Posted by Jeffrey Sanders on December 10th, 11:38 pm
The Phoenix Suns used strong contributions from many players to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers 114-108 in a game that they controlled for its entirety.
Goran Dragic led the way with 31 points, got the offense going early by scoring 10 of those in the first quarter and helped to get the Suns off to a quick 10-3 start. Marcus Morris scored a season high of 22 points and was smoking hot when he came off the bench by scoring 11 quick points before the first TV timeout of the second quarter.
In the game, the Morris brothers combined for 37 points and 11 rebounds and dominated a three minute stretch late in the fourth quarter that pretty much sealed up the win by scoring 11 straight points including a Marcus Morris block that led to a Dragic transition basket giving the Suns an 11 point lead with 2:30 to go in the fourth.
Eric Bledsoe also had a major impact in the game and carried the Suns at moments, especially coming out of the gate to begin the second half. He forced two turnovers, which led to five Suns baskets to quickly increase a five-point Suns lead to 14 before the Lakers knew what happened. Bledsoe ended the quarter by making two acrobatic layups that just made you shake your head in disbelief. He finished the night with a near double-double of 18 points and nine assists in his first game back at Staples since being traded by the Los Angeles Clippers over the summer.
Let’s see how the pregame questions were answered.
Will Kobe disrupt things enough to give Phoenix an advantage?
I would say yes for the simple fact that the Lakers are still adjusting to Bryant being back in the line-up, as any team would when a player comes back from an injury. Bryant actually had a decent night on the court leading the team with 20 points on 6-11 shooting and making all eight of his free throw attempts. Bryant got the crowd oohing when he made a nice spin move to get by PJ Tucker to throw down his first dunk of the year in the first quarter.
Bryant had a much better overall game than he did in his season debut on Sunday in Toronto by committing five fewer turnovers and having a smarter shot selection. He is still a step slow and slightly out of shape, but those should not be an issue for Bryant within a month or so.
Evidently, Magic Johnson doesn’t think Kobe should be needed to beat the Suns with this tweet after the game.
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Tags: Archie Goodwin · Eric Bledsoe · Goran Dragic · Jeff Hornacek · Los Angeles Lakers · Marcus Morris · Markieff Morris · Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Recap
Posted by Kevin Zimmerman on December 10th, 11:08 am
Time: 8:30 p.m. MST
It’s disappointing how the snowballing of negative opinions put down the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers before the season ever began. The two Pacific Division teams clearly needed to be led by misfits, but the thought they’d both be astoundingly terrible — and awful to watch — seemed too certain when considering the other questionable teams in the NBA.
Alas, things haven’t gone that way. In terms of watchability, USA Today’s least-watchable team, the Suns, visit the 24th most-watchable team in Staples Center on Tuesday, and more than pride is on the line. Both teams are in the thick of the Western Conference race.
Like Phoenix, the success in Los Angeles without Kobe Bryant is a testament to the head coach. Mike D’Antoni’s team, unlike last season when he was brought on midseason, is running and gunning. The key now is that its constructed to do so. Oddly enough, the Lakers actually have a better defensive ranking than offensive ranking comparatively in the NBA and, unlike the Suns, are one of the best teams in terms of ball movement.
Jeff Hornacek’s team seemingly catches the Lakers at a good time. Despite the relative success, an out-of-shape Kobe Bryant is trying to get his bearings.
Will Kobe disrupt things enough to give Phoenix an advantage?
In Bryant’s first game back from a torn Achilles, he gave himself an F, looked overweight and struggled by doing too much in a loss on Sunday to the Toronto Raptors. It’s hard to say whether that bodes well for the Suns. On one hand, Bryant won’t suddenly shed the extra weight he packed on while being unable to exercise. On the other, it’s still Kobe ‘Bean’ Bryant. He’s entirely capable of willing his way to a big game here or there to make a statement. It’s hard to expect him to play well consistently for the time being, but a la Channing Frye’s return this season, he could put in a big game every once in a while until he finds his legs.
No matter whether Bryant is successful or not, his presence changes the chemistry between a Los Angeles team that, like Phoenix, was scrapping some games out without Bryant and former Suns point guard Steve Nash. If the ball sticks, it’ll help the Suns defense get stops. But then we get to the other big question.
