When a team plays 10 of its initial 16 games of the season at home, often against underwhelming competition, one might expect them to emerge with a record better than 7-9. However, due to the Phoenix Suns' woeful struggles against good or even average teams, things haven't quite worked out according to plan so far in the 2015/16 season.
Heading into Sunday's game in Toronto, the Suns' 7 wins came against teams with a combined record of 30-55. These wins include cushy home gigs against the Trail Blazers, Nuggets, Lakers, Kings (w/o DeMarcus Cousins) and Clippers (w/o Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and for the most part, Blake Griffin).
The Suns have done an admirable job at beating poor teams to a bloody pulp, registering an eye-popping 16.3 point differential in their victories.
On the other side of the coin, their 9 losses came against teams with a combined record of 83-51, their point differential being -11.3.
This sheer dominance over weaker teams coupled with a failure to throw punches with the big boys further adds to the enigma of this Suns team -- a team that has somehow managed the perplexing feat of playing better than most people thought they would, yet ultimately achieving the same results thus far that many would have predicted.
While there were early indications that this would be a more defensively-oriented team with Tyson Chandler and Alex Len anchoring the middle, their defensive rating has slipped all the way to 18th in the NBA (104.8) following a matchup with the statsheet-shredding Warriors and an injury to Chandler. However, their offensive rating has now soared to 8th in the NBA (105.8) as the rotations have begun to settle and long-range bomber Mirza Teletovic has found his shooting stroke (.444 3P%).
Adding another unorthodox subplot, the Suns suddenly have a frontcourt that is too crowded. With Len and a healthy Chandler rightfully soaking up most of the minutes at the center spot, the power forward rotation could potentially become problematic, if it isn't already.
Teletovic's fearless shooting makes him invaluable to the Suns' offense as they have posted a blistering ORtg of 113.4 with him on the floor. Unfortunately, opposing offenses have also received a boost with Mirza's presence, posting an ORtg of 112.5.
Jon Leuer continues to be the steal of the offseason, registering scoring outputs of 20 and 16 points in two of the last three games. He's also a smart -- if limited -- defender, as the Suns enjoy a DRtg of 102.3 with him on the floor, versus 107.6 with him off. Think Nick Collison with some scoring ability, and you have a pretty good template for Jon Leuer.
Meanwhile, Markieff Morris continues to be the elephant in the room that everyone wants to point out (yes, I realize that I just used that metaphor in a completely backwards way), as his jumpshot is still stuck in preseason form. The Suns are posting an eFG% of .481 with Morris on the floor, versus .526 with him off.
But before you jump to the conclusion that Morris needs to be benched in favor of Leuer or Teletovic, note that the Suns' starting lineup of Bledsoe-Knight-Tucker-Morris-Chandler is currently at a +8.2 point differential on the season. That same lineup with Leuer in place of Morris is +3.8, and with Teletovic it is -13.3.
As long as the numbers are right, there is really no need to punish Morris for his scoring struggles. The Suns aren't being dragged down by his play, despite what some have suggested, and there is only trouble to be found by tampering with the playing time of an infamously sensitive player.
And don't listen to this guy, he just gets excited when Jon Leuer dunks on everyone.
Jon Leuer deserves to start. Like, yesterday.— Rollin Mason (@StrummerVillage) November 30, 2015
The Suns will certainly have trouble finding ample playing time for their stable of versatile power forwards, but in Phoenix, that is a rare and interesting problem to have.
I think we'll take it.
Monday, November 23 @ San Antonio: L, 84-98
Wednesday, November 25 vs New Orleans: L, 114-120
Friday, November 27 vs Golden State: L, 116-135
Sunday, November 29 @ Toronto: W, 107-102
The Suns continued to struggle matching up with the Pelicans, and now account for half of their 4 wins on the season. Their matchup with the Spurs was doomed from the start as Eric Bledsoe sat with a sore knee, and the Warriors had a poor defensive showing but still won by 19 points because they're one of the best basketball teams ever assembled.
The season's first marquee win came on the road against a formidable Toronto outfit, as the Suns took advantage of their newfound shooting stroke to hold off the fatigued Raptors, who escaped Washington with a buzzer-beater from Cory Joseph the night before.
Still, it was a great way to kick off their first Eastern road trip of the season, and it was accomplished without their starting center.
Good win, guys. Great job.
Stat Lines of the Week
The Good: T.J. Warren
Warren continued his solid sophomore season with a career high 28 points, filling up the stat sheet with his usual array of smooth transition finishes, backdoor cuts, midrange shotputs and even a pair of 3-bombs. He is now shooting 42.9% from 3 and for some reason the dude really digs playing against that vaunted Warriors' defense, as he also lit them up for 17 points in 28 minutes late in his rookie year.
The Bad: Sonny Weems
After receiving five DNP-CD's in the previous six games, Weems finally received some valuable playing time in Friday's loss to the Warriors. His ten minutes were the most he played since the second game of the season, and he again did virtually nothing to make a claim for a rotation spot. His 0/1 shooting night was the fifth 0/1 shooting night in his ten appearances on the season, and surely neither side envisioned him playing the Dionte Christmas role when he agreed to return to the NBA over the summer.
The Ugly: Leandro Barbosa
The Suns' 3-point defense has become an area of concern, as opponents are now shooting 37.2% from 3 -- the fifth-highest mark in the league. Possibly this is a result of playing Brandon Knight heavy minutes at shooting guard, where he's not big enough to bother many shooters, but when the 33-year-old Blur nails five 3-bombs, there is definitely a problem somewhere.
On the Horizon
Tuesday, December 1 @ Brooklyn
Wednesday, December 2 @ Detroit
Friday, December 4 @ Washington
Sunday, December 6 @ Memphis
The road trip rolls on for the Suns, and unfortunately the Sunday showdown with the dreaded Grizzlies won't even be the end of it. The Nets are bad, but not quite as bad as their record indicates (a lot of close losses there), and the Pistons have proven to be a tricky matchup recently. Add in a Washington team that is also looking to turn their season around, and this week is full of potentially rough customers.
Eastern road trips aren't vacations for Western teams anymore.