Less than 24 hours after the Phoenix Suns scored a measly nine points in the fourth quarter of the team’s 91-78 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, their fourth straight and ninth in the last 10 games, Phoenix fired head coach Jeff Hornacek.
This was hardly surprising; the Suns are the worst team in the NBA.
By record, the distinguished honor of Worst In The League belongs to the Philadelphia 76ers, who have just seven wins. The Brooklyn Nets have 12. Phoenix has 14. However, record only tells a portion of any team’s story, and Phoenix’s narrative outlook is increasingly looking like a Cormac McCarthy-inspired barren wasteland. While the 76ers are trending upward, having won four of the team’s last eight games, and losing on a buzzer-beater to the defending champion Warriors in the team’s most recent loss, Phoenix is drowning with no sign of rescue.
To be fair, Hornacek, who was in his third season at the helm of the franchise, was dealt a dreadful hand this year: Phoenix lost Eric Bledsoe, the team’s highest-usage player and leading scorer, to a season-ending knee injury, and point guard Brandon Knight recently went down with a groin strain. “The injuries have kind of put us under the ball,” Hornacek candidly told the Associated Press. This roster was never meant to stand up to the league’s titans, but it has since ballooned into something resembling a haphazard motion picture of execrable turnovers, slapstick mishaps and 22-point performances in the first half.
LAL take a 43-22 lead into halftime, PHX narrowly avoiding the worst scoring half in NBA history by 3 (Clippers had 19 on Dec. 14, 1999).
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) January 4, 2016
The 76ers, meanwhile, added Ish Smith in late December, and have since won six games, including twice against the Suns. In last week’s meeting, Philadelphia built a 19-point lead on Phoenix with first-round draft pick and leading scorer Jahlil Okafor out with an illness; Brett Brown’s outfit still won by double digits.
Last month, the Suns averaged a league-worst 95.4 points per 100 possessions and allowed a league-worst 111.2 points per 100 possessions. Entering January, no team this season had ranked last in both metrics over the course of an entire month. The writing was on the wall early: Phoenix began January by allowing the Sacramento Kings to amass 142 points, the most the franchise had produced in 23 years. To make matters worse, the Suns forked over a league-leading 16.9 turnovers per 100 possessions and posted a league-worst -15.7 net rating, four points worse than any other team.
Defensively, Philadelphia is posting superior figures and has only trailed the Suns in defensive rating in one month this season (in December, by 0.2 points per 100 possessions).
Offensively, without Bledsoe, the Suns are a shell of what they were. Last month, Phoenix averaged 4.1 fewer points per 100 possessions than Philadelphia and posted a lower team true shooting percentage (51 percent compared to 53.2)
While Phoenix only plays one road game in February, the team still has to square off with Toronto, Houston (twice), Utah, Oklahoma City, Golden State, San Antonio, Los Angeles (Clippers), Brooklyn and Memphis. Worth noting, then, is that the Suns are 4-21 against teams with winning records this season, and whomever becomes the interim head coach is staring down incoming matchups with six of the league’s top seven teams, as determined by record.
For now, Philadelphia ranks in the basement of the league’s leaderboard, but at least there’s some life in that locker room. The Suns are hemorrhaging losses and riding a duct-taped roster to the season’s finish line. Wilting before national audiences, there are more than a handful of reasons why the Suns, who have lost 19 of the last 21 games, are the worst team in the league, despite their record.