Every week we are learning more and more about the Phoenix Suns (18-11) as they continue to evolve in different ways right before our eyes. They are not the bottom feeder most thought they would be three months ago. They are not Championship contenders that the bandwagon drivers might proclaim. Just calling it like it is; they are one of the best 5-8 teams in the Western Conference.
As the pendulum swings and the season grows long it will become more apparent whether they are closer to the No. 5 seed or the No. 8 seed.
One thing is for certain so far this season and that is the coaching staff is coaching them like they have something to prove every night and because of that they are able to avoid jumping the shark.
They took care of business against two teams they should beat, which was not the case just a few weeks ago, and are getting respect from the other teams in the league. At the beginning of the season teams thought of the Suns as an easy win, but now they are preparing for them like other playoff teams and giving them their best shot. That is what happens when you are a good team. The target is on your back.
That has become evident with the recent defensive production.
Early in the season the team was respectable on the defensive end, but ironically they were not winning at the current they are with the defense under-performing. Defense wins Championships is not a common expression without reason. Every team that wins at the highest level has the ability to make multiple stops down the stretch of important games to win.
Recently they have struggled to get stops and on the other hand teams are struggling to stop them. The team is relying on a strong offense that is potent with the eight best overall shooting team (46.1%), the tenth best three-point shooting team (37.3%), and scoring 103.6 points per game good for 10th in the NBA today.
They have the ninth best pace (97.9) and offensive rating (105.6) on the season as well. This is not the Seven Seconds or Less Suns, but they are lethal in their own right forcing teams out of their game-plans to try and outscore them.
Will the offense be enough to remain a Top 5-6 team in the deep, tough Western Conference? Time will tell, but the defense is not something to be ignored. One way or another it will play a factor in how long the Suns will be able to play at this high of a quality.
Defense was never the foundation of this team, but it has been one of the ways they were winning games early in the season. As of late they are showing some chinks in the armor giving up 100+ points in seven of the past nine games. It has not hindered their winning ways as they have won seven out of the last nine games, but being one dimensional has never been a recipe for late season or post-season success. The exclamation point was added on when the Warriors dropped 115 points on them, a season high, in a season worst 29 point blowout loss.
Quote of the Week
We tried that before and it didn't work," Coach Jeff Hornacek on the team trying to sleepwalk through bad teams. They did not do that this week.
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 (15-15) -- No. 14 Overall (Pick stays in Minnesota based on Protections) Here the T-Wolves address their shooting void on the perimeter and add in a player in James Young, freshman Kentucky, that can score points in bunches.
Washington Wizards (13-14) -- No. 19 Overall (Pick goes to Phoenix based on Protections) Adreian Payne, senior Michigan State, is one of the better stretch-four prospects that have come along in a while. He took longer to develop than others, but he can shoot, defend, block shots, and has improved as a post scorer on the block.
Phoenix Suns (18-11) -- No. 23 Overall (Pick stays in Phoenix based on Protections) With their own pick the Suns add another raw athletic talent on the perimeter in UCLA freshman Zach LaVine. He has been one of the most exciting prospects in the open court and has just scratched the surface as an all-around offensive weapon.
Indiana Pacers (22-5) -- No. 29 Overall (Pick goes to Phoenix based on Protections) Draft and stash here. Too many young fellas on the roster as is so Serbian point guard Vasilije Micic fits the bill. Tough, pass-first point guard that plays the game the right way.
Keep following along here to get updates and information on the 2014 NBA Draft Class and more.
News & Notes
- Miles Plumlee had a career-high 20 rebounds to start the week and ended the week with a career-high with 22 points
- The Suns are leading the league in fast-break points scored and have the largest margin between 1st and 2nd (1.6) since 2009
Previewing the Week Ahead:
Monday, December 30th @ Los Angeles Clippers (21-11)
Thursday, January 2nd vs. Memphis Grizzlies (13-16)
Saturday, January 4th vs. Milwaukee Bucks (6-24)
This week provides a good challenge for the Suns as they play the Division leading Clippers and their high powered offense for the first time. A win over the Clippers puts the Suns .03% behind them for the lead in the Pacific Division and just one full game behind them in the standings. Pretty amazing considering the pre-season expectations. Their offense is so potent when it is clicking because of the ability to distribute the ball and carve up a defense. They are 4th in the NBA in assists per game, primarily because of Chris Paul, and can dissect a defense with their passing.
With the way the Suns have been playing defense as of late they will need a better sense of discipline and execution on that end of the floor.
While the Grizzlies are not the Grizzlies of last year, they are still one of the more stingy points allowed defenses in the league giving up 97.3 points per game (6th best) even thought the rest of the statistics do not back them up. They are average on the glass, average defending the three-point line, and average defending field goal attempts in general. While they are three games under .500 they are not one of the "teams they should beat" on the surface.
...then there are the Bucks. At the very least Giannis Antetokounmpo will be fun to watch.