Tuesday 23 January 2018 / 11:09 PM

Phoenix Suns, Not Tanking Anymore?

There is a line of thought that aside from winning a lot, losing frequently is the next best thing for a franchise. Every team aspires to prosper consistently like the San Antonio Spurs. However, if you are a little short on talent, but not bad enough to draft the best of the best, a team can easily be left in a vast wasteland filled with decent, ok and mediocre squads. While the odds for success were stacked against the Phoenix Suns this year, they seemed a good bet to select high in one of the most well regarded drafts in recent memory. Could their shockingly solid play be bad luck? Nobody thinks Phoenix is good enough to win a title, but they may be in danger of losing a player like Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid or Marcus Smart.

When the season began the over/under on Suns victories this season was 21.5. They were 300-1 to win the NBA Finals. Seven weeks into the year Phoenix is 14-9 and winners of five straight. They’ve beaten Portland twice, Golden State and Houston. While nobody in the front office is complaining, it is hard to imagine this is what first year general manager Ryan McDonough and rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek thought they were in store for.

A big piece to the Suns success has been the three point line. Phoenix is shooting over 37 percent from long range, ninth in the league, while holding opponents to a 33 percent mark from distance, fourth best in the NBA. The Suns are one of five teams that make more than nine threes a game. They have a trio of players shooting over 40 percent from outside the arc. P.J. Tucker, a journeyman who started his pro career with the Raptors in 2006, and recently spent half-a-decade playing overseas, is knocking down 47 percent of his triples.

Although a team that was outright tanking probably would not have traded for Eric Bledsoe, being able to acquire an elite talent without sacrificing meaningful future assets was an astute move. In July, as part of a three way deal, the Suns got Bledsoe from the Clippers by shipping Jared Dudley to LA and a second round draft pick to Milwaukee. While Dudley is a piece to the puzzle for a contending team, Bledsoe, who was trapped behind Chris Paul on LA’s depth chart, is still on his rookie contract, and well worth the risk to see if he would become a star given lots more playing time.

After starting only 13 games over the past two seasons, Bledsoe has been a regular in the Phoenix lineup. He has upped his points a game average from 8.5 to 19.5 while shooting a career high 49-percent from the floor. His 6.4 assists per contest are more than double his norm from last year. During the Suns winning streak he has managed 21.2 points and 7.8 assists a game. He has shot over 50-percent from three point land in three of the five wins.

Besides Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, who is locked up for another season at a very affordable $7.5 million, is experiencing a career year. The guard from Yugoslavia is second on the team scoring 19.1 points a game, nine more than his career average. He is shooting a career best 50 percent and knocking down more trifectas than ever before. During three straight close wins, Dragic has tallied 31, 29, and 21 points while hitting at a 58 percent clip, and banging home 10 three’s in 15 tries.

It is a precarious situation the Suns are in. Bledsoe is a building block, Dragic has played very well, and the three point line is the great equalizer in the NBA. Yet, the goal is to eventually win big. San Antonio did so with David Robinson, were awful the one year when he was hurt, drafted Tim Duncan, and have been a model franchise ever since. Bledsoe, Dragic and a top draft pick might be a much better future than the same two players and the memory of a hard fought duel to make the playoffs followed by getting punched in the mouth in the first round.

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Dave Friedman

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