After their woeful first week of the season the Phoenix Suns seemed destined for the bottom of John Hollinger’s Power Rankings, yet after a pair of blowouts last weekend that featured a healthy margin of victory the Suns opened at 11th in the initial rankings revealed earlier this week and have since dropped to just 12th following the loss in LA.
Of course, the rout of the No. 4-ranked Blazers seriously aided the ranking and the loss to the top-ranked Sixers at home doesn’t look quite so bad after the Sixers continued to steamroll the rest of the league as well before Wednesday’s loss to the Knicks.
Overall the 4-5 Suns have played the league’s 12th toughest schedule with an average opponent winning percentage of .537 yet the blowouts have helped them come away with a plus 1.22 average margin of victory.
Hollinger wrote that the Suns were one of the surprises of his rankings:
“Left for dead after starting the season with a home loss to the New Orleans Hornets, the Suns have recovered thanks to some impressive defense and a revitalized Steve Nash. …
Phoenix has a couple of bad losses on its résumé, but all four wins have been by double figures. As with Philly, I’m taking this eight-game sample with an entire pillar of salt, but the Suns have played like a fringe playoff team thus far.”
Meanwhile, the Committee of One (aka Marc Stein) moved the Suns up eight spots to 19th in his weekly rankings after the weekend victories.
Kobe hates the Suns
Anybody who watched Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame speech must remember the kind of innocuous slights he rattled off that fueled him, and in that same vein apparently Kobe Bryant has not forgotten that a completely different Suns team vanquished the Lakers in the 2006 and 2007 playoffs.
“I don’t like them,” Bryant told ESPN’s J.A. Adande. “Plain and simple, I do not like them. They used to whip us pretty good and used to let us know about it, and I. Will. Not. Forget. That.”
“I won’t let it go,” he added later.
Adande deduces that this must be about Steve Nash being that he’s the only player still around from those days and since he won a pair of MVPs over the Mamba last decade as well.
You would think Bryant would have forgotten about the first-round defeats after winning a pair of additional rings, one after knocking out the Suns along the way, but I guess that’s just the way players like Kobe are wired.
On the flip side, the ever-entertaining Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers wrote a column about how Alvin Gentry is one of the nicest guys in sports (a rarity for Simers to write such a piece) in which the Suns’ coach professes his admiration for Kobe.
If only the Suns’ offense was a bit better, Phoenix would feature a top-10 offense and defense in the early going. (What a strange, strange statement)
The Suns rank tied for 10th in defensive efficiency, yielding 98.9 points per 100 possessions, and 12th in offensive efficiency at 101.4, making rapid improvement in the past week aside from the late game ineptness on Tuesday night.
If the defense keeps this up, the Suns may for once field a balanced team this season.
It’s also worth noting that the Suns have done little to quicken their pace after the first quarter against Portland, as they currently rank 23rd in that department following a season-low 89-possession contest in Los Angeles. It’s very bizarre to think of the Suns as a plodding team that ranks in the top 10 in defense, but so long as the offensive efficiency remains that might not be a problem.
On an individual level, Marcin Gortat (.248), Markieff Morris (.243) and Nash (.222 — but heavily weighted with his poor start) lead the team in WP48.
Nash’s adjusted plus/minus is off the charts at plus 47.34 to go with an unadjusted rating of 11.40, not a surprise since he annually leads the team in this stat by a healthy margin. Morris (14.26) and Grant Hill (12.40) are also doing quite well.
Speaking of Morris, Hollinger ranked him fourth in the Rookie of the Year race in a piece that argues this rookie class isn’t as bad as it was purported to be. Hollinger applauds Morris’ per 40 minute stats — 16.3 points and 11.1 rebounds on 59.9 true shooting percentage — but doesn’t see him having the upside of the top three players on the list (Irving, Rubio, Brooks) in terms of his Rookie of the Year candidacy.
Meanwhile, Michael Pina broke down the rookie’s stellar performance Sunday against Milwaukee.
Hill’s offseason knee surgery leads to shaky offensive start
The Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro detailed the timetable surrounding Grant Hill’s offseason knee surgery and explained why he is just now rounding into shape. The September procedure on his right knee was non-optional arthroscopic surgery that involved cleaning out a loose piece of cartilage that had come apart from the bone.
Before Kobe’s 48-point explosion, Hill had done a nice job limiting some of the league’s top scorers such as Kevin Durant (12 points, 4-for-11), Gerald Wallace (one point, 0-for-6) and Monta Ellis (18 points, 6-for-16), but his offense has been slow to come back. Hill is averaging a career-low 9.2 points per game and he’s shooting a career-low (by a good margin) 33.7 percent from the field, including just 1-of-14 on threes.
The Dragon erupts
With Kyle Lowry missing a couple games due to injury last week, Goran Dragic showed the Suns what their point guard of the future could look like.
The Dragon went for 10 points and 11 assists last Friday and then followed that up with a super all-around game featuring 20 points, eight dimes and four boards on 7-for-10 shooting.
Dudley out of his league
Jared Dudley attempts to be a sports broadcaster on Out of My League in the video below: