External expectations for Phoenix Suns unusually low

Posted by on December 23rd, 11:36 pm

The national media and computer projections sleeping on the Suns has become an annual tradition, but never have the predictions come in so low during the Nash era.

In years past the above statement meant picking the Suns just outside the playoffs or at the very bottom of the West playoff picture.

This year it means picking the Suns at the very bottom of the West, period.

That’s where ESPN’s John Hollinger has predicted the Suns to finish, 14th to be exact, just above the CP3-less New Orleans Hornets. It’s understandable that expectations are low but such a prediction must be a bit jarring for Suns fans so accustomed to at least competing for a playoff spot, especially considering where Hollinger sees the franchise heading:

“It took the Suns just two offseasons to completely dismantle a championship contender, although 2010 was the big one. By chasing away Steve Kerr and David Griffin, letting Amare Stoudemire walk, and then spending the money on Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick, they sealed their fate. A year from now, after Steve Nash and Grant Hill flee for Gotham, they’ll be a 15-win team with virtually no young talent. …

This looks like the inverse of the Hornets: a team that will finish maybe 12th in offensive efficiency and in the bottom five defensively. I can’t see them getting back to the playoffs.”

This year’s edition of The Basketball Prospectus, written by Kevin Pelton and Bradford Doolittle, does not inspire much confidence either. (Editor’s Note: I contributed a paragraph in the Suns section, and you can buy the book for $9.98 here.)

Their projection system called SCHOENE thinks only slightly better about the Suns, estimating a 27-39 season that would put them 13th in the West. TeamRankings.com‘s projection is similar, placing the Suns 12th in the West with 29.4 wins and 36.6 losses as well as a 36.1 percent chance of reaching the postseason.

Moreover, SCHOENE projects the Suns’ offense to decline from ninth last season all the way down to 16th with an offensive rating of 108.7 and it sees their defense dropping from 25th to 28th thanks to a pitiful defensive rating of 111.7. Clearly SCHOENE does not believe in Elston Turner’s game plan.

During the summer I wrote that during the Nash era the Suns have only had to feature a top-20 defense to be a playoff team. However, that was only true because before 2010-11 a Nash-led offense paced the league in offensive efficiency for nine consecutive seasons. Even more astounding, Nash has led the five best offenses of the last 20 years when comparing his team’s offensive efficiency to the league average, three of which have come in Phoenix.

The Suns could win and win big (maybe not playoff big, but regular season big if nothing else) with a mediocre offense when they could score at a historic pace. The Suns’ offense has looked anything but historic during the preseason.

The StatsCube article said this has nothing to do with a Nash decline since the Suns’ 111.1 points per 100 possessions with Nash on the court last season would have led the league. Yet the Suns scored just 99.9 points per 100 when Nash sat, which would rank fourth-worst in the league.

Considering that was done with Goran Dragic and Aaron Brooks as the backup point guards and this year the Suns are looking to Ronnie Price and Sebastian Telfair, it’s no wonder Hollinger is so pessimistic.

I fully expect the Suns to improve defensively, potentially back into the top 20, but it’s the offense that must prove SCHOENE wrong and remain elite for the Suns to make these predictions look silly.

Suns’ offseason earns D+

ESPN’s Chad Ford liked the Suns’ offseason about as much as Hollinger likes their chances this season, as the professor handed the Suns a D+ for their effort, largely blaming owner Robert Sarver:

“The sun continues to set in Phoenix. Steve Nash, the heart and soul of the Suns, is still plugging away at age 37, but the rest of his mates from the original run-and-gun Suns are long gone. The 39-year-old Grant Hill is back to provide support and big man Marcin Gortat was a very good pickup last season.

The rest of the team, however, is a mess.

Owner Robert Sarver made most of the quagmire himself. When he wasn’t ripping up a successful roster, he was alienating players this summer with his hardline stance during the lockout. Sarver has since come out claiming he was actually a dove — a reversal that only a politician could pull off with a straight face.

The Suns’ free-agent haul this year won’t do much to inspire Suns fans. It consisted of Shannon Brown, Ronnie Price and Sebastian Telfair. Of the three, Brown is a legit pickup, albeit a role player. Their draft pick, Markieff Morris, is big and can shoot, but the chances of him being a starter in the NBA, let alone a franchise savior, are slim.

