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Phoenix Suns Bench Struggles With Poor Leadership From Dragic, Clippers And Blake Griffin Come To Town

What you want to see from a team after a tough loss is ability to put it behind them and move one. Young teams, teams without quality leadership and experience, let those bad games have a carryover effect. That leads to individuals doubting themselves and even worse, each other and the coaching staff. 

The Phoenix Suns don't have that problem. The mood today was loose and everyone seemed to be focused on getting back on the court tonight against the Clippers. That's not to say they are ignoring or running from the issues but as opposed to pointing fingers or making excuses, there is a culture of accountability and individual responsibility.

That starts with the coach, who took the blame for putting Nash back in the game too soon in the 4th quarter on Wednesday against the Bulls.

"To be honest with you, I still can't bring Steve back that early. It's just too much. And then on top of all that I've got him chasing (Kyle) Korver around," Gentry said.

He added that even if he's going to bring his other starters back early, he needs to leave Dragic on the floor and not bring Nash back until about the six minute mark.

"I've got to take a little responsibility for that. Maybe I overreacted a little bit. Nine minutes in the fourth quarter, I'm telling you, is too many minutes. And all of a sudden we get to an overtime and we're really screwed because it's hard to take him out of a five minute overtime so what happens is he ends up playing 18 straight minutes and that's not good."




The bench struggles, Goran's maturation process

Gentry said he meet with the bench unit today and had a little talk about what's going on. He said they know they need to play better and they are taking it upon themselves to try and do that.

The specific discussion today focused on Goran's need to develop into more of a leader.

"I'd like him to be a better leader. I don't like it when he says, 'they're not in the right spot.' I think he's got to get them in the right spots. That's a little bit tough for him to do right now, but I think he'll get to the point eventually where he'll put guys where they're supposed to be...I told him I'll back him 100 percent," Gentry said.

This is all part of the process for a young player developing into his role. Goran, who said he feels great physically, talked about what he needed to do.

"I struggled a little bit. I didn't find a rhythm, I didn't lead the team so I was on the bench. That was a coaching decision. I think so it was right decision because I did not lead the team."

Dragic says he's not having any confidence issues like in the past and isn't blaming his limited minutes. He pointed out that he's played well this season in just 10 to 15 minutes of floor time. He's focused on the mental part of the game -- in essence he's thinking too much.

"It's just in my head right now. I just have to get clear of everything and just try to play...I know I can do it, I demonstrate that in the past. That's why maybe (it's) in my head (that) right now we are playing bad and I have to find the answers why we are playing so bad."

Goran said in practice the guys know the plays but during games they've been out of position.

"Sometimes we call (the play) and three guys didn't know what we play and but two guys did. That's the main problem right now. These last two games we just didn't execute right. Nobody knows where we have to go, how the action have to go and that's the main problem." 

What we're seening is Dragic dealing with this part of the game that separates good point guards from great ones. There were two things I felt Goran needed to improve this season to move to the next level: his leadership and the ability to run the team and be "clutch" in late game situations. 

It's probably a good thing that he's dealing with the leadership stuff now and it's a great thing that he's being coached through it. He's aware of the issue and he's being supported by the staff. There's also little worry that his teammates are going to react negatively if Goran becomes more aggressive with them. Josh Childress or Jared Dudley aren't going rebel against Dragic being a floor leader like you might see on other team's without good "character" guys.

This is one of those places where you can see the tangible results of building a team with the right kind of players. This is where the culture of the Suns organization makes a difference and why this team continues to be good while other, perhaps more talented teams, struggle.

Now we have to see if Goran reacts and figures it out. I think he will. He's not going to get a chance to improve the late-game stuff until Nash is out for an extended period of time and I fully expect he will struggle with that as well until he gets more experience. But he's got the opportunity now to work on becoming a better floor leader and having more confidence in not just his own skills but his ability to direct the team. While the process might be painful and cost the team games, this is what it takes to develop young players. It's an investment.

Goran also made a point of talking about the bench unit's defensive performance and not having the same level of aggression on the defensive end which creates turnovers and opportunities for easy fast break points. 

"I think so especially we have to be more aggressive because last few games we didn't pressure full court, maybe in the past we did that, especially the second unit. I would say just to be more aggressive and just relax and play."

Clippers / The Blake Griffin Show

This will serve as your game preview tonight. For more, you can read the game preview over at SB Nation Arizona:

Phoenix Suns Black Friday Edition, Los Angeles Clippers Top Of The List - SB Nation Arizona
The Clippers still should provide the Suns with an opportunity to "get right." They are missing three of their veteran players due to injury (Chris Kaman, ankle; Randy Foye, hamstring; Baron Davis, whatever) and are starting what SB Nation's Clippers blog Clips Nation calls their "U23" lineup.

Los Angeles will likely start three rookies (Blake Griffin, Eric Bledsoe, Al-Farouq Aminu) and two second-year players (Eric Gordon, DeAndre Jordan). It's a talented lineup that can win games and give the Suns fits despite having played last night at home.  

