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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA End of Season Worst to First Countdown: 18. Phoenix Suns

2014/2015 Projection: 34-48, fifth place Pacific Division, thirteenth place Western Conference

Actual Finish: 39-43, third place Pacific Division, tenth place Western Conference

2014/2015 Finish

Actual 2014/2015 Finish

Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 102.4 (11th)
  • Points Allowed: 103.3 (18th)
  • Team FG%: .452 (15th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .452 (24th)
  • Team FT%: .760(11th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .341 (21st)
  • Rebounds per game: 43.2 (17th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 45.3 (28th)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.5 (26th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 15.0 (7th)

Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg):  Eric Bledsoe (17.0)
  • Rebounds per game:  Alex Len (6.6)
  • Minutes per game: Eric Bledsoe (34.6)
  • Assists per game:  Eric Bledsoe (6.1)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Brandan Wright (.580)
  • Free Throw Percentage: Brandon Knight (.830)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Marcus Morris (.358)
  • Steals per game: Eric Bledsoe (1.6)
  • Blocked Shots per game:  Alex Len (1.5)

SDH’s Hero to Honor: +Markieff Morris

After three years of staying in the shadows and in relative obscurity, Markieff Morris has finally had his come out party to the world posting career highs in scoring, rebounding, steals, and minutes played.  His 16.2 points per game was second behind leading scorer +Eric Bledsoe and ranked among the top ten in power forwards in the league in scoring as well.  In the 82 games he played for the Suns, he posted 10 double-doubles in points and rebounds while putting up double figures in scoring in all but 17 games while posting 15 or more points in half the games he played.  Unfortunately his efforts were not enough for the Suns as the team fell out of the playoff picture yet for the fifth straight year; yet in spite of that, he still gives Suns fans plenty of hope for the future as he has shown plenty of potential to be one of the upper echelon big men in the league.  Now all that remains to be seen is whether or not his teammate and twin brother, Marcus, will follow in his footsteps as he too posted a respectable season as well with 10.4 points and 4.8 boards per game, but was not nearly of an impact as his brother was.   
SDH’s Face to Forget: +PJ Tucker 

Last season, he was the hidden gem that helped the Suns not only win a shocking 48 games, but within a hair's breath of a playoff berth had it not been for the +Dallas Mavericks slipping past them winning just one game more; however, this season he went from a key contributor to literal dead weight that would soon fall out of the rotation.  PJ Tucker's disappointing downfall started as early as last off season as he was stopped by police for driving WAY above the legally standard blood alcohol level; yet the Suns management still found it prudent to reward him with a lucrative four year 24$ million contract extension.  Sadly, his return did not provide Phoenix with the offensive punch that they expected from him as he would fall out of the starting rotation at the time, his team won nine less game than they did the previous year.  Fortunately for the Suns, PJ's contract is small enough not to hurt their cap situation which can be easily traded if need be and that might be the case as Tucker has become less of strength and more of a liability on a team that suffered from a severe lack of size last season.  More than likely, he will most probably be dealt before next season's trade deadline as the Suns look to recover from what has been a rather disappointing season to say the least.  

The 2015 +NBA Season was an absolute embarrassment for the +Phoenix Suns as not only did they fail to make the playoffs, but they manage to do worse than the previous season.  Last year, the Suns were the surprise team in the league as they far exceeded expectations by winning 45 games, and despite missing the playoffs, gave their fans plenty of hope for the following season; however, instead of building upon where they left off, they actually slipped and fell off a few notches.  The season started well enough as the Suns maintained above .500 throughout the first three months of the season and by the end of January sat firmly with a 28-21 record; however, once February rolled around the Suns only managed to win 11 of their last 33 games thus falling out of playoff contention for the fifth straight year.  It was almost as if the team had suddenly run out of gas as its fast paced run and gun offense ran out of ammunition while their defense, which was nothing to write home about anyways, allowed their opponents to not only catch up with them, but actually outpaced them.  Not only did the Suns allow opposing team to outscore them by 0.9 points, but they also permit them to out rebound them by a +2.1 margin--in spite of them both shooting at the same field goal percentage--and turned the ball over as much as their opponents as well.

