“Some wounds run too deep for the healing.”
- J.K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Black Hole Suns
“The Suns look good ‘on paper,’ but paper doesn’t translate to the court right? It’s as simple as that.”
- Joe SunsFan Jr.
Problematic thinking there, Joe SunsFan Jr. A team only looks good ‘on paper’ to people who can’t make sense of what is written on said paper. What you need, Joe, is some critical thought: what does the paper *really* tell us?
Well, it tells us that this Suns roster has foundational flaws that are unavoidably fatal. The Suns were destined to fall apart as each dysfunctional brick that Suns’ management placed was built into their team’s foundation.
Part of it has to do with Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe seemingly trading off good games. Before Knight’s recent slump, he and Bledsoe were the only set of teammates in the league averaging at least 20 points and five assists per game (they’re still the only duo averaging 19.0 PPG and 5.0 APG). The only problem is they never seem to have it going on the same night.
So far this season, they’ve reached 20 points and five assists in the same game only times this season. The Suns are 4-1 in those games and 8-17 in the rest. In games where both Bledsoe and Knight score at least 20 points, the Suns have a win percentage of .700…but that’s only happened 10 times.
- Gerald Bourgett, Phoenix Suns: 5 Problem Areas That Must Be Addressed
The two point guard experiment has been a failure in Pheonix. End of story. Give up… I think. Honestly, it’s possible that all Brandon Knight needs so that he can be optimally implemented into the offense is a simple lobotomy. The problem is his slow responsiveness. Everything is fine as long as he has the basketball and the play unfolds around him: but life is not always so grand. Especially when you are playing a 2 point guard system in which you are not the better of the two. Sorry, Brandon.
Honestly, Knight has a very useful offensive skill set that can be properly implemented without surgical alterations, but unfortunately, the Suns don’t have the personel. With the loss of Markieff, the Suns now have 1 effective play-maker (Bledsoe) and a whole bunch of play-takers. They need an off-the-dribble forward, either a 3 or 4, to create spot-up looks like these for Knight:
Throwing in the Towel
The Phoenix Suns suspended forward Markieff Morris for two games without pay Thursday for conduct detrimental to the team, after he tossed a towel toward coach Jeff Hornacek on Wednesday.
The incident took place in the fourth quarter of the Suns’ 104-96 loss at home to the Denver Nuggets. It was the third straight loss for the Suns (12-19).
Markieff is gone in spirit and soon to be gone in body as well. And every seems to be forgetting that he was really good for this Suns team. Every year he expanded his range and skill set and every year he became more of a threat.
Last year, our boy Markieff put up 15.3 points and 6.2 boards per game on .465/.318/.763 shooting.
This year he’s fallen to 11.5 points and 5.0 rebounds in 24.7 minutes per game on .386/.311/.714 shooting.
It’s hard to say that this hasn’t had a profound effect on the Suns and their style of play. He has either been the 2nd or 3rd option for a few years on the Suns and one of few primary offensive options that has not been subject to constant roster turnover
2 Big Problems
There was a time at which the name Tyson Chandler inspired fear. Nowadays, the word Dyson inspires more fear than the word Tyson. This is a former Defensive Player of the Year we’re talking about here. Sure, that was in 2011, but last year he simultaneously carried the Mavs pathetic defense on his back like a champ and made 66% of his shots as a legitimate pick and roll weapon. The problem isn’t so much that Tyson has horrifically declined – he’s just being totally under-utilized on both sides of the court.
Bledsoe and Knight have struggled to find a comfort level with center Tyson Chandler in the PnR game. This season Chandler has 21 dunks in 21 games, compared to the last five seasons when he had 688 dunks in 332 games (2.07 per game). According to SportVU, Chandler is shooting 45 percent on passes from Bledsoe, and 57 percent on passes from Knight. Over the past two seasons, this is how Chandler has shot when receiving passes from other guards he’s played with.
Monta Ellis 71-percent
Rajón Rondo 71-percent
Devin Haris 81-percent
Jameer Nelson 83-percent
Jose Barea 76-percent
Ray Felton 84-percent
Pablo Prigioni 58-percent
J.R. Smith 54-percent
- Bryan Gibberman, Suns’ two most talented players hold blame for struggles
The Suns have committed to the 2 guard tandem of Knight and Bledsoe, financially and strategically. There’s a type of center that could work in an offense that is structured as such (see Channing Frye): Tyson Chandler is not that type.
Neither is 22 year-old Alex Len.
Alex Len will forever have to face the cold reality of his play being analyzed relative to his draft position. When the former Maryland Terrapins center was coming out of college there were huge concerns about his game. However, his size and athletic abilities trumped any potential issues, and the Phoenix Suns scooped him up with the fifth overall selection in the 2013 NBA Draft.
