Half the 2014-15 season is in the books for the Phoenix Suns and the results look... a lot like the last two half-seasons in the Valley.
Since Jeff Hornacek took over coaching and Ryan McDonough took over the General Manager position, joining money man Lon Babby and a handful of other talented front office folks, the Phoenix Suns have been consistently good while building for the future at the exact same time.
2013-14 first half: 24 wins, 17 losses
2013-14 second half: 24 wins, 17 losses
2014-15 first half: 23 wins, 18 losses
The Suns don't have any All-Stars, though they do sport an All-NBA third team player Goran Dragic. They win games based on collective and balanced effort.
This year, the Suns are one win behind the last two half-seasons, but they are on a roll, having won 11 of their last 15 games with the only four losses being nail-biters to fellow playoff-positioned teams on the road.
The numbers themselves are crazily similar each half-season despite the turmoil of injuries and youth. Overall shooting percentage has been 45-47% each half-season, and the three-point shooting 36-37%. They are a little more offensively efficient this year (5th vs. 8th ranked) while about the same defensively.
The Suns are the West's youngest and most inexperienced playoff contender two years running.
In this season's first half, the Suns lead the league in road games (24) while getting only 17 at home, yet the road has been more kind than home cooking until lately. The Suns are 13-11 on the road and 10-7 at home.
And while the Suns are winning, the front office is still in rebuilding mode on the back half of the roster, positioning the team with more and more assets for that big score. Eighteen months ago, the Suns had a starter-set of youth - Alex Len (20) and Archie Goodwin (19) - behind the 24-year old triplets of Eric Bledsoe, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris and 25-year old Miles Plumlee all contributing to the 48 wins.
This year, that stable of youth has expanded while the Suns continue to win games. Goodwin (now 20) has been joined on the end of the bench by Tyler Ennis (20), T.J. Warren (21), Reggie Bullock (23) and Zoran Dragic (25), while Alex Len (21) has joined the big-boy rotation still anchored by Bledsoe and the Morrii (now 25).
In the last few weeks, the Suns have flipped Shavlik Randolph (29) and Anthony Tolliver (27) for Brandan Wright (27) and Reggie Bullock (23).
The Suns keep getting younger, yet winning more games. That's a great formula.
Second half kickoff
If the last 18 months are any indication, coach Hornacek will stay with a tighter rotation and do whatever he can to win games without a bonafide All-Star in the lineup, while the front office continues to look for that big score.
The players think they've got what it takes to make the playoffs - now they just need to take a couple of "veteran savvy" pills to pull it off. Giving away games to bad teams at home has to stop, and allowing game-winning three pointers should be a no-no as well.
To win 50 games, which likely clinches a playoff spot, the team needs to improve to 27-14 in the second half.
That's a tall order, but really just three more wins than their trend line suggests. And their 23-win first half could have been much different if not for some crazy bounces.
On the plus side, the Suns will play 24 home games in the second half versus just 17 roadies. That right there should set the team up for a good run to end the season.
On the minus side, after playing the West's top 9 non-Suns playoff contenders (including the Thunder and Pelicans) just 13 times in the first 41 games, the Suns get to face those teams 21 times in their last 41 games.
On the plus side, 13 of those games against the West' best are at home, where the Suns are 3-1 so far.
On the minus side, eight of those games (including five of the final six on the season) are on the road, where the Suns are an abysmal 1-8 so far. Ugh.
On the plus side, 17 of the Suns' last 41 games are on national TV, where the Suns young players have always stepped up in a big way to show the country that Phoenix has a good basketball team.
It's shaping up to be a big second half for the Suns!
And I wouldn't be at all surprised to the see the Suns ride out this roster to make the playoffs.