Two of the four worst losses in Phoenix Suns franchise history have come in the first four days of the 2017-18 season.
The Suns lost on opening night AT HOME by 48 points to a team missing their starting shooting guard (C.J. McCollum, suspended).
Then two games later lost by 42 points to a team missing it’s top two playmakers (Chris Paul, free agency; Milos Teodosic, foot injury).
In between, they played a rec-league level game to the Los Angeles Lakers while playing defense like this.
I still had this in my video roll from last night, while people are praising Lonzo, my God the Suns defense is horrendous. pic.twitter.com/MsXBI9Cx69— gifdsports (@gifdsports) October 21, 2017
My apologies to rec-league players all over the country. Even THEY would put more effort into a game-deciding play like that.
But this was 18-year veteran Tyson Chandler and 8-year veteran Eric Bledsoe “defending” a rookie point guard in a simple pick and roll with 1:40 to go in the fourth quarter of a game the Suns HAD to win.
Chandler and Bledsoe didn’t even try.
Chandler jogged out with Lopez, but then just stopped. He didn’t pick up Ball on a switch, or even try to slow Ball down while Bledsoe recovered.
Bledsoe, who’d often been going loosely under the screen all night, this time made to go over a weak screen less a foot from the sideline. But instead of fighting through it he just leaned softly into Lopez and stopped.
When asked after the game about what happened to a Suns defense that gave up 132 points to the Lakers, Tyson Chandler offered only, “I got to look at the tape first. A lot of it’s... (pause)... I got to look at the tape.”
Bledsoe’s comments on his play: “I thought I did an okay job of leading this team tonight.”
Bledsoe scored 28 points, most of them during a fourth quarter comeback thwarted by defensive efforts like that one above. But he had only two assists all night. TWO.
He did not want to dwell on Friday’s close loss to the Lakers, preferring to look forward instead.
“We have another game tomorrow,” he said. “We can’t do anything about this game. We just got to do a better job of leading throughout the whole game.”
Leading. Bledsoe led the Suns the next night with a stat line of 4 points (on only 4 attempts), 4 assists and 1 rebound.
This from a guy who put up 21.1 points, 6.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game a year ago, following up 20.4 points, 6.1 assists and 4 rebounds the year before.
The word “embarrassing” has been uttered by the coach and players several times over the past five days when asked what’s gone wrong.
In three games, the Suns have surrendered 126, 132 and 130 points to the opposition. this while scoring only 88 and 76 points in two of them.
Only the 130-point outburst against the matador Lakers has pulled the Suns out of dead last in many offensive categories.
As it is, they are currently dead last in a plethora of categories:
- dead last in field goal percentage
- dead last in assists per game
- dead last in effective field goal percentage (which includes free throws and threes)
- dead last in points per game allowed
- dead last in defensive rating
- dead last in field goal percentage allowed
- dead last in three-point percentage allowed
- dead last in effective field goal percentage allowed
- dead last in margin of victory at -30.2 points per game
How does this happen?
While Watson preaches unity and love and togetherness, this happens because your (insert air quotes here) leaders are playing abominable basketball.
“If these two programs are the future of the NBA, there’s no defense in the future. It’s defense-less,” Watson said of the Suns and Lakers, after the 132-130 game on Friday night.
Eric Bledsoe is completely checked out, and may eventually make the performances of Brandon Knight last year and Markieff Morris the year before look good by comparison.
Bledsoe admitted he’s still smarting from being benched in the second half of last season while the Suns hunted for ping pong balls. He’d said all the right things at Media Day, but his performance in preseason and the first three games of the regular season tell the real story. Bledsoe is unhappy with the state of the team.
Tyson Chandler, on the other hand, has likely just succumbed to old age. It’s so bad that while he might appear just as disinterested as Bledsoe, the truth could very well be that his body simply cannot keep up with NBA basketball players any more.
Why is Chandler getting the most minutes at center, then? And why Bledsoe not being called out? Is Watson taking Bledsoe to dinner now, like he did Marquese Chriss when Chriss started the season sulking so badly no one could miss it?
Because these are your veteran leaders. Who else is supposed to lead this club?
T.J. Warren and Alex Len are too quiet to be leaders. No one expects that, least of all them.
Can Watson possibly rely on Devin Booker and Josh Jackson, both 20 years old, to be their emotional leaders?
Here's Jackson’s leadership in action so far this rookie season.
Josh Jackson is off to a great start with the fans pic.twitter.com/Vld9ifRyLT— Herbo (@HerbMcDerb) October 22, 2017
Where is the leadership on this team?
Your head coach has to be a leader. But while Earl Watson may have the players’ love and respect as a person, he certainly doesn’t have their attention when it comes to coaching basketball.
Your veteran point guard has to be a leader, but Bledsoe has been a complete no-show.
Your veteran center - who once was a perennial finalist for defensive player of the year - has to lead your defense, but he just simply cannot move outside of a small area. And he hasn’t seen vocal enough to direct the rest of the team on defense as the possessions unfold. At this point, Chandlers’ defense would have to improve just to reach Pau Gasol levels. Or Hamed Haddadi levels, for that matter.
Watson is not free of blame. On the contrary. You can’t have Bledsoe sulking on the court like this and let him get away with it. That’s not closeness and unity and family. And you can’t let Chandler stay on the floor without being a leader if you’re trying to reward effort and performance.
Watson’s claim to the head coaching job is keeping these guys together during hard times, getting them to play hard, play for each other, go all out and try to win with effort and love, even while they’re losing.
That’s no longer evident on the court. A pair of 40+ point losses in three games is what Watson’s coaching reaps, maybe we should replant the crops.
The basketball being played in those sweet new Nike uniforms is ugly.
And you should look no further than Watson, Bledsoe and Chandler for the reason why.