Recent Suns Play (and Wins) Proof the Tank is Working

Apr 9, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Nicolas Brussino (9) handles the ball against Phoenix Suns forward Dragan Bender (35) in the second half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns won 124-111. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 9, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Nicolas Brussino (9) handles the ball against Phoenix Suns forward Dragan Bender (35) in the second half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns won 124-111. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports /

Granted the Suns aren’t beating the league’s best teams right now, but their recent competitiveness, and their wins over lesser teams, is evidence that the tank is working, and we don’t even yet know where they will be selecting in this summer’s draft.

The Suns defeated the Dallas Mavericks this afternoon in a big way behind a 40 point first quarter, a 36 point third, by 21 points from Devin Booker and T.J. Warren, and 20 points from Tyler Ulis. Ulis recorded his 6th double-double as a starter, and with 14 points and 10 boards Alex Len recorded his 11 of the year.

In their past two games versus Dallas and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Suns have held 20+ point leads in back-to-back games for the first time all season. These two games also came on the heels of close, competitive, and highly entertaining losses to the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets (granted each without some of their important cogs who were rested against the Suns intentionally), as well as the Los Angeles Clippers and the Atlanta Hawks.

A team who tied it’s franchise record for consecutive losses in a season and had accustomed it’s fanbase to blowout losses, is becoming highly competitive and rather than being blown out are now losing in close matchups. Then rather than winning tight matchups, they are now beginning to blow teams out who earlier in the year would have remained far more competitive themselves, or defeated the Suns handily all together.

All of this because of the “tank.”

The start of the tank began with the benching and trading of veteran players to open up playing time for younger ones. The expectation that expanded minutes, or starters minutes, coupled with playing time against the opponent’s starters and best players, would help to harden the young Suns and give them experiences that otherwise could not be had while on the bench. The extra time for Tyler Ulis, Alan Williams, T.J. Warren, Alex Len, Derrick Jones Jr., Marquese Chriss, and for a shorter period due to injury, Dragan Bender, was literally a trial by fire, to which they seem to have all passed.

The number of personal (and franchise) records these players have set in the past few weeks is staggering. Performing without much veteran assistance, and performing with a roster intentionally shrunk to an absolute minimum, this young core has grown faster than they otherwise would have playing limited minutes behind veteran (and more established) starters.

With the trade of P.J. Tucker, T.J. Warren has taken the role of small forward and made it entirely his own. Averaging 17.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks in that stretch, he is one of only three players in the league with those minimums. Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the other two.

Tyler Ulis has taken over the role of starting point guard and as a pass first point has reached double-digits in assists six times, each time recording a double-double. Would anyone have imagined that Tyler Ulis would have had as many point/assists double-doubles in 14 games as Bledsoe had in 66? Ulis’ play is most certainly making Ryan McDonough’s decision on whether to trade Eric Bledsoe or draft another point guard more difficult.

(On a side note, prior to Bledsoe being shut down, the Suns averaged as a team 19.3 assists per game, good for 29th in the league. Since Tyler Ulis has been installed as the point, the Suns have moved up slightly, averaging 21.0 per game, which is 26th overall).

Alan Williams, of course, is also making McDonough’s decision regarding whether to keep Tyson Chandler and/or Alex Len more difficult as well as he has recorded 11 double-doubles since the break, equaling Alex Len’s total over the full season thus far. Williams is only 24 and if he could prove to remain a consistent double-double threat every single game over a full season, he would be the ideal backup center, one more than capable of being a central cog in a playoff team.

Then of course there is Marquese Chriss, one of the most dynamic and high-flying dunkers in the league today. Chriss will finish with the third most starts for a rookie in franchise history, and has broken the 20 point barrier five times in the past two months – regardless of his final statistics, that alone is a very impressive feat for a 19-year old. Chriss’ shooting too has taken a significant step up since the All-Star break. Shooting 42.0% from the field and 29.7% from three prior to the break, since then his averages have jumped to 50.0% and 35.0% respectively. Throw in that his rebounding average has jumped from 3.5 to 5.9, and there is every chance in the world that he will be a double-double threat every game by as early as next season.

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With the offense centered around Devin Booker, who is the league’s 14th leading scorer since the break (and who by the way took personal the Russell Westbrook attempt at history three nights ago – how awesome was it to hear Booker say that?!), and the Suns have a team that because of the tank are definitely on the rise – none of which would have been possible without the tank.

Imagine Eric Bledsoe and Tyson Chandler still starting, as well as P.J. Tucker still on the team. Maybe the Suns have 27 wins right now (they were on pace for 26 prior to the trade deadline) and still sitting with the third worst record. Maybe they don’t lost 13 straight, and maybe Devin Booker doesn’t score 70, but they were playing with a full contingent of veteran starters keeping the likes of Ulis, Williams, and Jones all securely on the bench as emergency relief. Would fans know anything about this team going forward? Would any losses be worth accepting or glossing over because of the building excitement that the young team is actually developing into something very special?

I believe that you are shaking your head no right now because you agree that those would be the results of a terribly underachieving team, one without the knowledge of how it’s youth is or will progress.

The tank was literally like miracle grow for this franchise. These players are maturing well beyond their years and developing much more quickly than in any other situation. It’s been fun to watch, and will only make the start of next season that much more exciting.

Now let’s just hope that regarding the draft, the tank did will work there too.