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Phoenix Suns Season Preview: Bright on the Surface

A promising point guard, a new head coach and new uniforms merely changes the appearance from the outside looking in at the Phoenix Suns. The surface is a mirage; there’s a playoff drought in the Valley of the Sun.

The offense couldn’t score – only the Wizards’ Offensive Rating ranked lower – and sitting in U.S. Airways Arena was like taking a bath in lukewarm water. When the Suns actually managed to score, the 22nd ranked defense became their demise. Eric Bledsoe, a 24 year old point guard Phoenix acquired by trade from the Los Angeles Clippers, is the new star amongst the Suns and is responsible for generating heating from the team’s core.

Michael Beasley’s potential promised a bright future. However, bringing him aboard prior to the 2012 season was a mistake by the Suns. His flame appropriately burnt out in August, rather than fading away into free agency, and Beasley’s old habits died hard when he arrested for possession of marijuana.

PHOTO: Scottsdale PD

PHOTO: Scottsdale PD

Jared Dudley, the team’s sniper, shot 39 percent from long range last season and was sent to the Clippers in the deal to attain Bledsoe.

Other Subtractions: Wes Johnson, Luis Scola, Jermaine O’Neal and Hamed Haddadi.

Losses in production

  • Departure of 2nd, 4th, 6th and 7th most productive scorers

  • 46 points per game

  • 24 rebounds per game

  • 34 years NBA experience

 

It’s as if acquiring Johnson and Beasley from the Minnesota Timberwolves was no accident, did the team want to tank? Tanking is a trending debate league wide but (for now) Phoenix isn’t going to be a franchise participating in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes this season. I’d like to think I have the support of the Suns’ Slovenian guard, Goran Dragic.

Dragic was ballin’ this summer during FIBA’s EuroBasket World Cup Qualifier — his 16 points per game was the fourth highest in the tournament, his 5 and-a-half-assists ranked 3rd of all competitors. International competition meant going against the likes of Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Tony Parker, Nick Batum and Alexey Shved and many other talented players — it wasn’t easy out there for Dragic. Here’s his monster 28 point performance against Greece.

Can a Dragic-Bledsoe backcourt exist? I believe so, can it carry the Suns to more than 30 wins this season? No, I don’t. Dragic essentially evolved into a point guard, adapting to a role teams needed him to play; neither he nor Bledsoe are naturals at the point.

 Bledsoe had this to say at Suns practice earlier this month.

“I just like making plays,” Bledsoe said. “I have a tendency to try to make the touchdown play instead of the right pass and let that person make the other play. It’s a process.”

The Suns need perimeter shooting and instant offense — Bledsoe has the potential to provide both. He’ll have an opportunity to show the league he’s more than just a roleplayer and will be the starting shooting guard at the beginning of the season. If he performs, he’ll have gained some continuity around the league and the Suns would gladly make him part of their future when the time comes at the end of the season to renegotiate his rookie contract.

Channing Frye, who attended high school at St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix, theoretically helps improve the Suns’ 33 percent three-point shooting from last year with his return to the team. The lifetime 39 percent shooter didn’t play last season because of a heart ailment that threatened his life during strenuous activity. If he plays similar to how he did in the 2010-2011 season — he’ll help this team win. Frye shot 172 of 392 (39%) from downtown, he’s a set shooter who can hit from anywhere, shown by the heat chart below.

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 7.06.11 AM

 

The Suns drafting Alex Len in the first round of the draft signifies the imminent departure of the one known as the Polish Hammer; Marcin Gortat. Len is a 7-foot 1-inch center from the University of Maryland. He runs the floor well and is capable of playing above the rim with ease, in addition to being versatile in the post – both offensively and defensively. Plus, he’s only 20 years old, so he’ll continue to grow and develop as well as contribute in certain aspects of the game immediately.

He’s coordinated, which isn’t always the case with younger players his age and size, with a skillset for playing back to the basket as well spotting up from the 15-feet area around, and in, the lane. The importance of having a mid range game as an NBA center cannot be overstated. Len’s 65 percent shooting on non-post up attempt came mostly in pick-n-pop and pick-n-roll situations. He’ll see plenty of the same opportunities playing the P&R/P&P game with Dragic. (As we saw in the video, the lefty loves that type of game.) Len shot 38 percent in post up situations last year, a number that must improve to succeed as a professional. Some of that, however, was because of Maryland’s mediocre roster — he didn’t have much help.

Len and Gortat won’t play aside each other and will rotate time with Miles Plumlee, another young center with above average skills as a big man. Gortat is owed a little over 7-and-a-half million this season and becomes an unrestricted free-agent at the end of the year. He’ll be shopped throughout the year, and the rumor mill will churn fastest near the trade deadline. Assuming Gortat can produce as he’s done in the past, he’ll be picked up by a competitor looking to improve by adding a solid P&R/P&R veteran. It’s time to rebuild in Phoenix.

 

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Within 10 years the Suns have appeared in three conference finals. Fans saw Steve Nash win consecutive Most Valuable Player awards operating, arguably, the most prolific offense in league history. Unfortunately, it’s going to be a considerable amount of time before this team sniffs the playoffs or has a player in the MVP conversation. Historically the team’s been competitive and has never endured more than a five-year postseason drought. Though that record might be in jeopardy, as an absence in the upcoming season would be the fourth straight for the Suns.

It’s now time for patience in Phoenix, this franchise needs some time before they’re able to heat up with the same energy of their teams in the past.

zacharybennett