Phoenix Suns 2012-13 preview capsule


Editor’s Note: This is ValleyoftheSuns’ contribution to the seventh annual “NBA Blog Previews” put on by CelticsBlog.

Team Name: Phoenix Suns
Last Year’s Record: 33-33
Key Additions: Goran Dragic, Michael Beasley, Luis Scola, Wesley Johnson, Kendall Marshall
Key Losses: Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Robin Lopez, Michael Redd, Josh Childress

1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?

Nothing much aside from trading away perhaps the most popular player in franchise history to the team’s most hated rival, allowing another popular veteran to flee to Tinseltown as well and remaking the franchise with a slew of young guns.

Obviously, trading Steve Nash was the most significant move. That deal signaled the end of a proud era of Suns basketball and ushered in a rebuilding project with a brand new roster. It was painful for many Suns fans to see Nash dealt to “that” team, but it’s what the organization had to do to finally move on, and it received four draft picks to boot.

From there the team signed Michael Beasley and Goran Dragic, acquired Luis Scola via amnesty waivers and traded Robin Lopez for Wes Johnson and a first.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

It’s hard to say exactly until the team hits the hardwood for the first time, but this team should possess solid depth. Everybody in the expected starting lineup should be good for at least 10-15 points a contest, and if Kendall Marshall develops quickly the Suns could possess a productive bench unit.

It’s often said that the one and the five are the two most important positions to fill for an NBA team, and that’s where the team’s two best players reside in Dragic and Marcin Gortat. They should combine to be a nice pick-and-roll combination.

With a handful of quality young athletes and a style that will continue to focus on beating teams down the floor, the Suns figure to be one of the better running teams in basketball as well.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

The team appears to lack a go-to player who can take over games. There are many players who can score double-digit points, but unless Beasley really emerges no offensive star who can win a game on his own.

The Suns largely lack in experience as well, aside from Scola and backup big man Jermaine O’Neal. This is a young group that has not been through the playoff fire save for the players on the 2009-10 Suns squad that are still around.

Aside from O’Neal there’s nary a shot blocker either, and the team will really need to buy into Elston Turner’s defensive schemes to turn themselves into even a league-average defensive squad.

4. What are the goals for this team?

To “make playoffs,” as Dragic and Gortat like to say. Head coach Alvin Gentry made sure to point out at Media Day that the Suns aren’t trying to chase the Lakers this season. Although it doesn’t exactly take a basketball genius to come to that conclusion, the playoffs are a fair goal for this young team loaded with interesting talented players.

After all, hoping the young guys develop and the team plays hard every night does not exactly get your blood boiling so far as team goals go, but clearly that’s a major aim of this season as well. The past few years the Suns have been straddling the line of trying to get younger while staying competitive. Although the team surely wants to still win, cultivating young talent now is a primary goal of the season as well, perhaps more so than in seasons past.

Overall Gentry succinctly summed up what he’s going to ask of his team:

“For us, what we’re going to do is we’re going to play hard every single night and compete like crazy. We’re going to play unselfish basketball. I think if we do those things right there we’ll be a tough-minded team. If we do all of those things, we’ll take the results.”

5. Who will step up to fill the leadership void left by the departures of Nash and Hill?

You would be hard pressed to find two veterans as well-respected in the entire NBA as Nash and Hill. Their departure leaves a crater-sized leadership void to fill.

Jared Dudley feels like he already was a leader for this team, and he’s right, but of course not at the level of the Suns’ former graybeards. Dudley was always a more vocal leader than the Suns’ vets, and he expects to take that full leadership role upon himself this season.

Then there are a pair of veterans in Scola and O’Neal who have been around the block and figure to lead by example if nothing else. Gortat has been trying to be a leader since arriving in Phoenix, and we know he’s never afraid to tell a teammate exactly how he feels. Dragic has also embraced a leadership role as a more confident player in his return to Phoenix.

  • Scott

    The Suns have been working on building out their new player development department.

