Phoenix Suns believe they can ‘surprise a lot of teams’


PHOENIX — For the past two seasons Steve Nash has propped up a roster lacking talent and athleticism, somehow waving his magic wand to propel the Phoenix Suns to the edge of the playoff picture before ultimately falling short. Now without him, this team has no chance.

At least that’s the picture painted by many national pundits about Year 1 of the Suns’ new era sans Nash.

The ESPN Summer Forecast taking into account the opinion of 100 ESPN-affiliated voters tabbed the Suns to finish 14th in the West and tied for fourth-worst in the entire league with a 30-52 record.

Basketball Prospectus’ SCHOENE sees the Suns plummeting to the very bottom of the West with the fourth-worst record in the NBA (a horrid 28-54) due to a pitiful offense that it projects to drop to 25th in efficiency.

And then there’s ESPN’s John Hollinger, who predicts the Suns to crash to the very bottom of the conference with the third-worst record in the league, an embarrassing 24-58 mark.

Writes Hollinger:

Moreover, last season’s weaknesses remain. This is still one of the league’s least athletic teams. A Gortat-Scola frontcourt isn’t scaring anybody, Dudley is the closest thing the Suns have to a wing stopper and first-rounder Marshall is another B athlete (at best). Bench players such as O’Neal, Markieff Morris, Johnson and Telfair don’t exactly form a track and field juggernaut, either. The only elite athletes, arguably, are Dragic and Beasley. …

There are just too many weak links. In a conference as unforgiving as this one, that’s going to spell a long season. One can argue the Suns need it, as starved as they were of high picks in the Nash years. Cash in on the three draft picks and free agency next summer, and perhaps their stay at the bottom of the conference will be brief. But they’re definitely booking a room here.

National analysts have underrated the Suns for years, but never have they been expected to free fall this far. The next analyst that picks the Suns to reach the playoffs will be the first as most see postseason play as a pipe dream.

“Every West team made it in at least one run,” Basketball Prospectus’ Kevin Pelton wrote in a piece on SCHOENE’s final 2012-13 projections. “I’d love to know more about that simulation where the Suns were a playoff team.”

As head coach Alvin Gentry said at Media Day, the Suns understand they aren’t chasing the Lakers but that doesn’t mean they don’t see the playoffs as a realistic goal.

“That’s absolutely a realistic goal,” GM Lance Blanks said. “It’s difficult. The best team in the world two years ago didn’t win it all. Just because you do it on paper or you do it during parts of the regular season, there are no guarantees in this business. An injury here, a fight or bad decision here, or Lon’s example of a slip on a banana peel and things can go the other way. We just got a scare obviously with Channing Frye. Those things we can’t control, but 100 percent that’s a realistic goal. What I love is that the guys feel that way and are saying it. Now we just need to provide the support to bring that to fruition.”

It certainly isn’t going to be easy. Take a look around the Western Conference and it’s difficult to find any team the Suns will definitely be better than, especially after Houston acquired James Harden.

The Blazers, Hornets, Kings and Warriors could all be bad along with the Rockets but all those teams possess nice pieces that the Suns likely envy as well. Minnesota could falter without Love and Rubio and Dallas without Dirk, but it’s easy to see why nobody is bullish on Phoenix, not that the team minds one bit.

“We like being the underdog,” Gentry said. “It should give you incentive to play harder and work harder and do everything that’s necessary because basically what they’re saying is that they don’t believe in us. We believe in us. The coaches believe in it, the players believe in it, and at the end of the day really that’s the only thing that matters.

“I think you’ve got to believe in yourself. We believe in ourselves, we believe in each other, and we think that we can do good things. At the end of the day when you walk in that locker room, the guys sitting in there and the coaches sitting in there, that’s really the only thing that matters. If you believe in each other and you’re going to play unselfishly then good things can happen. We’ve seen it happen in this league all the time.”

