It’s Underdog Week here at SB Nation, and the Phoenix Suns have their own story to tell here. If you remember the 2014-15 Suns, what an interesting ride that season was. From the first year general manager and head coach to a roster filled to max capacity with former castoffs, there’s plenty of stories to tell.
Even though the Suns went 48-34, which shocked the entire NBA world, they just barely missed the playoffs with that many wins.
The first year of the Ryan McDonough, Jeff Hornacek era in Phoenix was pure jubilation. Who honestly expected the Suns to pull off surprising victories over and over again? Certainly not McDonough, who tried to craft a roster that would help Phoenix plummet down the standings for more lottery balls.
This surprising success would set McDonough’s ultimate roster building plan back a few years, which later led to his sudden firing five years later as patience from ownership ran out.
When you glance over the Suns’ 2013-14 rotation, being stunned they won almost 50 games should be your first reaction:
Ball Handlers = Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Ish Smith
Wings = Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker, Marcus Morris, Archie Goodwin
Bigs = Miles Plumlee, Channing Frye, Alex Len, Markieff Morris
Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to how this group projected to be a top lottery squad ended up notching 48 victories.
However, the key cog to the Suns’ offensive engine was Dragic.
Phoenix’s point guard was on his second go-around with the organization after leaving for Houston in free agency previously. During the 2013-14 campaign, Dragic turned in arguably the best season of his career to date being named the NBA’s Most Improved Player. Dragic also made it onto the All-NBA Third Team thanks to averaging 20.3 points and 5.9 assists on 50.3 percent shooting.
It truly was the year of the “Dragon” in Phoenix, but this was also Eric Bledsoe’s first year in the purple and orange.
Even though Bledsoe only played in 43 games, which led to some big Dragic outings February - April, his energy and two-way prowess flashed often. The glimpses of success we saw from Bledsoe coupled with Dragic’s breakout led to this duo staying together until it all blew up (more on that later).
Four more players who deserve attention for why the Suns shocked everyone with 48 wins in 2013-14: Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker, Channing Frye, and Miles Plumlee.
Green, the charismatic and explosive athlete, put together his best season by far with extended run in Hornacek’s rotation. More known nowadays for his famous dunk contest creativity, Green’s run this season was truly remarkable averaging 15.8 points while shooting 40 percent on three-pointers.
If not for Green’s heroics on some nights, Phoenix comes nowhere close to their near-50 win total.
Another underrated piece who went on to later blossom in Phoenix even further was Tucker. After playing overseas for five years, Tucker landed on his feet in the NBA again with Phoenix. That’s where he built his foundation as a true leader with a pitbull mentality on defense.
2013-14 was Tucker’s second season in the Valley, and his glue guy potential shined through. Starting all season at small forward, Tucker averaged 9.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.4 steals on a respectable 54.0 true shooting percentage.
Then, we arrive at the frontcourt that somehow helped the Suns consistently most nights. Frye and Plumlee is such a unique duo to look back on. The floor-spacing element Frye brought as a big was well ahead of his time. Plumlee desperately tried to shake off his bust label from Indiana, and it faded as wins began to pile up with him as the starting center.
Although this indeed turned out to be Plumlee’s career-best season he’s a piece to the puzzle who shouldn’t go overlooked. (For those wondering, Plumlee went on to play for three more teams after Phoenix before currently settling in with Australia’s Perth Wildcats.)
When you look back on the 2013-14 Suns, it certainly is one of the most fond memories of the 2010s. One playoff appearance over the full decade, which was right when it started, but this near appearance was full of twists and turns.
This truly was the underdog story for Phoenix, and it nearly paid off in the end with a surprising playoff appearance.
Trying to capitalize off their stunning success, McDonough tried to go all-in on this unique Hydra idea with heavy backcourt emphasis. Pulling off a sign-and-trade for Isaiah Thomas was seen as a good move, but it ended up splintering the relationship Phoenix had built with Dragic and eventually Bledsoe.
Even though the ending to this era was sudden, Suns fans will always look back on 2013-14 as the magic carpet ride to relevance.