As noted on our season preview show of ValleyoftheSuns Live, many ifs surround the 2011-12 version of the Phoenix Suns. In this season preview edition of 5-on-5, we tell you how we think some of those ifs will shake out before making our preseason picks of the Suns’ record.
Who is the Suns’ most important player other than Steve Nash?
Michael Schwartz: In terms of ability the obvious answer is Marcin Gortat, but I’m going to go with the Suns’ backup point guard duo. Quite simply, I’m terrified about the dropoff from Nash to Ronnie Price or Sebastian Telfair after a season in which Phoenix got little production out of its backup point guards. The Suns need their bench to step up this season, and that won’t happen if Price/Telfair are as bad as I fear they will be.
Mike Schmitz: Robin Lopez. It’s hard to call a backup center the second-most important player on a team, but Lopez could be the difference in the Suns making the playoffs and sitting out mid-April. Alvin Gentry called him the second-most important player in purple and orange last year at this time for a reason. Behind or alongside Marcin Gortat, Lopez can anchor the Suns’ defense and give them an interior toughness that’s been MIA.
Kevin Zimmerman: Grant Hill must have re-signed with the Suns for a reason. The team thinks they’re that much better with the 39-year-old forward, and that’s because it all starts in the locker room. On the court, Hill’s return means Phoenix has its second leading scorer back from a year ago, plus one of its better perimeter defenders as the team attempts to revamp its defense.
Ryan Weisert: Marcin Gortat. He really began to assert himself offensively after the All-Star break last season. He has also shown he can be an elite rebounder. The Suns will need him to be a force on the boards and a true scoring threat if they hope to compete for a playoff spot this season.
Andrew Lynch: Marcin Gortat. For such a celebrated offense, scoring might be a struggle this year for the Suns. After Nash, there isn’t a reliable second scoring option. I’m hopeful he can be that option, both in the pick-and-roll with Nash and in the post. His rebounding, especially on the defensive end, is a Shammgodsend on a team that struggles on the glass, as well.
____ must step up for the Suns to enjoy a surprising season.
Michael Schwartz: Robin Lopez. If Lopez reverts to 2009-10 form, the Suns would all of a sudden possess one of the better center tandems in the league. They could play a quality center at all times and even utilize some big ball lineups. With an effective Gortat/Lopez, perhaps some of the Suns’ rebounding issues would go away and they would be more stout defensively on the interior. A healthy and effective Lopez changes the complexion of the Suns’ season.
Mike Schmitz: Channing Frye. The floor-spacing big man is who he is: a shooter with limited post moves and deficiencies on the glass and defensive end. But when he’s making shots, the Suns are exponentially better. In wins last season Frye scored 14.9 points and shot 46.3 percent from the field and 44.2 percent from three. In losses Frye averaged only 10.4 points while shooting at a 39.5 percent clip from the field and 31.3 percent from distance. When he’s on, Frye makes Phoenix’s lack of a go-to-scorer easier to swallow.
Kevin Zimmerman: Marcin Gortat. How much Gortat developed this offseason will determine where Phoenix will land after 66 games. With Nash acting as the cornerstone in the Suns’ offense, the role that’s been MIA for this team since Amar’e Stoudemire’s departure has been a pick-and-roll buddy for the All-Star point guard. Should Gortat become a 17-point, 10-rebound per night player, this team might not be all that bad.
Ryan Weisert: Shannon Brown. He has the most athleticism and explosiveness of anyone on the Suns’ roster. Whether he starts at shooting guard or is a scorer off the bench, he has the ability to electrify fans, which is something the Suns have been missing since Amar’e departed for the Big Apple. He is a preseason sleeper for the Dunk of the Year.
Andrew Lynch: Jared Dudley. If Gortat is the linchpin for Phoenix’s ability to score, Dudley is crucial to taking the team over the top into playoff contention. He’s proven his value as a sixth man and performed well in limited time as a starter at the end of last year. If he can be an above-average offensive player, maybe the Suns can avoid the lottery. Whether that’s a good thing or not is up for debate.
The Suns Achilles’ heel is _____.
Michael Schwartz: Lack of a go-to scorer. Defensive rebounding and backup point guard play could work as well, but the Suns’ offense still needs that scorer who can get them a bucket in crunch time. The lack of such an option is a big reason the Suns’ offense bogged down in the preseason, and there’s nobody to carry the offense in stretches when Nash rests.
