The Phoenix Suns season preview: Playoff bound
That’s right. You read the headline correctly. For the first time in two years, the Suns are heading to the playoffs. And not as the 8th seed as the sacrificial lambs to whichever Western Conference teams eeks out first place. No. As the 6th seed…to be the sacrificial lambs to whoever eeks out 3rd place.
“But Shaun, where are you pulling your information from? Why are you so confident?” Hush, little duck. I’ll tell you.
Where the Dragon Leads, We Will Follow
Forget all the talk about Ty Lawson and Stephen Curry; the real break out star of this season is going to be Goran Dragic. After spending the end of last season coming into his own in Houston (and posting All-Star numbers), Dragic is primed to take over where he left off on the Suns. He has a coach who runs a system where Dragic will thrive, teammates who can hit the open shot when he distributes the ball, and the freedom and go-ahead to torment defenses with his speed and slashing ability. Combine this driving talent with his Nash-like “pick-your-poison” ability to go above or below the screen and make the defense pay, and you have Goran Dragic: first time All-Star. His ability to drive and score at will make everyone else’s job easier. Which leads me to…
The Year of Redemption: The Michael Beasley Story
At first, I was afraid it was hot air. Aware that his previous years in the league were less than stellar, and that he was failing miserably to live up to his talent and hype, of course Easy-Beasey was going to say all the right things about coming to Phoenix for new start. But after watching him in preseason and continuing to follow his behavior, comments, and body language on and off the court, I’m starting to believe in the guy. His ability to score is prolific and effortless, and he possesses the raw talent, athleticism, smoothness, and high shot release allow him to score on anyone in the league, as long as he is smart and patient enough. Those will be the true tests, but I think Michael Beasley is going to prove everyone wrong. If he can score 20 points a game, which is a low expectation considering his talent and role on the team, the Suns will be in very good shape to do some damage this season.
The Rest of The Squad
Worry not, tiny sheep. The rest of the squad is young, athletic, and hungry, and have a new corner system that is going to play to their strengths. Jared Dudley is going to be Jared Dudley, but with another year of experience and hard off-season work under his belt. His presence on the floor will serve as a stabilizer for this new starting unit, and his ability to drain the three with a high consistency will spread the floor for attackers Beasley and Dragic, and hopefully even take pressure off Gortat’s post game (which he promises he’s been working on).
Scola is an amazing addition to the team given the bargain we got, and he’ll more than make up for his rebounding and defensive deficiencies with hard-nosed play, tenacity, and the ability to find different ways to score the ball.
Gortat is still one of the top centers in a league without many good ones, and is focused on proving his play complemented Nash’s, but was not dependent on him. For the Suns to be successful, Gortat needs a double-double every night, with the emphasis on rebounds, and that’s a number I think he’ll get. Last year, Gortat sputtered at the end of the season, and looked like he just didn’t have the legs anymore. That can happen with Robin “is he playing basketball or having a seizure” Lopez as your back up. With the savvy veteran play of a healthy Jermaine O’Neal backing him up, expect Gortat to have a solid season and contribute as deep into the playoffs as the Suns go.
The bench unit is a concern, but I think they are going to come together. Wesley Johnson’s shot fearlessness will help the team more nights than it will hurt us (even though that will happen, too). We’re going to get April Bassey’s work ethic and effort on defense (meaning he’ll be an asset rather than a liability). Shannon Brown will provide a nice, confident scoring punch off the bench. And finally, Markief Morris will really come into his own this year as a strong power forward who can rebound and score off the drive and with the jump shot.
Sure, we’ll struggle on rebounds and defense. Welcome to the Phoenix Suns of every single year since 1993. Glad you could join us. But what we do well, we’re going to do really well. Maybe the elite scoring teams will be too much for us to contain, and the elite defensive teams too good for us to reliably score. But more often than not, we’re going to dictate the pace, and only a handful of teams can actually run with us. This translates to a drubbing of weak teams on a consistent basis, and the occasional stolen victory from the Thunders and Celtics of the league. If we can manage to stay healthy, our strange amalgamation of players, optimized to this style and to score, will be enough to rack up a win count in the high 40’s, and should be enough for anywhere between the 5th and 8th seed.
Don’t let the pundits get you down, fans. Say hello to a return to form of your Phoenix Suns; fast, fluid, and fun. And, like the first year of Nash’s amazing run in Phoenix, they are going to take a lot of people by surprise.