As the Phoenix Suns get set to embark on yet another exciting NBA season, ValleyoftheSuns is here to sort it all out for you.
While all of our writers agreed on the Suns’ MVP for the upcoming year in our annual season predictions (they do call him Two Time for a reason), there are many potential candidates for the team’s surprise player, player on the hot seat and Achilles’ heel, and it’s tough to predict how the Suns will finish.
On the hot seat
Michael Schwartz: No Phoenix Sun faces more scrutiny than Hedo Turkoglu. If he’s Orlando Hedo, than the Suns’ offense will be lethal once again. But if he’s not a facilitator and instead a timid spot-up shooter who can’t really defend power forwards than the Suns made quite the expensive mistake this summer. Hedo must learn to be a second facilitator with Nash instead of just watching Two Time and he needs time with the second unit to help create offense for that unit. To me, Hedo’s season will determine the Suns’ season, quite the scary proposition for anybody who has watched the preseason.
Mike Schmitz: Jason Richardson was terrific last season, especially in the playoffs. But it remains to be seen how he’ll perform as the No. 2 guy. He needs to prove his worth with an expiring contract looming and his backup, Josh Childress, locked up for the next five years. With that said, nobody is on the hot seat more than J-Rich.
Tyler Lockman: With Stoudemire’s departure, Richardson becomes the Suns’ primary scoring threat. Richardson hasn’t averaged 20 or more points per game since 2007-08 and his average peaked in 2005-06 at 23.2. His 15.7 last year was third most behind Stoudemire and Nash. While Lopez’s offense will have to increase as well, the pressure is on Richardson to be the team’s marquee scorer.
Tyler Emerick: As the only Phoenix player with real size and ability in the paint, it will be up to the third-year center to improve dramatically on both ends of the court. Robin Lopez’s play could be the difference between playoffs and no playoffs for the Suns.
Michael Schwartz: I was going to go with Turkoglu but realized you are all smart enough to know I’d be joking. If Steve Nash isn’t this team’s MVP than something went terribly, horribly wrong. It will be his responsibility to push more of these newcomers to career years, something he has done time and time again in Phoenix. There’s a reason his offenses have eviscerated the league this past decade, and with Amare Stoudemire in New York there’s even more pressure on Nash to ensure this offensive run continues.
Mike Schmitz: No brainer here. Nash is the engine that makes the Phoenix Suns go. Alvin Gentry said Nash is the best point guard in the league for the system they run, and I completely agree. Yes, he’s one season closer to retirement, but Nash said he feels better than ever and doesn’t think age is a factor. His numbers may decrease slightly, but his efficiency will not.
Tyler Lockman: Obvious choice with Amare Stoudemire gone, but the real challenge for Nash is to lead a group still not accustomed to each other. As the point guard and team leader, the burden of creating chemistry and flow on the court falls to Nash. His numbers could slip a bit, but there’s still no doubt he is one of the best point guards in the league.
Tyler Emerick: Without the two-time MVP, the Suns are back in the lottery purposely losing games for ping pong balls. With Nash, Phoenix, if all goes right, could compete with the pack of teams behind the Lakers. Expect career years from Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress just because of the Nash effect.
Michael Schwartz: Last season Channing Frye was a major surprise by transforming into one of the top three-point shooters in the league. This year he will surprise by becoming more of a big man than a 6-foot-11 two guard. Last year the Suns needed Frye mainly as a floor spacer, but he knows he needs to bang now, and he’s still talking about his 13-rebound finale in Game 6 against the Lakers. Frye will become a center in more than position this season, if nothing else out of necessity.
Mike Schmitz: Warrick is the forgotten acquisition of the offseason, but he won’t be soon. I already made my case for Warrick starting in place of Hedo Turkoglu, and if that ends up happening he’ll thrive with Steve Nash spoon-feeding him. He has great career numbers against Phoenix, which shouldn’t change now that he’s sporting purple and orange.
Tyler Lockman: The broken finger is a setback in terms of finding his place within this revamped team, but Childress was already showing signs of establishing a utility role. Among players getting significant minutes, Childress was the second-leading rebounder with 4.0 per game. His 51.7 shooting percentage was second only to Robin Lopez (again, among players with significant minutes). Childress may not put up big numbers but his all-around contributions will be invaluable.
Tyler Emerick: The forward averaged just under 10 points per game in the preseason despite only seeing the court for 19 minutes a night. Running the pick and roll with Nash should lead to career numbers for Warrick, whose previous career high in points was in 2006-07 with 12.7.
Michael Schwartz: The Suns actually boasted a positive rebounding differential last season, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they were a decent rebounding team. They were the second-worst defensive rebounding team in the league, and they will be even worse without Amare Stoudemire (as mediocre as he was). Robin Lopez must be a monster on the boards, and the wings need to chip in as well or this deficiency will torpedo the season.
Mike Schmitz: This seems like a recurring theme every year, but this could be the worst rebounding team Phoenix has ever seen. The only one who could pick up the slack on the boards is Lopez, but even he isn’t a very good rebounder. If the Suns have one glaring weakness, it’s rebounding.
Tyler Lockman: The Suns’ early schedule is brutal. There’s no getting around that. What could make it even scarier is what appears (I say appears, as they’ve yet to play a regular season game together) to be a lack of established chemistry. That’s a worrisome thing for the team that had arguably the NBA’s best chemistry last season. This team simply doesn’t look comfortable playing together yet and that could cost them in the tough early stretch. Establishing good chemistry will be the biggest key to this team’s long-term success.
Tyler Emerick: In the preseason Phoenix was out rebounded by seven per game. No one on the Suns roster has a higher career rebounding average than Grant Hill, with 6.5.
Where will the Suns finish?
Michael Schwartz: I feel like I’ve traveled through time back to last year when everybody was sleeping on the Suns after a porous preseason on the glass, and the general consensus was they’d struggle just to make the playoffs. Of course, the Suns were the surprise of the NBA, coming within two games of knocking off the Lakers and reaching the Finals. My prediction is kind of a safe middle in my opinion. I could see the bottom following out, the team failing to rebound and the end of the Nash era with less than 40 wins, and I could see the pieces gelling to create that same fantastic chemistry as last year, Nash throwing up another vintage year and the Suns winning another 54 to grab a top-four playoff seed. Let’s be safe and peg them at 48.
48-34, Seventh seed
Mike Schmitz: Sure, the Suns surprised everyone last season, and that could very well be the case again this season. But there are far too many question marks and the lack of rebounding, defense and interior scoring will be too much for Nash and the Suns to overcome. Outside of the Lakers, Thunder and either Mavs or Jazz, the West is fairly open. But the Suns won’t be the ones taking advantage this season.
40-42, 10th seed
Tyler Lockman: I underestimated the Suns badly last season, and it could happen again, but the absence of a top-five power forward is a huge difference. The Suns excelled last season for a few reasons including a hot start that established confidence, incredible chemistry, three-point shooting and Stoudemire’s second-half dominantion. Except Stoudemire, those things could be replicated, but the preseason showed no signs of such. Still, the Suns should do enough to make the playoffs.
47-35, Seventh seed
Tyler Emerick: The Suns will definitely have their ups and downs, but when the season comes to an end they will be sandwiched with a group of four or five teams in the middle of the Western Conference pack.
50-32, Sixth seed