How will the pre-season translate to the regular season for the Phoenix Suns here in the 2014-2015 season? It is easy to dismiss the preparatory season as having little to no merit on the actual season, but there are always little (and sometimes big) things to takeaway from any competitive basketball played.
Well, last year the team went 4-2 in the pre-season and then 48-34 in the regular season.
In 2012-2013 they went 4-3 in the pre-season and then 25-57 in the regular season.
In 2011-2012 they went 0-2 (lockout season) and then 33-33 in the regular season.
@ Los Angeles Lakers - W (114-108 OT) Full Recap
@ Los Angeles Clippers - L (105-108) Full Recap
@ Utah Jazz - W (105-100) Full Recap
So the wins and losses are not an indicator of success, but there are always components that can be pulled from the overall team play and the individual play of the roster.
Eric Bledsoe: 24.6 MPG 15.0 PPG 3.9 APG 3.0 RPG 1.4 SPG 56.5% FG (46.7% 3PT)
Goran Dragic: 23.6 MPG 12.4 PPG 2.7 APG 1.4 RPG 1.3 SPG 52.8% FG (27.8% 3PT)
Markieff Morris: 23.3 MPG 11.9 PPG 5.0 RPG 1.7 APG 46.4% FG (28.6% 3PT)
Miles Plumlee: 19.0 MPG 6.0 PPG 4.7 RPG 0.6 BPG 42.2 FG%
Isaiah Thomas: 22.9 MPG 14.1 PPG 4.1 APG 2.3 RPG 1.4 SPG 46.6% FG (37.5% 3PT)
When you look at the numbers on more of a PER36 basis (add a third to the numbers above), which is what all three will likely play, then these numbers are all very encouraging. No one will dominate the ball enough to be a Top 10 assist per game candidate, but will have three point guards creating offense for both themselves and for teammates, putting lots of pressure on the defense. The three guards in one way or another played well as individuals and showed flashes as a unit when called upon, especially all three together at once.
On the other side of things Plumlee did not live up to the "most improved" Suns player that he was anointed from all the internal rumblings within the team. His GM, coach, and teammates raved about his improvements. None of which were on display.
The depth on the perimeter, especially at the lead guard spot, was the bright spot of the pre-season. Dragic, Bledsoe, and Thomas might be the most dynamic trio in the league when all is said in done. They could be the most productive trio in combined points, assists, steals, and rebounds in the entire NBA this season.
Defense: 96.9 PPG 43.7% FG (27.3% 3PT) 11 SPG (20.0 turnovers forced) 42.1 RPG
Again, pre-season basketball so the Suns got to play a Spur-less San Antonio team, a fuel-less Rockets squad, and a South American team with limited NBA athletic talent. The numbers are a little inflated from that. Watching the team play defense and swarm around moving laterally left to right they look like an overall better defensive squad from compared to last season. The turnovers are a direct result of the quickness, deflections, and ball pressure the perimeter unit is able to put on the opponent.
A number like 20 turnovers forced per game is not realistically sustainable since the league leader last season was at 17.0 per game, but the Suns could be in the hunt for the league lead in that.
The Markieff-Plumlee front-court defensive pairing is not the "Steel Curtain" of the NBA although they seem to have more lateral movement and cover more ground defensively. With Bledsoe at the head of the defense this quicker, more athletic version of the Suns should prove to be a Top 15 defense this season.
Offense: 23.4 FB Points, 43.1 PIP, 22.0 PTS Off Turnovers, 104.9 PPG, 45.6% FG, 33.5% 3PT
Last year the offense was the story and with an improved defense the offense has less pressure on it, but, as I've pointed out this pre-season before, the two sides ignite each other.
The Suns are going to score. The pace, style, shots they get up, and talent will make this a team that consistently scores more than the average team, but can they be as efficient or more efficient than last season? Overall the team was in the Top 10 in effective field goal percentage, pace, true shooting percentage, and offensive rating last season. They were also the worst in percentage of field goals made off of assists.
With more play-makers, less offensive burden on individuals on the perimeter, and quality shooting all-around the assisted field goals should go up giving this team a more efficient offense. Bledsoe, Dragic, Thomas, and Markieff can go one-on-one with the best of their position every night, but that is not a formula to win 50+ games in this Wild, Wild, Western Conference landscape.
