Center of the Sun: What a week from Fisticuffs, to Alex Len, all the way to Ish Smith as the Phoenix Suns remain afloat in the Western Conference

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sport

Time to recap the week that was with quotes, stats, a 2014 NBA Draft Update, a preview of the week ahead, and much more as we get to the Center of the Sun...

It is a difficult task to think back in recent years of a team that was a playoff contender, but had so many different barometers on whether they will win or lose a game. This years Phoenix Suns (23-17) are one of those teams. Sure, Goran Dragic is the man at the moment, but subtract any other player and this team could free-fall.

Game Recaps

@ New York Knicks - L (96-98 OT) Full Recap

vs. Los Angeles Lakers - W (121-114) Full Recap

vs. Dallas Mavericks - L (107-110) Full Recap

vs. Denver Nuggets - W (117-103) Full Recap

So far this season Channing Frye has won games with his shooting, Miles Plumlee with his energy, Gerald Green with his scoring in bunches, Ish Smith while lampooning a starter, and Markieff Morris with his efficiency.

The other names not mentioned are the obvious ones.

Obviously Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe have won games with their overall games and talent.

Obviously P.J. Tucker has won games with his toughness and workman's like mentality.

For this team the sum of the parts is the most important strength that they have. They may not fold like a house of cards if just one is removed, but they play a team brand of basketball that is conducive of having all the parts (or at least most of them) humming together.

This week was a prime example of that as the team was disjointed and a wreck in New York, which couldn't be salvaged despite overtime and the great play of Leandro Barbosa down the stretch.

Against the Lakers Markieff stepped up and against the Nuggets both Smith and Len played a major role.

"Next Man Up," is an old philosophy, but the Suns seem to have embraced that with this roster. Look at Smith when he is checking out of a game. Disappointed he is not closing when he is playing great. Coach Hornacek routinely has to give him a smile, pat on the back, and let him know he did his part. Everyone wants to close and the even more important revelation -- everyone feels like they can close.

That is a dangerous game that can create the biggest surprise in the NBA and the story of the year for the first half of the season, but also can create a house of cards. Through 40 games they have yet to fall over...

Key Stat

7.3 Minutes Per Game

Other than the overtime loss to the Knicks, rookie Alex Len played in every game this week and looked pretty good in each. He did not explode for greatness like Michael Carter-Williams then again he did not fall on his face like Anthony Bennett either. He was steady, rebounded, scored around the basket, and the Suns won two of the three games. Everyone on the roster and in the front office has spoke nothing but praise for the rookie as he is getting healthier and stronger every day to make a full capacity effort when he plays. He had a career-high nine points against the Nuggets and looked good doing so. Head Coach Jeff Hornacek is playing the Alex Len Card well so far. A very important card for this team to have.

Quote of the Week

"It was huge. Anytime we can get the bench that many minutes, especially Alex Len who missed the beginning of the season is awesome. I thought he did well. He is learning. He is bigger than I think people think.... He is tall. He is long. He is so long and tall that he is really another addition to our team. I think Alex, eventually, once he gets things going can play the four. I think you are seeing simple Alex." - Channing Frye

2014 NBA Draft Update

Surrogate Watch continues and the Suns have three first round picks with the current projections, none of which are in the lottery. A slight change of pace from pre-season projections. Here is the update on how the three picks look right now:

Minnesota Timberwolves (19-21) -- No. 12 Overall (Pick stays in Minnesota based on Protections) James Young, Freshman Wing Kentucky -- Same song and dance, the Wolves need shooting on the perimeter and Young is Michael Redd with a touch more athleticism.

Washington Wizards (19-20) -- No. 17 Overall (Pick goes to Phoenix based on Protections) Sam Dekker, Sophomore Forward Wisconsin -- Athletic, skilled, and can shot the ball. Dekker plays a smart, tough brand of basketball as well. Could be a Chandler Parsons type.

Phoenix Suns (23-17) -- No. 22 Overall (Pick stays in Phoenix based on Protections) Jabari Bird, Freshman Wing California -- We all know how the Suns new talent evaluaters like athletes that can play both ways on the court. Bird is not dominating at Cal, but fits that mold as an athletic two-way player with three-point range.

Indiana Pacers (32-7) -- No. 30 Overall (Pick goes to Phoenix based on Protections) Jordan Clarkson, Junior Guard Missouri -- A bit of a combo guard, but with a great first step, great size, and a vastly improved jump-shot Clarkson could be valuable in case the Suns lose either (or both) Eric Bledsoe or Ish Smith this summer.

Keep following along here to get updates and information on the 2014 NBA Draft Class and more.

News & Notes

  • Alex Len notched his career-high in minutes (16) and points (9) this week against the Denver Nuggets
  • Leandro Barbosa signed another 10-Day Contract through January 28th
  • Alex Len and Marcus Morris were fined a combined $40,000 for their roles in the altercation with Nick Young, who was suspended one game

Suns History Lesson

This week in Suns History: January 26th, 1995 -- Former Suns player Grant Hill became the FIRST rookie to lead the NBA in All-Star Votes received.

Previewing the Week Ahead:

Wednesday, January 22nd vs. Indiana Pacers (32-7)

Friday, January 24th vs. Washington Wizards (19-20)

Sunday, January 26th @ Cleveland Cavaliers (15-25)

The long road trip ended last week and the long home stand ends this week against the best team in the NBA and one of those surrogates. This week is a "Welcome Back edition of Suns basketball as you were gone before we knew you Luis, Luis Scola returns to Phoenix for the first time since he was traded to the Pacers over the summer. Scola is back to being efficient, rebounding, and has adapted better to a bench role on a contender than he did here in Phoenix. The Pacers are the leagues best team for a reason. They are No. 1 in every defensive category from shooting percentage (FG, 3PT, 2PT), defensive rebounds, assists against, and points allowed. They get after teams on the defensive end and will know well the skill level of Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee.

Marcin Gortat also returns to Phoenix for the first time, but after 182 games with the Suns (139 as a starter) how will the Suns react to the Polish Hammer?

The Wizards foul a ton so an attacking, aggressive Suns team could put a lot of pressure on them scoring easy buckets at the foul line. They will need Goran Dragic and company to play inside and tap into that weakness all game. John Wall is having a career year, but if he and Dragic simply cancel each other out the Suns have the better coached team primed for a victory.

Then are the Cavaliers who are still the Cavaliers, outside of the Luol Deng addition (18.4 points 4.0 rebounds in five games), they are still an iso offense that can fall into funks. They shoot the ball poorly from mid-range to the three and seem to settle for a lot of those shots throughout the course of a game. They also cannot finish at the rim, but that is another story.

I can see a 2-1 week if the Suns are focused and aggressive from Dragic to Kravtsov.

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