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Tags: Los Angeles Lakers · Phoenix Suns Preview
Posted by Dave Dulberg on December 9th, 11:00 am
Since the moment he stepped foot in Phoenix, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough has focused on two areas when it comes to personnel: asset acquisition and cap flexibility.
As Michael Schwartz thoughtfully pointed out in his article on Sunday that focus shouldn’t change. The Suns are off to a surprising 11-9 start but the goal isn’t to be a middling .500 team in the Western Conference for years to come, it’s to build a roster that can compete for championships three to five years down the line.
And as McDonough has illustrated, the most methodical way to achieve that is by pawning off veterans to contending teams (Clippers and Pacers) and/or teams that would like to contend (Bucks and Wizards) in exchange for future assets. It’s why every veteran piece, save for P.J. Tucker and Channing Frye, was shipped out over the summer.
In the case of Frye, I’m not suggesting that McDonough’s vision should change. I’m well aware he’s a Valley product and a fan favorite. With that said, sentiment and popularity shouldn’t factor into any decision. If a team is willing to offer a first-round pick to acquire his services or the Suns can package him in a deal for a player that would seemingly be a better long-term fit, by all means McDonough should pull the trigger. My point is simply this: if trade offers come for Frye in the coming months, at what cost do the Suns simply part ways? Would they do it for a second-round pick? Would they do it for an expiring contract or a team willing to eat the rest of the seven-year veteran’s contract?
Schwartz pointed out that if Frye exercises his player option, the former Arizona standout will be the second-highest paid player on the Suns next season at $6.8 million. Even though that’s a mid-level contract, it does seem like quite a bit for a stretch-four who is averaging 10.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in less than 27 minutes of action.
But I’d argue that Frye’s value can’t simply be measured in just numbers.
On one hand, while he’s not the league’s greatest front court defender, he’s willing and able to go pound-for-pound on the interior with bigger, stronger fours. Given that the team’s No. 5 overall pick has spent more time in street clothes than in uniform, that’s an important asset to have. Not to mention, Miles Plumlee is still navigating his way around the paint at the defensive end, as well.
On the other hand, Frye offers a veteran presence in a locker room that was primarily born during either the George H.W. Bush or Bill Clinton administration. Maybe that’s overvalued in today’s NBA, but the idea of having a roster in two years full of eight or nine former first-round picks paired with some combination that features Dragic/Bledsoe/Plumlee/Morris Twins is a scary proposition.
There’s no doubt that this organization needs more young talent and hopefully a budding superstar to fall in its lap, but it also needs to place some value on leadership and on holding onto a glue guy. Maybe down the line the Suns deem that to be P.J. Tucker or one of the Morris twins (albeit they’re both 24) or a player from another franchise, but I’d like to think they already have that guy on their roster in Frye.
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Tags: Channing Frye · Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Analysis · Ryan McDonough
Posted by Michael Schwartz on December 8th, 10:14 am
The Phoenix Suns spent the offseason slashing veterans from their roster every time they found a playoff contender with a need for such a player.
Jared Dudley, Luis Scola, Caron Butler and Marcin Gortat all changed addresses once the Suns were able to find the right asset mix to acquire in return. That left a roster with Channing Frye as the only player in his 30s aside from injured big man Emeka Okafor.
Frye likely was never considered for trade purposes this summer because we didn’t even know if he would return to the team this year after missing all of last season with an enlarged heart. There seemed to be a better chance of Frye’s contract coming off the Suns’ books due to a medical retirement than through a trade.
However, not only has Frye returned but he hasn’t looked like a player who could not do any strenuous physical activity for the better part of the last year. In 26.7 minutes per game, Frye is averaging 10.4 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting nearly 40 percent from the three-point line, numbers that are very similar to his career marks. Frye is an excellent stretch big who will grab a few rebounds and play decent post defense, the kind of big man most contenders could use.
Frye is making $6.4 million this year and will take home $6.8 million next season assuming he exercises his player option, making him the second-highest paid player on the Suns behind Goran Dragic aside from Okafor’s massive expiring deal. That contract isn’t exorbitant but it’s hefty nonetheless as mid-level type deals are often the worst contracts in basketball.
