First off, this post should be taken with a grain of salt due to the number of games played so far. The 2013-2014 NBA season’s still a very young one, but the Suns have had an interesting start to say the least.
This Phoenix Suns team (3-2) has shown no signs of "tanking" so far, which is surprising due to the number of reports and analysts’ claiming it is the best route for them ever since the off-season. After all, it makes nothing but sense for them to tank, right? This is speculated to be the most talent-laden draft in recent history, which has been made evident from the number of teams making the "tanking" type moves during the summer.
Here's how and why this Phoenix Suns team has torched the "tanking talk" so far this season.
Eric Bledsoe is everything Suns fans had hoped for, and more. Through the first 5 games of the season, the 6 foot 1 inch guard from Kentucky is averaging a stat line of 22.8 points per game, 5.8 rebounds per game, and 7.8 assists per game. This is a solid stat line, but it gets better. Via Basketball-Reference, Bledsoe has a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 26.1, which ranks him in the top 15 out of the entire league. Considering Chicago's Derrick Rose's career-high PER is 23.1, the intrigue should be peaked at this point. Just exactly who has Bledsoe burned, though, to get these numbers?
The Suns opened with a win against last year’s rookie of the Year Damian Lillard and two-time all-star LaMarcus Aldridge’s Portland Trailblazers. The second win came against the Utah Jazz, in which Bledsoe hit a game winning three-pointer. The third game was a 7 point loss to Kevin Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder, but Phoenix was winning the game until Goran Dragic went out with a sprained ankle. The fourth game showcased a comeback win against Jrue Holliday and Anthony Davis’s New Orleans Pelicans. Finally, the fifth game was against the oh-so-familiar San Antonio Spurs, in which Bledsoe completely hounded Tony Parker on the defensive end by limiting Parker to only 1 made shot through ought the first 3 quarters. The kid can score, handle the ball, pass, play defense, and could even be a better rebounder than Boston's Rajon Rondo. Fans should be completely sold, so far, on Eric Bledsoe this season.
Again, 5 games is a small sample size. For a fan-base that is still hung-over from the Steve Nash- Mike D'Antoni glory days, though, the sighting of a top-tier guard is too much to not get hyped over. The Eric Bledsoe for Jared Dudley and Caron Butler trade certainly seems to be panning out just fine so far. The most important aspect to Eric Bledsoe’s season, though, is he will become a restricted free agent come next off-season. This means teams will evaluate his play all season to determine what he’s worth financially. Every game he plays well, team management all around the league will value Bledsoe higher. He's essentially playing for his future right now, and he's made it obvious he wants that max contract.
Defense? Yes, the Suns are actually staying competitive in games with their defense this season. According to ESPN, Phoenix is currently 5th in the league in defensive efficiency, and the team is only allowing 94.9 PPG through 5 games. This is a crucial statistic considering the teams who the Suns have played during this stretch of 5 games. After only losing to the Thunder by 7 points, and to the Spurs by 3, this team is only 10 points away from being 5-0. Being almost undefeated, by no means, is tanking at all.
Phoenix’s roster is full of kids with a chip on their shoulder. The Suns are loaded with athleticism, 3 point shooters, hustlers on defense, and they have a coach in Jeff Hornacek who knows a thing or two about a well-run offense. Remember, this is a team the experts originally predicted to be the 2nd-worst team of the 2013-14 season. With literally nowhere to go but up, the Suns have soared so far.
What's the Point of Not Tanking? Again, this is a small sample size, but through 5 games the Suns have looked like a playoff team. Is Phoenix a title contender, or even a conference contender? No, but so far the Suns look like a team only missing one piece to the puzzle. If this team isn't going to tank, what Phoenix is going to do is make a statement. At this rate, the Suns are showing the 2014 Free Agents will have the option to do what the Warriors did this past summer, which should be fine by all accounts of the Phoenix fan base.
If this Suns team manages to make the 7th or 8th seed in the playoffs, which is totally doable, then the worst outcome is showing free agents how close Phoenix is to building a high-caliber roster. If Phoenix ends up meeting everyone’s original expectations, though, then the Suns just have to build a team through draft picks and cap space. This whole season is about meeting or exceeding expectations, and the "meeting" is just too hard to do if you're a young, competitive team in this league. The Suns will compete in every game this season. No one, not even the contenders, will be able to mark Phoenix down as an automatic win on their schedule. Phoenix is going to play with tempo, play aggressive on both ends, and come out every night with nothing to lose because they've already been written off. This team will beat you, and will do it in multiple ways.
Suns fans, rejoice. Win or lose, this team is one to watch. This roster will play their hearts regardless of what the team’s record is. The future is bright in Phoenix, which is a beautiful thing to see after the past few seasons. Hopefully the fan base returns the favor by watching this team prosper through thick, and thin.