Building the Ultimate Highlight Reel from Phoenix Suns' Regular Season
The Phoenix Suns' season may be over, but that does not mean that it's a year to be forgotten.
From opening night until the final game, the Suns continually blew away expectations and entertained fans by bringing a fast-paced brand of basketball back to the desert.
As a result, there were plenty of emphatic dunks, game-winners, upsets over elite teams and fantastic individual performances in general. The purpose of this list is to compile footage from all of those great moments, thus building the team's ultimate highlight reel.
And now, let's relive the Suns' best moments from the 2013-14 regular season.
Miles Plumlee's Impressive Debut
The first shock of the season came on opening night, when the supposedly "tanking" Suns defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 104-91 at home.
Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe were impressive in the backcourt, putting up 26 and 22 points, respectively.
But the real surprise was Miles Plumlee, who scored 18 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and swatted away three shots in his first career start.
After Marcin Gortat was traded to the Washington Wizards, the Suns' depth chart at center was unclear. How would playing time be split between Plumlee, Alex Len and Slava Kravtsov, three inexperienced players? Would Emeka Okafor be eligible to return from a neck injury at some point during the season?
As it turned out, Plumlee easily took control of the starting center spot and was never challenged by other players on the roster. In fact, with this game, he became the first Phoenix Sun to record a double-double in a debut with the franchise since Shawn Marion in 1999.
Eric Bledsoe's 4th Quarter Takeover and Game-Winner
When Eric Bledsoe was first acquired by the Suns in the summer of 2013, the question of whether or not he could effectively handle the starting point guard spot was still up for debate.
But Bledsoe silenced his critics by just the second game of the season.
Against the Utah Jazz, Bledsoe scored 17 points in the fourth quarter—including a three with 0.7 seconds left—ultimately leading the team to an 87-84 win.
It was just the start of an impressive first season for the 24-year-old point guard. Bledsoe only played 43 games this year, but he posted averages of 17.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. Those numbers indicate that he has the potential to be one of the NBA's dominant point guards in the future.
P.J. Tucker's Defense
P.J. Tucker is not the type of player whose talent can be displayed through 30-point performances or game-winning shots. Instead, I chose to highlight his defensive prowess using this clip from a December game against James Harden and the Houston Rockets.
The video showcases Tucker's faults as well as his strengths (for example, he fouls Harden on a three-point attempt near the end of the first half). But overall, Tucker sticks to his man the entire time, hardly allowing Harden to even touch the ball. And that is what gave the Suns their only win over the Rockets this season.
Harden—almost universally deemed the NBA's greatest shooting guard—was held to 3-of-17 shooting from the field. He launched 10 three-point attempts and didn't make a single one.
For Tucker to be able to contain one of the league's great superstars like this is a phenomenal testament to his individual defense. For more evidence of his defensive ability, check out this video of Tucker's defense, hustle and corner three-point shooting throughout the first couple of months of the season. He has become the ultimate role player for the Suns.
Happy Holidays from the Phoenix Suns
It isn't all about what happens on the court, right?
Watch as the Suns' marketing team exploits as many Dionte Christmas puns as they possibly can for the holiday season. Len, Ish Smith and Archie Goodwin join in to deliver some of the most terribly sung Christmas carols ever.
On a more serious note, part of having a successful team is developing a strong bond between the players, and that principle is just as important for the "bench mob" as it is for the stars. While Dionte Christmas didn't receive much playing time this year, his constant enthusiasm on the bench was perfect for developing the team's chemistry.
Slava Kravtsov's New York Moment
Speaking of the "bench mob," if Ukrainian big man Slava Kravtsov is remembered by Suns fans, it will be for this moment.
He logged only 59 total minutes of playing time in 20 games, but one night at Madison Square Garden, despite mocking laughter from Knicks fans, Kravtsov was able to make a pivotal free throw.
In the second quarter, Markieff Morris was ejected from the game for picking up a second technical foul. However, he had been fouled on the play and would have gone to the line had it not been for the ejection. As a result, the Knicks were allowed to choose any Suns player from the bench to come up and shoot the two free throws.
About 30 seconds into the video, Knicks head coach Mike Woodson is seen making his final decision to the referee, butchering Kravtsov's name in a way that might only be expected from a coach as competent as Woodson.
