The easy thing to do observing this version of the Phoenix Suns is to assign blame.
After the Suns put together another uninspired effort on Monday leading to a 110-89 loss to the Utah Jazz, blame could have been placed in many places.
In this one-game sample, Jeff Hornacek’s attempt at switching things up after an ugly loss to the Milwaukee Bucks a night prior didn’t go as planned when Devin Booker and T.J. Warren were inserted into the starting lineup.
Blame could be placed on the front office for this season. They gave Hornacek a relatively talented roster of parts, but they didn’t come with clear instructions about how to put them together.
From an individual perspective, Tyson Chandler hasn’t looked like the same defensive presence that had Phoenix opening up the checkbook for a four-year, $52 million deal this summer.
Eric Bledsoe has been through ups and downs with the cars keys handed to him even before Goran Dragic left last season. And fellow backcourt mate Brandon Knight has offensively been hit or miss. Defensively, neither have been the ball-pressuring pieces Hornacek envisioned — though the lack of backline help is a part of that problem.
When it comes to being the team’s best player and leader, Bledsoe deserves a good deal of the blame in the last two games.
The Suns have been outscored by 60 points in as many minutes with Bledsoe on the court — that’s 25 more than the second-most negative teammate, Jon Leuer, in plus-minus. While Bledsoe’s shot selection, lack of aggressiveness and inefficient pounding haven’t led to good things, the defensive end has maybe been most concerning.
A list of indiscretions would take a while to compile, so here are two each from the first quarters of the last two games.
On Monday, Utah opened a 12-2 advantage on the Suns’ new starting lineup and built a lead as big as 18 points in the first half. Hornacek’s tweak — replacing Brandon Knight and P.J. Tucker with Devin Booker and T.J. Warren — didn’t gel on either side of the ball. It was Bledsoe, however, who got caught meandering around the weak side of the defense, twice losing shooter Rodney Hood, who made open threes.
That same Suns starting lineup was outscored 7-0 to begin the second half, before Hornacek could put in Markieff Morris and Knight, and the Utah lead would grow to 24 points.
Ironically, the man who began the season as the scapegoat for anything that went wrong, Markieff Morris, played like one of the least-burdened players at Utah.
Morris was talking on defense, taking good shots and looking for his teammates. He finished with four points, four assists and six rebounds, hooking up with Alex Len on multiple plays.
Meanwhile, Knight responded to his benching with sound shot selection that led to 26 points, though he again struggled on the turnover front.
Between inconsistencies, mistakes from young players, and injury — Chandler doesn’t look 100 percent and one could surmise Knight’s ankle is still stopping him from diversifying his offense with drives — things outside of the control of anyone in the organization have cropped up.
The 26-year-old Bledsoe is not only marketed as the Suns’ best player; he has the talent and the responsibility entrusted by the Phoenix higher-ups to be that. But as postseason hopes slip away further and the blame game begins, it’s on Bledsoe to become the catalyst for change.
In the past two games, that’s been far from happening.
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