The 2015-16 season has not gone well for the Phoenix Suns. They are presently a half-game back of the Brooklyn Nets for the third-worst record in the NBA and, with a record of 22-58 through 80 games, have already secured sole possession of the franchise's second-worst record ever, behind only the 16-66 expansion Suns in 1968-69.
The lack of success by this season's Suns team coupled with turmoil and an awkward coaching change that saw a well-liked coach replaced by an assistant with zero prior experience has conjured images of the 2012-13 Suns that went 25-57, precipitating a major overhaul of the roster, coaching staff, and front office in the offseason. Those were dark days for Suns fans, who to this day still invoke the names of former general manager Lance Blanks and former head coach Lindsey Hunter with the same consternation as Harry Potter would Lord Voldemort.
But with the 2015-16 Suns guaranteed to finish with a worse record, does that mean this iteration of the team is actually worse than that one? Should all Suns fans audibly gasp when this year's squad is mentioned? Well, let's begin by looking at the tale of the tape.
|Longest Winning Streak
|Longest Losing Streak
|Losses by 20 Points
|Losses by 30 Points
|Losses by 40 Points
|Games with 20+ Player TOs
|Games with 20+ Net Rebounds
|Number of Players
Bold indicates advantage
* through 80 games
So now that we've seen the raw, context-less data, let's next break down the rosters of each team to see how everything fit together.
2012-13: Shannon Brown, Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, Diante Garrett, Wesley Johnson, Kendall Marshall, Sebastian Telfair
The 2012-13 Suns were led in the backcourt by newly signed 5th-year point guard Goran Dragic, who averaged 14.7 points and 7.4 assists to only 2.8 turnovers per game. He was joined by 6th-year guard Jared Dudley (10.9 points) in the backcourt, with the two missing a combined six games all season. After those two, however, the options waned. Shannon Brown received spotty minutes as the season wore on but did average 10.5 points per game when he did play. Wesley Johnson was featured more heavily once Hunter took over for Alvin Gentry, but only averaged 8 points per game. Rookie Kendall Marshall also got more burn under Hunter, but he was out of his depth. One thing the 2012-13 Suns backcourt did have going for it was the lack of injuries, allowing players to settle into defined roles, which were usually only disrupted by Hunter's tinkering.
2015-16: Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Lorenzo Brown, Bryce Cotton, Archie Goodwin, John Jenkins, Orlando Johnson, Brandon Knight, Jordan McRae, Phil Pressey, Ronnie Price, Sonny Weems
The health of the 2012-13 squad is a far cry from the 2015-16 Suns, who will see their starting backcourt of Eric Bledsoe (torn meniscus) and Brandon Knight (sports hernia) miss 81 games this year due to injury and have both finish the season inactive. That is a shame because the Suns were receiving career years from both players, with Bledsoe averaging 20.4 points, 6.1 assists, and 2.0 steals while Knight averaged 19.6 points and 5.1 assists. How the two players fit together was up for debate, but the pairing functioned relatively well when Bledsoe allowed Knight to play off the ball. The two did, however, average 3.5 and 3.4 turnovers per game respectively. With both succumbing to season-ending injuries, though, other players have been pressed into duty. Rookie Devin Booker has flourished in his expanded role, averaging 13.7 points per game with six 30-point games to his credit. Ronnie Price, the grizzled veteran who was supposed to be an insurance policy, has started 16 games and been one of Phoenix's feistiest competitors from Day One. Archie Goodwin, the 3rd-year kinda-point guard, has been all over the map but performed well in extended minutes.
2012-13: Michael Beasley, Channing Frye, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Luis Scola, P.J. Tucker, Luke Zeller
Going into the 2012-13 season, it was already known that Channing Frye would be lost for the year due to dilated cardiomyopathy, which left forward rotations up for grabs. Luis Scola would prove to be a constant, playing in all 82 games (67 starts) with averages of 12.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game — both ranking second on the team. P.J. Tucker, who had just returned to the NBA after playing five years overseas, played 79 games and locked down the starting small forward job by the beginning of 2013. He did so through hustle more so than numbers, as his 6.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game belied his true impact. Beyond those two, though, madness reigned. Markieff Morris, who averaged 8.2 points, found himself splitting time between backing up Scola and starting at center for the injured Marcin Gortat. The other half of the Morrii — Marcus — averaged 5.7 points as the backup small forward after arriving via trade in February. And then there was Michael Beasley. The reliably unreliable Beasley, who appeared in 75 games, averaged 10.1 points but never cracked 30 points in a game despite scoring being his biggest strength. His season was split between starting and stress testing the bench for prolonged periods.
