Nine games ago, the day after Christmas, Suns coach Earl Watson began to throw in the towel on the season when he announced that he was benching arguably his best role player - and the only positive “plus-minus” guy on the team - to give the league’s youngest players more court time.
Watson asked Jared Dudley to accept being completely out of the rotation so that he could fold in more court time for his rookies, and Dudley readily agreed (as long as it’s not permanent, of course).
Since then, Watson has largely made good on his promise, though he’s spread Dudley’s minutes out to more than Dragan Bender.
I compared the minutes per game of each player in the 20 games since December 1, split into two columns by the Dudley benching on December 26. That’s 11 games before the benching and 9 since.
You will see that the team’s youngest players have all seen a big bump in minutes, fairly evenly distributed. Bender’s number is understated, because he’s now playing in 100% of games rather than only two-thirds.
As you can see, the older players are playing less and the younger players are playing more.
The only exceptions are Alex Len (playing less) and Eric Bledsoe (playing more). You can hardly blame Watson for that development, though, since Bledsoe is putting up star numbers (20.6 points, 6.8 assists, 4.6 rebounds) and Len is losing time to the younger front court guys as well as giving minutes to a surging Chandler (13 rebounds per game).
You could still complain that Bender isn’t getting enough minutes, and you’d be right. But until GM Ryan McDonough makes a trade or two to relieve the roster of deserving rotation players, it’s hard for Watson to go much further than completely benching one guy (Dudley) and largely benching two more (Barbosa and Knight) — all of whom deserve to be on a basketball court.
But hey, it’s a free world (for now), so complain all you want.
And complain you do. Especially on twitter and in these comment sections.
Speaking of twitter, I’m gonna have to stay away from twitter for a while. What was once a relatively safe haven for me to get a good pulse on the Suns among friends I respect has become a cesspool of hate and ridicule by those same people, especially while the games are going on. I can’t stand it.
Who cares about that great Marquese Chriss dunk if Dragan Bender was on the bench when he did it? Or that Brandon friggin Knight threw the pass?
Who cares that Tyson Chandler is setting NBA records for rebounding at his age, when the younger Alex Len wasn’t on the court to rebound much less frequently?
Who cares that Eric Bledsoe is putting up rare numbers (20/5/5) and is only the third player in the league this season with multiple 32/8/2 games when poor Tyler Ulis is rotting on the bench?!?!? And, Dragan Bender too?!?!?!
Who cares that Brandon Knight made a three-pointer when it wasn’t Devin Booker shooting it?
And who cares that Devin Booker is scoring the third-most 4th quarter points in the history of the NBA (with 28 in 12 minutes) when, by gawd where in the world is Dragan Bender?!!? And why is Tyson Chandler at 30 gawddaamm minutes? Now it’s 32 minutes... 36 minutes?!? The sky is falling!
Booker’s magical 4th was completely missed by Suns twitter as they raced to vilify Watson for playing Chandler during that whole stretch.
So I’ll be taking a break from twitter.
For those of you who would like to know how Devin Booker scored 28 points in the 4th quarter and tied his career-high with 39 points, here you go.
Booker was ON FIRE. He made 6 of 7 threes, 14 of 19 field goals overall and 5 of 7 free throws. If he had just made that second FT as time was winding down he’d have his first 40-point game in the NBA.
Booker is now shooting 42% on threes over the past month after a shaky start, and now has the 4th most 30-point games by a player under 21 in league history (12) - tied with Kyrie Irving. Only Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Carmelo Antony have more 30-point games before turning 21 than those two.
But hey, I’m sure at least half the comments about this kid - even in this game - will be about his lacking defensive effort and poor shot selection, or that somehow Earl Watson is holding back the league’s most prolific 20-year old in years.
Look I can’t blame the fans for getting so narcissistic. The Suns made em do it. When your franchise hasn’t fielded a competitive playoff caliber team in SEVEN YEARS and hasn’t even been competitive in three of the past five years, you can’t blame the fans for being jaded.
I know why you’re jaded. You have every right to be. I just can’t stand to watch it sometimes.