It took awhile, but the Phoenix Suns are finally learning how to play without Eric Bledsoe. With back-to-back wins coming against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers in the last two days, the Suns aren’t exactly beating the cream of the crop. Phoenix often looked lazy on defense in their recent back-to-back and have given up 100+ points in six of their last seven games. That being said, the Suns’ role players are consistently stepping up to match Goran Dragic‘s elevated play.
There’s no question the Dragon is still Phoenix’s on-court maestro, facilitating on offense and stepping up as a leader in every facet of his game. Dragic is averaging 21.3 points, 6.6 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 51 percent from the floor and 43 percent from 3-point range in the month of January. His 24 points (on 9-of-13 shooting) and seven assists Monday night is the kind of consistent production that the Suns have come to depend on as the pace-setter for the team.
However, Dragic also isn’t the kind of Kevin Durant-esque superstar that can win games singlehandedly (obviously). When the Suns struggled without Bledsoe, it was because Dragic and one other role player (usually alternating between Markieff Morris, Channing Frye or Gerald Green) would have great games while the rest of the role players twiddled their thumbs. In winning four of their last five games, though, that hasn’t been the case.
Green isn’t the most consistent player in the league, but when he’s hot, the Suns are tough to beat. Green’s 30-point performance on 10-of-12 shooting helped keep the Suns ahead of the Sixers and his eight straight points down the stretch of the fourth quarter allowed Phoenix to keep Philly from making a desperate run late in the game. But without Bledsoe in the backcourt, the Suns will have to learn to ride Green’s highs and compensate for the lows when they come. Last night was a good example: Dragic and Green combined for 54 points on 19-of-25 shooting with Leandro Barbosa adding nine points off the bench.
If you’re looking for consistency in someone not named Dragic, look no further than Markieff Morris, who has scored double digits in seven straight games. Morris is averaging 19.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the floor. Add that to the fact that he’s only playing 28 minutes per game and the Suns are 5-2 in that seven-game stretch and it’s no surprise that Phoenix is benefiting from that kind of efficiency off the bench.
P.J. Tucker and Channing Frye have been fairly consistent recently as well. Ish Smith, despite some flaws that come with his size and lack of experience, has shown plenty of flashes of brilliance with creative passing and impressive speed to make him a viable NBA backup point guard. Even Alex Len, who was starting to look like the biggest disappointment of the season, is starting to come around with more playing time. For example, he had a terrific block and followed it up with nice shot fake, step-through and monstrous dunk that ignited the Suns bench.
Phoenix without Eric Bledsoe is still very much the Goran Dragic show. The Suns go as he goes, not only because they need his diverse production, but because he’s the team’s lead facilitator and orchestrates the offense. But with Markieff Morris playing the best basketball of his career and Jeff Hornacek starting to get the best out of players like Gerald Green, Ish Smith, P.J. Tucker, Miles Plumlee and now Alex Len, Phoenix is stubbornly, wonderfully clinging to that seventh spot in the West.