Hey, we're 16 games into the season, which means it's time for our not quite 20% check-in. Again, I'm reserving a lot of make or break judgment until we're at Gentry's suggested 25-game mark for evaulating the team (Hint: we might make kind of a big deal about that around here.). For now though, here's the good, the bad and the ugly of your Phoenix Suns. (NOTE: All stats pulled from ESPN.com and HoopsData.com.)
- I'm starting with the ugliest point so we can move on to happier things: the Suns' defense is terrible. Some numbers: 21st in defensive efficiency, 26th in points per game, 22nd in opponents' eFG% (a stat that combines and weights 2 and 3 point shot percentage), and 20th in opponents' turnovers. Contrary to popular belief, this Suns squad is not playing anything remotely approaching good defense.
- So how on earth are they blowing teams out of the water? By playing ridiculously good offense. They are quite simply out-shooting their opponents. Some more numbers: 1st in offensive efficiency, 1st in points per game,and 1st in eFG%. In other words, the Suns' offense has been so good it hasn't mattered how bad their defense has been.
- Redefining defense? In light of this, it may be possible to say the Suns have played defense "good enough" to keep getting wins. However, at some point, the Suns will get slowed down (see the Lakers and Magic games) and they will have to play some tight defense. They haven't shown they can do that yet.
- The Suns' are about to get thrown in the deep end of the pool. After playing the 25th 5th easiest schedule (.450 winning percentage of teams faced) in the NBA, December brings the Suns the following games consecutively: @ Cavaliers, vs. Kings, @ Lakers, @ Mavericks, vs. Magic, @ Nuggets, vs. Spurs, @ Blazers. That's a collective .678 winning percentage.
- Also in December and not listed above are additional engagements with the Cavs, the Lakers and the Celtics. Strap on your seatbelts, Suns fans, the weather isn't the only thing that's going to get rough this winter.
- One more degree of scheduling difficulty: @Cleveland, @Lakers, @Nuggets... all on the 2nd night of back-to-backs involving travel.
- That said, remember: 25th 5th easiest schedule in the NBA so far. So, no complaining about a scheduling bias, please.
- Some good news: The Suns are sitting at 13-3 despite playing the most away games (tied with the Nets and Raptors) and 2nd fewest home games (tied with the Warriors and Bulls Wizards and Nets) in the Association. That's impressive despite their relatively weak competition so far.
- Speaking of Dragic, the kid continues to play solid minutes for the Suns. I still don't see him as a starter, but he's earning his stripes as a back-up, showing more and more moxie and not letting opposing teams rattle him. I'd like to see his assist numbers closer to 4 per game. We know he can get his shot off at this point. Now can Alvin hand him the keys to the car?
- Despite his auspicious offensive performance against Minnesota (6-6 FG, 14 pts.), I don't think we're going to see a drastic increase in "quality" minutes for Earl Clark. Despite his considerable on-ball skills, he tends to get lost on defensive rotations and switches.
- Robin Lopez sure made a heck of an impact in his first game of the season, didn't he? I like the improved offensive game, but he's still kind of a spaz on defense. It's nice that he's making shots, but he needs to work on not biting on ball fakes and picking up unnecessary fouls (4 in 15 minutes of action).
- More on Robin: At least Friday night's performance was a far cry from the last time I saw him in game action: getting positively outworked and outplayed by Hasheem Thabeet in Summer League.
- More on the offensive prowess of the Suns: 6 players from the Suns are averaging double figures and Jared Dudley is threatening to be a 7th with 9.3 points per game. Of those 6, 5 have gone for at least 20 in at least one game and a couple have gone for 30. That, ladies and gentlemen, is called forcing opponents to pick their poison.
- The Suns now officially join Boston as having a "Big 3" at the offensive end of things. Jason Richardson has turned out to be the perfect complement to, if not initiator of, the Suns offense. The Suns are 7-0 in games in which he goes for 20 or more points. Please remember that when cooking up trade scenarios involving his "fat" contract.
- More on Jason Richardson: After a rough 2008-2009 campaign on defense, J-Rich seems to have stepped up his game. He might be the Suns most reliable starting on-ball defender and hasn't been burned too many times on his help defense either. 16 games in to a season marked by consistent leadership from the bench (and on the court for that matter), it's a lot easier to why the Suns traded for him last year.
- Grant Hill is old. This is hardly news, but I think there's a reason we're seeing lots of Jared Dudley at the ends of games and it's not just because of JD's effort and hustle. Kudos to Alvin Gentry and the Suns' staff for finding a rotation that maximizes what's left of Hill's considerable talent while minimizing his exposure to the grind of NBA action so far this year.
- Suns up by 30 for most of the second half in Minnesota and Tucker doesn't see a minute? O! Alando, we hardly knew ye! Tucker was inactive for the game, due to RoLo's return.
December 6, @ Lakers; December 8, @ Dallas; Dec. 11, vs. Orlando (ESPN); Dec. 12, @ Denver; Dec. 15, vs. San Antonio; Dec. 17, @ Portland (TNT) - Another unkind stretch of schedule. Again the Suns face the 2 NBA Finalists in less than a week. Oh and the other teams in this stretch aren't exactly slouches either. It also marks the first time the Purple Gang will match up against the Matrix Reloaded version of the Dallas Mavericks and the ridiculously stacked nouveau Spurs. Which one of these games do you realistically see the Suns winning? Maybe Portland. If they can keep Brandon Roy to under 45 points that is.
- I'd like to revise that statement to hope for something around or better than the .500 mark for this stretch. The Suns have to be in order to maintain any credibility or hopes of a top 4 playoff seed.
- Career year: Channing Frye is averaging career highs in 3-point %, minutes per game, points per game, steals per game and blocks per game. He is .2 rebounds per game shy of a career high in that department as well.
- Leandro Barbosa is not averaging career lows in all those departments; it only feels like it. OK, LB doesn't deserve that, but is it just me or are his contributions feeling kind of... invisible? To be clear: I understand he's at or near his career averages in most categories. It just seems like those numbers are having less of an impact, probably due to the fact that the Suns have 3 other players they can bring off the bench for the first time in the Leandro Era.
- And, in closing: Best. Record. In. The. NBA. Enjoy it while you can.
Have at it in the comments, y'all.