PHOENIX — The NBA playoffs roll on without the Phoenix Suns. While the results could add to ideas of where the league might be or should be headed, we can take a lot of lessons from the Suns themselves to apply to the NBA as a whole.
Here’s Round 2 of what the 2013-14 version of the Suns taught us.
Players develop faster in the NBA (with a caveat)
The NCAA wants its “student-athletes” to stay in school longer. The NBA cares about the age limit as well, for whatever reason.
The Suns drafted two of the younger players in the 2013 draft in Alex Len and Archie Goodwin, and each were different examples of showing why players developing more in college is a myth.
Two caveats: First, there are a few teams that haven’t got it right when talent development comes into play (see Bennett, Anthony and the Cavaliers). Second, this rule applies for first-round talents, not guys who are hardly projected to be selected in the second round.
“Me personally, I feel like I know what I want to do with my life, and I feel like I can be one of the better players to ever to play this game if I just continue to work,” Goodwin said. “For me to be only 19 and have a really bright future ahead of myself as long as I continue to work, listen to my coaches … the rest will take care of itself.”
Goodwin pretty much has said school wasn’t for him. Basketball was, and it wasn’t some pipe dream. He’s an NBA talent.
But had he stayed at Kentucky for his sophomore year, would he have developed possibly even playing off the bench. Factor in classwork, lack of practice time imposed by the NCAA and not playing against Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe almost every day, and you tell me how in the world he could have developed more by staying in school.
It’s all about attitude
So many things went right for the Suns, but the biggest change from a year ago was simple. Phoenix brought in players that had a lot of things to prove individually but knew how to buy in to a team concept.
After exit interviews, the common theme was that the players felt like they were back in high school or college again. They played well together, but they were also pushing to get better individually.
“It seemed like a majority of our team, when we asked them what their summer plans were, they said they’re staying here in Phoenix,” said Suns general manager Ryan McDonough. “A few of them actually, we had to say, ‘We’re going to refinish the floor. We suggest you take some time off.’ They said, ‘Really, do we have to?’
“That’s pretty good. I’ve been around a lot of teams where you have to drag guys back into the gym in September.”
Goran Dragic is (quietly) a bad man
Kevin Durant said he should have been an All-Star, but Goran Dragic might get the consolation prize as league Most Improved Player.
This season was full of consolation prizes for Phoenix. The surprise season was met with no playoff berth and a pat on the back for a win count. Miles Plumlee was somehow an injury-replacement for the Rising Star Challenge. Dragic got invited to a Taco Bell-sponsored event instead of the All-Star game itself. Jeff Hornacek was runner-up to Gregg Popovich in the Coach of the Year voting.
But Dragic is known as a bad, bad dude to his opponents and the tough guy to his teammates. The most polite guy in the Suns locker room of many polite guys also got playfully aggressive with his words in his postseason meeting with the media, a sign of the competitiveness that has him in the conversation for the MIP award.
“This season, that we’re only going to win 16 games, that we’re going to tank it and try to get better picks – every game when you go on the floor and you have this in the back of your mind, in your head ‘You’re going to win 15 games’ – no way,” he said. “It was so much fun to prove all of the people — even the haters, they don’t like us — to prove them wrong.”