The Suns’ plan this offseason was clear: trade every possible useful veteran for draft picks and young players with upside. I see no reason why that plan should be altered just because the Suns have overachieved thus far. After all, as well as they’ve played, they wouldn’t even be a playoff team if the postseason started today while all but two teams in the West are within two games of No. 9 Phoenix. According to Kevin Pelton, earlier in the week ESPN’s Playoff Odds only saw the Suns reach the playoffs once in 1,000 tries due to the strength of the conference. In addition, along with the Clippers, the Suns have both played more games against sub-.500 teams (12) than any other squad in the West and Phoenix’s 4-4 mark against winning teams doesn’t seem sustainable.
Therefore, if the Suns have an opportunity to acquire a young asset of some sort or even future flexibility, they should not hesitate to trade Frye. His strong play should be applauded because this wasn’t even a conversation the team needed to have before the season. Now it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think a contender could view Frye as a missing piece on their roster. [Read more →]
Tags: Channing Frye · Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Analysis
Posted by Dave Dulberg on December 6th, 11:33 pm
PHOENIX — The question made him cringe almost as soon as it was asked.
Minutes after scoring 18 points for a second consecutive contest in the Phoenix Suns’ 106-97 victory over the Toronto Raptors Friday night, small forward P.J. Tucker was forced to talk about of all things: his offense.
“I’m still an all-defensive player,” Tucker said in an attempt to hold on to his league-wide reputation. “My focus is still all on my defense. I work really hard on my offense, but making a statement on defense is still my ultimate goal. Keeping people honest on offense is my only goal.”
The truth is, he’s doing far more than that.
Last season, Tucker’s story was one of the few positive headlines in a 25-57 campaign that couldn’t end soon enough. It was the kind of script that most Hollywood directors would have likely declined: a top-flight college star flames out during his first attempt at life in the NBA, only to return five years later after rediscovering his game in Europe.
But the former Big 12 Player of the Year endeared himself to management, his teammates and the Phoenix community almost immediately after donning the purple and orange for the first time. It was love at first sight, the closest thing in a league full of million-dollar stars to a rags-to-riches tale.
But lost beneath the six-foot-six forward’s tenacity and fearlessness at the defensive end — whether it was going up against LeBron James, Kevin Durant or an opposing team’s third-string point guard — was his inability to provide much of a threat on the other side of the court. His blue collar, no-nonsense approach defending the paint and perimeter was a thing of beauty. His flat jump shot and non-existent mid-range game were not.
To call him an offensive liability might have been a stretch, but Tucker only reached double digits in 26 percent of the games he played in.
In 2013-14, that’s no longer much of an issue.
The third-year pro out of Texas has started all 20 games this season, he’s shooting 46 percent from the field, 50 percent from three-point range (tied for No. 5 in the league) and 70 percent from the free throw line. Friday night’s performance also marked the fifth time in 2013-14 he’s scored at least 17 points in a game — a feat he only achieved four times a season ago.
Tucker, who won the scoring title in the Ukranian SuperLeague in 2008-09, believes his assertiveness has more to do with the style of offense Phoenix is now running as opposed to anything else.
“It’s our offense and the way its set up now,” Tucker said. “It puts me in a position now where I am knocking down shots. Now with me making them, people are trying to run me off the line and I’m getting open more. I’m just getting more available shots this year. ”
While that’s true to some extent, Friday’s nine-point win was a perfect example of how Tucker has turned his prowess at the defensive end into a weapon at the offensive end.
During the first three minutes of the contest, Tucker batted down a hand-off between Tyler Hansbrough and Rudy Gay and turned it into a breakaway layup, he contested a Gay three-point shot and then finished on the other end for an uncontested layup and then drew two quick fouls on Gay — one of which occurred while trying to curl off a pick for an open jump shot.
Although he finished the night shooting 4-of-12 from the floor, two early buckets combined with a pair of back-to-back corner three-point shots in the third quarter and eight conversions from the charity stripe more or less summed up what Tucker has become to the 2013-14 version of the Phoenix Suns.