One primary reason for this collapse was the sad fact that the Suns were simply out-matched as they were extremely undersized thus unable to prevent their opponents from scoring in the paint and had no real superstar players to rely on, despite handing over franchise player caliber money to +Eric Bledsoe during the off season.   Bledsoe certainly proved that he was worth the five year 70$ million extension the Suns signed him to as he led the team in scoring, assists, steals, and minutes played per games; however, at the same time, he failed to prove that he was capable of carry a team as his numbers never really stood out among the top point guards in the league thus not bringing the superstar presence that the Suns hoped that he would be.   It did not help that the Suns virtually spent the off season acquiring point guards in the off chance that Bledsoe would not re-sign with them resulting in the team having a glut of five point guards playing while at the same time had little or anything to complement them in the front court which had been all but invisible for most of the season.  Markieff Morris was the sole offensive  presence in the front court, but the big man was anything but the "power forward" that he was listed as he spent most of his time circling the perimeter on offense while providing little if anything on the defensive side on the floor which can be seen by his rather poor rebounding numbers of just 6.2 per game.  As for the rest of the big man corps, they had produced rather shamefully altogether as seven players combined for just 34.4 points and 26.6 rebounds per game--which averages to just about 4.9 points and 3.8 rebounds per player--thus leaving the Suns rather weak in the paint allowing opposing teams to simply have their way with them down low.

Upon closer examination, one can certainly determine how the Suns who were doing so well earlier in the season fall so sharply by February--it was simply because the team was just too worn down to keep up with its competition due to its severe lack of a front court presence which primarily provided rim protection, rebounding and overall physical presence in the paint. Despite finishing the season with a rather respectable .452 field goal percentage, much of the Suns' offense came from the perimeter and since there was virtually no one to receive the ball down low and execute in the paint, opposing defenses would simply focus on the Suns' shooters rather than give any attention to anyone below the top of the key. As a result, there was little or no space for attacking the basket since all the lanes were essentially blocked off as there was no one to keep opposing defenses somewhat honest enough to keep an eye on any Phoenix player that happens to be in the paint at any given time.  The lack of front court presence also hurt the Suns in the areas of rebounding and transition defensive because they were simply getting out muscled on the boards and literally had no one to stop the competition from running across the other side of the court and getting easy baskets.  Phoenix's only defensive strategy simply seemed to be outscoring the other team rather than put any defensive pressure on the ball and at least make an effort to try and stop the opposing team from scoring the ball; instead, their plan was to simply out run and out shoot their opponents hoping that the break neck pace would tire them out--a plan that was pretty much doomed to fail because they simply did not have the personnel talented enough to pull it off.

82 games was simply too long of a time span for any team to maintain the break neck run and gun pace that the Suns tried to play, so it was little wonder how they ran out of gas by mid season; plus, it did not help the team's chances if it allowed their opponents to play at the same speed because they will just burn out on both ends of the court.  Sure, what little defense they did show led to finishing seventh in the league in opponents' turnovers, but their efforts were often cancelled out by the team's lack of discipline with the ball which resulted in the Suns committing as many turnovers that the team forced their competition to commit; however, this was not one of the only areas where Phoenix performed well only to shoot themselves in the foot by allowing their opponents to do the same.  Along with finishing with a rather efficient field goal percentage, the Suns also performed well on the offensive boards averaging about eleven per game which allowed them to finish 13th per game; however, their primarily perimeter focused offense and the lack of a presence in the paint led to their opponents being able to grab more rebounds on the defensive end once again cancelling Phoenix's effort on the offensive glass.  To add insult to injury, in spite of their less than stellar defensive effort as can be seen by the points that they allowed along with their opponents' field goal percentage, the Suns did finished a respectable twelfth place in the league in blocked shots per game at 4.7 per game; however, that did not stop their opponents from beating them on the offensive glass and getting put backs into the basket either.  Altogether, it was their lack of size which did them in once the season ended as they literally did not have the presence down low to fight for rebounds as well as produce any scoring in the paint thus one can actually blame the Suns' downfall to the team's front office whose poor decision making left the team undersized and outclassed for the bulk of the regular season.

If Phoenix plans to return to the playoff contender status it enjoyed five years ago, the front office will have to do some major work in the off season to try and attract star quality talent because as it stands now, the Suns have none to speak of and with the team at its current state, there is no way that they will see the post season anytime soon.  With their competitors in the Western Conference vastly surpassing them over the past five years, the Suns have plenty of ground to gain back and their window of opportunity continues to close with each passing season as the overall playoff field has been initially set for the next few years so unless something drastic happens within the next few months, folks in Phoenix will find themselves once again on the outside looking in.  In order to do so, both the coaching staff and the front office have to make drastic changes in not only their roster, but their overall basketball philosophy and culture because it seems as if the team has fallen behind the times remaining with an ineffective style of play while not bringing in players needed to add toughness to a roster that is sorely lacking in it.  Unless that happens Suns fans will continue to find their team hovering around mediocrity not getting any better than a team not good enough to make the playoffs, yet not bad enough to garner a better chance at the number one pick in the draft and no one wants that.  Lets hope that the front office gets its act together because after five straight years with no playoff appearances, the Suns' relevancy in the +NBA looks to be fading with each passing season.