The Phoenix Suns very well may be the most forgotten team in the Western Conference, and that’s a damn shame. Last year the Suns missed the playoffs by an inch, with a record of 48-34. If the Suns played for the Eastern Conference last year, they would have tied for the 3rd seed, which shows how dangerous the West really is. The Suns aren’t going to blow you away with any statistics or even star players, but the style that they use night in and night out is appealing to both basketball junkies, and the casual fan. The style that the Suns have established is simple, they are going to run and exhaust every team they play out of the gym with coach Jeff Hornacek’s quick tempo and deep rotations.
The NBA is changing rapidly season by season. Pick and rolls, as well as drive and kicks are overthrowing the old school style of posting and toasting. Can we credit this to the lack of emphasis on scoring bigs or the surplus of deadly point guards? I’d choose the latter. I’m a basketball purist at heart, and I love watching guys like Zach Randolph and Al Jefferson single handedly grind out possessions with their impressive arsenal of post moves, but at the end of the day, they’re a dying breed.
Where the Phoenix Suns lack in post presence, they thrive in every other aspect of the offensive end. The Suns are one of the most entertaining teams to watch in this new age of basketball due to their ability to space and run the floor. They’re a nightmare for any defense because you have to account for literally every player. Coach Hornacek starts two point guards at once, in order to maximize ball movement, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch.
The Suns defense will not scare any teams and they are playing in an impossible Western Conference, so it will be difficult for them to make the playoffs. However, don’t be too surprised if they squeeze into the 7th or 8th seed due to their depth. Unlike other teams in the West, if one key guy goes down on the Suns, they’re not going to be as exposed.
Point guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe compliment each other incredibly well, and are one of the best backcourts in the league. Last year, Dragic took the league by storm and won the Most Improved Player award. He raised havoc night in and night out with his beautiful passing and tricky layups. Dragic is not that fast, but he can get into the paint just as well as any point guard in the league with his long strides. He also shot 41 percent from downtown last year, forcing defenders to cling to him even when he doesn’t have the ball.
Bledsoe is listed at 6’1”, which on paper makes him an undersized player, but with his Westbrook-like freak athleticism and strength, he’s incredibly tough to guard, and even tougher to score on. Bledsoe’s defense makes this Dragic/Bledsoe duo flourish, because everyone can move freely with two ball-handlers on the floor, and it doesn’t hurt you on the defensive end.
Their starting big men consist of Markieff Morris, and Miles Plumlee. Both of these guys are quick for their position, which forces opposing teams to play around with their lineups in order to keep up with their foot race. Miles Plumlee is trying to earn his keep this season as a reliable rebounder and shot blocker, as his brother, Mason, did this summer in the FIBA World Cup. The Suns are a little thin with their big man depth, and will have to rely on Alex Len and Anthony Tolliver to provide some serious minutes off the bench. These names aren’t going to jump out at you, as none of these players have had incredible careers so far, but as long as they buy into the system that coach Hornacek has implemented, they should be able to improve.
As far as their wing depth goes, coach Hornacek will be rotating between Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker, and Marcus Morris. High flyer Gerald Green proved last season that he’s not just a dunk contest candidate when he scored 41 points against the Thunder. His goal this season will be to show that he’s not a heat check guy, but a consistent scorer. That will solidify his minutes.
A notable loss that many critics think makes the Suns worse is Channing Frye. Channing Frye provides a certain amount of spacing that barely any other player brings. At nearly 7 feet tall, and a limitless 3 point range, Frye forces big men to stay out of the paint and respect his range, which enabled guys like Dragic and Bledsoe to have a field day in the paint. Due to Frye’s departure, Markieff Morris is going to have to fulfill that role, and although Frye is a more respectable marksman, Morris can still hit the open 3, and provide you with better defense. The Suns are loaded with so many good shooters that Frye’s departure may not be as bad as many are making it out to be. This gives big men with fresher legs a chance to provide minutes focusing on other aspects of the game other than shooting.
On a side note: How many people are aware that identical twins play on the same team and are in the starting lineup together? Why does the press not blow up that story? Sports Center, I don’t care that the Cavaliers are off to a 1-3 start, show me more Morris Twins!
Although it’s been a small sample size, Isaiah Thomas has proven that he can fit the Suns perfectly coming off the bench to add even more speed, and scoring. By the end of the year, Thomas will be a sixth man of the year candidate. Coach Hornacek is going to have fun this year making wacky lineups, where Bledsoe, Dragic, and Thomas share minutes together. If those three can hold down the fort, even a tiny bit on the defensive end, this will turn out to be an offensive juggernaut of a lineup, no matter whom their front court is.
One might think investing almost 27 million dollars in three point guards would be a bad idea, because there are so many good point guards in the league, but the amount of flexibility Suns management has created is downright astonishing. If this three headed point guard beast doesn’t work out, the Suns can trade any of them for just about anyone. The Suns are one move away from becoming a contender for years to come.
I’m not sure if the Suns know exactly what they’re going to do, but what I do know is that every player on their roster’s contract is expendable through trades, and they have three first round draft picks this upcoming season due to trades involving Steve Nash and another involving Robin Lopez. As of right now, they’re just going to stay the course, and see how their team matches up with the rest of the league. If all doesn’t work out, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try and get an interior presence on the defensive end, like Andre Drummond or Larry Sanders. This would help the Suns tremendously, as they are not a great defensive team.
The Suns remain even more flexible, because they are under the salary cap. In fact, the Suns are spending the third least amount of money on players this season. If you were to look at this team on paper, you would assume they are tanking and trying to get a good draft pick. Within the next couple of years, some serious moves will be made to get themselves over the hump in the West.
In basketball, it’s always fun to watch one player dominate, even when that player is a 36-year old Kobe Bryant chucking up 37 shots in order to score 39 points (that actually happened… and it was against the Suns). Obviously, most of our nationally televised games gravitate towards NBA superstars, which is why the Suns are inevitably under the radar. It is also true that in the history of the NBA, there has never been a team that won it all without having a player who was named an All-Star that year, but that doesn’t mean the Phoenix Suns aren’t for real. They have all the necessary pieces to make the elite step, and once they see their opportunity, the Western Conference is going to be even scarier.