He doesn’t shape up to up and coming big men in the league: in fact, he doesn’t even shape up to other mediocre young big men: JJ Hickson and Len both are tied for 44th out of 56 qualified centers in True Shooting % – but JJ, who is crap btw, has a 17.28 PER as opposed to Len’s 14.22
Where Tyson’s pick-and-roll game has languished, Len has utterly failed to provide an offensive closing threat as a big man:
Taking the accuracy of player tracking statistics with a grain of salt, Len only has 22 possessions of rim rolls through 18 games played. He’s scored exactly 1.00 point per possession on such plays, which ranks him in the 47th percentile — or average. He gets fouled an impressive 27 percent of the time on rolls, shoots 53 percent in those situations — that’s 20 percent lower than Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson’s elite 73 percent — and turns the ball over 13.6 percent of the time.
Keep in mind that’s only out of 22 registered rolls, but the point here is that Len has struggled to either find himself in position to suck defenses into defending the hoop and when he does is a liability because he loses the ball. Thus, he’s failed to open room for Suns shooters when he rolls, which probably leads to the poor offensive rating.
Without a viable big man to suck in defenders by rolling to the rim, the Suns are relegated to the perimeter, and unfortunately, when your primary scorers are ball handlers, that makes it incredibly difficult to get to the basket on drives; but none of that matters if the guards aren’t effective passers off the pick-and-roll.
Bledsoe ain’t exactly Steve Nash and Tyson ain’t exactly Amare. The better choice is to aim for a stretch big to pull defenders out of the paint:
Though he’s not a great defender, he’s big enough to bang down low in the paint and his ability to spread the floor and attack defenders off the dribble when they try to close out has been huge for Phoenix’s spacing. With defenses forced to honor his shot, driving lanes have opened up for Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight.
On the season, Teletovic is only averaging 9.0 points in 18.3 minutes per game, but he has made a career high 45.5 percent of his 5.0 three-point attempts per game and is averaging 13.9 points per game on 49.2 percent three-point shooting over his last 10 contests. In fact, his 55 made threes on the season leads all bench players in the NBA.
- Gerald Bourgett, Phoenix Suns: Assessing The Power Forward Situation
I don’t have any problems with Mirza Teletovic or John Leuer, but I think we all know the limited nature of their long-range shooting roles on offense, but perhaps more importantly is what they can not do defensively.
Think of a defensive skill, any defensive skill.
They’re both really bad at that.
Think of another.
Oh man, they’re both particularly bad at that.
Teletovic allows 69.6% of opponents’ shots within 6 feet. That isn’t good.
The Suns post defense has been laughably bad:
Alex Len has the 12th worst defensive FG% in the league.
Tyson has the 5th worst defensive FG% in the league.
Yes, they’ve been really really really bad; but that isn’t the whole story.
The Guards Who Don’t Guard
Brandon Knight’s Defensive Real +/- is -2.88, putting him at 408 out of 424 players in the NBA.
Eric Bledsoe is almost exactly at league average (0.02), but between the two of them, they average a whopping 6.9 turnovers a game, leading the Suns to the 2nd worst T/O ratio in the league: 16.5.
What’s most harmful about these mistakes is they’re leading to breakouts for opponents. According to Seth Partnow of Nylon Calculus, 62% of Knight and Bledsoe’s turnovers are of the live ball (stay in bounds) variety.
This is a big reason why the Suns allow the fifth most points of turnovers per game (18.1) and the second most fast break points per game (16.1).
- Bryan Gibberman, Suns’ two most talented players hold blame for struggles
The Suns’ 7-footers, Tyson Chandler and Alex Len, both have defensive chops that could be utilized in the right system, but when trying to compensate for the defensive implosions inherent in a Brandon Knight/Eric Bledsoe line-up they are exploited and over-whelmed. Most of their defensive lapses will be the result of switches to guards, which is difficult to deal with
when you have brick feet like our 2 plodding friends.
The phrase ‘lack of hustle’ is being thrown around a lot in reference to this Suns team, but it’s not always that simple (sorry, Charles Barkley). There’s something deeper and more malignant in the woodworks of the Phoenix team. No NBA defense should allow the Kings to brutalize them for 142 points; No NBA offense should be held to 22 points in a single half against the Lakers, who, by the way, have the worst defense in the league.
You see what’s going on. Sorry to say it, but it’s self-explanatory. I don’t know what’s going on over there. It’s like a clown show right now.
- Marcus Morris, before the Pistons’ 108-96 loss to the Knicks on Dec. 28th
There are potential ways that Pheonix can rise from the ashes. Until then, the Suns are a smoldering pile.
This is Sirius business.