Preview: Phoenix Suns (23-55) at Dallas Mavericks (38-39)

Phoenix Suns 102, Dallas Mavericks 91




Tonight’s game in Dallas puts the Phoenix Suns’ last 12 months in seriously harsh perspective. A little less than a year ago, the Suns were a .500 team trying to make an unexpected playoff run after a disappointing start to the season. Ultimately that push came up short, but there was still some pride to be had for the Suns.

The Mavericks likewise started out this season as a shell of their former selves. Nowitzki was hurt and Rick Carlisle seemed to be all out of his trademark magic. But then the team grew beards, rallied, and made it all the way back to respectability.

Barring miraculous losing streaks by both the Jazz and Lakers, the Mavericks will not make the playoffs, which ostensibly puts them in the same boat as the Suns – lottery bound and rebuilding after a disappointing season. But no one in their right mind would consider the Mavs and Suns in the same place right now. Is Dallas ahead of Phoenix or behind in terms of the franchise’s current state and its potential to win moving forward?

The case for the Mavs being ahead of the Suns centers on Dirk. Like Steve Nash, Dirk is winding down his career. At this point, Dirk leaving Dallas before he retires seems far less likely than Nash departing Phoenix did last season. Dirk is not the player he once was, but when the Mavs were making the race for the eighth seed interesting, Dirk was playing very well. If he can stay healthy and put in some work this offseason, there’s every reason to think Dirk can be very productive next year in which case the Mavs would have one more superstar/go-to player than the Suns. Definite advantage Mavericks.

The second factor the Mavs have going for them is ownership. Mark Cuban, now that he has recovered from his post-post-Championship hangover, has always spent money in the pursuit of wins. Between his wallet and Rick Carlisle’s reputation, Dallas is a very attractive destination to free agents. The Suns have neither a big name coach nor owner, so the Mavs are definitely ahead here.

The last point of comparison which swings Dallas’ way is the roster. The Suns have been rebuilding for three years since their 2010 run to the Western Conference finals. The Mavericks have been retooling for two following their title run in 2011. Have the Suns made more progress with their extra year? Gun to your head, which roster would you rather have? That may not be a fair question given how the Suns are playing right now, but nonetheless, the answer is not completely clear cut. The Suns have moved on from their superstar and have a younger rotation with potential to grow, but the Mavericks’ veterans are much better at winning basketball games. If both rosters and coaching staffs stayed exactly the same for next year, the Mavs would win more games nine times out of ten.

The case for the Suns being ahead of the Mavericks is most supported by two things. The first is the upcoming draft. The second is Father Time.

Unless the basketball gods choose to curse Phoenix with highly unfortunate ping pong balls, the Suns should have a top-4 pick in the draft. While this might not be the best draft class overall, the upper lottery is deep with scoring wings like Ben McLemore, Victor Oladipo, and Otto Porter. The Suns should be able to fill that need and begin developing a solid player at a key position. The Mavs will likely be hanging out in the Suns’ old haunt, pick No. 13. The Suns could also end up with pick #14 if the Jazz can get it done in a home-and-home against Minnesota and the Lakers falter in one or two of their remaining games. The Suns haven’t picked this high in the draft since Steve Nash came to town. This draft is a huge opportunity to jump start the franchise by adding young, talented pieces. The Mavs won’t sniff a top-5 pick so long as Dirk continues to play and Cuban keeps being Cuban. The Suns are way ahead in this area.

The other support for the Suns being ahead is Father Time. A day will come when Dirk will no longer suit up for Dallas. No matter how much maneuvering the Mavs’ front office does between now and then, that first year without Dirk is probably going to be a lottery year. So with that in mind, the Suns, who have bottomed out completely in the wake of Steve Nash’s departure, are way ahead because they bit the bullet on a painful decline earlier than the Mavs. I’m not saying Dallas should move on from Dirk now. That would be crazy. He still has something left in the tank, and he won them a title. But from the perspective of eventualities, Phoenix is definitely ahead simply because they’ve moved on to the next era.

