With 11 games played and 55 to go the Suns have only 4 wins and are currently 11th in the Western Conference standings, already 3 games behind the last playoff team.
Over the past two seasons, the Suns were a relatively predictable team: they would beat the under .500 clubs and systematically lose against the Conference’s leaders; they would win at home and struggle on the road; they would also, more or less, dominate the Eastern Conference (apart from Boston and Miami).
The current season seems quite different as Phoenix already lost 4 games at home, 3 (out of 4) against Eastern teams and was defeated by the Cavs and the Nets. I think, those last two games, despite being only a very small fraction of a young season, have changed the perspective of our season. Before this week things were more or less going the way everyone expected: lose to the good ones (OKC, Dallas, LAL, PHI) and beat the rest (NO, POR, GS, MIL). Losing to Cleveland and New Jersey, and the way those two losses happened, changed everything (until next week at least).
Now the Suns, all of a sudden, seem old, with their two best players dealing with injuries, helpless and facing the toughest part of their season. Do they have a winning streak in them? Who knows.
Tonight the Suns begin a 9-day 5-game road trip that will take them to San Antonio, Chicago, New York, Boston and Dallas. If things go the way they have so far we can’t expect anything more than one win, possibly in NY, maybe even putting an end to Mike D’Antoni’s reign at MSG. That could leave the Suns at 5-11 and more or less out of contention.
On the day of the first game against the Spurs, always the first one I look when the NBA schedule is released – I guess since 2007 when Robert Horry ruined a generation’s dreams and changed history forever – I’d like to share some reflections on the state of the Suns after the first fraction of the season.
What went wrong (so far)?
- Grant Hill is finally playing his age. Don’t get me wrong, I keep Hill in the highest possible consideration, he’s a great man and one of the best professional athlete in America. But, Hill is shooting .330 from the field and having his worst overall season as a Sun so far.
- The Suns offense and their 3-point shooting. Phoenix is scoring only 94 points per game. I know these are not your “0:07 seconds or less” Suns (Hey, they’re even allowing under 100 PPG!) but 94 points for a team with Nash at QB is way too low. The Suns are shooting .326 good for 18th best in the League. To be successful the Suns need to shoot much better: Look no further than the Suns best 3-point shooter Jared Dudley’s .306, well below his .411 career average. Since the days of Joe Johnson we’ve been looking for a real elite shooter.
- Robin Lopez will never be a starting NBA center. I like him to a certain extent, I think he still has potential to be better than this, but I doubt we’ll ever see it. Another wasted draft pick by the Suns.
What went right (so far)?
- The use of the bench. For years, especially under Coach D’Antoni, we keep whining about the Suns’ inability to use the reserves as Nash, Raja, Amare and Co. played over 35 minutes almost every night. Coach Gentry is doing a very good job with the bench. One could argue that this is possible since the Suns starters, as a group, are really nothing special (compared to the bench) but I like the way Gentry is managing playing time. The Suns have 8 players with more than 19 minutes a game and 11 playing more than 16 minutes. It could be very important in this condensed (66 games in 120 days) season.
- The overall effort. Watching the Suns you always have the idea this team is giving 100%. I think this once again is a confirmation of the good work of the coaching staff and maybe, more frighteningly, of the overall technical limitations of our players.
- Marcin Gortat. He’s proving, after a solid last season, he is already a top 10 center in the League. He’s shooting .633 from the field, scoring 13.5 PPG and grabbing 7.8 boards per night. I like his attitude, he’s a good defender and has a range of offensive moves close to the basket. Marcin is having the best individual season of any Suns so far.
- Markieff Morris is an NBA player. He’s a good rebounder, has a solid midrange jumper and will be a starter very soon. Finally a Suns draft pick that could prove to be a decent one.
And then there’s Steve Nash.
Nash continues to amaze and entertain on the court. Sure, he might be a bit slower than he used to be, his back is not getting any better of course, he might be suffering a bit more on defense (even more than he used to), he might be averaging a “decade low” 12.5 PPG….BUT he’s such a pleasure to watch (even at 37 or 38 in a few weeks) and he’s the still the best passer in the NBA.
Nash’s brilliant mind can see things before they happen, his basketball IQ is so far ahead of the human world. Nash is the only reason to keep watching Suns games.
I still like to think that with Nash at the helm the Suns could, all of a sudden, ignite and go on a much needed winning streak. Starting tonight against the Spurs.
Luca, The Steve Fan