1. Miles Plumlee was useless last season in Indiana. What has he done to become a useful player in Phoenix?
Chris Manning, Right Down Euclid EIC: Changes of scenery can be overstated in times, but in Plumlee’s case, I don’t think it can be. With the Pacers, he was stuck behind Roy Hibbert, David West and Ian Mahinmi with no real extended playing time to speak of. And in Indiana, even was he was on the floor, there was absolutely no way that Plumlee was going to have plays run for him or even look at him as a real offensive option. In Phoenix is a starter and is playing like he always should have been one. He also fits in nicely with the stretch fours the Suns often employ and is just doing the little things right on a nightly basis. He got an opportunity to play and he’s taken full advantage of it in a new town – plain and simple.
Trevor Magnotti, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: I think the real change in Plumlee has been that he’s finally gotten a chance to get confidence in his offense. Think about it; Miles spent his formative years in high school and college with his superiorly talented brother Mason as the offensive threat on his teams, and Miles was always pigeon-holed into a complementary role. Then he got drafted to Indiana, where he was sat behind Roy Hibbert, David West, Jeff Pendergraph-Ayres, and Ian Mahinmi on a team that prefers to win ugly and not focus on offense. How was Plumlee supposed to develop there? This year, he’s been given the starting center job from day one in Phoenix because of the Alex Len injury, and is playing for a brilliant offensive coach in Jeff Hornacek. Plumlee’s responded by playing far more confidently offensively and very cohesively with the Suns as the interior guy while guys like Channing Frye and Markieff Morris stretch the floor. He’s also gotten loads stronger, and is playing slightly better defense, all things making Phoenix one of the league’s most efficient offenses. Miles Plumlee is my pick for Most Improved Player this year, and to me, there isn’t another valid option.
Eric Saar, SunNGun EIC: He probably already had nearly all the qualities to his game last year. the only thing he was lacking was opportunity. Plumlee wasn’t going to get (m)any minutes behind arguably the best center in the game in Roy Hibbert. Also the known commodity of Ian Mahinmi gets the spot over the unknown Plumlee. He has superior footwork and athleticism compared to most big men, and will only get better from here on. His time in Indiana wasn’t for nothing though, as Plumlee learned how to contest in the paint by going straight up, which has come in handy.
2. Suns point guard Goran Dragic is criminally underrated. What does he do best and how has he help make up for the injured Eric Bledsoe?
CM: Eric Bledsoe got a ton of love for helping turn Phoenix around before he went down with an injury – and deservedly so – but Dragic was (and is) the real quarterback of this Suns team. He can create his own shot and he’s dangerous from a variety of places. What he will do best against the Cavaliers (and in general) is penetrate and feed open teammates. He can also effectively shore in the mid-range game. And in increased runs as a leader scorer, his efficiency hasn’t dipped and it looks as if he is going to be handle the load. In short, he’s proven that he is capable of carrying the load and keeping this team in the playoff hunt.
TM: The Suns are 6.6 points/100 possessions better than their opponent when Dragic is on the floor, and 3 points worse when Dragic is on the bench. That’s almost a 10-point swing, and not a surprising one in the least. Dragic is by far the Suns’ best passer, but that’s not what makes him really effective for this team. Dragic can create shots better than most point guards, something that Cavs fans should be able to appreciate with Kyrie Irving. Currently rocking a ridiculous 59.0 TS%, Dragic has made his mark by being a very effective shooter from the top of the key and from the baseline. In particular, Dragic’s sweet spot is the right elbow, where he’s hitting nearly 57 percent. Dragic has taken over full primary scoring duties for Phoenix since Eric Bledsoe got hurt, and hasn’t experienced any dip in efficiency, which is the primary reason he’s been keeping Phoenix afloat.
ES: Dragic is by far the best player in Phoenix. While Bledsoe was good, Dragic was superior in practically all facets. The Dragon is the best playmaker, passer, penetrator. He can create shots for himself or others, is good defensively, shown by him stealing the ball and getting out in transition, where he is one of the best finishers. He never gets the credit he deserves. only Dragic, Kevin Durant and Lebron James were averaging at least 19 points, six assists on 48.8 percent shooting a few days ago. Yet, did anyone know?
3. In order to win, the Suns will need to keep Anderson Varejao and the Cavs off the boards. How will they achieve this?
CM: This is going to require Plumlee and their inside unit to limit the Cavaliers’ second chance points. Varejao and Tristan Thompson are excellent at establishing position on the inside and giving the Cavaliers extra possessions on offense. And on the other end, the Cavaliers are also very good at ending possessions with authoritative rebounding. One thing that could work in the Suns’ favor, however, is that the Cavaliers struggle rebounding against teams that space the floor with stretch fours – which Phoenix will do regularly. It may result in some mismatches, but they will be best served to stand pat and stick to their guns.
TM: The Suns just need to capitalize on the Cavs’ misses (Which will be plentiful), and keep the Cavaliers from gathering second-chance opportunities. The Suns are one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the league, and the Cavs have been one of the best lately. As we saw on Friday against the Bucks, the absolute worst defensive rebounding team in the league, the Cavs feasted on second-chance opportunities, particularly Tristan Thompson, who was extremely effective in keeping John Henson from having any sort of impact on the glass. The Suns are likely going to shoot a little better than the Bucks did, which will limit the opportunities for defensive boards for the Cavs. However, the Suns need to do a good job of grabbing Cavaliers misses, because right now they’re allowing opponents to grab their own rebounds 28 percent of the time, a ghastly number that the Cavs should take advantage of.
ES: The rebounding in this game will be crucial in determining who comes out with a victory. Phoenix needs to gang rebound, having everyone put a body on someone, anytime a shot goes up. they will need to pay special attention to Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson, boxing them out to make sure they don’t have an impact. I could see Alex Len getting more playing time and potentially Frye getting less in this game to help with this