seems to be fully invested in this franchise. That may change over time, but that's the way I see it now.
JC: As of right now Eric Bledsoe seems to have claimed that role. I tend to think he's playing a little bit over his heels right now (small sample size disclaimer), but one could also point out that he could easily improve by working on things such as incessant over-dribbling and poor (at times) shot selection. I'm still not sure who the real EB is... To be difficult, though, I think this is really Hornacek's team. I think he has more staying power than any of the veterans on the team right now. They are all more of assets, while I think there's some stability in terms of him as the head coach.
3. Who has been the most impressive player for you so far? There are a few candidates to say the least...
DK: I'll say Plumlee. As Ford puts it, Plumlee has only had FIVE double-doubles in 5+ years since high school, yet two of those were in the last seven calendar days. Maybe it's just been a product of minutes - he's also never played this many minutes. I can't remember the last time someone consistently became a much better player in the NBA than in college, but it's quite possible we have that in Plumlee. He score from the post with either hand and actively deter shots while rebounding the ball on the other. But best of all, to me, his body angle is always leaning toward the basket. He has a good nose for where to be.
KH: Going to step outside the box here and talk about Gerald Green. He is one of the most talented players I have ever seen practice and play in a non-game setting. So far this season Green has been a steady offensive player off the bench, not doing much the first two games, but exploding off the bench in Oklahoma City. There will be games this season where he earns a DNP-Coach's Decision and others where he gravitates towards a big shooting (and scoring) night.
SJ: I have to go with Bledsoe here. I might have considered Plumlee but he really crashed back down to earth against the Thunder (for what it's worth, I still think he'll be a nice surprise this season). Bledsoe has had his share of problems with efficiency (shooting percentages and turnovers) but he really has taken control of this team and at least so far has been the primary catalyst for the team's success. That game-winner was fantastic, but Bledsoe also single-handedly kept the Suns in the game against OKC after Dragic got hurt.
SS: Plumlee, just based on the difference he's made. Without Plumlee, the Suns are a different team, as was evident from his offensive absence against OKC. When Plumlee is playing to the best of his abilities, he's a game changer. We know what we have with Dragic, we had a good idea what Bledsoe would bring, but I think Plumlee is our x-factor. I've been thoroughly impressed with everything he's done in his short time on the Suns.
JC: MCW. Carter-Williams has been phenomenal. Four games into his NBA career he's averaging 21 points, nine assists, five rebounds and four steals per game. Oh, wait... you probably were implicitly requesting a nominee from the Suns. I'll go with Bledsoe. That game winner was filthy. I think I heard something about it being his first ever...? I'm assuming that's just at this level...
JP: Eric Bledsoe has put up huge numbers. Gerald Green hasn't been awful. Miles Plumlee looks like a competent NBA player who can actually make a positive contribution. That is all surprising to some extent. but I'll go with the "What have you done for me lately?" answer with Channing Frye. Fyre was terrific in the last game against the Thunder, hitting threes, scoring in the post and even hitting a jumper off the dribble. Frye has started every game and has played a significant amount of minutes. Not bad for a guy who sat out all of last year.
4. With that, who has been the least impressive for you? Again, there are a few candidates...
KH: Going back to the Center of the Sun where just about everyone predicted that Markieff Morris would be a major disappointment, I am going to go with Markieff Morris. One game he was suspended, the next two he scored a total of 12 points and grabbed 9 rebounds as a power forward. With the play of Channing Frye early on this season it seems like another Lance Blanks lottery pick is on the way out of the rotation, or the team in general.
SJ: Yeah....the Morri. Everyone else will discuss plenty about their shortcomings thus far so I'll save myself the trouble.
SS: Hate to jump on the bandwagon, but the Morri it is. I may have said Gerald Green before his game against the Thunder, but the Morri have been consistently unimpressive. Even in game one in which Marcus hit some shots for Phoenix, he still took far too many bad ones and hurt the team.
JC: Marcus and Markieff have played like dogs. Good thing the Suns just picked up their options. Hopefully they can both turn it around (types Jim while not holding his breath), because right now they're both being outplayed by Dionte Christmas.
JP: The Morri. My goodness have they been bad.
DK: I'm going to say Archie Goodwin. Not because I expected a lot - he's a 19 year old rookie who shouldn't be able to take over the NBA by any stretch. He is playing like a #29 pick in the Draft. Yet, after summer league I guess I expected more than this. I expected Archie to already be impressing us in the few minutes he plays. It's a long season, so I will be patient.
