The Phoenix Suns are still in a seemingly constant state of flux after 10 games. A five-game homestand didn't provide the desired results, so they'll have to try and find their footing during a five-game Eastern roadie instead.
While all Suns players have had their bright spots so far in the young season, there is still an ingredient missing somewhere, as they have struggled to exhibit the same charm and competitiveness that they were blessed with during the 2013/14 campaign. Possibly the problem isn't quite as mysterious as it might seem.
(All stats from basktball-reference.com)
Last year's roster had a rather simple structure. The starting lineup featured dual scorers in the backcourt with a supporting cast of role players. Consider the usage rate of each starter on the team:
- G - Goran Dragic (USG% 24.5)
- G - Eric Bledsoe (USG% 24.9)
- F - P.J. Tucker (USG% 14.2)
- F - Channing Frye (USG% 17.3)
- C - Miles Plumlee (USG% 16.2)
As the usage rates show, their roles on offense were about as simple as they come. Tucker hustled and hit the corner 3, Plumlee rolled hard to the rim, Frye spread the floor for the guards, and Dragic and Bledsoe carried the bulk of the scoring and playmaking.
Put simply, the guards' job was to score, and the other three players were there to make it easier for them. As Walter Sobchak was known to say, "the beauty is the simplicity. Once a plan gets too complex, everything can go wrong."
Funny you should say that Walter, because that's exactly what we're witnessing now.
While the Morris twins have provided steady production as usual, their presence in the starting lineup completely changes its dynamic. Their usage rates have both dropped from last year, but are still significantly higher than that of Tucker and Frye, whom the twins effectively replaced on opening night.
Here is the current starting lineup and each player's usage rate, and keep in mind Dragic's recent comment about there only being "one ball":
- G - Goran Dragic (21.3)
- G - Eric Bledsoe (21.5)
- F - Marcus Morris (18.5)
- F - Markieff Morris (21.9)
- C - Miles Plumlee (12.6)
Quite the horse of a different color. If it seemed to you like the players on the court were unsure of whom to defer to and when, you weren't losing your mind; the numbers corroborate this. Having four score-first players on the court to start the game has created obvious problems. Factor in the bloated usage rates of Gerald Green (30.6) and Isaiah Thomas (29.1) off the bench, and the numbers become every bit as convoluted as the team looks on the court.
Of course, usage rate only tells part of the story. The real problem with grouping the Slash Bros and the Morris twins is that all four players have suffered a drop in TS% from last year.
- Dragic, .604 to .541
- Bledsoe, .578 to .558
- Markieff, .564 to .518
- Marcus, .552 to .499
The sample size is duly noted, but the data is consistent across the board. Collectively, these guys can't get out of eachother's way.
Whether it is through trade or a reassignment of roles and responsibilities, the task at hand for the Suns is to get back to complementing their own strengths, rather than compromising them. Dragic and Bledsoe in particular were the engine that led this team to 48 wins in the rugged West -- sooner or later if things don't improve, someone is gonna have to throw them a bone.
The Roundup (click the links for full recaps)
In a game that was eerily similar to the previous matchup with Golden State, the Suns stumbled through 2 1/12 quarters of uninspired basketball before Thomas and Green duo ran away with it in the fourth. This time they combined for 41 points, including 20-21 from the free-throw line.
It's nice being able to say "Charlotte Hornets" again, but it's not that nice. The starters delivered another underwhelming performance, but this time Thomas and Green went 2-13 from the field.
The Suns created an insurmountable hole by surrendering 42 points in the third quarter. The Clippers played a typical Clippers game, which meant 51 points on 25 shots from Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and enough petulant antics sprinkled throughout to make you temporarily hate professional basketball.
The Shark Tank
The shark is always circling. Who got bit this week?
"Faster than sharks, so it's no big deal": Goran Dragic is faster than sharks with a steady-if-unspectacular week in which he scored 16.3 PPG on 20/41 from the field. Really he wins this by default since he was the only regular that provided any consistency over the last three games.
"We're gonna need a bigger boat": This Eric Bledsoe/Chris Paul thing should be a compelling storyline, or perhaps even a rivalry. Bledsoe made sure to completely ruin the narrative by being outscored by his former mentor on Saturday, 32-1. One point! Sadly, his ten assists weren't enough to keep the shark at bay.
On The Horizon
The Suns take their struggling act on the road with a slate full of Eastern opponents.
- Monday 11/17 @ Boston Celtics
- Wednesday 11/19 @ Detroit Pistons
- Friday 11/21 @ Philadelphia 76ers
- Saturday 11/22 @ Indiana Pacers
The good news is, the next four teams they play have a combined record of 10-28. Even better news, the Suns were 7-1 against them last season. This seems like a great time to build a bit of mojo, but it also would be an embarrassing stretch of losses if they can't conquer their internal struggles.