But despite the noise of the crowd, Kravtsov was (relatively) unfazed, making one of the two shots. Even though this was only a January game, those would be Slava's last two free-throw attempts of the year. He was ultimately waived in March to make room for the signing of Shavlik Randolph.
Leandro Barbosa Lights Up MSG
Leandro Barbosa originally signed a 10-day contract with the Suns on January 8. The team needed backcourt production with Bledsoe out, and Barbosa was a former fan favorite who had spent seven seasons with Phoenix.
Just a few days after returning to action, the 31-year-old "Brazilian Blur" put up 21 points against the New York Knicks off the bench and kept the Suns in the game during the fourth quarter. Though he no longer possessed the same quickness as he did in his 20s, Barbosa had his way with the Knicks defense. At one point in the video, he drives by his former teammate, Amar'e Stoudemire, for the and-one layup.
The Suns lost this game in overtime, but it was not because of Barbosa. He went on to play 20 total games with the Suns, producing 7.5 points per game off the bench. That's an impressive feat for someone who tore an ACL in early 2013.
Gerald Green Drains a Game-Winner Against the Timberwolves
Well, that probably wasn't the play that head coach Jeff Hornacek drew up.
Nevertheless, it worked. With just a few seconds remaining, Gerald Green took the ball from Markieff Morris and made a tough fadeaway jump shot to give the Suns a 104-103 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The amount of air Green gets on his jump shot never fails to impress. He is, without a doubt, one of the greatest jumpers in the NBA's recent history.
Markieff Morris Dominates the Cavaliers
Why not throw in a great individual performance from the team's sixth man?
This past season, Markieff Morris established himself as one of the best mid-range shooters in the NBA (at least among forwards). This video shows that mid-range shooting touch at work. Markieff finished with 27 points and 15 rebounds, and the Suns won the game by eight.
He has reached a point where he can be considered an incredibly versatile shooter. He can extend his range to the three-point line, shoot open mid-range jump shots or attack the basket with a series of post moves. He'll occasionally show off a power dunk as well.
And with Channing Frye aging (and possibly regressing), it isn't such an inconceivable idea that we may see Markieff at the starting power forward spot sooner rather than later. Personally, although highlight reels can make any player occasionally look like a star, I believe that he could develop into an above-average starter in this league with some added hard work. He has already shown flashes of brilliance.
Goran Dragic Scores a Career-High Against the Warriors
Here's just the first of Goran Dragic's series of dominating performances without Eric Bledsoe in the lineup.
On February 8, Dragic scored a career-high 34 points and dished out 10 assists to lead the Suns to a win over the Golden State Warriors.
On that night, Dragic displayed a level of confidence that he hadn't matched since his 23-point fourth quarter in a 2010 playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs.
He was never afraid to attack the basket or to take an open shot. He was aggressive the entire night, and it took only 13 field-goal attempts for Dragic to reach 34 points. That is a remarkable level of efficiency.
But again, this was only the first performance. Here are the others.
Goran Dragic Sets Another Career-High in Scoring Against Houston
Many believed that Dragic was deserving of an All-Star spot, but other Western Conference guards, such as Damian Lillard and Tony Parker, were chosen instead.
Did being snubbed affect Dragic's level of play after the All-Star break? It at least seems that way.
On February 23, just 10 days after his game against Golden State, Dragic dropped a career-high 35 points on the Houston Rockets. The rest of the team failed to pick up the slack, and the Suns lost a close game.
But the video still illustrates Dragic's dominance throughout February. There was a span of a few weeks where Dragic was arguably playing like the best point guard in the NBA.
Dragic Scores 40, Sets a New Career High One More Time
He wasn't content after the Houston game either.
Five days later, Dragic scored 40 points at home in a win over the New Orleans Pelicans. And on top of that, he had just missed a game due to a swollen ankle.
In a span of 14 games between January 27 and February 28, Dragic averaged 24.3 points, 3.6 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game, per Basketball-Reference.com. He shot an absolutely astounding 57 percent from the field and 53 percent from three-point range.
Is that level of production sustainable? Of course not. But this season marked Dragic's ascension to stardom. He is receiving more attention than ever before, and if he continues to dominate opponents in the future, the All-Star appearances and other outside awards and perks will gradually come.
Gerald Green Drops a Career-High 41 Points as the Suns Upset the Thunder
Is Gerald Green what one might call a "chucker"?
But be honest, were you not entertained by that video of Green making three after three to lead a comeback against the Oklahoma City Thunder?