2015-16: Chase Budinger, Kris Humphries, Cory Jefferson, Jon Leuer, Markieff Morris, Mirza Teletovic, P.J. Tucker, T.J. Warren, Alan Williams
Despite the issues that the 2012-13 team had, the 2015-16 Suns make those look cute by comparison. The foolishness started when Markieff Morris all but demanded to be traded during the summer, then recanted at Media Day. Despite his claims to the contrary, however, Markieff's heart never appeared to be into playing for Phoenix, averaging just 11.6 points and 5.2 rebounds. Coach Jeff Hornacek eventually pulled him from the starting lineup in early December (along with him sitting out with a few curious injuries along the way). Third-string power forward Jon Leuer, who has provided a solid 8.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in his various capacities, stepped into Markieff's minutes until the Suns tried puffing Markieff back up in mid-January and again in early February. Markieff was finally dealt at the trade deadline, but by then he had already stolen the soul of the Suns, leaving behind a husk of a team that would've made Shang Tsung proud. Then there was the loss of 2nd-year forward T.J. Warren to a broken foot. Warren had been averaging 11 points per game off the bench before his injury ended his season. That has left Leuer, Mirza Teletovic (three games missed), and P.J. Tucker (zero games missed) as the mainstays at the forward spots. Teletovic has averaged a career-high 11.9 points off Phoenix's bench, and Tucker, while having something of a down year, still averages 7.8 points and 6.2 rebounds with six double-doubles
2012-13: Marcin Gortat, Hamed Haddadi, Jermaine O'Neal
Most of the veteran leadership on the 2012-13 Suns came from the center position. Unfortunately, a bulk of the games missed also came from this position. Starting center Gortat, who was Phoenix's third-leading scorer (11.1 points) and leading rebounder (8.5) and shot blocker (1.6), only played in 61 games after missing the final 21 with a right midfoot sprain. Backup Jermaine O'Neal played in just 55 games due to various conditions (irregular heartbeat, etc.) and family issues, averaging 8.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks when available. Those injuries depleted that team's depth at center and made rotations featuring Markieff Morris as a starter and Hamed Haddadi as an important reserve commonplace.
2015-16: Tyson Chandler, Alex Len
The 2015-16 Suns started the season with an experienced center in Tyson Chandler who was expected to offer tutelage to the young Alex Len. Chandler, who has dealt with a hamstring pull and back spasms but otherwise remained relatively healthy, upheld his end of the bargain, averaging 7.2 points and 8.7 rebounds while collecting 20 double-doubles. Len has also taken strides this year, even if they do at times appear to be the strides of a baby giraffe walking for the first time. He has already played more games than in either of his first two seasons, sitting out just four total, and is averaging career highs in points (8.9) and rebounds (7.6) with 18 double-doubles. However, even the simple starter-reserve dynamic between Chandler and Len was disrupted this season, with Len starting 19 of the past 22 games out of position at power forward alongside Chandler as interim head coach Earl Watson looks to increase Len's game experience. That Twin Tower look would seem to at least be a good defensive lineup, but neither Chandler (0.7) nor Len (0.8) are averaging a block a game this year.
What does it all mean?
So, is the 2015-16 version of the Phoenix Suns worse than the 2012-13 Suns? Well, that all depends on how you define worse. Going based on record alone, yes, the 2015-16 Suns are worse. However, all things being equal, the 2015-16 Suns are the better club.
This year's Suns did not suffer from a lack of talent; they were done in by Markieff Morris' withering energy and a rash of injuries that forced inexperienced players into roles they were unaccustomed to playing. That doesn't make them the worse team.
Looking at each team's talent head to head, they both possess solid frontcourt players that more or less cancel each other out, but Bledsoe, Knight, and Booker are a far better trio than Dragic, Dudley, and Marshall (or Dragic, Dudley, and Wesley Johnson).
Then there are injuries that played into each team's performance. The 2015-16 Suns had lost 155 player games to injury through Apr. 3. The 2012-13 Suns lost 130 games all season, and that includes all of Frye's 82 games that had little disruptive effect on the team once the season began. The loss of Gortat was that team's first major injury, and the 2012-13 Suns went 4-17 to close the season without him. By comparison, the 2015-16 Suns are 7-12 over their past 19 games with far greater injury woes.
And none of this has even taken into consideration the room for growth by the young players on this year's team, which provides hope for fans where the 2012-13 Suns provided scant little. Plain and simple, the 2015-16 Suns are not worse than the 2012-13 Suns.
But they're still pretty bad.