Let's dive deeper into this week:
The pre-season is the pre-season, but some things are just about effort and basketball. Over the course of the pre-season Isaiah Thomas led the entire league in free-throws made (36) and had the second highest percentage (90%) of any player that attempted 30 or more free-throws total. In his last three games Thomas went 23/26 from the line (8.6 attempts per game) off the bench. Add that to his shooting (9/24 from three) and Thomas is one tough cover off the bench scoring in nearly every possible way.
Quote of the Week
"People still look at us and say we're not going to make it that far. They're still saying we're not one of the top teams in the West. They're still saying we're not a contender so we love it. Same thing as last year. No chip. We just go in and do what we do and leave. We don't talk about it. We go out and play. " -- P.J. Tucker
Well said, Tuck, let's get the season started already!
- T.J. Warren: 11 minutes 0 points 2 rebounds 1 assist (two DNP - Coaches Decision)
- Tyler Ennis: 0 minutes (three DNP - Coaches Decision)
Welcome to the NBA, rooks. The rotation is getting set so the two rookies, well three with Zoran Dragic, saw a week of basketball from the best seats in the house without having a chance to participate. That is going to happen frequently during the season despite Warren showing the ability to be a productive player on both ends of the floor. The team is just two deep at the point and on the wing right now. Bakersfield might have a few All-Stars or the Suns will have some quality of depth for practices and lopsided affairs.
2015 NBA Draft
- Los Angeles Lakers: (Top 5 Protected) After a 3-5 record in the pre-season (30 wins translated) they would have been the ninth worst team in the NBA based on last seasons standings. That would transfer the pick so long as the lottery did not grant them winning odds. No Steve Nash for the entire season. A full year of Kobe Bryant redemption games. Lot's of Jeremy Lin. Lot's of Byron Scott coaching games. It's Kobe versus Coach Byron (Michael) Scott for the Lakers success or lack thereof this season a storyline deserving of the Hollywood spotlight.
- Minnesota Timberwolves: (Top 12 Protected) They went 5-2 in the pre-season (58 wins translated) so obviously they will be a force to be reckoned with and the Suns will get the pick. Records can be deceiving. The Wolves may have pockets of time in the schedule like this, but they will also have a few 5-8 game losing streaks along the way. For the most part the Wolves are being looked at as a bottom two team out West, so, don't hold your breath for this pick.
- Phoenix Suns: A 5-2 record in the pre-season (58 wins translated, Deja Vu from a second ago?) showcased a birth of positives as well as a lot of areas of opportunity. There is no doubt that the Suns will be a very good team with playoff aspirations leading to either another 13/14 pick in the late lottery or a late teens pick if they make the final eight in the West.
Follow along all season as I look at individual prospects as well as standings/odds for each pick.
News & Notes
- The Suns finalized their 15-man roster cutting Earl Barron.
- Steve Nash is out for the season and could potentially retire at the end of the year...
Suns History Lesson
This week in Suns History: October 29th, 1996: Charles Barkley was named one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players of All-Time...
This week in Suns History: October 30th, 1996: The Phoenix Mercury are named as one of the eight inaugural teams in the WNBA...
This week in Suns History: November 2nd, 1990: In Tokyo, Japan the Phoenix Suns defeated the Utah Jazz in the first regular season game played by any professional sport outside of the United States of America...
Previewing the Week Ahead:
Wednesday, October 29th vs. Los Angeles Lakers (0-0)
Friday, October 31st vs. San Antonio Spurs (0-0)
Saturday, November 1st @ Utah Jazz (0-0)
Regular season is back this week. Starting off at home should do the Suns some good. The Lakers will come in on the second night of a back-to-back, on the road, and with a depleted roster. For the Suns, you could not ask for a better way to get the season started with a potentially tired rival on the road that is ripe for the picking.
Following that the Suns welcome in the defending NBA Champions who will have an unnecessary chip on their shoulders created by Robert Sarver. Calling the champs out for resting veterans in a pre-season game is just throwing some gas on a fire that is already burning with enough ferocity. The Spurs and Suns had a tough, one-sided, rivalry for the better part of the 2000's before Goran Dragic buried them in the playoffs a few years ago. This will be a nice early season test of team chemistry and the style the Suns are branding coming into this season.
The week closes out with the Jazz on the road. They are a tough team to peg. A young new coach with an exciting style and a plethora of young athletes translates to something. Where the Jazz become an enigma is whether they will be another version of the 2013-2014 Suns or 2013-2014 Cleveland Cavaliers? I'm leaning more towards the latter.
A 2-1 week to start the year would be a solid one for the Suns. It would replicate last season, but it would make quite the statement to knock off the Lakers, Spurs, and start 3-0 in this brutal Western Conference.