Gameday Extra: Suns @ Raptors, Nov. 29

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THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

Until last night, the season was lacking a signature moment that truly made you jump out of your seat; in a good a way, that is. I think I can speak for all of us when I say:

Thank you Joseph Bautista!

After such a quality effort at both ends, one Bradley Beal got well acquainted with, it was only fitting Cory Joe was in position to nail the game-winning corner three. Not to mention saving what seemed to be a gut-wreching collapse from taking place.

One couldn’t help but get the feeling something special was about to go down, though, once Lowry made it clear he was parking himself beyond half-court, taking himself and John Wall out of the equation. Casey deserves kudos for dusting off the playbook for that one.

I know the video has been posted in a few of last night’s pieces, as well as Blake’s post-gamer earlier this morning. But I really can’t help myself, it provides the perfect background music to write to. Here it is again, in all its glory:

Sunday’s tilt with Phoenix will be hard-pressed to match what went down in Washington, but coming home on a high can only help set the stage. A clash between opposite trends: one team gunning for their fifth victory in a row, the other attempting to save face by avoiding their fifth straight defeat. It’s no secret which one is which.

Look for the Suns to ramp up their compete level, though. A 19-point beatdown to the hands of Golden State, and a day of rest in between could cause some early trouble as the Raps’ are about to suit-up on the second night of a back-to-back.

But furthering the Suns’ embarrassing loss was the lackadaisical effort to stop the Warriors’ onslaught from behind the arc. 22 threes given up to be exact (15 in the first half). Golden State is the current gold standard, so nobody expected an upset, but cementing their status near the league’s basement (24th) in 3-point defense wasn’t an encouraging sign.

Normally, I wouldn’t recommend a straight-up reliance on downtown shooting, not when a team starts to fall in love and neglects other parts of the game-plan. But when an improvement has been made from last season, the moment calls for a strength to exploit a weakness. The Raps’ 3-point attempts per game have dropped from 25.1 (9th) to 21.5 (23rd), while managing to stay in the upper-tier of the league’s percentage leaders (an 11th ranked 35 percent in 2014-15 has increased to a 10th overall clip of 36 percent). Whether that’s sustainable is certainly up for debate, but life without Valanciunas should allow for it to continue.

To a much lesser extent, another moment we’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived… Well, perhaps just a chosen few will celebrate. Nevertheless, Sonny Weems is back in the building!

In case you missed it, Phoenix handed him a two-year, $5.8 Million deal this past offseason after spending previous seasons in Russia for CSKA Moscow. Though just like his time spent in a Raptors’ uniform, he’s essentially been squeezed out of the Suns’ regular rotation. Chances of him playing any meaningful minutes are minimal at best, but his cameo appearance offers a noteworthy backdrop.

Trivia: On August 18th, 2009, Weems was acquired in a four-player deal with Milwaukee. Who were the other three players involved?

Hint: Little did we know back then that one would end up on the short-list of all-time fan favorites.

Too easy? Try it without Googling next time. Actually, I totally had to Google it myself.

Judging by personal experience, Weems usually gets lumped in with the likes of Jamario Moon, Joey Graham, and even Rafer Alston whenever a conversation of past potential comes up. It’s a valid comparison for the most part but, Weems’ athleticism did stand out on a nightly basis. He’s only 29-years-old, so there’s still time to salvage somewhat of an NBA career, albeit most likely in a limited capacity. Let’s just hope five years from now Terrence Ross isn’t spoken about in a similar fashion.

But with the Suns on the schedule, the trip down memory lane comes with a detour. And possibly even a missed exit.

Remember those DeRozan trade rumours of 2013? A deal which supposedly involved sending Andrea Bargnani and DeMar to the Clippers for Eric Bledsoe. Which at the time, a major portion of public opinion scoffed at such a transaction being made. And that was before DeRozan’s game had ascended to the next level.

With Bargnani ultimately transforming into a journeyman, and Bledsoe now sitting atop the Suns’ food chain, one has to wonder if, hypothetically speaking, the majority of this town regrets their thought process. Especially when Bledsoe has busted of the gate posting career-high averages in numerous areas to start the year:

Previous: PPG: 17.0,  STL: 1.6,  3PM: 1.2,  FTA: 5.5,  FGA: 12.9,  FG%: .477,  EFG%: .489,  FT%: .800,  TS%: .578,  PER: 19.6

This season: PPG: 22.7,  STL: 1.9,  3PM: 1.9,  FTA: 5.9,  FGA: 16.7,  FG%: .480,  EFG%: .536,  FT%: 82,  TS%: .590,  PER: 23.2

If the clock was turned back, do you pull the trigger?

I used to think Ross was the most polarizing player on this roster, but with Terry’s asset value now in prove-it-or-trade-it territory, DeRozan officially takes top spot. I would guesstimate an even split down the middle. The very mention of DeMar usually ignites a fire of hot takes. And rightly so.

One could argue that 15 games of career-highs will come back down to earth eventually, and that’s logical. However, when they come attached with the most attempts he’s ever taken from the field with no uptick in minutes per game, one tends to lean toward an official leap being made.

