Suns Retorter: Suns Great Being NBA's David
If you ever have a chance to tour the Phoenix Suns Clubhouse on level zero of US Airways Center, you might notice a few personal touches in the players’ lockers.
Most of the time it is the mundane like forward Channing Frye’s University of Arizona banner or rookie Archie Goodwin’s University of Kentucky memorabilia. Sometimes it’s the more humorous like a Coach Jeff Hornacek bobblehead gathering dust. Then other times it is an item that makes you think.
Recently just such an item could be seen in many of the Suns’ lockers. No, don’t worry, it’s nothing embarrassing like a Justin Bieber song on a player’s phone. It was actually a book by Malcolm Gladwell entitled David and Goliath.
The book, which chronicles the ways underdogs and misfits have defied the odds over the years, was a gift from assistant coaches Mark West and Irv Roland. It was given as a tool to help motivate the team and show them how sometimes the road less traveled is the perfect road to find yourself on.
Even prior to reading it, that’s been the case for the 2013-14 Suns.
Despite national pundits picking them to finish last in the NBA’s Western Conference and throwing around the word “tank” like it was going out of style faster than twerking, this young and energetic crew, led by Head Coach Jeff Hornacek, have overcome the odds. Something that forward Gerald Green and his teammates attribute to staying dedicated and following their leaders’ examples.
“We’ve got to stay humble,” Green said. “We’ve got to continue to work. We just have to listen to coach. He has given us great guidance and a great path to follow. As long as we follow his lead success is right around the corner.”
That success has come as the team has played the David role while seemingly every team they faced, at least in analysts' minds, were Goliath. Being under appreciated is not overly surprising for a team coming off a 25-win season. The thing is, this isn’t last season’s Suns. In fact, it’s probably more like your father’s Suns, or at least the Suns of your childhood.
That’s because, thanks to the hiring of Hornacek, General Manager Ryan McDonough and the addition of 10 new members on the roster, there is a new philosophy. One that will evoke memories of the past faster than the offense the team runs.
See, they say that speed can’t be taught. You either have it or you don’t.
It comes naturally in Phoenix. From Connie Hawkins’ unique brand of basketball in the team’s infancy to the Sunderella Suns, the Cotton Express, KJ and Barkley’s Purple Gang from Phoenix, and the “seven seconds or less” teams, fast paced has always been synonymous with Suns.
It is the reason why this season’s team feels so natural for fans to fall in love with. They run early and run often. Which is why they rank first in the NBA in fastbreak points per game and, at least unofficially, in highlight plays that get fans on their feet.
Speed might not be able to be taught, but it can be passed down from generation to generation. It can be inherited. It can be in your DNA. It can simply be what you’re about. For Hornacek’s Suns team, it’s how they’re defying the odds, catching the nation’s attention and igniting the future of basketball in the Valley. That speed and excitement comes in the form of the breathtaking and gravity defying dunks and improbable three pointers that land forward Gerald Green on SportsCenter’s Top 10 list on a regular basis. It is encapsulated by the unexpected comeback from a heart virus that kept big man Channing Frye off the court all of last season and his amazing play since returning. It is fueled by the surgeon like precision of plays run by guard Goran Dragic. The explosive drives to the hoop by Eric Bledsoe, when healthy, and the impressive emergence of center Miles Plumlee who went from playing 55 minutes in his rookie season last year in Indiana to having the 10th most dunks in the NBA in his sophomore season.
It’s not just their propensity for playing at a faster pace than a NASCAR race that has helped them shatter expectations and capture imaginations. The team’s ability to work hard and never surrender despite what could seem like insurmountable odds has been a huge reason for their resurgence. It is something starting Dragic is the embodiment of.
“I just try to battle,” Dragic said. “I try to be positive. I’m from Slovenia so back home it’s no excuse if you’re tired. Even when I was growing up, my father always said there’s going to be some hard days so you have to go through that. You can sleep after the thing that you do, if it’s work or a basketball game.”
It’s that type of attitude, which is a team-wide phenomenon, that has helped the Suns not only overcome season expectations, but in game adversity, as well. The little team that could has proven that no opponent's lead is safe. In November the Suns came back after trailing by 16 to Portland and 14 to New Orleans early in contests to win. The following month, in December, the Suns erased a 21 point Denver lead to win by four. And in January they had a 20 point swing going from trailing by 13 to the Lakers to winning by seven.
Their hard work has also translated to career years for many players. Dragic, Green, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Miles Plumlee, P.J. Tucker and Eric Bledsoe are all averaging career-highs in points per game.
When you put all the pieces together it becomes clear how the little guy no one expected much from could achieve great things. If they keep it up, maybe they could find them in the pages of the second edition of David and Goliath. Crazier things have happened, like everyone who has ever defied the odds.