Kevin Kraczkowski (HHH): Eric Bledsoe has gotten a little better in each of his first three seasons (all with the Los Angeles Clippers). This season, he's gotten a lot better. Tell me what he means to the Suns.
Jim Coughenour (BsotS): While many Suns fans have become captivated by the Bledshow, I tend to believe that GM Ryan McDonough is a bit more shrewd and calculating. Ever since he's been on the job he's been in a frenzied asset collection mode. In his master plan Bledsoe could just be a means to an end. I also think that plan is constantly shifting and evolving, and even McDonough may not be exactly sure what the end game is for him. On the court, Bledsoe has been the team's go to guy in the fourth quarters of games. On a team that struggles to create their own offense he is an exception. He has appeared to usurp Goran Dragic as the primary ball handler while the two are on the court together and seems to be a leader in terms of court presence. He is a tenacious defender and a stalwart of what has been a surprisingly suffocating defensive effort (7th in the league in DRtg). EB is not without his blemishes, though, as he tends to overdribble at times and shows questionable judgment with the ball, leading to four turnovers a game.
Kevin: I wasn't aware that the Suns frequently feature a set of twins on the floor. Do Markieff and Marcus Morris have interchangeable skillsets?
Jim: Ideally no. One of the
multitude of issues that has plagued Markieff in his early career is an identity crisis. He has strayed away from developing prototypical power forward skills to his own detriment. This season, however, he has been more aggressive getting to the basket and less passive settling for perimeter shots. His inconsistency has still been disconcerting, but he appears to finally be growing into a definite role. Marcus is more of the small forward type, though he can play the four in an uptempo system and/or depending on matchups. He has been shooting the three at an impressive clip of 44.4% with 4.7 attempts per 36 minutes. It appears that an inside (Markieff) outside (Marcus) game best suits their style and they have flourished at times this season while playing together off the bench.
Kevin: The Suns rank last in the NBA with a total of 217 assists (18.1 per game). Would you consider ball distribution a weakness for the team? And if so, is there a way the front office can address it through a trade or free agency?
Jim: Well, the Suns are 25th in the league in turnovers per game (17.7) so they don't seem to be having problems distributing the ball to the other team. The backcourt dynamic with Bledsoe and Dragic logging minutes together seems to be stymieing Dragic's ability to be a playmaker. He is down to 6.4 assists per 36 minutes, which is down dramatically from 7.9 last year. However, they haven't been on the court as much as anticipated because of both players missing time with minor injuries. While the Suns lead the league in fast break points (22.5), many of those come on pick six type of scores when perimeter players jump passing lanes on defense.
The real culprit is ball stopping in half court sets. The Suns really struggle in this aspect and a big part of that is not having any secondary playmakers, such as Luis Scola last year. None of the Suns forwards are particularly talented passers or adept at setting up their teammates for easy opportunities. Part of this is a somewhat natural trade off for having such an inexperienced roster. Part of this is due to having the team's two point guards being the only players capable of creating their own offense consistently. Part of this is not having a presence inside that is capable of running a two man game in a halfcourt offense. With a bevy of draft picks and cash to spend the Suns should be able to collect players with these types of skill sets in their arsenal. The question is whether they will be guys in the draft that need seasoning or more experienced players that also fit the team's current personality.
Kevin: The Suns are a very young team, with an average age of 25 and 10 out of their 13 players with three or fewer seasons of experience. The flip side of that coin is that the team will have years to gel. Who is the core group that you envision as sticking around for the next five seasons or more?
Jim: Five years is like an eon in NBA time, especially with a GM who I believe sees every player on the roster as a potentially movable asset. Even as a youngish team, the current roster would only have Bledsoe, the Morris twins, Alex Len and Archie Goodwin under the age of 30 in five years. Omit the twins and the remaining three are probably the most likely, but even Bledsoe is expendable. Ryan McDonough is a perspicacious chap and I would love to hear his thoughts on giving max money to and building around a point guard who isn't even top five at this position... Will Bledsoe be able to ascend into that class? He's still got some work to do despite his electric start this season. I give a couple of the Suns draft picks next summer a better chance of sticking than anybody else on the current roster staying around.
And since I mentioned Goodwin above you should keep an eye on him in the game tonight. He has been playing more the last couple games due to Bledsoe's absence. If he gets some burn this game you will hopefully witness his blinding fast break speed. Dude can run.
Kevin: So, the Suns are 31-18 against Miami all-time. How likely is another win for Phoenix tonight.
Jim: I actually expect the Suns to keep this one close, which will give them a chance to steal one late. Phoenix hasn't lost a game by more than seven points this season and were in a position to win every game but one down the stretch. I still give Miami the nod in this game, maybe something like 104-98, but after the Suns have already proved me wrong so many times in this young season basically nothing would surprise me.
HHH would like to thank Jim and Bright Side Of The Sun for playing along. Check back later for the game preview, and the Game Thread goes live an hour before tip.