So while tonight’s game has no stakes other than the Mavericks getting back to .500 and the Suns holding on to their bad record/high draft pick, this is a matchup of two teams on the road to resurrection. Are both teams headed in the same direction? Which team is closer to title contention? I would give the slight edge to the Suns because I’m a compulsive optimist, but truthfully, only the basketball gods know for sure.

And 1

  1. As losses go, last night’s was brutal. “Goaltending at the buzzer” isn’t something I’ve seen decide a basketball game since Loren Woods was suiting up for the Arizona Wildcats. But that loss seems like par for the course this year. That gut punch loss didn’t hurt nearly as much as it should have because apathy and malaise have set in. The Suns have lost the ability to win games. This goes beyond roster talent and coaching. There is something deeper going awry with this team right now. I’m not sure time away during the playoffs and offseason will be enough to repair what seem to be large fractures among the players and coaches. The Suns need a big time culture change or next season may not be any better than this one.
  2. The Lakers hold a half game lead over the Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Lakers play the second night of a back-to-back tonight in Portland whom they have beaten two out of three this year. After that the Lakers have Golden State (2-1), San Antonio (0-2), and Houston (1-2) all at home. All three of those teams will be pushing for playoff positioning. The Jazz are off until Friday when they’ll do a home-and-home with Minnesota (2-0). They end the season on the road at Memphis (1-2). The Jazz own the tiebreaker with LA, so the Lakers would have to finish one game better to take the eighth seed. John Hollinger’s playoff odds currently give the Lakers a 55.5% chance to make the playoffs and the Jazz a 43.1% chance.



Tags: Dallas Mavericks Draft Los Angleles Lakers Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Preview Rebuilding Utah Jazz

  • Brian

    C’mon who are you trying to fool. The goaltending play was the best possible play at that moment for the franchise moving forward.

  • Scott

    I expect OJ Mayo to opt out on next year’s salary with Dallas and seek a new deal. But what is he really worth? His PER is slightly under average: 14.51.

    I also don’t expect the Suns to be seriously looking for free agents like Mayo. My impression is they are locked into “lottery or bust” mode for years to come.

  • john

    I hope they don’t bother entertaining the idea of signing Mayo. He’s just a slightly more fulfilled version of Michael Beasley. So much talent and hype, but little to show for it besides off-the-court issues.

  • Ty-Sun

    Mayo is a good but not great player. If the Suns had managed to sign him before this season began, they might have been good enough to be drafting around the 13th pick again this year… maybe.

    The Suns shouldn’t count on FAs to try and turn this team around. The only quick fixes possible are pipe dreams.

    If the Suns can get at least one strong player in the draft, make one or two good trades and/or FA signings and improve their record by at least 10 games next season, then MAYBE some top FAs might consider signing with Phoenix. Until then, any FA worth a max deal will find it with a better team.

  • azbballfan

    I agree

    this team is more than 30 games under 500 with only one player worth anything to another team

    the whole team with very few exceptions should be gutted and replaced with youth and draft picks

    if some minimal veterans want in, fine

    but this team needs a real influx of young talent

    they should have been doing this a long time ago but hopefully with this seasons disaster, they dont have a choice expecially with the free agent market being so bad for summer of 2013

    Gortat is the guy who has the 2nd most trade value on the team and even his numbers are an ok 11 points 8.5 boards and a shade under 2 blocks

    if the Suns really do want to rebuild he is going to have tobe traded along with possibly Dragic, but hey i dont expect kendall marshall to come in and get anything close to Dragics numbers for this year

    if the team wants to start at the bottom and trade Dragon and Gortat for an ELITE bigman i am fine with that

    anything less than an elite player would be a waste of time really

  • Forever is2long

    Please put me in the NO MAYO Camp.