The question would be what’s the trade off? Does DeRozan’s rim attack, height advantage (6’7″ to 6’1″) and knack for getting to the line trump Bledsoe’s defence, ability to seamlessly float back and forth from each guard spot, and across the board contributions?

DD is this squad’s co-captian, and I would like nothing more than give my stamp of approval. BUT, until said rim attack is asserted consistently, he leaves me no choice but to look the other way. Largely considering Bledsoe has built himself up to fit the league’s trending future. A bruiser who forces the issue, but one who can adapt to different styles. He’d be a K-Low clone if Lowry chose to hit the weight room instead of the treadmill this offseason.

Though when you add contracts and roster makeup to the mix, the tide shifts back. DeRozan’s cap hit is $3.5 million less than that of Bledsoe’s if you take into consideration that the Raps would have had to re-sign Bledsoe if a deal was struck in that timeframe. And who know’s if the stable of backcourt weapons Toronto now owns would have been assembled.

But living in the past isn’t healthy. Let’s unwrap the present further.

Raptors

Phoenix crosses the border with a sizeable disadvantage. Starting Center, Tyson Chandler, is considered doubtful due to a hamstring injury suffered on Friday night. Leaving only the likes of Alex Len and Markieff Morris as the only formidable (I use that term loosely) threats on the blocks. Both own promising potential, but also possess a frustrating lack of stability.

T.O. has yet to feel the loss of Jonas Valancinuas, and that run should continue with a limited frontcourt in front of them. Scola should rebound offensively, and “Business” Biyombo, well, all indications point to a possible encore presentation.

Yet that doesn’t negate the Suns’ methods.

When leading the NBA in Pace at 102.9 possessions per game, it’s clear that attempting to pressure the defence is your first priority. Problems with Pace do come into play, however, when you notice the two teams that follow. Sacramento and Golden State come in at 102.3 and 102.2 respectively. Highlighting the fact that Pace has a misleading aura about it that it will guarantee positive outcomes for all involved no matter what. The Suns sat comfortably in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiencies before a recent swoon on defense sent the latter falling to a 21st-place tie. Not doing their Pace any favors in the process.

Speaking of defense, the Raps rank a tidy 8th in points given up Per 100 Possessions. Scratch that, let me do that again. HOLY MACKINAW, they rank 8th! Even when factoring in two losses, Toronto has held opponents under 100 points in 12 of their 17 games. Music to every fan’s ears. The renewed discipline has been this club’s saving grace.

Still, there’s plenty to worry about when Bledsoe won’t be the only rising star trying to push the envelope. Brandon Knight, who’s now predominantly roaming the two-spot, is now beginning to justify his 5-year, $70 Million contract in the offseason. Which is identical in length and overall amount to the one Bledsoe signed the previous year.

And the similarities don’t stop there. Bledsoe isn’t the only one who can boast about career-highs:

Previous: PPG: 17.8,  3PM: 2.0,  FG%: .422,  EFG%: .505,  TS%: .543, PER: 17.1

This season: PPG: 21.9,  3PM: 2.6,  FG%: .446,  EFG%: .519,  TS%: .557,  PER: 20.4

Knight’s played one more game than Bledsoe, totalling 16. Again, I’m willing to listen to the sample-size viewpoint. Both are the main cogs in the Suns’ engine so surely their surface numbers are bound to get inflated. But what passes more than just the eye test is at the same time their underlying percentages are coming along for the ride. Add in the fact that they’ve both been locked up for the long haul before the NBA goes cap crazy, which in turn will ease the burden their newly-signed extensions will have. SB Nation‘s Bright Side Of The Sun breaks down the Suns’ finances in this in-depth reference guide if you want to dive deeper into it.

It’s easy said than done but, neutralizing one of the Suns’ dynamic guards should be the point of emphasis. Considering Knight usually plays off-ball, a serious blow to their blueprint can be accomplished. Especially if the “K-Low and Co-Joe Show” retains its usage rate. And there’s no reason why it won’t. It’s been a thing of beauty.

DeRozan, if used CAREFULLY, has a chance to turn his ISO’s into steady production if opportunities to post-up either Bledsoe or Knight present themselves on a regular basis. Intriguing factors on the other end are the defensive prowess of P.J. Tucker and the ever-improving offensive game of T.J. Warren. Tucker will undoubtedly disrupt the offensive flow, and Warren is currently on a 62-point / 61 percent from the field run over his last three games. Though just like any given Sunday, San Antonio and Golden State can present plenty of garbage time stat-padding. Carroll rarely struggles twice in a row, so we’ll get the inside scoop.

I can imagine most of you are getting ready for an afternoon of Football, but sometime before the Raps’ 6pm tipoff, I suggest taking in some flashbacks of “Money” Weems. The first revolving around his time in Europe, the second just a reminder of what he can do on the court.

Prediction: Phoenix has too many current loopholes to compensate for. Raps 105, Suns 96.

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