5. What does this start say about the talent evaluator Ryan McDonough is and the coach that Jeff Hornacek is becoming?
SJ: Tough to draw conclusions just yet but I'm still huge fans for McDonough and Hornacek. I love the moves the former has made (regardless of the results on the court this season) and I admire the latter's demeanor, intelligence and affinity for fast-paced basketball.
SS: Their a perfect match. I really like them both, and they have each exceeded my expectations thus far. The only thing I'm not totally convinced on yet is the drafting ability of McDonough. We'll have to see how Len and Goodwin shake out first. I'm not expecting much from them this season, and I view them both as long-term investments, as I'm sure McDonough did when he drafted them. But we'll still need to see how much they can progress, and we won't know that for at least another season.
JC: Nothing. Too small of a sample size. I think the totality of the off-season moves lead me to believe that Ryan is going to be a great GM, but it's probably going to be a long time before his talent evaluation skills can be fairly assessed. E.g. what are Len and Goodwin doing in 3-5 years, how is the 2014 pick working out 3-5 years from then, etc. Same thing with Hornacek. Sure he's like 158-1 including all the summer league, pre-season and regular season games... plus half court shooting contests in practices, but this team is going to face some adversity and growing pains. Let's see how he comes out on the other side.
JP: I'm already sculpting their statues to place outside U.S. Airways Center. Seriously though, Ryan McDonough has made some big-time moves that have improved the Suns now and in the future,. I've loved the way Hornacek has gotten this team to play. They are playing hard and together on both ends of the court; something we didn't see much of last year. Plus, P.J. Tucker's shot is looking darn good, an I'm sure Hornacek had a lot to do with that.
DK: This start says that the Suns hired the right guys. McDonough is a serious candidate for Executive of the Year, while Hornacek coaches like he's Jerry Sloan merged with Cotton Fitzsimmons. These guys know what they're doing and everyone believes in them. The Suns will be better, faster because of these guys and we can only sit here and enjoy it. Unless, of course, we start arguing over whether they deserve max contracts. Then the weaknesses will be exposed quick.
KH: Demeanor is the main takeaway so far. Both the General Manager and Head Coach are poised, well spoken, and have done a great job of managing this young roster. They have made every step in stride and have yet to misstep so far, when they do, it will be a moment that will be shocking to all. But, because of the way they have been with the fans, the media, and overall they have the cache in a handful of months that Lance Blanks was unable to create in three years.
BONUS: In any way are you disappointed that the team is two wins better than most people thought they would be?
SS: Not at all. The Suns have enough draft picks next year that they can get a great haul no matter where they end up in the standings. Give me a fun to watch, competitive team any day over a boring team that's only out to lose games and get a high draft pick. Now if they can be competitive, fun to watch, and still manage a high draft pick....that would be the best of both worlds.
JC: I picked them to win 16 games and they're only one win better than I thought they would be. I think Portland is somewhere between 9-12 in the West and Utah is 14th. They should split a pair of home games against teams that bad. What bodes ominously for my win total is some of the individual performances and signs of potential in players on the roster. I still think that they can win some more this month since the only teams they play are Portland, Utah and Sacramento (or at least it's going to feel that way by the end of the month), but eventually the losses are going to pile up. Injuries and trades, which I factored into my prediction of doom, are also still a possibility. Not disappointed at all. The wins and losses are what they are. I will say that I was pleasantly surprised that the team played as well as they did. Good for them and the cheering fans.
JP: Not at all. These guys have been a ton of fun to watch and root for so far. I've enjoyed watching them do their thing. That being said, this team can still lose plenty of games. The Suns were going to win more than two games this year no matter what.
DK: Absolutely not. This is fun. If the Suns win 35-45 games, I might feel a tinge of dissatisfaction that they "missed" their chance at a franchise player on a really cheap contract for many years. But that's a long way off.
KH: Oh no, there are 82 games in a season and eventually the Suns will come down to earth as the scouting reports and information on them becomes more readily available for opponents. The worst team in the NBA rarely "earns" the top pick in the draft so if the Suns finish between 4-6 instead of between 1-2 they have a good chance of nabbing one of the top prospects in the upcoming draft. Silver linings.
SJ: Nope. I was VERY glad to see the Suns start out the season strong and really play with a lot of heart and hustle. There are still 79 games left and anything can happen so I'll just strap in for the ride and hope the roller-coaster of a season leads to anywhere but a 35-win season and a late lottery pick.
Bright Siders, what do you think?