    Recently they picked up Hall of Fame big man Ralph Sampson. Sampson joins Sean Rooks and Lindsay Hunter in player development. While I’m not sure how it all works, I’d guess Sampson acts as a functional replacement for departed assistant “big man” coach Bill Cartwright.

  • Scott

    BTW, while it’s still WAAAYYYY too early to tell with certainty how things are developing with the team, from Coro we observe the following:

    1) Marshall may already be outperforming Telfair as a floor general in short scrimmages. A team of Marshall, Brown, Johnson, Morris, and Zeller beat a team of Telfair, Dudley, Beasley, Scola, and Gortat.

    2) Johnson, paired with Marshall, is scoring lots of points. While Johnson had started off as a member of the 3rd team, it sounds like he has progressed to where he’s a member of the 2nd team, and is doing well there.

    3) This 2nd unit with Johnson has defeated both the 1st and 3rd teams. We’ll have to see how the 2nd unit fares against the 1st once Dragic returns.

    4) Having Zeller play with the projected 2nd unit makes it look like he’s the first choice of the Suns, not Diogu. However, Zeller has struggled with making his outside shots, and the Suns are looking for someone who will make them.

    5) Tucker is being seen as a defensive-stopper and energy guy. His energy is setting the tone for the games.

    6) O’Neal has played well defensively, but is currently resting due to general soreness.

    7) Morris is playing well and assertively. Scola and Dudley are also playing notably well in scrimmages.

    8) Nothing really has been said about how Beasley is doing, which leads me to believe he may not be doing very well. Nothing has been said about Gortat, either. I’d be inclined to say both players might be suffering from having Telfair at point, but Telfair used to PG for Beasley, and Beasley scored. So I don’t know if there’s a problem, or if the players just need more play time for everyone to show off.

  • danc133

    Well it was hardly a major omission but there was no mention of Warrick getting traded. I believe that either Tucker or Johnson will be a defensive upgrade over him as a defender and rebounder. Call it addition by subtraction if you will. Tucker strikes me as a player like Childress who will defend and rebound and get after loose balls, basically a hustle guy. I think if Johnson can get his confidence he can be a decent backup 3 because he can shoot when he is playing free and loose. They both have the length and athleticism to defend if they are taught how and Turner seems determined to do that. I think with a month to work on it the suns could well be a better defensive team.

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

    The section said “key” losses so it was my editorial opinion that that wasn’t a key loss haha.

  • Bill_Thomas

    Robin Lopez a key loss ???????????

    Waste Management is always looking for good people.

  • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

    Well, they got a first-round pick for him so he was at least semi-key! Haha yeah, I probably could have stopped at Nash and Hill there.

    Speaking of Robin, have you guys seen this: http://phillippennington.com/post/32915068175/new-orleans-head-coach-monty-williams-has-moves. Ohhhh, Robin!

  • steve

    A couch has more lateral speed than Robin Lopez. That said, he still was fairly effective in certain roles and in certain situations. I know he seemed to lack motivation here in the Valley, but if he could have ever found his spark, he might have been a good backup center in PHX for another 5-10 years.

    Phoenix has no one to fill that role any more unless JO found a time machine.

  • B. Cray Z.

    Michael, you make some good points but I like Alvin’s comments the best.

    Read between the lines & Alvin does not mention playoffs as even a possibility this year. This is for good reason. He talks about playing hard. This sounds like comments their coaches would make about the Sacramento Kings. Suns will not challenge fore the playoffs this year, without major changes, but could very well challenge the Kings for dead last in the West. I’m not trying to sound like Tony. Tony takes a lot of crap from you guys but we’re both trying to be, as is Alvin, more realistic. If we’re right, Babby will have achieved his goal to make the team suck but there will be many unhappy fans.

    Now, I will digress from the big picture view. While there is no scientific formula, I thought that an objective piece by piece analysis may help. Keep in mind that there were some profound off-season moves made. As a result, unless the good counteracts the bad, we cannot expect this team to be as as last year, when it took a major move after the All-Star break just to match the .500 record of the previous year, despite having the best plus/minus of any starting five (including Thunder & Heat) before the All-Star break of any starting five in the NBA, at that time. This not only points out our putrid bench play, at that time, but it underscores the overall importance of bench play. Just ask the Lakers or the Thunder (on the flip side.) This is why I campaign regularly for the return of our young, aggressive bench unit frim the last time we did make the playoffs (& succeed in them), when I say “MUST reunite that killer bench unit.” Onto the piece-by-piece analysis of our current team. Let’s begin with the starting unit. Hard for this year’s starters, as a whole to best last year’s NBA best plus/minus guys. But how much worse will they be this year? Will start at the #1 (point) & go through the #5 (center.) Nash is Nash. Like Gogi said “there is only one Steve.” This is why Babby knew for his plan to have a shot, it must begin with showing Nash the door. Before we get to mostly positive move of bringing Gogi back, what will we miss from Nash? Will we miss his normally 40%+ 3-point shot? Will we miss his 50%+ overall accuracy from the field, where he hardly ever forces a shot? Will we miss his 90%+ touch from the foul line? Keep in mind that the only NBA player in the history of the game to even come remotely close to the 40%+/ 50%+/90%+ accomplishments of Nash was Larry Bird. Bird, a remarkably accurate shooter, was a driving force in lots & lots of Celtics’ wins. Likewise, Nash was able to shoot the Suns to many wins, without the erratic lack of consistent accuracy that would breed a loss. Without Nash’s 3-point, overall field goal & free throw accuracy, the Subs have hurt themselves in 3 key areas, by showing Nash the door. But there is much more to analyzing both the positive & negative aspects of his game that the Suns will miss this year. Keep in mind that, while Alvin is a much better coach than Mike Dumb Antoni, that Mike could not win a game, even with STAT, Joe Johnson & Matrix in 2003-2004, until Nash joined them the next year. This is where we must also expect to miss his playmaking. Bird was also a very good passer but not nearly as good as Nash. That makes for 4 positives (3 shot making plus the passing) that we will be without this year. When a teammate of Nash was struggling in a game, he would set them up for an easy layup or dunk. That was to boost their self-confidence & lead to their improved overall play. This “making his teammates better, in order to be objective, I will only count for one positive that we will miss this year, even though I believe it to be more important than all of the other 4 positive aspects of his game put together. That should, therefore, count for more than five all together, but, for the purpose of objective analysis, I will call it five on the offensive side of the ball. Then there is defense. Nash has been much aligned for poor defense, when any objective analysis will refute this myth. Sure, we will also miss his inability to keep up with a speedy guard in a pick & roll, the negative aspect of his defensive game. That brings us to 5 positives (all on offense) plus one negative that we will miss. But let us not forget that Nash plays smart at both ends & rarely commits a foul that would result in giving easy points at the foul line to the other team & is more likely to be fouled (taking a charge) on defense than he is to committing a foul. We will also miss this. That adds to 5 positives & 1 negative we will miss from Nash’s game. Then there is the intangible leadership factor in addition to his play making that is demonstrated through his mental & physical toughness & competitiveness that he shows when playing through disfigurement & pain. That now makes a total of 7 positive aspects plus 1 negative aspect of his game that we will miss this year. Last but not least is his off-the-court leadership that he would help bond with the guys (& setting practice, conditioning & diet examples for the other guys) in making short funny films & take personal responsibility in the locker room for each loss. Some of these factors are so important that they deserve weighting but, in order to be objective, let’s just say that we will miss 8 identifiable positives vs. 1 negative, by showing Nash the door. Also, by doing so, management is telling each of the players & coaches that they are expendable, not respected & that their opinions don’t count. Very clearly a most negative message for morale & the chemistry of the team. Well, after all of that, we will have Gogi back. Ideally suited to play the #2 guard (like he does on his native Slovenian national team), I would have loved to have seen him pair with Nash. What a dynamic duo that would have been! Alvin would have gotten his “go-to” scorer wish. Gogi is aggressive & can he ever score! He is also aggressive in both sides of the ball. Those are two clear positives that we will get from him this year. Then there is a third possible positive & that involves his youth & propensity for improving his game. Call it a total of 3 positives that he will bring to the point guard spot this year. His lone negative is his incinsistency,

  • B. Cray Z.

    which has been a huge factor in the past. Call it 3 positives plus 1 negative for our new point guard this year (vs. 8 positives plus 1 negative that we will miss from Nash. Then, there is Dud at the starting #2 guard, same as last year. Does not close out well on the 3-point shooter on the opposing team but shoots 40%+ from distance on the other side & is an aggressive offensive rebounder but does not shoot well from the foul line. Dud was at his best, as was Gogi, as members of “that killer bench unit.” Reuniting them is an intangible plus. That now makes a total of 4 positive factors for changes made to this year’s starting back court (vs. only 1 negative) but, at the same time, we will be missing 8 positives (vs. only 1 negative) from Nash. Then, we move on to the starting small forward (#3). Last year, we started Grant Hill. Hill is a superb defender. We will miss that. Also, he was versatile enough to guard a wide range of speed & size, from Blake Griffin to Chris Paul. But management also showed him the door. Now, instead of guarding Blake & CP3, he gets to play with them. Suns will miss both his defensive skill & his versatility. That is 2 more positives we’re without. He was healthy here, up until last year (knee.) With no knee to worry about this year, let’s say we now have lost 2 positives plus 1 negative, with Hill’s departure this year. Also, he was a good rebounder, for his size. Hill was also good at driving the lane & finishing or getting to the foul line, from where he was fairly good.Call it 4 on-court positives, with his knee being the lone negative. Hill, like Nash, was respected by his teammates & coaches (a lot of good that did either of them this year.) With his leadership gone, the Suns will miss a total of 5 positive factors plus the lone negative of his knee. This year, the Subs made the bone head move of replacing Hill with Beasley. This move is full with nothing but negatives. From the fact that his shot selection is poor (for one) to his inability/unwillingness to guard other small forwards (for two) to his lazy rebounding habits (three negatives thus far) to his inability to get along with teammates (just ask Rubio or Love.) From those four negatives (plus a fifth in that he is a head case), this year’s Suns have dug themselves a deep hole. With changes at our starting #1 (point guard) and #3 (small forward), our Suns have replaced 13 positive factors (along with 2 negatives) in Nash & Hill with Beasley & Gogi. They give this year’s Suns 4 new positives plus 6 new negatives. Frye was our starting #4 (power forward) last year. We all hope he gets well. Suns will miss positives in his floor-stretching ability, under-rated defensive skill, clutch late-game heroics & good foul shooting for a big., Besides those 4 on-court positives he is a good guy in the locker room & part of “that killer bench unit”. Flip side of Channing is inconsistency in his long distance shot & poor rebounding for a big. That makes 5 positives plus 2 negatives we will miss this year. Luis Scola was a stroke of good amnesty luck. Luis will bring craftiness & competitiveness to our front court, while also lacking defensively. With Gortat returning, the lone positive that he will miss this year is that he will not have the pick & roll partner Nash. All in all, that adds up to 19 positives plus only 4 negatives that we will miss from our starters last year. This year, they will be replaced with 6 new positives but 7 new negatives. Then comes our bench & here is where the Suns will lose & lose some more. Replacing Redd with Johnson? Ouch! Having Shannon Brown come back? Double ouch!! What made our starters so outstanding last year (until Hill was hurt) was the defense if Grant Hill. What made our bench suck is that Telfair could nit play with Shannon Brown. They were awful together. Management has decided that they need a repeat of that this year to ensure that our Suns will suck. Last year, RoLo played better than Gortat, late in the year. Now he is gone. With an over the hill replacement, it appears we will miss the positive of late-season RoLo & Telfair without Brown to drag him down & Redd (both on-court & off-court). Replacing those 4 positives will be the negatives of Johnson, an over-the hill has been (O’Neal), & Shannon Brown back on the bench unit. With bench play being so much more vital competitively than that of our starters (just look at last year), we should probably give extra weighting to the 4 positives we will miss plus the 3 new negatives for this year. But by how much? Just recognize that I’m understating the deterioration in the bench greatly but to be objective we will not give it any extra weighting & just total up the 23 positives we will miss from last year’s team (vs. only 4 negatives) & contrast it to the 6 new positives we gain with 10 negatives, this year. Talk about ugly. Last year, with minimal turnover & much better team players & team leaders & an NBA best plus/minus starting five up until the All-S

  • B. Cray Z.

    Star break, we were sill, at that time, stuck with many more losses (& to to some weak opponents) than wins. This year, therefore is likely to start out even much worse. Counting each of the understated 23 positives from last year’s team that we will miss plus the similarly understated (for lack of bench weighting) 10 new negatives for this year’s team, plus the 4 negatives we will miss with only 6 new positives, gives an optimistic (because of no bench weighting) projected total (assuming each factor will equate to one win or loss) of a 10-33 record by this year’s All-Star break. After the All Star break, is when Alvin is at his best. Will he still be our coach after such a poor beginning? If he is, he may be able to make the line-up changes that could result in our team playing close to .500 ball for the rest of the year. If he is replaced by then by the dumb & arrogant Dan Majerle, lookout below for a last place finish in the West Adding Barbosa could have given us some help & some glue.

    MUST reunite that killer bench unit. Let’s go SUNS!!!!

  • steve

    I’m sorry, but I think you have the words “objective” and “subjective” confused. Those are your perceptions, which is the very definition of “subjective.”

    I’m not saying your opinions are any less worthwhile than mine or anyone else’s, but that’s hardly an “objective” outlook on the situation.

    I haven’t done extensive research into whether previous WS numbers translate to future WS success, so I can’t say with a high level of confidence that this is accurate, but according to last year’s WS numbers for each Suns player, this squad should end up with around 40 wins. THAT is objectivity. Even if you don’t agree with the WS system, it’s perceivable by EVERYONE and understood the same way by EVERYONE because it has an exact, undebatable definition.

    Saying “making short funny films” is a positive aspect of Steve Nash that added wins to the Phoenix Suns franchise isn’t something we can all agree on. Saying “Goran Dragic earned 5.1 WS last season” is a fact that everyone sees the same way, whether or not they agree with the accuracy of the WS model.

  • B. Cray Z.

    This is true.

    Lots of typos too.

    Tried to give it my best shot.

    When are you giving me that H.O.R.S.E. game?

  • Tony

    @Bill_Thomas,

    you are an idiot wrapped inside a moron! Trading Lopez is going to bite the Suns FO in the ass down the road. That’s not to say Lopez will turn into an elite center, but he will bring far more value than Johnson or the 1st round pick. It’s basketball 101, you don’t trade big for small if the value in return does not greatly exceed the loss of size. I don’t expect a dummy such as yourself to know that, but instead of continuing to sound like a complete clown, why don’t you learn a little bit about basketball? Might do you some good.

    Michael, at one point can we expect an article about why Gentry has not received a contract-extension offer from the Suns FO? Has any coach in recent NBA history had to put up with such an inept and cheap front office or who has had to put up with revolving roster turnovers each season as Gentry? Especially considering he is the one of the lowest paid NBA coaches in the league, hasn’t he earned an extension by now? This is a completely unjust and classless decision on the part of Sarver not to offer Gentry an extension. This sort of behavior by the FO is exactly why they can only hire second-rate personnel as opposed to the best.

  • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

    @Tony I addressed that here: http://valleyofthesuns.com/2012/09/23/channing-frye-tough-road-thankful-virus-caught-now/. I know you disagree with Babby’s rationale, but that’s the reason.

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