By Sean Kennedy
Prior to the season, Phoenix was expected to be among the worst teams in the league, a sort of Sixers West in the great tanking race leading up to the loaded 2014 draft. The Suns acquired Eric Bledsoe but also unloaded three of their starters in Jared Dudley, Luis Scola, and Marcin Gortat. With all their trades yielding a very obtainable four first-round picks (not certain due to some embedded protections), Phoenix was expected to sink to the bottom this year before rising back over the horizon by pairing Bledsoe with all of those stud rookies.
However, unlike the Sixers who have stuck to the tanking script perfectly, the Suns behind new coach Jeff Hornacek (one of my favorite Sixers growing up while watching some pretty bad Philadelphia teams) have instead been one of the most surprising stories in the league. Phoenix currently sits at 17-11, and would be in the playoffs in the stacked Western Conference if the season ended today. So how has Phoenix authored this turnaround?
The Suns are among the league leaders in eFG%, thanks in large part to the fact that they’re one of the better three-point shooting teams in the league. 6 different Suns average at least one made three per game, with PJ Tucker, Marcus Morris, and Channing Frye all shooting over 40%. However, my pick of the player to abuse the Sixers Charmin-soft perimeter defense is Gerald Green, who’s really emerged this season as a great instant offense shooter off the bench. He’s had games of 6, 4, and 6 made threes in the past 10 days.
Still, it’s the starting backcourt of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe that really make the Suns go. Each player averages around 18 ppg on just under 50% shooting and about 6 assists, and their ability to each orchestrate the offense from anywhere on the court allows Phoenix to attack the most favorable opposing matchup. Those two run the show for the Suns, while Miles Plumlee has emerged to anchor the frontcourt. After Gortat’s departure, most people expected the Suns to struggle in that area until last year’s first-round pick Alex Len got his feet under him. However, Len has barely seen the floor while Plumlee has nearly averaged a double-double and 2 blocks per game.
So do the Sixers stand a chance tonight? The Suns do tend to foul a lot but Philadelphis isn’t particularly good at getting to the charity stripe. Phoenix also gives up a ton of offensive rebounds, and having just been shellacked by Golden State last night, a Sixers team that hasn’t played in nearly a week could certainly bring more energy to exploit that facet of the game. However, we’ve seen how teams that can drain the long ball have decimated the Sixers defense this season. I expect to hear plenty of an exasperated Malik Rose tonight as the Suns roll to victory.