Now that all of the All-Star and trade deadline business is out of the way, it's time again for some basketball. And, for the most part, the Phoenix Suns have been playing good basketball. The reserve unit, in particular, has been finding its groove. The team's improved play has led to four wins in five games since getting back into action.
Unfortunately for Phoenix, two of its closest Western Conference playoff rivals -- the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies -- have continued to win, as well, despite significant trade/injury setbacks. It'll take some consistent winning and a little bit of luck for the Suns to sneak into the playoff picture at this point.
Below is the player thermometer for this week, from hottest to nottest. Last thermometer's rankings are in parentheses.
1. Channing Frye (2). All this guy does is nail game-winning jump shots. Frye followed up his buzzer-beating long two-pointer against Indiana on Sunday morning with an ice-cold top of the key three-pointer to put Phoenix ahead of New Jersey the next night. Beyond his heroics, Frye is averaging 14.3 points and 6.5 rebounds since the All-Star break and is shooting an impressive 40.1% from three. He's become the Suns most consistent scorer and most dangerous late game threat -- for better or for worse. (Scott Howard)
2. Steve Nash (1). Nash is still number two on this list, but is suffering a terrible stretch of shooting. I haven't researched it, but it seems to happen every year about this time and is generally related to his back or legs, and he always comes out of it. I am not worried. Even still, he has been dishing out assists as always. Even when there are those who believe that he is no longer a star because of his seeming inability to run an offense that drains the clock and gets the last shot, he is still is playing at as high a level as any other point guard in the league. (Jess Root)
3. Marcin Gortat (3). Marcin's offensive production is sort of up and down -- not really through any fault of his own, as his shooting percentages remain high; it's more utilization -- but he's become a consistent double-double producer in the 12 points, 10 rebounds range. Gortat still isn't the "starter" in name, despite consistently playing over 30 minutes a game while Lopez plays around 15 MPG. But Marcin hasn't let that stop him from making an impact whenever his number is called. It's been a while since the Suns have had anyone regularly grab double-digit rebounds every game. Feels weird and uncomfortable. (Justin Burning)
4. Grant Hill (4). In last Sunday's win over Indiana, Hill turned back the clock in a fashion that would make Marty McFly jealous, as he exploded for 34 points (14/26), nine rebounds, and four assists. For good measure, he even stroked a game-tying corner three-pointer that helped send the Suns/Pacers into overtime. Outside of that contest, Hill's offense has been in a relatively large slump. If you remove the Pacers game, Hill is averaging just 6.3 points per game and shooting 35% from the field since the All-Star break. It's hard to complain too much about Hill, however, as he's responsible for checking the opponent's star player almost on a nightly basis. (SH)
5. Mikael Pietrus (8). Pietrus has no shame in shooting. He has more confidence than he should. However, he has been making valuable contributions off the bench. His toughness defensively and his effort to grab loose balls (not the way Kevin Garnett attempts to) are what the team needs. As for shooting, since the All-Star break, he is 15-41 overall and 7-21 from three-point land. (JR)
6. Jared Dudley (6). Jared's done a great job this season of taking the second unit under his wing. Despite it formerly being Goran Dragic's job to lead the reserves, Dudley's been a more consistent positive example with his hustle and on-court intelligence. He hasn't had a ton of light-em-up games recently, but he's provided well-rounded games where he's been active scoring, rebounding, dishing, and stealing. Yesterday's Celtics game was typical for him: 15 points, five rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Jared, along with Channing Frye, has actually played up to his new contract. (JB)
7. Robin Lopez (5). In the playing time he's received since the All-Star break (16.3 MPG), Lopez has provided some strong offense, scoring 9.5 points per game on 64% shooting. Where he will probably always need work is his rebounding, where he's averaged just 2.5 a game. Some people have a knack for rebounding and know exactly where to be and exactly how to grab the ball. Robin Lopez missed the day those genes were given out. (SH)
8. Hakim Warrick (7). Warrick since the All-Star break has begun to get regular playing time. He played an ineffective 10 minutes in the win over Indiana, but other than that, he has scored in double figures three times and provided an offensive punch off the bench. He is certain to benefit from Aaron Brooks in the games to come. (JR)
9. Aaron Brooks (NA). Brooks had a quiet first couple of games with the Suns -- minimal minutes, minimal impact. Then came the Celtics game. Brooks was almost single-handedly responsible for digging Phoenix out of a gigantic hole and close enough to taste a win. They didn't win, of course, but his 17 points and seven assists went a long way towards solidying his place on the team and showed a flash of what the second unit could be when he plays like the Most Improved Player he was during the 2009-2010 season with the Rockets. (JB)
10. Vince Carter (9). Motivated by the chorus of boos every time he touched the ball, Carter was briefly relevant in the Suns' recent date in Toronto, scoring 17 points on 7/12 shooting, grabbing four rebounds, and coming up with an impressive six steals. However, it appears it was only a blip. Removing the Toronto game from the equation, Carter has averaged just six points and an awful 24% shooting (18% from three) in the other three Suns games since the All-Star break. This is the Suns starting shooting guard. Some will point to his ability to get steals by staying active in passing lanes, but such logic makes me think of the 30-second mark of this video. There's an obscure 90s kid movie reference for you. (SH)
11. Zabian Dowdell (10). Z is the odd man out again, and will continue to be now that Aaron Brooks is a Phoenix Sun. However, he did play 18 minutes and made a solid contribution of eight points and five assists in the win over the Raptors. (JR)
12. Josh Childress (13). Childress is still glued to the bench. He couldn't even sniff the court during what started as garbage time against the Boston Celtics. I understand the bench has been playing well lately and you don't want to mess with that chemistry, but Childress' under-utilization this season has been one of the great laments of a fairly lamentable season. (JB)
13. Garret Siler (12). He played against Toronto and dominated his way to one free throw in his three minutes of action. The point was his 19th of the season. If this guy isn't the next Shaq, then I'm not sure who is. (SH)
14. Gani Lawal (14). Blah, blah, blah, rookie. Blah, blah, blah knee and rehab. Blah, blah, blah, not going to play. Yeah. (JR)