The “nobody believes in us” cliché has become increasingly prevalent in sports these days to the extent that it’s often called upon in situations whereby many people actually believe in said team, but that’s far from the case with these Suns. If they crash the playoff party, they’ll be able to shout this cliché from the rafters of US Airways Center, and they know it.

“Of course, yes,” said point guard Goran Dragic. “I don’t care what the people say, ‘They’re not going to make playoffs.’ Me personally I have my own goals and the team. We want to make playoffs. I know it’s going to be hard, but dreaming is not forbidden. I think we have a good team, a lot of young talent and we’re going to be good this year.”

Added Sebastian Telfair, “I definitely pay attention to that. You get fired up. We have a lot of talent in this locker room, and I think it’s better to start like that where people don’t expect much from you and then you go out there and you win the games, getting into the playoffs, and then you get a lot more glory that way.”

At this point in the year, the Suns have no choice but to be optimistic despite what all the national pundits believe. They can hang their hat on a talented starting five featuring a breakout candidate in Dragic, a talented player who has yet to put it all together in Beasley, the steady and reliable Dudley, the crafty offensive force Scola and the roll man extraordinaire Gortat.

There is more talent on this team than one would usually find at the bottom of a conference, and if the group meshes, staring down the Lakers in Round 1 is not exactly out of the realm of possibility.

“What’s going to separate us from being a good team, a playoff team, and a bad team, a non-playoff team, is how fast we bond and how serious we take this,” Jermaine O’Neal said. “This league is about mentality. If you don’t have a winning mentality, it doesn’t matter how much talent you’ve got. That’s something we’ve been working on and talking about.”

I doubt Hollinger would agree that all the Suns need is a winning mentality, but perhaps that’s not what O’Neal is saying. Perhaps it’s just that the Suns must cultivate such a mentality to even have a chance, and at that point stranger things have happened.

There’s no doubt that the Suns must stay healthy, Beasley and Dragic must take another step or two forward and the bench must morph into a competent unit.

Even then the West might be too competitive for the Suns to finish much higher than 10th or 11th in the conference, but this team relishes the chance to be that underdog.

“We can surprise a lot of teams,” Gortat said.

  • Shawn

    I like being the underdog. Also, I look forward to seeing the shocked look on everyone’s face when this team is actually good. Should be great!

  • Serek

    All those analysts are making it too easy for the Suns to pull off a surprise. No expectations whatsoever.

    Obviously that’s the problem with any predictions based on historical data. Basically our whole starting five is poised for a breakout season, but there’s no stat for that.

  • R. Greer

    Historical expansion continues to make the NBA an inferior sports product for marginal markets.

  • Ty-Sun

    The safe bet is to predict that the Suns will be terrible this season so I can’t blame the analysts for playing it safe with their reputations. This team might loose a few games they had a chance to win early in the season because they are still learning how to play together but I think they will figure it out and make a strong push for the playoffs in the second half.

  • http://www.escapethewhitecube.com/ Tyler

    Dragic, Beasley, Gortat, Scola, and Dudz are all capable of putting 18-20 pts on the board on any given night, Beas more on most nights. Beasley scored 29 and 9 barely breaking a sweat in the preseason finale. There is no way the Suns are going to be a bottom feeding team in the west. My money’s on 7th seed, that is, if the second unit gets it together.

  • TimBaller

    This reminds me a lot of the season that nash arrived. LMAO nobody even expected us to make the playoffs. Boy were they wrong!! I’m so ready, and optimistic. GO SUNS!!

  • suns68

    Hey, nobody expected us to make the playoffs back in ’70 either.

    OK, now I’ve carried the analogy as far as it will go. :)

  • PennyAnd1

    It’s simple really.

    Suns are no doubt are more talented this season compared to the last couple of seasons when Nash was here. Nash & the Suns were able to make a good run at the playoffs due to chemistry & trying to work together.