He’s more than earned the right to be called versatile, or as ValleyoftheSuns.com’s Ryan Weisert put it, ‘The best Swiss Army Knife in the NBA.’
“Obviously, every team would love to have a defensive stopper,” Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “That’s P.J. for us. We can put him on anybody. Even at six-foot-six, we feel like we can even put him on a big guy if we need to. We know he’ll box him out. We know he’ll make it tough for him. He’s a great piece to our team.
“Maybe in the past it was all defense, but I think this year he’s done a nice job with his offense. He’s not forcing anything. If he gets the ball in the post, he makes a move. He’s making the corner three-point shots. He’s playing an all-around game now, which is great.”
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Tags: Jeff Hornacek · P.J. Tucker · Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Analysis
Posted by Dave Dulberg on December 6th, 10:23 pm
PHOENIX — Coming into Friday night’s contest, the Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors found themselves only a game out of the playoff race in their respective conferences.
While not its conference’s premiere representative of superior talent, the Suns did just enough to prove that the balance of power lies firmly on the western side of the Mississippi River.
In a game that played out like a choppy and rather undisciplined 48-minute display of basketball, Phoenix outlasted Toronto 106-97 for its first home victory over an Eastern Conference opponent in 2013-14.
Markieff Morris took advantage of Tyler Hansbrough’s first-quarter injury (left shoulder sprain) and hit his first 11 shots from the field en route to a team-high 25 points. P.J. Tucker continued his consistent play at both ends of the court, scoring 18 points and snagging a season-high 13 rebounds, while helping limit the Raptors’ wing scorers — Rudy Gay and Demar DeRozan — to an 11-for-30 shooting night.
And despite the uneven feel in Phoenix’s nine-point victory, the Suns held the Raptors to just 12 second chance points. Heading into the night, Dwayne Casey’s squad led the league in that category, averaging 17.7 per game. On the flip side, Phoenix had 16 second chance points Friday.
The Suns also won the battle on the offensive boards, grabbing 18 to Toronto’s 11.
“I think they were ready to go on the boards,” Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek said of his team out-rebounding Toronto 53-36. “That has to be our biggest advantage of the year. Everybody went for them. P.J. at the three-spot pulls down 13 boards, because he went after them. We boxed out.”
Let’s see how the game answered Ryan Weisert’s three pregame questions?
Who will handle the distribution duties for Phoenix?
Neither Eric Bledsoe nor Goran Dragic concerned themselves all that much with serving as facilitators.
Through 19 games, both guards were averaging at or above around six assists per night. Only one of the two, Bledsoe, would reach that mark against Toronto. The duo combined for 32 points and eight dimes in the win, six of which belonged to the first-year Sun.
In games in which he’s played start to finish, Friday was just the third time Dragic failed to record at least five assists. Although it should be noted that on more than one occasion the Suns made the necessary extra pass to create an open shot. Unfortunately for Dragic, hockey assists don’t count in the NBA.
Which sophomore center will win the matchup inside?
Jonas, Miles, at times neither, at times both and all of the above.
In short, there was no clear-cut winner in the battle of second-year centers.
Plumlee started the game 3-of-3 from the field for eight points, and then sat out the first nine minutes of the second quarter. Valanciunas had a pedestrian first quarter, but finished the first half with nine points and five rebounds. While his scoring primarily came at free throw line, the former first-round pick did have a rather eventful sequence with under a minute to play in the first half.
After dunking over Plumlee, the Raptors center swung violently underneath the basket, though he failed to hit anything resembling an opposing player. However, as he ran back from underneath the basket, Valanciunas and Markieff Morris met chest-to-chest and both were subsequently issued technical fouls.
Neither played big minutes in the second half. Plumlee missed all three attempts he took from the field in the third quarter but grabbed five boards. Valanciunas finished with a double-double (11 points and 10 rebounds), but outside of a five-footer to beat the third quarter buzzer, he wasn’t heard from after halftime.
The real story turned out to be reserve forwards Markieff Morris and Amir Johnson, who combined for 47 points and 18 rebounds coming off the bench.
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Tags: P.J. Tucker · Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Recap · Toronto Raptors