As progress reports are sent home and students are evaluated, the Phoenix Suns are playing the part of the third-grader racing to the mailbox after school to hide the bad news from his parents.
Through 34 games of the 2011-12 season the Suns haven’t earned any Os for outstanding, and few Ss for satisfactory. As the Suns went into the All-Star break with a devastating loss to the Golden State Warriors that sent Alvin Gentry into a frenzy, their report card is lined with nothing but Ns — nearly every facet of their game needs improvement.
While I’ll dive into the good, the bad and the ugly from the first half of the season tonight, for now here’s a look at each individual player and how they’ve stacked up to preseason expectations halfway through the season:
Steve Nash: Overachieved
Will Nash ever succumb to Father Time? Nobody expected Nash to hit a wall and stop producing, but the two-time MVP is playing like it’s 2004 in a shortened season where only the young guns are supposed to survive.
Nash is once again leading the NBA in assists with 10.9 while shooting a career-best 54.5 percent from the field. In fact, the 38-year-old ranks seventh in the NBA in field goal percentage, 20 spots ahead of the next highest point guard, Chris Paul.
Nash is posting his highest PER since the 2006-07 season and is once again shooting 40.0 percent-plus from the land of plenty. It’s scary to think where the talentless Suns would be without their maestro. He’s continued to be the sun, the moon and the stars of the franchise, going for at least 20 and 10 five times this season and making a bad team show flashes of playoff basketball.
Captain Canada has given the Suns more than they could ever ask for through 34 games. But the question remains, will he remain in Phoenix past March 15? Check out Nash’s stats and midseason grade below:
Marcin Gortat: Overachieved
Although Nash has outperformed expectations, leading the league in assists while remaining uber-efficient is nothing new for the perennial All-Star. The play of Marcin Gortat, however, has taken Phoenix, and the Western Conference for that matter, by surprise.
Gortat’s been arguably the Suns’ most valuable player thus far, giving Phoenix a much-needed interior presence while vacuuming the glass with 10.4 rebounds on a nightly basis. He continues to show he has one of the better off hands in the NBA while ranking third in the league in field goal percentage by shooting at a 56.1 percent clip.
Suns fans knew the Polish Hammer was a walking double-double, but the Dream Shakes, turnaround jumpers and sky hooks weren’t in the arsenal a season ago. Don’t blame Gortat for the Suns’ struggles, because he’s been playing at an All-Star level in every area of the game. Check out Gortat’s stats and midseason grade below:
Grant Hill: As Expected
Like Nash, the 39-year-old continues to stand the test of time. Hill has been everything the Suns signed him to be: a lockdown defender, occasional scorer and a veteran presence to help Phoenix through a time of transition.
Hill’s locked down everyone from Kevin Durant to Joe Johnson to Tyreke Evans and continues to give the Suns a much-needed versatile defender on a nightly basis. The elder statesman has struggled offensively, however, failing to average double figures for the first time in his 16-year career and shooting a career-low 41.6 percent from the field.
But it’s hard to expect Hill to slow the NBA’s top talent while filling it up on the offensive end. With that said, Hill has been rock solid and exactly what the Suns paid him $6.5 million to do. Check out Hill’s stats and midseason grade below:
Jared Dudley: As Expected
Dudley hasn’t exactly grabbed the starting job he worked so hard to earn by the horns and made it his own. He’s topped 20 points only three times this season and Dudley’s proven he may not have the physical gifts to score like most starting two guards in the league.
But the Suns aren’t paying Dudley to be the shooting guard of the future. To steal one from Dennis Green, Dudley is who we thought he was. He shoots a solid percentage from the floor — 47.1 percent — can knock down the triple, can defend shooting guards and small forwards, doesn’t turn the ball over, and has a nose for the ball. No complaints here about the physically-limited swingman.
Check out Dudley’s stats and midseason grade below:
Channing Frye: Underachieved
Channing Frye, however, has been as inconsistent as, well, the Phoenix Suns through the first half of the season. Frye’s inconsistency is a big reason the Suns have struggled offensively, as he’s proven to be their barometer for success.
Frye averages almost three more points per game in wins than in losses and shoots a considerably better percentage from the field and from three. He continues to play below average defense and disappear on the boards at times.
But luckily for the Suns, Frye averaged 13.9 points per game in February. He’s getting hot at the right time, but his 4.3 point per game December and 7.4 point per game January make him a first-half disappointment.
Check out Frye’s stats and midseason grade below:
Markieff Morris: Overachieved
No one benefitted from Frye’s struggles more than Morris. The rookie has had his ups and downs but overall his poise, toughness and 3-point shooting have been a pleasant surprise for Phoenix.