At some point the Suns will get around to realizing they should have traded Nash two years ago when he still had enormous value. At this point, with Nash in the last year of his deal, they won’t get much. When he leaves, the team will likely be among the worst in the NBA.”

But there’s some good news

ESPN Insider David Thorpe tabbed Gortat as one of his five breakout players along with James Harden, Ty Lawson, Tiago Splitter and Patrick Patterson.

Hollinger’s 2012 projection for Gortat has him scoring 14.7 points per game, grabbing 12.5 boards per contest and compiling a 16.66 PER.

Here’s what Thorpe has to say about The Polish Hammer:

“Gortat could make a case that he’s the most underrated center in the NBA. But now that he’s the full-time starter in Phoenix, he’ll get his chance he is a top-10 center. His numbers could stagnate if Steve Nash is traded, but other than that, I see a steady diet of pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop with him. He’s one of the few centers who can do both.

And if given full starter’s minutes, he should rank among the top defensive rebounders in the league. It makes sense for Phoenix to feature him for two reasons: The Suns can see if he’s, indeed, the center of their future. Or perhaps he’s someone who can be traded to a contending team needing a center in exchange for a bevy of young players and picks. Either way, it should be a second straight ‘career year’ for Gortat.”

And 1

Even the sports books are sleeping on the Suns.

The over/under line on Phoenix regular season wins was set at 28.5 in the NBA future odds section of SportsInteraction.com. The site also tabs the Suns as 75:1 underdogs to win the NBA championship and 40:1 underdogs to win the West. Only five West teams face longer odds than that. …

Marc Stein’s NBA power rankings rank the Suns 22nd, fourth worst in the West.

Michael Schwartz founded ValleyoftheSuns in October 2008 and is the owner/editor emeritus of the site. He is currently working toward his MBA in sports business at San Diego State University.

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Tags: Free Agency · Marcin Gortat · Offense · Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Analysis

24 responses so far ↓

  • 1 shazam // Dec 23, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    go suns

  • 2 luis // Dec 24, 2011 at 12:25 am

    i think they should start building around gortat lopez and morris

  • 3 Tony // Dec 24, 2011 at 12:35 am

    Finally a voice of reason. Hollinger is 100% correct. Chad Ford is also right on the money except I would have given the Suns front office a D for this off-season’s moves not the +. I know Sarver and his minons will try to con us Suns fans into believing they weren’t aggressive this free agency period because they wanted to retain cap room to sign two max level players next season, but those with even marginal intelligence will recognize that Sarver and Babby have zero chance of accomplishing this. In fact, I bet Sarver knows at this point he will not be able to sign an elite player anytime soon, but of course he wants Suns fans to believe he will do so to get them to support him and pay money to see the Suns.

    I originally picked the Suns 13th, only ahead of the Hornets and the Kings in the western conference, but after watching both Suns pre-season games, this team has the real potential to be one of the worst teams in the league this season. Now, to be fair, I’m sure they will play better than they’ve shown us thus far, but the Suns starting lineup, albeit minus Gortat, couldn’t stop the Nuggets second unit! That is just ridiculous.

  • 4 Scott // Dec 24, 2011 at 1:08 am

    As I’ve said before, I think the bad moves were really just Childress, Telfair, and Brown, because they can’t shoot. Not that these are necessarily bad players that no team could use. It’s just that the Suns offense depends on shooters who can hit the open look.

    I was hoping Childress was going to spend the lockout time practicing his shot. Maybe he did, but at this point I can’t tell any difference over last year, which was his worst shooting year ever.

    Telfair is notorious for being unable to shoot. I don’t know what the problem is there, except for mental, as anyone intending to be a top PG obviously needs to know how to shoot and should practice shooting till the cows come home.

    The Suns could cope with Brown’s iffy shooting, except that he’s a below average passer. My impression is that it’s not just a matter of him not being used to the offense, but that he was a bad passer when with the Lakers.

    I don’t blame Sarver directly for this. But he may need to step in and inquire as to what’s going on with the new players. Blanks is supposed to be a “genius” for spotting complementary talent, but the selection of Telfair and Brown seem to belie this.

    IMO, the Suns aren’t all that bad, and not as bad as pre-season made them look. However, they need to pick players who can play in their offense, otherwise the offense bogs down.

    I’ve suggested Jeremy Lin and Andy Rautins as young players they could probably pick up and evaluate for a song. There could very well be more qualified players out there as well.

    BTW, did any team pick up Michael Redd? Or is he really in that bad of shape?

  • 5 Bin // Dec 24, 2011 at 6:48 am

    @Scott – The Suns would never pick up Lin or Rautins as they have zero patience to develop a player.

    No team has picked up Redd. In fact, there are no news about Redd.

  • 6 sun-arc // Dec 24, 2011 at 7:46 am

    @ Scott: I thought your post about the suns non-shooters was a really good point. I think that is what has confused the identity of the team. They could have brought in shooters, and kept the SSOL mentality. I guess they’d be like the Warriors at that point, and not won more games, but been more entertaining.

    For years, our FO has been attempting to change the team to be better defensively. Thing is, the chemistry is what made us better defensively. That, and being lucky to have players that could play D AND score like Marion and Bell.

    We’ve brought in people this year that are not very good at either. Morris might become someome like this- but could take 2 years. Gortat and Dudley are our best additions, and mostly out of luck.

    This year we look to be very mediocre, unless the team really gains a lot of chemistry. If not- then we could fall into the 8th seed if everyone below us stinks worse than we do, which is possible. Otherwise, if we don’t gel, or if we get a combination of injuries to Nash, Hill, Gortat, Dudz, or Frye we’ll be at the bottom of the conference.

  • 7 Michael // Dec 24, 2011 at 9:52 am

    SUNS NEED TO PICK UP NATE ROBINSON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 8 Scott // Dec 24, 2011 at 10:14 am

    @sun-arc -

    I see it pretty much the same way: the Suns FO needs to pick up players who can shoot AND play defense, like they did in the trade for Dudley.

    I don’t think the acquisitions of Gortat were entirely luck; I mean, someone had to know that Dudley was a good hustle player. I mean, I did, and that was mainly from watching Suns games. Also, Gortat shone his brightest when playing against Amare. So Suns fans and FO should have known those two guys were good.

    @Michael, I’m not opposed to the Suns taking a look at Nate. I don’t know if they can afford him at this point, but I kinda want the Suns to acquire at some point all the draft picks they sold. ;)

  • 9 A-ROCK // Dec 24, 2011 at 10:19 am

    @Sun-arc you really don’t know what your talking about do you, why do you even post. Their is no falling to the 8th spot with if the suns have no chemestry, they have none now and they look like bottom feeders, I wouldn’t even throw my scraps to these bums. We will see how good they are by playing the so called bottom feeder team New Orleans Hornets, this will be a good indication on how Sarver has messed everything up, This will expose the coaching staff, and we pretty much know what type of players we are dealing with.

  • 10 Scott // Dec 24, 2011 at 10:25 am

    @Bin -

    I don’t know that the Suns would have to commit to developing a Lin or Rautins. They’d pretty much be getting them as they are, for use this year. Both players have been in the league for a year; Lin in Oakland, Rautins in NY with D’Antoni.

    But never mind on Rautins. Even though he just got waived, he’s hooked up with a team in Spain.

  • 11 A-ROCK // Dec 24, 2011 at 10:26 am

    NASH SHOOT 1ST OR GET SHOT IN YOUR A@#!!! join my campain for nash to show us his true shooting potential, he is suppose to be one of the greatest of all time, since he doesnt have any shooters, it’s useless to pass and if he does pass it’ s useless on having him in Phx, So Nash Shoot more! NASH SHOOT 1ST OR GET SHOT IN THE A$#!

  • 12 Scott // Dec 24, 2011 at 10:28 am

    FWIW, the Heat just cut Eddie House. He’s got a knee injury he’ll be rehabbing for the next month, and I don’t know if he can still play, but he’s at least familiar with the system.

  • 13 A-ROCK // Dec 24, 2011 at 10:34 am

    NASH SHOOT 1ST OR GET SHOT IN YOUR A@#!!!

    NASH SHOOT 1ST OR GET SHOT IN YOUR A@#!!!

    NASH SHOOT 1ST OR GET SHOT IN YOUR A@#!!!