Mike Schmitz: A go-to-scorer. Sure defense and rebounding are the obvious choices here, but even when the Suns were atop the Western Conference they were mediocre to poor defensive and rebounding teams. Offense has always been their best defense, but they’re missing that firepower this season. Nash is surrounded by a handful of solid role players, but they’re nothing more than that – role players. Ether someone needs to develop into a consistent offensive threat alongside Nash or – I never thought I’d say this – the Suns will struggle offensively all season long.
Kevin Zimmerman: A lack of firepower. No matter what new defensive schemes Elston Turner brings, it’s clear Phoenix wants to keep its up-tempo style. But if there’s nobody to score the ball, then this team might be running up and down for no reason, all while usurping its new halfcourt defensive philosophies by way of opponents’ transition opportunities. If the Suns can’t find someone on the roster to be the leading scorer ahead of Nash, they’re in trouble.
Ryan Weisert: Defense. During the entirety of the Nash era in Phoenix, the Suns have been one of the highest scoring teams in the league. They have also given up a ton of points on the defensive end. Changes in the roster and another year on Nash’s odometer mean the Suns will play slower this season. A slower pace combined with the same defensive inadequacies will be a recipe for disaster.
Andrew Lynch: Breadth. There are a lot of OK-to-not awful players on the roster — Sebastian Telfair, Shannon Brown, Robin Lopez. Unfortunately, there’s not much depth there, if any. That leaves the Suns susceptible to injuries and fatigue — and in a shortened season, that could make all the difference.
True or False. The Suns will trade Nash before the trade deadline.
Michael Schwartz: False, but I think they should. The only way this happens is if the bottom falls out on the season and Nash goes to management with a trade request. Even then it might only happen if somebody offers enough to make it worth all the externalities beyond basketball that Nash brings. For a couple months of a rental in this shortened season, I just don’t see all of that coming together.
Mike Schmitz: False. If Steve Nash requests to be moved, he’ll get dealt. But Nash isn’t the type to demand a trade, and the Suns want him to finish up this season in purple and orange. He’s been this franchise’s everything for seven seasons and Suns management will be fine with filling seats and possibly sneaking into the playoffs until the two go their separate ways after the season.
Kevin Zimmerman: As much as you’d think trading Steve Nash is the mutually beneficial thing to do, I’m going with false. Otherwise, Nash would already be somewhere else. When it comes down to it, Suns owner Robert Sarver views this as a business, and Nash remaining on the team will keep them somewhat competitive while keeping fans in the seats.
Ryan Weisert: No. Before free agency began the answer was definitely yes. But now most of the logical trading partners for Nash have filled their point guard needs. The team on everyone’s mind was definitely the Knicks, but they signed Baron Davis, who won’t be ready to play until close to the trade deadline. If the Knicks are playing well at that point, they’ll likely stand pat without Nash.
Andrew Lynch: False. This trade doesn’t happen unless Steve Nash wants it to happen. Short of the Suns losing every game before the trade deadline and Grant Hill being kidnapped, Nash isn’t going anywhere this season. Come July, however, it’s a whole different ballgame.
How will the Suns finish?
Michael Schwartz: 29-37. I just don’t see the Suns making it out of that brutal end of January stretch alive. The team could gel and use superb chemistry as a springboard to a lower tier playoff seed, but the most likely scenario is Phoenix taking a deeper plunge into the lottery with a team bereft of much top end talent before rebuilding in earnest next summer.
Mike Schmitz: 34-32, ninth seed in the West. The Suns are better than the national media thinks. They still have Steve Nash and Grant Hill. They still return majority of last season’s 40-42 team, minus the chaos of two midseason trades. If Lopez can return to form and Gortat improves as an offensive threat, the Suns could sneak in the playoffs. But those are big “ifs” and the Suns simply aren’t talented to leapfrog the West’s fringe playoff teams.
Kevin Zimmerman: 10th in the West with a 31-35 record. The Suns have done little to show they will have any more success than last year considering Nash’s age. Couple that with the usual playoff contenders and some young upcoming teams, and Phoenix doesn’t have the roster to do much damage. Take Nash off this team, and the roster is bottom five talent-wise in the league.
Ryan Weisert: 30-36. The Suns have a brutal road trip Jan. 15-23. They play the Spurs, Bulls, Knicks, Celtics, and Mavericks over those nine days. That could easily be five losses. Any early season momentum the Suns might generate could be erased by that trip. I think they’ll flirt with a .500 record for most of the season, but ultimately come up a little short.
Andrew Lynch: Treading water at 32-34. The best case scenario for this team is another season around .500. With a decent modicum of health and continued development from Gortat and Dudley, it’s an easily attainable goal. They won’t make the playoffs, though, and that mediocrity may cost them the chance to rebuild in earnest.