I thought it would be a stretch for him to even become a regular rotation player when the Suns drafted him out of Kansas, but he disproved that notion quickly. He has a long way to go but Morris has proven so far that he is the better twin and may have the potential to develop into that big man of the future.
Check out Morris’ stats and midseason grade below:
Shannon Brown: Underachieved
No Sun has disappointed more than Shannon Brown. Not that he was expected to come in and be an All-Star, but remember when he and Dudley were in a heated training camp battle for the starting shooting guard spot?
Now Brown can barely sneak into the rotation. His shot selection is almost laughable and his basketball IQ is even worse. Brown settles for strictly jump shots, negating his freakish athleticism in an offense that’s begging for it. There’s been no bigger disappointment so far than Brown.
Check out Brown’s stats and midseason grade below:
Michael Redd: Overachieved
The fact that Michael Redd is even playing NBA basketball, let alone contributing, is remarkable in and of itself. His percentages are nothing to write home about but he averaged 10.2 points per game in February, including a 20-point outburst in a start against the Nuggets.
He gave the Suns an added threat on the perimeter who can get to the free throw line while holding his own defensively despite his high-mileage knees. Redd has the scoring prowess the Suns need. Now if only it was 2007, then the Western Conference would be in trouble. All kidding aside, Redd’s journey is a feel-good story that’s finally yielding positive results.
Check out Redd’s stats and midseason grade below:
Robin Lopez: Underachieved
Remember during training camp when Lopez said he was not only healthy but had a new outlook and fresh perspective as well? He has shown none of that through 34 games. Lopez is nearly irrelevant in Phoenix and the Suns should look to shop him before the deadline.
Although much of it is due to Gortat’s emergence and Morris’ play, Lopez’s impact is minimal as he’s reached double-digit scoring only three times — twice against the Hornets and once versus Charlotte — while hitting the 10-plus rebounding mark only once. Lopez can still be valuable against bigger teams like the Lakers, but he’s nowhere near the player the Suns hoped he would be when he thrived throughout training camp. If there’s one Sun to go before the deadline, it’s him.
Check out Lopez’s stats and midseason grade below:
Josh Childress: Underachieved
Childress still hasn’t given the Suns one reason to justify giving him $30-plus million dollars over five years. For the second straight season he’s been lost in the rotation, this time with no broken index finger to blame.
The Stanford product hasn’t had much of a chance to prove himself, however. And when he has had the opportunity, more often than not he’s provided energy and activity. But Childress simply doesn’t have the offensive firepower to help the Suns, and has shown he’s nowhere near the defender he was brought in to be. Those factors have earned him a near-permanent seat on the pine.
Check out Childress’ stats and midseason grade below:
Hakim Warrick: Underachieved
Suns fans know what they get with Warrick — an offensive threat who doesn’t play a lick of defense or attack the glass. But while Warrick continues to get bullied down low and has proven too slow to play the wing, he’s also failed to produce offensively when given the chance.
He’s shooting 44.9 percent from the field and averaging 7.0 points per contest, both his lowest marks since his rookie year in Memphis. To Warrick’s credit, he’s only played 22 total minutes in the month of February. But there’s a reason Warrick is out of the rotation, and unless he regains his scoring prowess or learns how to defend and rebound, that won’t change in the second half.
Check out Warrick’s stats and midseason grade below:
Sebastian Telfair: Underachieved
Telfair eventually earned the backup point guard nod over Ronnie Price because of his playmaking ability and pure point guard skills. But none of those skills have been on display this season as Telfair’s proven why he never quite made it Through the Fire and into a successful NBA point guard.
He’s been inefficient from the field, shooting 33.6 percent while oftentimes failing to keep the Suns afloat when Nash is on the pine. No one thought Telfair was the point guard of the future, but he’s barely a serviceable backup at this point.
Check out Telfair’s stats and midseason grade below:
Ronnie Price: Underachieved
I thought Price would capture the backup point guard job and not let go. I also thought the Suns could be a playoff team, so clearly you can guess how my Price prediction turned out.
He brings energy and intense on-the-ball defense, but it’s clear why he’s never been able to take his career to the next level. His point guard skills — vision, basketball IQ, passing, finishing in traffic, etc. — are extremely limited and it says a lot about his game that Gentry still has him on the bench behind a mediocre backup like Telfair.
Telfair’s lead is slim, and Price could be back as Nash’s backup before your know it. Check out Price’s stats and midseason grade below: