There’s two storylines you guys are tired of me pushing on you as we trudge through another playoff-less season of disappointing Suns basketball.
The other is me always reminding you how young these guys are.
You’re sick of hearing about it. You want me to stop making you feel guilty for not donating, and you’re tired of me giving the Suns players excuses for not being at their best every single night.
Well actually, Dave, there’s another storyline I’m tired of hearing. I’m tired of hearing you say it’s not ALL Earl Watson’s fault. Just like it wasn’t all Jeff Hornacek’s fault.
There’s a theme here that you might notice.
While the natural fan reaction is to point fingers at one place (it’s so much easier that way), I’d rather spread the blame everywhere.
McDonough and the FO’s fault
Partially, it’s GM Ryan McDonough’s fault (along with his front office staff) that the Suns are 4-10 in his fourth year as GM with a roster boasting only one inherited player (P.J. Tucker) who has gone from fan favorite to frustrating rook-blocker.
It’s McDonough’s fault for putting together an unworkable roster in 2014, then letting it get public, then over-doing trade deadline day in February 2015 that the franchise is still reeling from.
It’s also McDonough’s fault for going into this season with a weird roster of too many 30-somethings for Watson to lean on while they’re trying to develop youth.
It’s also McDonough’s fault for not yet acquiring that disenchanted superstar he was so sure he could acquire four years ago when he took the job.
It’s also his fault for not drafting a superstar yet. He’s drafted good players but hasn’t gotten that star.
Partially, it was Hornacek’s fault for losing the locker room when McD put together a winnable roster the first time around, allowing the monster to eat itself from inside out and forcing a reboot. Now Hornacek is counting his $25 million in New York while reliving his pros and cons in the metropolitan cesspool.
Partially, it’s Watson’s fault for not yet being a very good NBA game coach. Clearly, Watson is learning on the fly and making more mistakes than not.
It’s also Watson’s fault that he’s not been able to design a workable offense or defense that even teenagers can execute. You don’t need to go all the way back to high school schemes, even though some of these guys are barely older than high school age.
And it’s also Watson’s fault that he keeps playing the veterans, looking for positive results even when his team is already down 20 points instead of using that opportunity to play the kids even more minutes.
Partially, it’s the veteran players’ fault for not playing to the best of their abilities on a consistent basis. Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and P.J. Tucker, in particular, have been up and down all season. Really, only Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa have been consistently predictable every night.
It’s P.J. Tucker’s fault that he missed 17 straight threes. It’s Brandon Knight’s fault that he made 33% of his shots to open the season and couldn’t adjust to his sixth man role. It’s Eric Bledsoe’s fault that he’s not a natural playmaker. Five assists a night from your lead guard just doesn’t cut it.
And partially, it’s the young players’ fault for not being consistent on a nightly basis. It’s Devin Booker’s fault that he’s still below average in PER despite all the accolades coming his way. It’s Alex Len’s fault that his good stretches of play are hints of a solid player rather than a very good one. It’s T.J. Warren’s fault that he’s not a Type A personality, and allows himself to disappear in games for stretches at a time.
It’s partially the managing partner’s fault too. In his 13th year managing the ownership of the team, they’ve become the worst team in franchise history.
Over 49 years of history, the Suns had never missed more than five straight playoffs.
In the last 39 years, they hadn’t missed more than three straight.
Today, the Suns are in the midst of their SEVENTH straight non-playoff season with no clear path to sustainable winning on the horizon.
Counting 2008-09, that will be 8 of 13 seasons under Sarver’s watch without a playoff berth.
So let’s stop blaming one person or one scheme. It’s everyone’s fault the Suns are so so bad at basketball.
But what’s done is done. I’m not a finger-pointer. I’d much rather just look ahead.
All I can do is look forward, and try to put the current team in perspective. That’s why I spend so much time focusing on the bigger picture and the Suns team relative to the rest of the league.
Since the Suns are terrible in a lot of ways, there’s only so many positive storylines to discuss.
The biggest is the Suns’ best players’ relative age compared to the rest of the league. You can throw the coach in there too.
If your coach is going to be a bad tactician, he or she might as well be a rookie at the job rather than a grizzled veteran coach who won’t get any better.
If your players are going to be generally bad at basketball, they might as well be super young with the potential to get better rather than fully developed with no potential to improve.
The Suns have plenty of that latter group to chew on, so I focus on the former.
Last night, in the fourth quarter of a blowout loss to the lowly Sixers, Earl Watson finally threw in the towel and played all his rookies at once.
Dragan Bender (just turned 19), Marquese Chriss (19) and Derrick Jones Jr. (19) played together for a couple minutes along with fellow rookie Tyler Ulis (just turned 21) and second-year center Alan Williams (23) in one of the youngest lineups in league history.
No NBA team had EVER played three teenagers at one time, yet now the Suns have played two different iterations in the same season (swap Jones for Booker in the first two games of the season).
This on top of giving tons of starter minutes to a just-turned-20 Devin Booker and 23-year old T.J. Warren. Both players rank in the top 30 in the league in minutes played per game this season.
As I wrote earlier this week, the Suns have given the most minutes to 20-and-unders among all NBA teams in the league. And by the end of the season, they will certainly set an NBA record for minutes played by 20-and-unders.
Why does it matter how old they are?
Because extremely young players with lots of talent almost always get significantly better as they approach age 23-27 versus when they were 18-22 years old.
There’s a reason Tyler Ulis (21 now) looks more game-ready on a consistent basis than his younger counterparts, but he’s also just scratching the surface of his potential NBA impact.
It’s the same reason Alan Williams (23) looks like the same guy every time he gets out there.
It’s the same reason T.J. Warren (23) looks like a much-improved player this season, and why Alex Len (23) might have finally figured out how to shoot better than 45% from the field.
And the same reason Eric Bledsoe (27), while somewhat inconsistent, is still a better all-around player than Devin Booker on the balance of the season.
We know what we have in Knight, Bledsoe, Tucker, Dudley, Chandler and Barbosa.
What we are still learning is what we might have in the young players. They might NOT get any better, but the chances are good that every one of them will be better in six months, two years, and four years than they are right now.
There’s a good chance Devin Booker grows out of this sophomore hiccup to become an All-Star level player.
There’s a small chance one of T.J. Warren, Dragan Bender or Marquese Chriss or the Suns next top draft pick joins him on that path. They certainly have the tools to do so. It’s just a matter of time and development.
So #embracethefuture even if you can’t always enjoy the present.
Help me invite some young fans to grow with Suns young players!