One week, one win and three losses into the season, the Phoenix Suns are pretty much where most people thought they’d be: near the bottom of the league standings. Usually the Suns having the same record as the division rival Los Angeles Lakers would be a good sign, but when that record is 1-3 and only one loss was to a playoff-contending team, all signs indicate this could be a rough season.
So what have we learned from this first week of Suns basketball? There are a lot of negatives to dissect, but there are also some positives to take out of this rough first week. Let’s start with the negatives:
Negative: Phoenix can’t score. The Suns are averaging a paltry 92.5 points per game. Goran Dragic, Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola have been consistently decent offensive options, but Michael Beasley has been largely inconsistent and Jared Dudley has disappeared almost entirely. Other than his 22-point performance in a blowout loss to the Orlando Magic, Beasley is averaging just 10.3 ppg on 28% shooting. Meanwhile, Jared Dudley is averaging an entirely disappointing 6 ppg on 32% shooting. And speaking of shooting…
Negative: Phoenix can’t score because Phoenix can’t shoot. The Suns are shooting 41.5% from the floor through four games, which isn’t exactly terrible but it’s not terrific either. The real problem lies in Phoenix’s appallingly bad 3-point shooting. The Suns are a combined 18-for-72 from beyond the arc, which equates to 25%. I never thought I’d say I miss Channing Frye jacking up threes, but at this point the Suns are desperate for someone to start knocking down long-range attempts.
Positive: Goran Dragic, Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola. It’s a little tough to feel confident about writing this considering the team’s underwhelming start to the season thus far, but the Suns are still a team that can surprise some people. Dragic is an all-around efficient point guard, and although his defense and confidence could still use some work, once he’s fully acclimated and used to playing with his new teammates, watch out. Don’t forget this is a guy that had a breakout year in Houston last season after being inserted into the starting lineup. Dragic is already posting a decent statline of 14.3 points, 8.8 assists 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game and he hasn’t even played his best basketball yet. Meanwhile, Gortat and Scola have been pretty consistent in the post. Scola is leading the Suns in scoring at 16.8 ppg to go with 8.8 rpg, while Gortat is posting 13 points and 12.3 rebounds to go with a surprising 3.5 blocks per game. Gortat wasn’t much of a shot-blocker last year, but he is actually leading the league in blocks so far. These three will be just fine, but the Suns need more support from their starters and their bench. Which brings us to our next negative.
Negative: The Suns bench doesn’t do enough in extended minutes. Although P.J. Tucker has rapidly become a fan favorite for his hustle and defense, those redeeming qualities don’t translate into points, something the Suns desperately need out of their reserves. After a promising rookie season, Markieff Morris has completely fallen off the face of the earth with poor shooting, too many turnovers and underwhelming offensive production. Sebastian Telfair and Shannon Brown have been okay in spots, but aren’t producing regularly. Bottom line: coach Alvin Gentry is leaving his substitutes in for too long and surrendering what little momentum and/or lead the Suns’ struggling starters have been able to amass. But what would really help put some extra points on the scoreboard is our next negative: the fundamentals of free throw shooting and taking care of the ball.
Negative: The Suns are shooting 71.6% from the line and committing 14.3 turnovers per game. I know it’s early in the season and the Suns still need to get used to playing with each other, but you’d like to see your favorite paid professionals be able to hit more freebies. It’s not a horrendous percentage, but 71% definitely leaves room for improvement. And although the turnovers should come down as Dragic gains more confidence and the team starts to mesh, but the Suns still need to take better care of the basketball and cut down opponents’ transition opportunities. And in a related area, taking advantage of opportunities is our final negative for the Suns one week into the new season.
Negative: Phoenix doesn’t take advantage of opportunities. In the season opening loss to Golden State, the Warriors’ two stars, Stephen Curry and David Lee, went a combined 4-for-30 from the floor. Andrew Bogut didn’t play. The Suns were playing at home. None of these factors mattered, as Phoenix fell in a close loss, 87-85. In their only win of the season against Detroit, the Suns almost squandered a 9-point lead with just over two minutes to go and barely squeaked out the 92-89 victory against one of the league’s worst teams. In a 21-point defeat in Orlando, the Suns had a 10-point lead at halftime before giving up a staggering 40 points in the third quarter to fall behind by 10 and eventually lose 115-94. They also gave up 48.9% shooting and 81.8% 3-point shooting to the Magic, who were without starters Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson. In last night’s blowout loss in Miami, the Suns were once again dominated in the third quarter, this time giving up 33 points as the Heat extended their lead to 24. Phoenix also allowed Miami to shoot 54.7% shooting and 57.7% 3-point shooting in the 124-99 loss. They haven’t controlled the tempo and have looked simply outmatched at times. Part of that is due to opponents’ hot shooting, but most of the problem lies in the Suns’ lack of team chemistry. That might seem like a negative, but it brings us to our last positive for the rest of the season.
Positive: The Suns still have 78 games left to develop chemistry. Yes, Orlando and Golden State were bad losses, especially since Phoenix could have easily won those games. And yes, that shaky win over Detroit and a blowout loss to a playoff-ready team doesn’t inspire much confidence for the postseason. But keep in mind how many new faces are on this roster. Dragic and Gortat will likely be Phoenix’s best offensive options and they’ve only played four games together. It’s a long season. Here’s hoping the Suns can do better than 1-3 from here on out.