Stretching the Field: Suns not taking the bait
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The 2014 NBA draft class has prospects front office folk are drooling over.
Andrew Wiggins is the Grade A choice for suitors who struggled to keep others from chuckling at their misfortunes.
The Phoenix Suns were predicted to be a butt of the joke this season with a new head coach, philosophy and faces on the roster. But au contraire, the Suns basically told all doubters to sit on it and won three of their first four games of the season.
Led by first-year Sun Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix opened 2-0 with wins over Portland and Utah, then dropped an obvious one to Oklahoma City. The Suns made it three wins in four tries with a victory over New Orleans and basketball fans and pundits were abuzz.
Bledsoe leads the team in scoring with 21.0 points per game and had 25 points against the Pelicans, one night after a season-high 26 in the loss to the Thunder. It was the first time in his career Bledsoe scored 20-plus points in back-to-back games.
That's what happens when frustration builds up playing behind Chris Paul.
"He's got that strength and explosiveness," Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek said of Bledsoe. "You see him get trapped and all of a sudden he gets to the hole in a matter of seconds."
Bledsoe, who was acquired in a deal from the Los Angeles Clippers and is averaging 9.0 ppg in the fourth quarter, has scored in double digits in all five games this season and made only 38 starts in three seasons in Hollywood. Now he has the chance to etch his name among NBA showstoppers, and, to take a line from Lionel Richie, no longer has to play in the shadows.
Bledsoe is definitely running with the night, but is not doing it alone.
The baby-faced Suns were cooled off, 99-96, by the defending Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday and proved they could hang with one of the league's elite teams. Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green are two of 10 players who did not appear in a game with Phoenix last season and scored 15 points apiece against the Spurs.
Green came over in a deal with the Indiana Pacers and has totaled at least 15 points in three straight games. Green is a threat behind the 3-point line, too, and has made at least three long shots in that stretch.
What a great pick-up Green was for this franchise.
Phoenix was ahead by a point in the final minute in the Alamo City, but learned a lesson from Spurs All-Star guard Tony Parker, as he scored the final four points of the game to teach the Suns a lesson on how to be clutch. Markieff Morris is one of the Suns' younger pieces and totaled a team-high 23 points, 18 of which came in the first half.
It had to be nice for Hornacek to see his team step up in a big moment and have one of the best in the business on the ropes for the entire game. Hornacek said earlier that as long as the team plays together, good fortunes will come.
"That's the thing we stressed throughout training camp and preseason is to play as a team," Hornacek said. "If they do that they should prove some people wrong, that they're better than anticipated."
He's right. Despite the loss to the Spurs, the Suns can no longer be held as a pushover and they believe in the staff's philosophy.
"He's been there before, so we've got no choice but to listen," Bledsoe said of Hornacek. "He's been to the Finals, been to the playoffs, won games and he's played with great players. We're just listening to him, and the response in his actions means a lot."
Hornacek was a guard who liked to run and knock down 3-pointers. Playing with John Stockton and Karl Malone tends to bring the best out of a player. And that's what he's trying to instill early on with the Suns, who enter Friday's home tilt with the Denver Nuggets second in the NBA with 21.6 fast break points and first with 22.2 percent of the squad's points coming in that fashion. Golden State is next with 19.9 percent and pegged to go deep in the Western Conference playoffs and possibly reach the Finals.
Does that mean Phoenix can make the playoffs? Anything is possible. The Suns probably would if they resided in the East, but that's an argument for another time.
The 3-2 start is the best since a 4-1 beginning to the 2009-10 campaign. The Suns are youthful and learning together on the fly, and also have an admirable corps with Bledsoe, Green, Plumlee, Goran Dragic, P.J. Tucker and Channing Frye. Dragic is another stud, but is dealing with a sprained left ankle. His return can only make the Suns that much more competitive.
Although it's too early to jump on the bandwagon just yet, there should be room in the coming months. Just try not to scuff your knees if things go awry.
11/08 14:07:13 ET