I am absolutely thrilled to see Blake again in person. Last time I saw him was in Vegas before what should have been his rookie season and I was blown away by the set of skills and type of player he is. If you wanted to argue he's already one of the five best power forwards in the game, I wouldn't have a problem with that. I fully expect that he will be the top PF in the league within three years -- barring injury.

Griffin brings the complete package of skills on both ends of the floor and between his ears. 

Blake reminds Gentry a bit of Karl Malone and also a young Amare, "He just tries to catch it and dunk over everybody in sight. But he's an extremely hard working kid. Extremely hard working."

Back to the basket, passing, ball handling, good range that should improve over time, rebounding, leadership. I might even pick Griffin over Durant if I were doing the hypothetical "pick one player to build your franchise around" thing. I love Durant's game, but I think Griffin has more potential to impact both sides of the floor and more potential to make his team better as a leader. Durant has a few years head start, but Griffin is going to catch up.

For the Suns tonight, he will be a load. Gentry joked about how to deal with him.

"There is an ideal match up for him (Griffin) but he plays for the Cardinals. I'll get my man Double D (Darnell Dockett) out here, he'll bounce him around a little bit."

Hedo tweaked his back a bit in the Bulls game, but Gentry said he thinks he's OK, "He better be. He's got a hell of a task tonight."

Hedo will play on Griffin some but it sounds like Gentry will use Warrick on him quite a bit as well.

The Clippers will run a lot of side pick and roll with Gordon and Griffin and give Blake the ball in isolation in the low post and high post. The Suns rotations are going to have to be fantastic, and even so we can expect to see Griffin still make several incredible plays. 

Unfortunately, if I had to guess, I think it's most likely that Grant Hill could end up in a Griffin poster as he's often the one who has to rotate into the lane behind the the pick and roll. We're praying for you, Grant. Don't try and be a hero.

The good news is the Clippers are so young and with three injuries right now are not very deep. They don't defend well and unless they get hot, don't shoot the ball that well from range outside of Gordon and he's only hitting on 21% of his threes so far this season. The Clippers are 29th in the league in three-point percentage so the Suns need to just pack the lane and make them prove they can hit shots. 


Other notes and quotes

  • "It was a good Thanksgiving for them (the Bulls) because we were like the Pilgrims. We were very giving, I think." - Alvin Gentry
  • Emphasis was on playing the full 48 minutes and executing all the little things that make a difference between winning and losing close games.
  • "We leave a guy wide open under the basket because we have three guys rotating to one, those are the kind of mistakes we have to eliminate. If we're supposed to screen, we have to screen. It's just a matter of us executing the whole time."
  • Also emphasized need to protect home court. Suns are 2-3 at home this season. Gentry's strategy for a season is to win about two-thirds of your home games and about half your road games which gets you to about 50 wins. That's the goal.
  • I had a theory that Frye moving up to the starting rotation had a trickle-down effect on the bench unit. Both Gentry and Dragic shot that down.
  • Gentry talked about the Suns missing Robin Lopez: "I know he wasn't playing great at the time, but he's a guy that had size and I think that he was starting to play better."
  • "You can't use that as an excuse and we won't. We played well enough in games that if we finish or if we come up with stops or rebounds we had an opportunity to still be OK." 
  • He reiterated that Robin had only played about 10 games in 6 months and was working his way back before this knee injury. Robin was on the court with a big knee brace today. I'm sure he didn't do much but I did see him taking some jumpers but they basically were off one leg. He didn't push off the injured left leg at all.
Here's a fun read about our old pal, Amare:

Amar'e Stoudemire talking about his defense as Knicks look to extend five-game winning streak
Stoudemire doesn't argue that his reputation as a poor defensive player was well deserved and seemed to suggest that D'Antoni was indirectly responsible. "It was fair," he said. "I was never taught defense. I just never was taught it in high school and also in the NBA."

Stoudemire added that prior to his final season with the Suns "I took it upon myself to get better defensively" and that Phoenix head coach Alvin Gentry was responsible for that new outlook. "I've got to give it to Alvin Gentry," Stoudemire added. "He really implemented some strategies that were helpful to me. I took what I learned last year and carried it over to this year."

Clippers at Suns - Game Preview - Clips Nation
The kids against the fogies. The Clippers have been starting a lineup where the oldest palyer is 22 year old DeAndre Jordan. The Suns start two of the oldest players in the league in Grant Hill (38) and Steve Nash (36), and two other starters are in their 30s. Grant Hill was going to college about the time Eric Bledsoe was born.

This is a great story about that Rose reverse layup that tied the game in OT. I am not sure what else the Suns could have done here. Hill took away what they wanted to do and reacted quickly to Rose's improv but Rose is too damn fast and the pass from Noah was fantastic. Great offense always beats great defense. 

Derrick Rose Improvises Versus Suns to Send Game to Double OT -- NBA FanHouse
"Actually, I was supposed to run off," Rose said, when asked if the play was executed just as it had been drawn up. "Kyle set a screen for me, but Grant Hill was playing the top side on me, so I just cut and I was wide open." So you improvised? "Yeah," Rose continued. "[Noah] is a good passer, I'm good without the ball, and he just threw me the ball and I guess I made a good layup."

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