Almost any Phoenix Suns fan would tell you that this season is not about making the playoffs or staying competitive with the rest of the league. And any fan that tells you otherwise is so optimistic that they may in fact be delusional. When Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Miles Plumlee are your starters, you know it may be a rough season.
However, that does not mean it's simply time to turn off the TV, stop going to games and forget about this team altogether until next year. The win-loss record may seem frustrating at first, but there are also plenty of little victories to focus on that will make the Suns quite enjoyable to watch.
Now, here are some of those "little victories" to look for.
The Emergence of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe
A casual NBA fan isn't likely to be impressed with the stat lines of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe from last season. Dragic averaged 14.7 points, 7.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game, while Bledsoe averaged 8.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.4 steals off the bench with the Los Angeles Clippers.
To a fan of any other team, those stats may seem mediocre. It is easy to write off this Suns backcourt, saying that they may be decent but are certainly not among the best in the league.
However, look a little deeper into the statistics—or actually watch the games—and you'll see how these two players give Suns fans an enormous amount of hope for the future.
Last season, Dragic averaged 16.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 9.5 assists after the All-Star break. He shot 45 percent from the field as well and even had two games with more than 30 points in March and April.
Meanwhile, Eric Bledsoe was having a great season in Los Angeles, putting up 14.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 2.5 steals per 36 minutes while also shooting career-high field-goal, three-point and free-throw percentages.
Now, it will be extremely exciting to see how these two work together this season. So far, they are off to a great start.
In the season opener, a 104-91 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, Dragic and Bledsoe combined for 48 points. Dragic had 26 points, six rebounds and nine assists, while Bledsoe put up 22 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
It's very unlikely that either player consistently keeps up that level of production and plays at an All-Star level, but nevertheless, this duo should surprise plenty of teams with its play.
Tracking Bledsoe's production will be particularly important, as he is on the final year of his rookie contract. If he proves to be a legitimate franchise cornerstone this year, then he may agree to a contract extension providing him with more than $10 million annually.
As of now, it is still very difficult to predict just how this backcourt duo will fare. But in a way, that is what makes them so interesting to watch.
The Development of Alex Len, Archie Goodwin and Miles Plumlee
Right now, Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Alex Len, Archie Goodwin and Miles Plumlee may be the only Phoenix Suns that are crucial to the rebuilding process.
Veterans such as P.J. Tucker, Gerald Green and Emeka Okafor are always nice to have, and it is way too early to give up on other prospects like the Morris twins and Viacheslav Kravtsov, but those guys are not nearly as important to this team's future.
Len, Goodwin and Plumlee are.
Tuning in to watch with anticipation how the rookies fare is an experience that most NBA fans have every year, but the Suns now have two promising first-year players to watch.
The first is Alex Len, a 7'1" Ukrainian center who was the fifth overall pick of the 2013 NBA draft. Even with Gortat gone, he is projected to be the backup center for the Suns and will likely receive somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes of play per game.
Archie Goodwin, the 6'5" project out of Kentucky, will play a major role for the team's backcourt. Both Kendall Marshall and Shannon Brown have been traded to the Washington Wizards, making Goodwin the first guard off the bench behind Dragic and Bledsoe.
The 30th overall pick of the 2013 draft was a key contributor to the Suns' Las Vegas Summer League team. There, the 19-year-old averaged 13.1 points and 3.3 rebounds in just 24.6 minutes per game.
Neither of these two will be expected to produce fantastic numbers immediately. Because so many people have low expectations of the Suns this year, the rookies will not have to deal with an immense amount of pressure.
However, it will still be important to track both of them, as the 15-20 minutes they each play per game will be an indicator for what sort of role they will play in the Suns' future success.
The third prospect to watch is Miles Plumlee, who logged a total of just 55 minutes and shot a dismal 24 percent (5-of-21) from the field in his rookie season with the Indiana Pacers.
Now, with Emeka Okafor out, Plumlee is the starting center. And despite his stats from last season, the second-year player consistently impressed his coaches throughout the offseason.
First, in the Orlando Summer League, Plumlee averaged 10 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game, establishing himself as the second-best rebounder behind only Andre Drummond.
Then, in the preseason, Plumlee averaged 6.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in only 18.6 minutes per game. He also shot 19-of-37 from the field.
And finally, in the first game of the regular season, with Markieff Morris out for the first game, Plumlee produced monster numbers. He shot 8-of-14 from the field while putting up 18 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks. He even had a great alley-oop highlight play with Eric Bledsoe.
Plumlee was the first Suns player to record a double-double in his debut since Shawn Marion in 1999. And although his minutes will decrease once Markieff Morris comes back and Alex Len begins to play more, this could potentially be his breakout season.
Watch Plumlee closely, because this may be the year he solidifies himself as a future starter for Phoenix.
Fast-Paced Basketball Is Back
In August, Jeff Hornacek said that he wanted the Suns to score at least 103 points per game in the 2013-14 season.
That seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream, considering the fact that Phoenix has averaged just 95.2 points per game the year before.
However, now it appears as though the Suns may have built a roster capable of achieving Hornacek's goal. They scored 104 points in the first game against Portland, and already they looked like a team that wanted to get out in transition and run the floor almost every possession.
It all starts with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. Dragic is a quick, explosive guard with great court vision who will be responsible for finding his teammates as they sprint down the floor. What makes him so dangerous is that he is capable of either being aggressive and driving the lane or kicking a pass out to one of his teammates.
He isn't a fantastic leaper, but he will often be the one that sets the pace.
Eric Bledsoe, who averaged 2.5 steals per 36 minutes last year, can easily run fast-break plays following opposing turnovers. In fact, that is where a lot of his points will come, as he isn't a great mid-range or long-distance shooter.
Despite being just 6'1", Bledsoe is one of the better dunkers in the league. He is incredibly athletic and will constantly show off his leaping ability on the court. For evidence of that, just look at some of his top plays from last season in the video below.
Then there's Gerald Green, the three-time NBA Slam Dunk Contest participant. He is simply another athletic player who will quickly get out in transition with Dragic and Bledsoe to either go for the dunk or spot up from behind the three-point line.
Finally, Miles Plumlee and Viacheslav Kravtsov are two young, well-built centers capable of setting picks and running the floor with the point guard. In addition to Plumlee's dunk last night, he also had this great one in the preseason over Maccabi Haifa.
And as for Slava Kravtsov, practically half of his points from last season with the Detroit Pistons came from dunks and alley-oops.
Based on last night's game, we know this fast-paced strategy is already working. After the loss, Blazers point guard said, "They kind of shocked us; they played at a fast pace. They got us out of position with the pace. It was tough to guard what they were doing."
Even if the Suns lose the majority of their games, Jeff Hornacek and Ryan McDonough are starting to bring back the exciting brand of Phoenix Suns basketball that was lost over the past few years. And that is definitely something to look forward to.