The Phoenix Suns continue their inconsistent play of impressive bursts of offense often spoiled by lapses across the board. Jon Bloom, Kevin Zimmerman, Kellan Olson and Bryan Gibberman gather to talk how Tyson Chandler’s return affects Alex Len, the wing rotation and what positive signs there might be — if any — that may be a sign the team could still compete for a playoff spot.
Alex Len has thrived starting in place of Tyson Chandler. How should Jeff Hornacek manage the minutes at center?
Jon Bloom: Tough spot for Alex to be in during Monday night’s game in Dallas. He was starting ahead of a healthy Chandler who clearly was the focal point due to his return to his former home. It seems, like many young players, that Len is at his best when his role is clearly defined and he is able to get comfortable in a routine. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened except for when Chandler was out for a couple weeks this season. In the end, Hornacek has to go with the starting lineup he thinks gives him the best chance to compete and set the tone early, and adjust from there as the game goes on. I still think having Chandler on the floor is huge for defensive communication and for that reason my guess is he returns to the starting lineup.
Kevin Zimmerman: I’d be an advocate of continuing to start Len but the Dallas game reminded me a few things. For one, he struggled physically against a solid veteran in Zaza Pachulia. On another note, having Len on the second unit adds more offensive versatility in comparison to Chandler. In the third quarter, Chandler was part of a group of players that got torched — without Jon Leuer coming off the bench, the second unit had no playmaker outside Brandon Knight.
Kellan Olson: It was the right decision to leave Len in the starting lineup, but his inconsistencies he has shown make Chandler the best pick for the starting job. That showed in the game against Dallas on Monday. Len had no success against Zaza Pachulia and while Pachulia is a good defender, Len can have games where he has no impact and his poor play have a negative effect. While Chandler hasn’t looked great, he should start.
Bryan Gibberman: This is the toughest decision Hornacek has to deal with on a nightly basis. There are merits to playing Chandler, Len and going with small ball. If Chandler is playing with energy and is locked in defensively, he has to be playing 25 minutes because of his defensive value. To this point, that hasn’t been happening consistently. You want Len on the court for at least 15-20 minutes and even more when he has it going offensively, like he did before the Mavericks game. On nights the offense is flat, small ball can be used to give it a boost. I don’t think there can be a set in stone rotation here.
It appears the Suns have settled into a wing rotation that includes P.J. Tucker, T.J. Warren and Devin Booker. Warren’s production has fallen off after a strong four-game set in November, while Booker has impressed lately. How does Phoenix get the most out of those three?
Bloom: I can’t possibly claim to have the secret when it comes to this formula, and if I did, I’d be earning a living for it rather than sharing it on the EOTS roundtable! All three guys bring different things to the table so in my mind there should be a role for all three. P.J. is still making the hustle plays and is the best and most versatile defender of the bunch. T.J. is so tough to guard as the master of the knocking down the unorthodox shot and has improved defensively, and Booker’s play has been so good at times people are already second guessing his Klay Thompson’s comparisons, and looking at even higher rent districts. It may be difficult to get the “most” out of all three on a nightly basis, but getting something consistent out of at least two of them is going to be key for this team in order to compete in the West.
Zimmerman: Don’t get me wrong — I appreciate the heck out of Ronnie Price. But I think Booker and even Warren need to see time as the third guard. They and Tucker can also play the 3 but with the rotation as is — not counting the fourth quarter in Dallas — I think all three need consistent minutes.
Olson: Booker needs to be playing at least 20-25 minutes a game. You can get this done by having Booker play with one of the point guards while the other one rests and take advantage of opposing teams when they play someone at small forward that isn’t a threat offensively. Otherwise, those minutes can go to Warren and Tucker. Unfortunately, both have been just average and have failed to really showcase what they do best. The minutes right now for those two seem fine by default.
Gibberman: With Booker, I don’t think you need to do much besides put him on the court. His game can pretty much fit with anyone. Warren is a little more tricky because of his unconventional offensive arsenal. I’d keep giving him run with Teletovic or Leuer and hope their shooting ability opens up the lane for him. The other option is to let Warren play some small ball four next to Len or Chandler. The important thing for Warren is creating space for his cuts and mid range, funky shots.
Over the past week, what’s the most promising improvement to suggest the Suns have turned the corner from their 1-8 rough patch?
Bloom: Winning a couple close games. The Suns made it through the first 17 games of the season without playing a single one-possession contest. Then after losing their first three (in Brooklyn, Washington & Memphis) during that rough patch, they were able to get a couple key close Ws in Chicago and at home against Orlando. The home loss to the Blazers unfortunately derailed what could have been a huge momentum building four-game win streak, but that shouldn’t erase the memory of beating quality competition in tight games which could serve as key building blocks for this young team’s foundation.
Zimmerman: There have been flashes of very good ball movement. The first half against Portland and first three quarters against Minnesota showed steps forward. Still, there’s not enough consistency between that and the concerning defensive issues to believe a run of more success is coming.
Olson: I’m going to be grim. Bledsoe and Knight are averaging seven turnovers per game in December and both have been far worse on defense than we expected. While Chandler has been injured, the center duo has failed to take over games with their size and the aforementioned inconsistencies continue from the small forward position. The bright spots at power forward have somewhat come at a result of the Markieff Morris saga and Devin Booker can only do so much at 19 years old. This, and the brutal schedule coming up in January and February does not bode well for the future.
Gibberman: They’ve closed out a couple games late. It was eventually going to turn because in sports close games are often decided by luck, which is a concept people don’t want to accept. The key for the Suns is to put together some games where they don’t let it come down to a break for one team or the other. When Phoenix starts do that semi-regularly I’ll truly believe they’ve turned a corner.