Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE
A definitive way to define a team coming into a season is by the amount "if's" mentioned. Teams with a lot of those have a lot of question marks and that is not a model for success. How many "if's" do the Phoenix Suns have?
There is no telling how good this team can be by just looking at stats, names, and past performances because this is a team built unlike any other in the league. Replacing three starters and other contributors with nine new faces requires patience as they assimilate to the system.
One thing is for certain, they acquired too much talent to fall flat and become a bottom three team in the west and might be just below the playoff line, straddling the middle again.
What Do We Know?
About as much as humanly possible with nine new players on the roster and a new era in Suns basketball beginning. The starters are set in stone as Goran Dragic leads the charge alongside Jared Dudley, Michael Beasley, Luis Scola, and Marcin Gortat. They have done a good job setting the tone early averaging 25.3 PPG in the first quarter during pre-season.
Once the starters go out the rotation itself has begun to shape up with Sebastian Telfair, Shannon Brown, Markieff Morris, and Jermaine O'Neal as the first guys off the bench in no particular order. The team is going to play according to match-ups on a game-by-game basis meaning the rotation will vary depending on whether the Suns are playing the Denver Nuggets or the Los Angeles Lakers.
The team will be very perimeter oriented as the bulk of shots from Scola and Morris -- the interior forces for the team -- came from the outside through seven games.
If they can balancing that with the attacking style of Dragic and Beasley is going to be key. For the most part this team is operating under the same guidelines as they did the year prior. This team is much more athletic and will look to push the pace to mask the deficiencies on the defensive end.
On the offensive end the ball will flow through either Dragic or Beasley (primarily Dragic) as the team sorely lacks play-makers. Some offense on the high post will go through Scola, but this is very clearly becoming Dragic and Beasley's team, on the offensive end at least.
What Do We Not Know?
Having the starters in place is good and well, but at this point the team does not have a closing unit to finish games. With the hockey shift style depending on the opponent they could go a variety of ways with the closing unit depending on the opponent.
After observing the pre-season, on the surface, having Morris on the court in place of Scola is going to be a very used unit in the regular season. Scola is a finished product while Morris is getting better day-by-day proving he deserves to be on the court when it counts. He adds a deeper shooting range and more athleticism, but a still developing mind in terms of Basketball IQ.
Also, it is going to be interesting to see if Beasley can sustain his scoring efficiency over the course of a full season. There is a reason he didn't fit in with Miami and Minnesota despite his seemingly unlimited supply of natural talent, he can be a black hole on offense.
If he can continue to hunt for his shot while getting his teammates involved then the ends justify the means having Beasley finally meet his potential.
The same can be said for Dragic. No one is questioning his talent and ascension to becoming one of the better point guards in the NBA, but the target is now on his back. Will he be able to play at this high of a level for 82-games after doing so for the final 26 games as a starter in Houston? If he can rise to the level of stardom the team is projecting then they may have found a diamond to build around.
This is a much, much better team athletically than they have been in recent years, something they will lean on throughout the year. That athleticism will allow the team to do things they have not been able to do in recent years scoring from multiple different spots on the floor.
That is most exemplary at the point guard position where points will not come as smooth or poetic, but will come from a more aggressive attacking style at the rim. For the most part this team has been one dimensional in terms of play-making. Now they have three players in the starting line-up that can make plays for themselves and for others.
More importantly this is a very deep team. They will have the opportunity to use the hockey style shifts with how deep the team is coming into the season. They are able to throw out talented wings like Wesley Johnson and P.J. Tucker that may not get into every game this year with the depth they now have. Luke Zeller provides a ration of what they are missing with Channing Frye out as a shooter from the five spot.
The biggest tell to this being a very deep team is their lottery pick, Kendall Marshall, may not be in the rotation with the proven talent in Dragic and Sebastian Telfair in front of him, and one could argue Diante Garrett is ahead on the depth chart as well.
The upgrades by position on the defensive end happened over the summer at the point guard position in Dragic and potentially at power forward in Scola, but that does not mean that schematically they will be any better. On defense they took a few steps forward getting better athletes and defenders, but are still a step behind from what we have seen in the pre-season the team is going to struggle stopping dribble penetration and even worse, protecting the rim when the matadors let them through.
In time the communication will come together on the perimeter to sure up that defense, if it does not then Gortat, Scola, and Morris will be like bowling pins trying to stop the elite athletes of the NBA from getting to the rim.
As a traditional pick-and-role team that is what is going to hurt them on both ends of the floor. Defensively the picks are confusing the defense and creating holes for that dribble penetration. On the offensive end the patented pick-and-roll offense is very watered down as they do not yet have the chemistry yet to run it like a well oiled machine.
What is even more of an indictment on this team's success this year is going to be whether they can find another play-maker on offense. Right now they are very reliant on Dragic, Beasley, and Sebastian Telfair to create offense for the team. With only two of those -- Dragic and Telfair -- being traditional play-makers the team is going to go through stretches as on offense where they really struggle to create offense.
There is one thing that this team does not have to worry about and that is the fact that Alvin Gentry is going to get the best out of his team. During his tenure with the team Gentry is 145-116 with a trip to the Western Conference Finals under his belt. He gets the best out of his despite the level of talent around the locker room.
What makes him a good coach is the personnel he surrounds himself with. Flanked by Elston Turner, Dan Majerle, Igor Kokoskov, and Noel Gillespie the workload is evened out among a crew of great basketball minds.
Majerle and Turner are former NBA players that bring a tacticious attitude to the game. The group that is as important, but not as heralded as the coaches normally are will be the new faces in the player development staff led by Lindsey Hunter and assisted by Sean Marks and Ralph Sampson. The Suns have a veteran crew of NBA minds to develop this young roster. If they can get through to Beasley, Morris, Marshall, and Johnson this can be a breakout year for the young prospects.
A lot of pressure falls on the teams' leader in practice, vocally on the court, and the veteran presence here in Phoenix, Jared Dudley. The development in Dudley's game to become more than just a defender and spot up shooter is without measure.
Dudley comes in as the teams' second leading scorer from the previous season, but a lot of that came from different circumstances. The ease on offense will not be there and if he does not step up to provide similar scoring numbers the offense may halt. He does not need to be the team's second leading scorer as a new pecking order has been established between Dragic, Beasley, Gortat, and Scola, but if he can provide that 12.7 PPG again it creates balance.
It is foolish to assume this is a bad team, they simply added too much quality talent that will make an instant impact. Adding Scola was the difference in being a high end lottery team and making the playoffs and getting a career year our of Beasley could be the difference in seeding.
That is an important factor as well. If Beasley can become the No. scorer on this team through efficient, calculated offense then they are a team that can compete with anyone on a nightly basis.
With the way the West is shaping up the Suns have a very good chance to make the playoffs in one of the bottom two seeds. If Beasley and Dragic can become a formidable 1-2 punch this team is as good, or better than Golden State, Dallas, Minnesota, and Utah. If they get the closing rotation figured out and if they get production from Dudley as the fifth scorer in the starting line-up then this is a team that can surprise a lot of people.
How will the Suns do this coming season? Tune in for that tomorrow, but for now there are 10 "if's" for those counting for the Suns this year for those still counting, take that for whatever it may be worth.