This game was so impressive that it inspired the Suns organization to create an NBA Jam version.
When Green is hot, he is an absolutely unstoppable offensive force. His three-point shooting has become lethal (40 percent), and he can also knock down mid-range shots or thrown down vicious dunks.
Dragic and Green both produced a couple of the best individual performances in recent Suns history. In fact, the last Sun to score 40-plus points in a game before those two was Stoudemire in 2010. These dominant games are just another sign that the franchise is moving in the right direction again.
Suns Fan Hits a Half-Court Shot
The season becomes a lot more enjoyable when the players are clearly having fun and are willing to interact with fans.
That was the case here, as the entire Suns bench congratulated Tim Boven on making a half-court shot for $77,777. Green is the most enthusiastic, while other players, such as Goodwin, Len and the Morris twins surround him to join in. Later, the camera shows Boven having a conversation with Eric Bledsoe.
There's one reason why this video is on the highlight reel.
The other would be the announcer's scream about 35 seconds into the video when the shot goes in. In some ways, one might classify the entire Suns season as one long "AAEUUUUGHH!".
Archie Goodwin Takes Advantage of Extra Playing Time
It's the last game of the season. The Suns have been officially eliminated from playoff contention. So why tune in to watch one final game?
To watch the bench take advantage of the extra playing time, of course!
That's exactly what rookie guard Archie Goodwin did in this game against the Sacramento Kings. He scored a career-high 29 points on 11-of-13 shooting. His only two misses were both three-point attempts.
Goodwin needs to work on his outside shooting, but his fearlessness when it comes to attacking the basket is unmatched by other players his age. He is still one of the smaller and weaker guards in the NBA, and he's the second-youngest player as well (behind only Giannis Antetokounmpo). But none of that stops him from getting inside the paint and making layups or dunks, as shown in this video.
The game didn't mean anything for the playoff race, but it did give Suns fans yet another reason to be excited for the future.
The Ultimate Gerald Green Dunkilation
Were you wondering where all the Gerald Green dunks were?
Rather than making 57 separate slides for each fantastic Green slam, here's one video for all of his best dunks.
Other than the fact that he has such a large vertical leap, there's something unique and special about each Green dunk that separates him from the league's other elite athletes.
Compare him to other great Suns dunkers of the past, such as Stoudemire. Stoudemire was a fantastic power dunker in his prime, capable of rising up over almost any player in the league. But his dunks weren't so original. For the most part, it would be the same right-handed "tomahawk" each time.
Green, as you can see in the video, doesn't have many great "poster" dunks. But on each breakaway, he tries to do something different, whether it be a tomahawk dunk, a "windmill" or a "reverse jam."
Eric Bledsoe Season Highlights
And now, a highlight reel of Eric Bledsoe within this greater highlight reel.
Since Bledsoe and Dragic were clearly the two stars of the team, and their respective seasons can't be judged by just a few good individual performances, here are slightly more in-depth highlight reels with plays from throughout the year.
In this video, notice how many times Bledsoe connects with Plumlee for a dunk. Dragic, in general, appears to be the smarter distributor, but Plumlee always seemed to have a greater chemistry with Bledsoe. Plumlee was only a fit with the Suns because his athletic build allowed him to run with the rest of the team and receive easy fast-break opportunities for dunks.
The next challenge will be re-signing Bledsoe this offseason and determining exactly how much money he deserves. Because of his inexperience and his injury risks, anything less than a max-contract extension would be preferable. But that might not be possible depending on the market for free-agent point guards.
Goran Dragic Season Highlights
Finally, here are highlights from the league's most improved player.
This year, Dragic averaged 20.3 points, 5.9 assists and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 51 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range.
Offensively, Dragic can attack the basket, hit the mid-range jumper or spot up from behind the three-point line. And that doesn't even include his ability to create for others, usually by utilizing a pick to create an open shot on the perimeter or at the basket. That's the simple strategy that makes Dragic and Channing Frye such an effective pairing.
On defense, Goran is a solid on-ball defender who can usually force a couple of turnovers each game. He's not elite, but he certainly works hard on both ends of the court.
Above all, Dragic proved this season that Bledsoe's arrival will not take away from his overall value. In reality, these two only seemed to make each other better. There may have been some serious doubts about two point guards starting in the same backcourt, but Dragic and Bledsoe now have more than sufficient proof that they are capable of leading the team forward together.