The Phoenix Suns find themselves in a precarious position—mucking about in the middle of a meddling pack! So, let's break down the good, the bad, and the elbow 30 games in.
The Lukewarmness of It All
With a record of 15-15, you couldn't get more .500 if you tried. However, if the Suns were a Tesla, they'd be covered in bumper stickers reading: "Championship or Bust." Many have gone as far as to label the Suns a bust (some fans included). I'd even asked myself (and anyone who would listen) if I'd walk the KD trade back if given the chance?
Why are we so inclined (as Suns fans) to feel so upset by the Suns' performance? Because .500 basketball doesn't feel—even remotely—good enough. Not for a team with a KD and a Booker. And ostensibly, a roster that possesses a Bradley Beal, too.
This is a squad that was meant to work. To gel and click, dominate, and look fabulous whilst doing so. Look at all the nice things the Suns have (are intended to have?): A coaching staff that would rise to the challenge. The best collection of veteran's minimum guys ever assembled. The best collection of three-point shooters on a single team ever! The hunger. The length. The unselfishness. The basketball IQ. The firepower.
The Suns were meant to be.
Lukewarm temperature is the worst. It's not cold enough to refresh and revitalise or hot enough to relax and soothe. And that's Phoenix Suns basketball right now. Firmly stuck in .500 mode. And that's the thing. There's this feeling present for the Suns as a squad, and we're involved as a fan base; the beating of heads against the proverbial wall. The Lukewarmness of it all. The 50/50 feeling, the should-they-or-shouldn't-they-ness of it.
What Do We Do? What Do They Do?
Should we finger-point? Should we call for trades, firings, and reset-modes? Let's discuss...
Why Play Blame Games?
We all get it—basketball is a team sport, and there is rarely one person to blame for a team's struggles. This is definitely the case with Phoenix. A new head coach, a roster full of new faces, a swathe of injuries, a new system, the time needed to carve an identity [knowing themselves as a collective and players individually accepting roles required]... So. Many. Moving. Pieces.
And guys and gals that have played organised sports get it.
Fortunately, we can finger-point [if one must...] to injuries and take a measure of comfort in the fact that the team that was traded for, the pieces of the puzzle that we anticipated being the real difference-makers, just haven't been readily available.
Imagine how much worse it would look if the entire roster WAS together and playing .500 basketball?
Ideally, we're better off looking for patterns of behaviour that are habit-forming (both positive and negative), how that relates to outcomes on the floor (wins and losses), and whether they're correctable (in the case of negative elements) or maintainable (in the case of positive aspects).
Elbow Jumpers' Big 3 Takeaways | 30 Games In
· The 7-Game Winning Streak
You can't fluke your way into a notable winning streak. And the Suns certainly didn't. It was a glorious streak of winning basketball. For the most part, it gave us a glimpse of what Suns basketball could look like when the system of Suns basketball is clicking.
The winning streak impressed upon me a renewed sense of patience. I could start seeing what the framework for winning in the NBA would look like for the Suns.
Unfortunately, I'm at that point as a Suns fan this season where I'm having unsettling dreams about KD or Booker turning the ball over during a critical moment in a tight game. I start breaking out in a cold sweat when I turn on the game the following day and see that exact thing develop. For me, unforced turnovers are the single most impactful measure of a negative statistic for a team or individual player.
In the modern NBA- a world of analytics- we get close to a whole range of measurements, comparative numbers, productivity scores, and all kinds of other mathy things. Much of it requires more attention and study than I can afford to give currently, but I've always viewed unforced turnovers as having repercussions akin to a set of tidal waves pounding a shoreline. It's deeper than highlighting a change of possession; it's psychological in its origin and impact for me as a measuring tool--a yardstick.
Currently, the Phoenix Suns are turning over 13.4% of their possessions (per 100). Objectively, it gets worse when we hone in on the star players—the players you're expecting to right the ship during the rough waters of close games and clutch moments.
Considering further elements, such as how much they have possession of the ball, the drastically slower pace they play at (which relates directly to how many possessions your team will have to start with), and the capacity other teams have to set their defense, and so forth--we can see how this one area for Phoenix develops beyond a tendency into a bonafide weakness.
Here are some comparisons, looking at the average turnovers per game of several "quality" tandems:
5.0 [ ] Nikola Jokic + Jamal Murray
6.6 [ ] Kevin Durant + Devin Booker
5.3 [ ] Joel Embiid + Tyrese Maxey
6.1 [ ] Anthony Edwards + Karl Anthony Towns
2.6 [ ] Mike Conley + Rudy Gobert
5.3 [ ] Jaylen Brown + Jayson Tatum
6.4 [ ] Trae Young + Dejounte Murray
4.5 [ ] Jimmy Butler + Bam Adebayo
5.4 [ ] LeBron James + Anthony Davis
4.8 [ ] Russell Westbrook + James Harden
3.7 [ ] Kawhi Leonard + Paul George
(I added in two groups for the Clippers and the Timberwolves because I was both curious and impressed by the numbers here)
My point is clear: the Sun's best players must improve at looking after the ball better by comparison.
The Suns are just about to begin a 6-game home stand. After the glorious 7-game winning streak, the Suns have been a tumultuous 4—9. Now's the time to put together another serious winning streak, improve their homecourt record, and build toward the kind of success the team itself expects and the fans would love to see.
Pundits are saying that the Suns had an easy calendar to open the year, and admittedly, the bevy of teams with a winning record coming through Phoenix through the first 8 days of 2024 is a little confronting.
But, to grab the bull by the horns, there's one thing you've got to do first.
Stand in front of it.
For me, that's all about identity. Hopefully, the next 15-game stretch will solidify the identity of the Phoenix Suns as horn-grabbing winners. Let's go, Phoenix.