Suns head coach Earl Watson reached a milestone in his coaching career Wednesday night, coaching his 82nd game with the Suns, the equivalent of a full NBA regular season.
Watson took over the role in February after Jeff Hornacek was fired. The Suns hired him to the position permanently in April, making him the 17th head coach in franchise history.
Watson, 37, has a 28-54 record with the Suns. Despite the bad record, there are a few positives. The Suns are young and have a lot to figure out as a franchise, leaving Watson with a rather challenging job. Here are four ways to judge how his tenure has been so far.
1. Starting off slowly, very slowly
Watson’s 28-54 record is tied for second worst in franchise history for the first 82 games. Red Kerr coached the team in its inaugural season in 1968-69 and posted a 16-66 record. In 1987-88, John Wetzel led the team to a 28-54 record in his lone year as head coach. Lindsey Hunter took over for Alvin Gentry in 2013 and posted a 12-29 record in his 41 games as interim head coach.
Outside of that, most Suns’ coaches have had OK records in their first 82 games. Mike D’Antoni finished the 2003-04 season at 21-40, but rebounded next season, going 18-3 and finishing his first 82 with a 39-43 record.
2. They haven’t stopped running
For the last decade and change, the Suns have been known as a team that plays fast. Starting with Seven Seconds or Less and continuing to today, the Suns have been around the top of the league in pace and fastbreak scoring.
This season, the Suns are second in fastbreak points, third in pace and fourth in points off turnovers. While not as productive as it used to be, the high-speed style of play that has become part of the Suns’ identity is still around.
3. Not a lot of dimes being dropped
The Suns are last in the league in assists at 18.3 per game this season. They also have the worst assist-to-turnover ratio in the NBA.
Watson has focused more on the individual talent of players like Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker and T.J. Warren. The Suns were 21st in isolation possessions last season, but are 12th in 2016-17. The results haven’t been great. The Suns are 27th in shooting percentage in isolation.
However, the offense in Phoenix has come on recently thanks to Booker and Bledsoe. The Suns were the eighth-most efficient team on offense in January.
4. Problems with a mixed roster
Watson has been in a tough spot since he took the job given who the Suns have on the roster. With three rookies and eight players under 25 years old, it seems like Phoenix is going young and preparing for the long-term.
On the flip side, players like Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Jared Dudley, Tyson Chandler and P.J. Tucker are in the middle or later stages of their careers.
Watson has had to balance playing for wins with established talent against developing the young players and building for the next generation. As the Suns head into the trade deadline and the off season, the direction Watson should take the team may become more clear.
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