The NBA regular season is coming to an end, but plenty of basketball has yet to be played. Even the Phoenix Suns, a lottery-bound team having one of the worst seasons in their franchise history, still have 11 games left on the schedule.
The Suns may have been statistically eliminated from the playoff race, but that doesn't mean the fans have to stop paying attention to the team. Phoenix is a young team, and there are several lessons it can learn before the playoffs begin. With so many inconsistent players, the Suns still have a lot to discover about the talent currently on the roster.
The NBA draft and free agency may be particularly exciting this year, but those events are still months away. For now, there are still plenty of questions that must be answered before the season comes to a close, and many lessons to be learned as well.
Since the Suns are now officially eliminated from the playoff race, now would be a great time to start putting more effort into their "youth movement."
In other words: Tank.
While I'm no advocate of giving undeserving players such as Diante Garrett or Hamed Haddadi 30 minutes per game, the Suns do have to realize that they have almost nothing to gain by winning these next 11 games. Right now, they're playing for extra lottery balls.
Phoenix would currently own the fourth overall pick going into the lottery, but that could easily change should it finish the season off with a good stretch of games. Right now, there are four teams that are just three games back (or in front?) of the Suns that could pass them in a race for a better draft position.
If the Suns even went 6-5 or better during this next stretch of games, they could go into the lottery wielding the No. 7 or No. 8 pick.
Currently, Phoenix the second-oldest lottery team, with only the Dallas Mavericks being older. However, the Mavs are at least fighting for a playoff spot, while the Suns are bottom-feeders in the West.
This team will have to rely heavily on the draft for the next few years, and better draft position now will only improve its chances of a faster rebuilding process.
Of course, the counter-argument to the whole tanking idea is that it will continue to feed a growing culture of losing in Phoenix. These last 11 games of the season will be the coaches' and players' last impressions of the year too, so make them count.
Higher draft position is great, but team chemistry and morale always have to be accounted for. Should the Suns finish off the season going 2-9 or 1-10 in order to gain a better draft pick, the players will not be pleased. Some players may leave in the offseason or be traded, but for those who do remain, that losing mindset can linger on into next season.
Remember, the last games of the season will be the clearest in the memories of the players. If all they remember is a hopeless team being blown out game after game, morale will be low, and they won't have much confidence going forward either.
Morale and chemistry may not seem like a big deal, but the lack thereof can potentially ruin a team's season.
So, the Suns must make a decision: Is it more important to tank for higher draft position, or play for integrity and keep the current players happy? I'd argue that the former is more important at this point, but both should be marked as important. Unfortunately, there can be consequences to tanking, and there is no easy path for the Suns to take over the last stretch of games.
When the Suns first traded a second-round pick to the Houston Rockets for Marcus Morris, most saw the trade as being a steal for the Suns. They acquired a lottery talent in exchange for a second-round pick that would likely never amount to much.
But now, a month after the trade, you have to question the reasoning behind the trade. Was it just an act to bring the two twin brothers together? Because Marcus certainly isn't being utilized much by coach Lindsey Hunter.
Over his last five games, Marcus has averaged just 13.2 minutes per game. In two of those games he played just seven minutes or less. Morris is a great young talent that the Suns could really use, and yet he is struggling to find playing time now, almost as if Hunter has already given up on him.
To be fair, he has been nothing short of horrendous in those five games. He has shot 3-for-23 from the field, 0-for-7 from behind the arc, and even 1-for-6 from the free-throw line. That is simply atrocious.
But those are just five games. At one point, Morris was consistently given 20-plus minutes per game for a stretch of six games. In those games, he averaged 12.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals and shot 52 percent from the field.
Morris can produce, but he has to go back to being given a consistent amount of playing time. If he knows that he will be a regular part of the rotation, hopefully that will build his confidence.
He has been terrible in the last five games, but you can't honestly say that we should give up on him already—not when Michael Beasley continues to play 20 minutes per game after a season of disappointment.
Because if he continues to ride the bench, then really—what was the trade even for?
Going into the offseason, Jermaine O'Neal and Wesley Johnson are going to be the team's two biggest free agents. And now that both players are in the starting lineup, they can use these 11 games to prove to Phoenix that they should be re-signed.
Jermaine O'Neal has missed several games this season, but overall he has been great. He's currently averaging 8.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in just 18.1 minutes per game. He is also shooting 51 percent from the field, which is his best in three years, and 84 percent from the free-throw line, a new career-high.
O'Neal is a former six-time All-Star, but he was content to come off the bench behind Marcin Gortat all season, and not once did he get frustrated with the team's poor play and request a trade or a buyout. Now he has a chance to start while Gortat is injured, and he can prove his value to the Suns before the regular season ends.
He has averaged 12.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks through his first four starts, and even that was in just 25 minutes per game. It's great to see him finally get a chance to play in a larger role, and hopefully he will be re-signed to be the team's backup center again.
Wesley Johnson has also flourished since Lindsey Hunter took over, and he has proven to carry a lot of value for the Suns.
Alvin Gentry never gave Johnson much playing time, but Hunter has fallen in love with the third-year prospect. For the month of March, Johnson is averaging 12.6 points and 4.0 rebounds in 29.2 minutes per game, all while shooting 41 percent from the field and 31 percent from downtown.
Johnson may not be a permanent starter for the Suns, but for now he is one of the best options on the roster. He knows how to play defense, he is making his threes and is a great all-around player. If not right now, Johnson does have the potential to be an everyday starter in the NBA eventually, and he should be re-signed if he can finish the season off on a good note.
Every single Suns fan should agree at this point that Goran Dragic is the MVP of the Suns this year. However, earlier it appeared to be that way mainly because Dragic was the only consistently above-average player on the roster.
Now, he is in elite company.
First, let's talk about Dragic's game against the Brooklyn Nets. He had 31 points, nine rebounds and 12 assists, which is one of the greatest statistical performances from any NBA player this season. In fact, no player has had more points, rebounds and assists all in one night than Dragic had. That's right, not even LeBron James or Kevin Durant.
In the month of March, Dragic has been on a roll. He has five straight double-doubles, and he's averaging 16.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, 9.0 assists and 2.0 steals in his last 10 games all while shooting 45 percent from the field. Those are All-Star numbers.
Overall, there aren't many better all-around players than Dragic either. Only Jrue Holiday, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and Chris Paul average more points, rebounds, assists and steals than him for the season.
We knew Dragic was good, but if he can keep up his current level of play for the last 11 games, you might be able to tag him as a potential future All-Star.
The Suns still need a legitimate superstar and go-to scorer to be back in the playoffs. But with the way Goran is playing, it's possible that he could be the second-best option on a playoff team.