After falling 119-108 to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday afternoon, the Phoenix Suns have reached the one quarter mark of their 2017-18 season. With the loss, the Suns dropped to 7-14 on the campaign, placing them in fourth in the Pacific Division and 13th overall in the Western Conference.
As expected, the young Suns have gone through their share of ups and downs through the first 21 games, and that is going to continue as the team withstands the maturing process. But good or bad, one thing the Suns 2017-18 campaign has not been is dull.
Of course, the two major low points for Phoenix were allowing 90 points in a half to the Houston Rockets on November 16th and losing by a franchise record 48 points to the Portland Trail Blazers on opening night.
The Suns have also enjoyed some highs, winning four of five in late October including victories against the Utah Jazz and Washington Wizards. In the past week, the Suns enjoyed two straight wins over the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls to go along with a competitive overtime defeat at the hands of Eric Bledsoe’s Milwaukee Bucks. All in all, the Suns have shown though the first quarter of the season that there is plenty to build upon the rest of the way in 2017-18.
Phoenix Suns 2017-18 First Quarter Report
Early Season Coaching Change
After an 0-3 start, the Suns wasted no time making a coaching change. Head Coach Earl Watson was let go by the organization, with Associate Head Coach Jay Triano replacing on an interim basis. Triano has done a nice job since taking the reigns, but ultimately it is likely in both parties’ best interest to find a new Head Coach at some point and return Triano to his previous assistant role.
Either way, Triano is the type of quality individual who is critical to have in your organization, especially when working with a young core. The results since the switch have backed up that sentiment, with the Suns posting a 7-11 record since Triano took over. They have also been more competitive in the games they lost compared to the first three contests of the season.
Ultimately, wins and losses are not the Suns primary concern over the remainder of 2017-18, but rather their ability to show improvement both collectively and among individual players. Rebuilding is not always easy, but the talent is there for this Suns team. The task for Triano and his staff is to continue the teaching process and guide their development.
Eric Bledsoe Trade
Bledsoe made it known he wanted out after the Watson firing, and it is hard to blame him. At 27 years old, Bledsoe wanted a chance to play meaningful basketball while still in his prime, having been part of the rebuild in Phoenix the past four years. His wish was finally granted on November 7th, being shipped to Milwaukee in exchange for Greg Monroe and a first round pick.
As an older player compared to the rest of the Suns young core, Bledsoe most likely was not in the organization’s long-term plans running the point. Therefore, the Suns were probably going to trade Bledsoe eventually, so his “I don’t wanna be here” tweet only expedited the move. The task now for GM Ryan McDonough is to find the team’s point guard of the future.
Options at the Point Guard
In order to do that, the Suns need to be able to evaluate Tyler Ulis under a significant sample size to determine whether he has the capability to be that guy. Otherwise, taking a point guard with one of their first round picks in the 2018 NBA Draft might be their best option, with the likes of Collin Sexton and Trevon Duval expected to be lottery picks at the point guard spot. For the same reason as Bledsoe, 27-year-old rookie Mike James is not in the running, leaving Ulis or a college prospect as the two alternatives.
Despite many questioning Ulis’ lack of size, players below six feet like Chris Paul and Isaiah Thomas have proven that smaller guards can still succeed at the NBA level. There is no question Ulis has the vision, instincts, and basketball IQ to lead an NBA offense. All he needs now is the opportunity to play with the first unit consistently. Clearly, the Suns believed in Ulis’ skill set given they took a chance on him early in the second round of the 2016 draft. It is now up to Ulis to showcase he can step into that role.
Early Returns on Fourth Overall Pick Josh Jackson
Jackson is not getting as much hype as some other rookies playing in bigger markets, but he is off to a solid start in his pro career. Already Jackson has established himself as a defensive force, and is only going to get better with experience. That is a big plus for the Suns because his commitment, athleticism, and versatility defensively has value in and of itself. The question now is whether Jackson can develop his offensive game, which has been more of a challenge thus far.
At the one quarter mark, Jackson’s offensive numbers have left much to be desired, posting a field goal percentage under 40 percent including 25 percent from three. Free throw shooting has also been an issue; not unlike fellow rookies Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball, as Jackson is just a hair above 50% at the charity stripe.
Jackson’s offensive game will take some time to develop, but he is far from the first rookie to come into the league in need of some polish at that end of the floor. A little work with the Suns coaching staff would help Jackson take better advantage of his physical gifts and add some balance as a scorer. If he can make improvements shooting the basketball, Jackson has an opportunity to be one of the NBA’s premier two-way players for a long time.
The Curious Case of Marquese Chriss
In many ways, Chriss’ individual play epitomizes the Suns collective inconsistency as a team. There is lots to like about his natural talent, but Chriss’ problem has been the inability to bring it on a consistent enough basis. Such is the growing pains of a young team.
But the the only way Chriss will get better is by learning from his mistakes, and he will not do that sitting on the bench. He needs to play more minutes, and he also has to have his floor time be more consistent from game to game. Now, Chriss also needs to help himself out in that regard — getting into foul trouble often leaves the coaching staff no choice but to sit him down for long stretches of games.
Still, Chriss has displayed signs of maturity from last season. No matter how he is playing, the effort, energy, and intensity is always there, and that should be rewarded. Despite being slightly undersized on the interior, Chriss is arguably the Suns best shot-blocker and rebounder thanks to his raw athletic ability. He has also improved his three-point shot from a season ago, allowing the Suns to more effectively stretch the floor offensively.
The present state of the NBA is set up to favor athleticism on both ends, and that is also the direction the league is headed in the coming years. Therefore, it is a positive for the Suns to have two fantastic athletes in Chriss and Jackson as part of their core for the foreseeable future. But in order for them to develop into valuable contributors, they need to play consistently in the final three quarters of the season. The development of those two players will be something to keep a close eye on the rest of the way.
LOS ANGELES, USA – NOVEMBER 06 : Devin Booker of Phoenix Suns gestures during a NBA game between Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns at Staples Center in Los Angeles, USA on November 06, 2016. (Photo by Mintaha Neslihan Eroglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)