After a historic start in the worst way possible, 0-3 with a point differential of minus-92, Earl Watson was relieved of his duties right off the bat. And after that three-game stretch, I don’t blame general manager Ryan McDonough for pulling the plug immediately.
It was apparent that the likes of Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, and Marquese Chriss might not reach their highest potential under a Watson-led regime where nobody was held accountable for mistakes.
Enter in Jay Triano, then the Suns took a 180 as far as performance goes. All of the sudden, Phoenix rattled off four of their next five, while in the process looking like an actual team done with its consistently bad ways.
Turns out, it was a perfect case of dead coach bounce. Over their next 15 games, the Suns have fallen back down to Earth as a team likely destined for more ping pong balls in the lottery machine come May.
Look at the discrepancy in Phoenix’s advanced numbers during their 20 games under Triano:
First 5 (4-1): 107.8 OffRtg (7th), 102.0 DefRtg (12th), 5.8 Net (6th), 57.0 TS% (9th)
Last 15 (4-11): 100.7 OffRtg (26th), 109.8 DefRtg (29th), -9.1 Net (27th), 52.3 TS% (28th)
After sending Eric Bledsoe packing alongside Watson, the increased usage for the likes of Devin Booker and T.J. Warren was to be expected, but outside of them, they really have no consistent threats offensively.
Triano and Co. are quickly realizing that this roster, with no true starting caliber point guard alongside mainly role players, has a lot of holes. Hence why Triano said that the starting lineup will continue to be tweaked moving forward dependent upon players’ in-game performances.
Who are the two others alongside Phoenix at the bottom? Well, it is Sacramento and Chicago, and they hold the two worst records currently.
After the surprising jolt with Triano at the helm, Phoenix has definitely regressed back to the mean for sure. Many expected the Suns to be near the top of the draft standings, and they seem well on their way to that over their last 15, which includes six of which where they trailed by 20+ at points.
When Booker and Warren are hot, the Suns are usually winners
When observing the increased workload for the likes of Booker and Warren, everyone has noticed that when they are off the floor this offense completely craters.
The numbers speak for themselves here, too.
An interesting stat here, but Phoenix is 4-1 when their potent duo combines to score over 50 points.
When they don’t reach that threshold, it usually gets ugly fast for the Suns. Until they find that secondary scoring option via a trade or the draft this summer, Phoenix seems content with letting their young wing duo chuck away at their pleasing.
Overall team point differential foreshadowing for McDonough?
Even though McDonough just received an extension in July through the 2019-2020 season, the jury is still out on his team’s core of talent as he has lifelined to (Jackson, Bender, Chriss) their development over time.
Simply put, Jackson — who was the snag in possible Kyrie Irving trade talks this past summer — has to reach his two-way potential. Alongside 2017’s No. 4 pick, one of Bender or Chriss will need to turn into a long-term starter on what their front office hopes are a consistent playoff-bound roster.
Technically speaking, this is the only year three of #TheTimeline rebuild after rehauling the Goran Dragic - Isaiah Thomas - Bledsoe three-headed point guard core experiment went awry.
Now, with mainly his group of prospects in tow, he’s now on the clock for that 2020 deadline owner Robert Sarver has brought up multiple times.
Sarver even admitted he’s not a patient guy when he inked McDonough to his new deal, but it was the best course of action towards a championship.
A trend that could be working against McDonough, though, is overall team point differential.
Every general manager over the last decade who has carried three-straight seasons of a minus-7 or more differential has been fired except Washington Wizards executive Ernie Grunfeld who is also in charge of other roles in their front office.
The other names who have carried out this number for this long and were canned soon after are as follows: Billy King (BKN), Rob Hennigan (ORL), Sam Hinkie (PHI), and David Kahn (MIN).
If the Suns keep their current pace throughout the whole season, then McDonough will join the list. Hennigan was the only one who received an extension but was fired two years afterward.
Here are the NBA's bottom five teams over the last 2.25 seasons in terms of average point differential via Cleaning The Glass:
26. Magic: -3.5
27. 76ers: -5.7 (+ rating in 2017)
28. Nets: -6.3
29. Kings: -6.6
30. Suns: -7.5