    So it’s really up to the Suns if they want to make the playoffs or not. This will be the newest task the Suns will be trying all season long, working together. Without Nash to distribute and tap everyone’s potential, can these guys work together? We will find out. I’m curious to see how long Beasley will hold up playing as a team player.

    Hopefully winning cures all things

  • Scott

    Analysts going by the stats are going to be flummoxed by any success from the Suns, because the talent on the team is in the shadowlands of the stats.

    Dragic will be starting full time, as will Beasley. Beasley’s looking to be more efficient than before, and a better passer. Scola might be bringing a new 3 pt shot. The starters have all the basics covered, including defense on opposing PGs, defense at the basket, and a go-to scorer. They may lack excellence, but they’re at least average.

    Where the Suns may underperform is with the 2nd unit, and that’s a problem, because the starters don’t have enough star power to pull the team along by themselves. The 2nd unit MUST outperform for the Suns to really be successful this year.

  • Rishi

    Scott, I agree with your assessment based on the limited Preseason games that we have seen

  • PennyAnd1

    @Scott

    The 2nd unit will be fine. We 2 complete different PGs Telfair (defense & attack), Marshall (Facilitate & run). We have a fine 2nd unit. The players I’m concerned about when it comes to playing efficiently & consistently are:

    Brown
    Wes
    Morris &
    Beasley

    If these guys can play like I they want it, then baby we’ll see you at the playoffs.

  • Scott

    @Penny -

    Well … Brown, Johnson, and Morris are all on the the same squad: the 2nd unit.

    BTW, while SCHOENE puts Phoenix at the bottom, beneath Golden State, Houston, and Portland, Portland insists that THEY will be at the bottom in the West.

    The Portland Roundball Society predicts wins for their team ranging from 24-35. The idea – from them – is that they have only three good players (Aldridge, Batum, Lillard), no bench, and they’ve got a new coach who is implementing a new system.

    Frankly, if their team is as bad off as they say, I’m thinking 24 wins might be closer to the optimum than the minimum.

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    Loved watching Nash & the Lakers go down….the media still thinks Nash is great but he has steadily gone downhill the last 3 years & Dwight Howard is still the brick-shooting dunce he has always been.

    Suns will probably struggle to stay at .500 this year but ya never know….I am very excited about the “new look” Suns.
    Suns opened as 4 1/2 pt favorites but have been bet down to 2 1/2 ($$$ on Warriors) for tonight’s opener.
    Go Suns !!

  • Lloyd I. Cadle

    I am a glass half full guy. The Suns will make the playoffs, because they are better than the last two seasons.

    I also don’t think that the Lakers will be as good as the folks think. Nash is slowing down. Kobe is no longer the same player, and I see him getting upset because Nash has the ball at the end of games, with Kobe just being an old jump shooter.

    Order up the geritol and polident for the old folks in L.A.!

  • Jeremiah

    @Scott

    They must be overlooking Meyers Leonard because he is going to be pretty good. I think they could surprise if they get decent play from Leonard, rookie of the year consideration type play from Lillard (which I personally predict) and an All star caliber performance from Aldridge (which I also think will happen). Obviously there is also Batum, but I’m not really sure where I stand on his abilities just yet.

  • Scott

    @Jeremiah -

    I think they’re tempering their enthusiasm about Leonard in that he’s a rookie.

    With so many young players and rookies on the team, plus a new system and coach, I can see where Portland might struggle to get started this season, and then struggle to stay afloat. If either Aldridge or Batum comes down with an injury, it could be epically bad.

  • Claudio

    Maybe it’s just me but I see this season as building up the unit, creating a solid team before it goes out for a free agent star. Most bottom feeders that try to build by going bad, had terrible teams to be able to get the star talent from the draft. and then they start building around them, but that takes a lot of years and as we know only few players become elite, capable of bringing success…. which would mean start again.

    So my goal, even if its unpopular are not the playoffs… But to create a team…. I mean even if we made them, probably we wont match well at all with the tops seeds in the first round. I like good basketball. At least at the end of the year we have something, a base.