    NASH SHOOT 1ST OR GET SHOT IN YOUR A@#!!!

  • 14 A-ROCK // Dec 24, 2011 at 11:53 am

    Have the Suns consider playing both Gortat and Lopez together? To match some of these Tall back courts like the Knicks (chandler amare), LA (jordan Griffin) (Pau Bynum) ext.

  • 15 Michael // Dec 24, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Maybe even find a way to get LB back. We could really use his bench scoring. I’m very satisfied with our bigs right now. I think all we need is a decent bench guard who can create his own shot OR set up other players. I’m not worried about the D either.

  • 16 sun also rises // Dec 24, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    I occasionally find something I agree with in Tony’s posts (Even if the dude stays creepy and probably becomes physically aroused whenever he sees an actual credible journalist criticize Sarver and company), but his IP should really be banned if he insists on rolling out another fake ID.

    It’s cool to have one clown with multiple personalities clogging up this board but the whole “A-BOMB” alter ego is starting to get tired.

  • 17 steve // Dec 24, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    Sarver ruined the suns. Sarver=Satan in dutch. Look it up.

    I think the suns could bottom out this year and next. Preseason is preseason, but i saw nothing promising. The run was fun while it laeted, but everyone bottoms out, including the celtics, lakers, and spurs. This could be the end of the world if you’re from tony’s camp, or it could just be the natural cycle of life in the nba if you aren’t a paranoid parrot.

  • 18 steve // Dec 24, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Btw, since you decided to challenge me again on Childress’s shooting with nothing to back your claim besides “He has historically taken so few shots, especially at or past ten feet, that natually his shooting percentage is going to be good.”

    Tony, that’s exactly what advanced stats are for. They’re to level the playing field between guys like Shaq and guys like Ray Allen. Allen is obviously the better shooter, but traditional stats will tell you Shaq is far better (FG%). If you look at things like TS% and eFG%, you get a better feel for how people are scoring their points and whether or not they’re a good SHOOTER or if they’re good around the rim (or both).

    Outside of last season (and his rookie year to an extent), Childress had never had a poor season behind the arc or behind the line.

    I never claimed the man was Reggie Miller. And why should someone be faulted for the fact that he has good shot selection (which is clearly why Childress has been second in the league in eFG on two separate occasions)?

    I don’t want your opinion. I want a real argument other than “because I said so.” Or, more accurately, I would just like you to admit that there isn’t a good way of coming up with an objective way of saying that Josh Childress can’t shoot. Every statistical measure we have shows that when Childress gets minutes, he produces at an above-average rate and makes very good decision, including superb shot selection.

  • 19 Tony // Dec 24, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    Sun also rises,

    why do you insist on claiming I am using multiple IDs? I promise you I am not. A-Rock’s opinions are too much even for me lol! With that being said, he is spot on regarding Sarver.
    For someone who doesn’t even use his name, you really shouldn’t be talking about using fake IDs. It’s also kind of ridiculous for an adult to use that user name ‘Sun also rises’ as don’t you think that’s a bit immature?

    A-Rock,

    Nash has always been a pass-first kind of pg. You’re asking him to suddenly change his style of play that he’s been playing for 2 decades if not longer. Especially at his age, suddenly changing playing styles is not an easy thing to do.
    With that being said, I do hope Nash does shoot more this season as like you said, other than Dudley and Frye (when he’s shooting well), this team does not have any pure shooters. Nash is goingto have to shoot more to get this team some points.

    Scott,

    excellent point about the Suns acquiring non-shooters. We have to remember, even when Kerr was brought in, the front office has had this obsession with getting better defensively at the expense of the Suns offense. When the Suns were at their best, it really wasn’t the sub-par defense that killed the Suns, more so it was the lack of rebounding that was the achilles heel of the Suns teams.
    Lance Blanks, continuing from where Kerr left off, was an assistant GM with the Spurs and so the mentality has been to try and transform the Suns into the Spurs. This is a losing strategy because the star players on the Suns over the past several years, Nash, Amare, and J-Rich, have always been offensive studs but defensively limited. So instead of taking advantage of their strengths, the front office has continually made moves counter-productive to their respective skill sets. Now, with only Nash left and no other offensive juggernauts, even if the team’s defense improves, there will be no gain in wins because of the lack of offense.

