As the Memphis Grizzlies lead the San Antonio Spurs 2-1 and the New Orleans Hornets are deadlocked at 2-2 with the Los Angeles Lakers, all the Phoenix Suns can do is sit back and watch.
But as Suns fans watch the West’s lower seeds stir up the playoff picture, let’s reflect on the good, the bad and the ugly from Phoenix’s 2010-11 campaign. We’ll start with the good today, and the bad and ugly will follow Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
There’s no doubt the Suns’ 40-42 season was a disappointment, and there is no shortage of items to file under the bad and ugly categories. But believe it or not there were some positive developments that came from this underwhelming season.
The PHX/ORL Trade
No Phoenix’s midseason trade with the Orlando Magic that swapped Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark for Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus didn’t catapult them into the playoffs, but it did give them a cornerstone center for the future, while shedding Turkoglu’s ugly contract.
Gortat came to Phoenix hungry and determined to succeed, and he did exactly that, eventually moving into the starting lineup and becoming a double-double machine.
He averaged 13.0 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks with the Suns, while posting over 15 and 10 in both March and April.
He finished seventh in the league in defensive rebound rate (two spots behind Dwight Howard), and also posted the 25th-best field goal percentage (56.3 percent).
Gortat was the model of consistency both offensively and defensively and gave the Suns what they thought they had in Robin Lopez — a defensive anchor who can play the pick and roll.
But Gortat’s been more than that. His offensive game is improving and he’s added a rock solid mid-range game. Add in his foot speed and athleticism and Phoenix’s sub-par front office should be jumping for joy over this acquisition.
Then consider that they shed Turkoglu’s deal that would have cost them over $11 million each of the next two seasons — not to mention his partially guaranteed $12 million salary the year after — and it looks like the Suns won the deal outright.
They missed Richardson’s scoring and Clark’s upside while they suffered through Carter’s inconsistency, but all in all Gortat’s value gives Suns fans something to smile about moving forward.
Channing Frye and Jared Dudley well worth long-term deals
When the Suns initially signed Frye to a five-year, $30 million deal I wasn’t sure if a shooter was worth that pricetag. But Frye quickly proved he’s more than just a shooter and worth every penny of his new contract.
His numbers don’t jump out at you — 12.7 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game — but he finished second on the team in minutes per game (33.0) and improved drastically on the glass and defensively, not to mention the pair of game-winners he drilled.
If it weren’t for a shoulder injury, Frye would have made an even bigger impact. He averaged 16.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.0 threes per game (43.9 percent) during the month of February prior to his early March injury.
Even after the injury he produced, putting up 33 and 14 in a 57-minute ironman performance against the Lakers, and closing the season out with a 33-point, nine-three effort against Minnesota.
He was a barometer of Phoenix’s success, as he averaged 14.9 points in wins and 10.4 points in losses. With that said, Frye proved he’s developing a post-up, and pull-up game while toughening up on the glass, making him worth the bucks and longevity.
To a lesser extent, Dudley proved his 5-year, $22 million deal was well worth it, but also more importantly, that he can be a starter in the NBA.
His slimmer body helped him with quickness and endurance, while he also did a better job attacking the hoop and pulling up in the mid-range.
For the second straight season Dudley played in all 82 games and shot over 40 percent from three, while averaging 10.6 points per game. In 15 games as a starter Dudley averaged 16.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.1 steals — more than acceptable for a starting NBA two guard.
His increase in production and play as a starter gives the Suns reason to believe he could be an option as a cost-effective, starting shooting guard next season.
Elderly Nash and Hill still produce
Talking about Steve Nash and Grant Hill’s production is almost like beating a dead horse.
Everyone knows they’re old, and they play 10 years younger than they are, but it still amazes me that Nash led the league in assists and Hill locked down everyone from Kevin Durant to Monta Ellis.
Nash played about 15 games at far less than 100 percent, but he still ended up leading the team in minutes played while handing out helpers left and right.
He did fail to reach the 50-40-90 plateau, but Nash’s offensive genius at age 37 is still amazing to watch.
As for Hill, the Suns would have been the laughing stock of the league defensively if it weren’t for him.
He was their only legitimate defender and guarded shooting guards through power forwards on a nightly basis while starting all of the 80 games he played. If this year was any indication, it doesn’t look like the 38-year-old Hill will become a liability anytime soon.