Many questions face the Phoenix Suns this season.
Will Nash continue to play at a high level? Will Amare be Amare after eye surgery? Will Channing Frye or Robin Lopez step up down low? Can Goran Dragic be a capable backup point guard? Will that brutal early-season schedule bury this team? Can they rebound a lick? And more importantly, will the answers to all these questions combine to form the answer to the most important question of all: will the Phoenix Suns make the playoffs?
Here’s our take on what will go down for the 2009-10 Phoenix Suns:
Michael Schwartz: For the last eight years, there has been one constant: Steve Nash’s teams have been the most efficient offensive teams in the NBA. The Suns will need Amare to be a monster and J-Rich to step up, but Steve Nash is what makes the Suns what they are. With him at the controls, it’s not difficult to see Phoenix being better than most people would expect.
Mike Schmitz: NBA analysts have pondered the question: why re-sign a 35-year old point guard if you aren’t contending for a title? The answer: Steve Nash is not exactly your typical 35-year old point guard. The NBA world seems to think that Nash is beginning his farewell tour. But it’s hard to say that after looking at his 2008-2009 second-half stats: 19.2 ppg, 9.7 apg, 55 percent from the field and 47 percent from distance. The Suns want up tempo, Nash is up tempo … start your engines.
Tyler Lockman: If only Steve Nash could look into the whole Benjamin Button reverse aging thing. Face the music Suns fans, he is getting older. That’s not to say he won’t put up great numbers—he will—but a slight decline shouldn’t be shocking as Nash might get more rest. Stoudemire will be the MVP, granted he doesn’t detach another retina. It’s a contract year for him and he is looking to cash in—probably elsewhere.
Michael Schwartz: The coaches would say this player isn’t a surprise to them, but most people don’t recognize all the little things he does. Call him Shane Battier Lite. He’s not great at any one thing, but he makes winning basketball plays, and he’s great with the fans on Twitter. Count on this, Jared Dudley WILL make a bigger impact than you expect him to this year.
Mike Schmitz: According to Steve Kerr, if Earl Clark eclipses Lou Amundson and Jared Dudley in the rotation he will be surprised. Well Steve, surprise, surprise. I expect Clark to give Alvin Gentry 20-plus minutes a game playing two to three different positions. He will not woo you with big stats, but his impact will definitely be felt throughout the game. When he guards Tony Parker and Tim Duncan in the same quarter, Suns fans will take notice. There is no questioning that Clark will eventually be an impact player for the Suns, but how fast he does so will surprise some people.
Tyler Lockman: There have been a lot of impressive afros in NBA history and Robin Lopez has what it takes to join the ranks. He has the size and instincts to be an elite post player, but he has to generate the strength to rebound with the best. Things will start slow when he finally gets back on the floor, but he will prove this year that he is the versatile big man the Suns have needed for years,
On the hot seat
Michael Schwartz: Channing Frye was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2005 draft, and in his fourth season last year he averaged 4.2 and 2.3, barely leaving the bench. For his career, he has averaged 8.2 and 4.6, taking steps back every season after a promising rookie year. Channing couldn’t ask for a more perfect offensive system for his talents, so now it’s time to take advantage of that. He also MUST be at least decent on the boards and defensively for this team to be any good.
Mike Schmitz: It may seem strange to see the Suns’ best offensive player on the hot seat, but this season is make or break time for STAT. The questions are there: will he finally rebound, will he finally defend, can he stay healthy? All of these uncertainties make up the bigger question: is he a max-contract player? If healthy, I expect STAT to put up monstrous offensive numbers this season, but again, will he finally become a complete player? If he wants Sarver to show him the money, he’s going to have to.
Tyler Lockman: When it comes to point guard, the Suns have really hitched their wagon to the Dragon. Nash won’t be there forever and Goran Dragic is expected to take up the mantle and run the offense. It’s hard to have a sophomore slump when you didn’t have a big rookie year, but Dragic has to prove that he can be an NBA point guard who can a) get Nash some rest and b) actually score. He looked good against the Kings, but it’s only the preseason.
Most crucial stretch of the schedule
Michael Schwartz: Some of the players’ wives might wonder if their Phoenix Suns husband has been cut in March because the team will be home for the entirety of March 4-21. That’s almost unheard of in today’s NBA world. That stretch will feature seven home games, five against the West’s elite. If the Suns plan on being competitive this season, they must take advantage of that homestand to go on a bit of a run.
Long March homestand
Mike Schmitz: The Suns will be tested early and often by some of the NBA’s elite. Starting on Nov. 3, they will play seven games in 10 days, six of which are on the road. During that stretch the Suns will face Miami, Orlando, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, New Orleans (at home) and the Los Angeles Lakers. Not only are six of these teams returning playoff teams, three of them could easily win it all this season—Boston, Orlando and Los Angeles. The Suns will be praised or exposed early, but which will it be?
Road trip at the beginning of November
Tyler Lockman: The month of February. February sees only three great opponents for the Suns—Dallas, Denver and New Orleans. And all three games are on the road. If they can prove they can beat top teams away from US Airways Center, they’ll establish the confidence and momentum to sustain them for a playoff chance in the final two months of the season. That is, of course, granted they haven’t already fallen out of contention.
The month of February
Michael Schwartz: When the head coach says his team’s Achilles’ heel is rebounding, I’m going to listen to him. When the stats say that team was outrebounded worse than anybody else by a wide margin this preseason, I’m also going to listen to that. When I see Amare Stoudemire and Channing Frye as that same team’s starting post players, I’m going to know for a fact that that team will struggle rebounding the basketball all season long.
Mike Schmitz: The Suns were absolutely horrible defensively last season giving up 107.5 points per game. That average may be even higher this season. Channing Frye is going to get manhandled down low, and everyone knows STAT’s rep on the defensive end. The Suns do have some solid individual defenders, but the only problem is, they play less than half the game. Gentry says the Suns are making defense a priority, but I say the personnel simply isn’t there.
Tyler Lockman: No surprise here, but rebounding will make or break this team. When he returns, Robin Lopez needs to show that he isn’t a Darko Milicic-esque bust and establish some NBA strength. And judging by preseason play (which, granted, isn’t always too telling), putting a trash can with wheels at center will give the Suns more second chances than Frye. Amare will pull decent boards, but this team needs a capable center.
Where will the Suns finish?
Michael Schwartz: I was a whole lot more optimistic before seeing this team get crushed on the boards all preseason, and I understand an injury to Nash or Amare would completely derail things. But I think this team possesses many of the same qualities as the ‘04-05 team, a team that was truly better than the sum of its parts. We could be in for a historic offensive season, and if they are at least passable on the boards that should be enough for a decent seed.
48-34, Sixth seed
Mike Schmitz: Much like the ‘04-05 Suns, this year’s team is built for the regular season. A healthy Amare and Steve Nash is really all this team needs to be competitive. Add in a perennial scorer like Jason Richardson, a veteran leader like Grant Hill, and a three-point shooting center like Channing Frye and you’re looking at close to 50 wins. Yes, their rebounding and defense are atrocious, but the Suns have proven that with the right system, an explosive offense can result in a stellar regular season. Now the playoffs will probably be a different story.
50-32, Seventh seed
Tyler Lockman: This team undoubtedly has playoff potential, but the Suns remain a greater underachiever than even the Jason Kidd-era New Jersey Nets. They gave up an All-Star center in Shaq (rightfully so, the albatross he was) and added the still-unproven Frye. A return to “Seven Seconds or Less” could prove beneficial, but with no real difference but age, the Suns come close again before narrowly missing the playoffs.
40-42, Ninth seed