  • 20 Zak // Dec 24, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Much of the Suns abysmal preseason showings I attribute to Frye’s horrific performances. I can’t imagine that he will continue to perform as poorly as he did in the preseason. Sure the team isn’t a contender this year but I don’t think they are as bad as some people think they are. If Childress doesn’t perform this year, the Suns can amnesty him during the off season. Lopez looked much better in the preseason games which is a plus. Gortat is Gortat and I think he will find a way to play through the thumb fracture. He’s tough and determined. I have faith in him. Steve will be Steve again this year. If he needs to shoot more, he will. He’s smart enough to decide that on his own. Hopefully Grant will play up to par again. Dudley will give it his all no matter what I’m sure. Hopefully Morris will mature quickly and stop or at least slow down his fouls. Otherwise he looks good.

    On the negative side, neither Telfair nor Price seem to be really good options to back up Steve. Brown may be a bust too. I’m afraid he’s just looking at his time with the Suns to hopefully build up his stats and attract attention from other teams. Unfortunately for the Suns, he just isn’t that good and his ego may very well hurt the team.

    Ifs… well there are a lot of them. Warrick is one of the most prominent ones. Can he adapt to the 3 spot? Can Grant Hill and Steve Nash continue to play at the same level they did last year? And can the Suns improve their defense? Adding E. Turner to their coaching staff was a good move but can you make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear? Or even come close?

    With the shortened and compressed season this year almost anything could happen. The eigth seed Knicks proved that by making it to the finals in the last lockout shortened season. Could the Suns pull that off too? Doubtful, very doubtful and almost impossible… but it’s the “almost” that keeps me hopeful this year.

    If you want to start out the season thinking it’s all “doom and gloom” for the Suns, well that’s fine with me. You may very well be right. But after all it’s just a game. If the Suns wind up as the worst or the best team in the NBA this season, it will make little difference to me personally. I really love the team but they aren’t my life.

  • 21 A-ROCK // Dec 24, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    Thanks @Zak for trying to calm the sea of emotions, I mean the boat was rocking and you told the sea to halt with your words. Now lets be real the Suns are not our life but we are not going to let anyone put a blindfold over our eye’s, we recognize a Sorry organiztion starting from the owner on down. What is their to be positive over other than the rookie, by mid season he may get the suns mindset and not work out and be half the player his potential says he is, or he can shine bright and be a star this year getting the whole team motivated to work out and perform no matter what the situation is, this team sucks period, if they are not to old, they just can’t stand up to the competition in the NBA. The players are just to WEAK, I mean seriously can Hakeim, Fry or Childress bench press over 200 pounds or even their body weight?

  • 22 GoSuns // Dec 24, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    A-Rock most guys in the nba have builds of childress fry and hakeim like Kevin Durant, Tayshaun Prince, kobe’s lean but kinda lanky also, second off we don’t suck, we havent even started the season and people are already making claims, third off there are owners out there that have been a lot worse than sarver, the suns may end up near the bottom of the west and i may be wrong but i have a feeling that fans like you and all over the nba will be suprised when phx snatches up a playoff spot, nash has one of his best seasons in a while and the chemistry gentry has been known to build returns to phx, heres to a good season

  • 23 sun also rises // Dec 24, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    As I have said a million times before, I find your advances and weird fascination with learning my actual name to be flattering, Tony… I’m just not interested in “that” way.

    Merry xmas, playas

  • 24 A-ROCK // Dec 24, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    @GoSuns hahahahahahaha it is Christmas time wishful thinking huh lol. Yea there is a difference between lean with natural strength and lean and just weak lol. those guys you named posses a natural strength that you can’t coach and will of an ox so they are not going to let anyone stop them from going to the hole. All I’m saying is the players on the Suns don’t have that will or gift so they will have to work harder to perform in the NBA and I don’t anyone is pushing them to do this. It is like a dog chasing his tale with this team being in the nba working on your shot all these years you would figure to do something different build your mass up like a LAbron or Amare and get in the trenches, Amare was the only one on the Team that looked like he worked out all facets of his game inside out now he is shooting 3′s now, or he could be like warrik in the league for years and still be a stick good for nothing hahahahahaha

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