  • Ty-Sun

    Watching this game just makes me think that Dragic’s game could be much better if he had better players surrounding him.

  • Scott

    @voqar -

    In an earlier thread you mentioned someone calling for the Suns to take Russ Smith. I was the one who mentioned Smith, but I wasn’t quite calling for him. I was saying he was one of the players available at the end of the first round, should the Suns end up with the Heat pick.

    By now I’ve brought up scouting reports on virtually every player DX has in the first round, and many players in the 2nd round, and even a few projected to go undrafted who could participate in the Suns Summer League.

    Russ Smith’s virtues are that he’s a two way player who plays hard, but the dings on him are that he’s tiny and lacks length. When I mentioned him, I said that on a proper NBA team he’d be in Garrett’s role, and possibly acting as a sixth man type … someone who comes in for a few minutes and is disruptive on defense and who scores some points.

  • bill.thomas

    I don’t understand the beef about Mayo. He had a series of remarkably balanced stat lines for a poor team, Dallas, without consistent point guard play all year. He basically did whatever the situation called for with the rapidly changing rotations and absence or presence of Dirk. All we did was insult him when he came for a visit and then lowball him while overpaying Beasley. He helped them beat us in both games up until tonight, which was won on monster games by 2 or 3 of our players and the absence of Brand, their only defender in the post. What an upgrade over Brown and whoever else might be available. Maybe we should ask the Lakers to trade Kobe to us just to make sure we don’t miss a better player, before making Mayo an offer.

  • bill.thomas

    Followup, PER seems to be poor at telling the story for a number of players, and I don’t know why. If Mayo’s PER is below 15 I’m not sure why, but after seeing him play and viewing his stats I’m not that worried. For that matter, I would expect many players to have a below-average PER on a poor team such as Dallas.

    As an aside, Beaubois, who is in the doghouse there and is an undersized but speedy combo guard, is one we might try signing if his physical health is good.

  • Scott

    @ bill -

    I believe Mayo’s PER used to be much higher earlier in the season. Like 18 or 20. From what I gather, his play and PER has been headed downhill since Dirk returned from injury and the general style of play changed for the Mavs.

    In a way it’s like the deal with Marshall. Marshall spends all his time trying to get the ball to teammates who are in a position to score. Consequently, his PER is below 10. I think that’s what Mayo’s being asked to do: facilitate.

    But Mayo is really a scorer who can throw assists. If he’s not in a regular scoring rhythm, he’s not happy, and his PER droops.

  • john


    I don’t think Mayo is a bad player, but I also don’t think he’s any better than average. He’s going to want somewhere in the neighborhood of $6-8M to be an average player in the league. Sorry, but the Suns already have far too many players making more money than they should.

    And as for PER, you’re right that it doesn’t always paint the whole picture perfectly, but it paints a pretty accurate picture of Mayo.

    His Per36 numbers: 15.8 pts/4.5 ast/3.6 reb/1.2 stl/2.6 tov/2.4 pf

    To put that into perspective, let’s compare those numbers to someone who is decidedly average (JD): 14.3/3.4/4.1/1.2/1.7/2.1

    And Mayo’s shooting splits: .45 fg/.404 3p/.823 ft

    Dudley’s: .47 fg/.397 3p/.804 ft

    OJ Mayo’s numbers are basically identical to Jared Dudley’s. And guess what. Their PER’s are almost identical as well. Dudley is at 15.0. I think the reason his efficiency is rated a little higher has to do with him producing the same on a lower usage rate. I also can’t remember if net ratings come into play with PER, but Dudley actually has a positive net, which is pretty hard to believe considering he’s playing on the worst team in the WC. Dudley is the only player on the team with a positive net (Dragic is neutral).

    If the case can be made (which I think it can very easily) that Jared Dudley is as good as OJ Mayo, what do you think that tells you about OJ Mayo?

  • Scott

    @john -

    Perhaps if the Suns got Mayo he would come off the bench for Dudley? :)