What’s wrong with the Phoenix Suns? Does that sound like an over reaction to a record that stands at 2-2 in the very early stages of the 2015-16 NBA season? Early in the season or not, four games have shown enough cause for concern—even among those who believe in Phoenix. Viewed by many as a team that sneak into the Western Conference playoffs, Phoenix has shown a variety of issues that need to be sorted out for them to have a fighting chance in the West.
The biggest issue is the continuity and cohesiveness of the Suns roster. With so much young talent, coach Jeff Hornacek has been fiddling with his roster and trotting out different lineups and player combinations to see who fits best with who and who is consistently performing.
The problem is, things like depth charts are usually taken care of in the off-season. With so much inconsistency in his line-ups, the Suns are struggling to find an identity. A huge issue to deal with is identifying the leader of this young team.
Eric Bledsoe seems like the obvious choice, but splitting point guard duties with fellow guard Brandon Knight doesn’t look like it is sitting too well with Bledsoe. There are times that it looks like Bledsoe is sulking, or at the very least disengaged when he is the 2. When he does receive the call to bring the ball up, it seems that he tries to assert his dominance as the ‘true’ point guard and often does a little too much. His aggressiveness sometimes catches his teammates off guard, and they are in bad positions when Bledsoe gets caught in the air.
The dynamic between the two point guards is a detriment to the entire Suns’ identity. For a team that has a focus in pace-and-space and pushing the tempo, transition and plays off made baskets are muddled; there typically is a designated player to inbound the ball in all situations (usually the 4 or the 5) and there are designed players to receive the pass. In transition, the Phoenix Suns are a step behind because they have to identify which point to pass it to.
Moving back to the issue of depth in Phoenix, the Suns have seven players younger than 25, and a most have not seen consistent playing time in the NBA. The only real way to see how a player will perform in the league is to give them minutes. The problem is that formula is the exact opposite of a team trying to make the playoffs.
Constantly cycling between Bledsoe, Knight, T.J. Warren, Devin Booker, Archie Goodwin, Ronnie Price and even Sonny Weems, the Suns resemble a summer league team with all the changes to the lineup. The players that stay on the floor are the players that are playing ‘hot’ at the moment, and sometimes it seems like Hornacek is trying to send a message to the team: play the way I want you to play or I will bench you with impunity.
After a horrific season opener to the Dallas Mavericks where the Suns looked mismanaged and confused for the majority of the game, the Suns managed to put together two solid games on a back to back with Portland for their only wins of the season. Although, the Suns played a close game against the Clippers, the loss to the Mavericks (doubtful to make the playoffs) and the close games to the Trail Blazers (not going to make the playoffs) do not instill confidence that the Suns are heading the right direction.
The guards behind Bledsoe and Knight are inexperienced and young. When they do play, only Goodwin comes out with any aggressiveness. It may be due to the coaching of Hornacek, but the guards seem a bit lost out there and play timidly. Hornacek needs to start running plays for his young players to get some good looks and try and get a motion offense where the players can make plays. Transition with the second squad is discombobulated and often ends in the ball handler trying to do too much. At the early stages of the season, Hornacek has to dictate the tempo and manage the team to establish a pecking order and establish a team identity.
The silver lining with the Suns is they have some good pieces laying in there. For one, the 26-year-old Jon Leuer has been impressive in his playing style; he has been aggressive, plays smart and stays within himself. Goodwin has come out with some fire and is getting to the rim.
The Suns have good pieces in the organization. They need to find some identity, and they need to have an alpha dog leading the team. If they prefer to have responsibilities spread across the players, Hornacek needs to be the one to lead the team by assigning a pecking order.