2013-2014 Phoenix Suns Season Preview
Having nearly turned over the entire roster over the last few seasons, the Phoenix Suns, as an organization, are seemingly still in flux. After spending the first half of his career as a player with the Suns during the late-80′s, first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek has returned and is posed with the challenge of leading this franchise out of the cellar of the Pacific Division. With a guard-heavy roster, expect the Suns to run their fair share of high screens and pick-and-roll offense. While Goran Dragic is still the starting point guard, the addition of Eric Bledsoe provides an intriguing backcourt dynamic. Defense will be a question, but that pairing should provide plenty of matchup difficulties in its own right. The Suns also drafted center Alex Len out of the University of Maryland in the 2013 NBA Draft.
- Jabari Davis
In & Out
Additions: Eric Bledsoe, Archie Goodwin, Gerald Green, Viacheslav Kravtsov, Malcolm Lee, Alex Len, Ish Smith, Alex Oriakhi, Miles Plumlee
Subtractions: Wesley Johnson, Jared Dudley, Hamed Haddadi, Jermaine O’Neal, Luis Scola, Michael Beasley
Five Guys Think…
At the very least, the Eric Bledsoe trade has given Suns fans the opportunity to watch at least one player that has the potential to be an All-Star someday. That, ironically, is the only bright side to this year’s Suns. Elsewhere, we’re all basically in for watching a team that is going to lose a ton of games with the hope that Andrew Wiggins will be sitting at the end of the rainbow that follows a colossal storm like the one headed for Arizona. Goran Dragic is plenty serviceable as an NBA point guard, and the Morris twins angle is still sort of fun, but beyond that the Suns look to be a sharp-dressed team sitting anything but pretty in the standings.
5th Place – Pacific Division
– Joel Brigham
Last season, the Suns tested the rebuilding waters. This offseason, the team jumped all the way in. In the past several months, new general manager Ryan McDonough has traded away veterans Jared Dudley, Luis Scola and Caron Butler to build around a young core that features Eric Bledsoe, Alex Len, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris and Archie Goodwin among others. The Suns are also stockpiling draft picks, as evidenced by the fact that they could have as many as three first-round picks in the 2014 NBA Draft and five picks in the next two drafts. The future is bright in Phoenix, but don’t expect much success in the short-term. Phoenix will use this season to develop their young core and collect ping pong balls. At this point, winning the lottery is more important than winning games for the Suns. This team could be very good in a few years, but this group will likely have to endure a lot of losses before ultimately experiencing success.
5th Place – Pacific Division
- Alex Kennedy
The Phoenix Suns will enter the 2014 campaign with a new head coach (Jeff Hornacek), new general manager (Ryan McDonough) and a host of fresh faces on the roster. But while the Suns’ infrastructure is becoming more solidified, make no mistake, this is still the beginning of a long rebuilding project. This isn’t to say the Suns’ talent is lacking. Skill is prevalent throughout the roster. Guys like Marcin Gortat, Eric Bledsoe, the Morris twins and Goran Dragic are a solid foundation. However, when evaluating the franchise from an overall perspective you’ll notice the roster, while possessing talent, is extremely young. Suns fans have been spoiled with winning at a high level over the years and that day will one day come gain. But for now, it is pretty hard to envision this team avoiding another year at the head of the draft lottery.
5th Place – Pacific Division
- Lang Greene
There are no mixed signals coming out of Phoenix over what they are trying to accomplish this season. They have a first year general manager and head coach; combined with a roster that is amongst the youngest in the league. This is the first year of a virtual complete overall in which they will struggle, but the hope is that they’re taking a couple steps back in order to take several forward over the course of the next couple of seasons. If Eric Bledsoe becomes the star that many have projected him to, the rebuilding process speeds up significantly. Same goes for lottery selection Alex Len. The Suns are a team to monitor on the trading block because they still have a couple of veteran players still who they could look to move in order to free up more time for the younger players they’re banking on in the future. As far as winning games goes, though, they’re more poised to compete for the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery than anything other than 5th in the Pacific.
5th place – Pacific Division
- Yannis Koutroupis
Many around the NBA believes that Eric Bledsoe is capable of being a star in the NBA, and he will need to tap into that potential to rescue the Suns from the abyss. The return of Channing Frye will give the Suns one of the better “stretch” power forwards in the NBA and Marcin Gortat is one of the more underrated centers in the entire league. Even with Alex Len and Alex Oriakhi—two rookies who have legitimate potential—the Suns are a team with a first-time head coach and an overall dearth of players who have consistently found themselves in winning situations in the NBA. After winning just 25 games last season, the Suns will once again be the bottom of the barrel in the Pacific Division. It will be them battling the Sacramento Kings for the dubious distinction of being the division’s last place team, and it is a battle that they will probably lose.
5th place — Pacific Division
- Moke Hamilton
Top Of The List:
Top Offensive Player: Dragic and Bledsoe will probably share this role, as either of the two players could end up being the top offensive performer on a given night. Expect a breakout year from Bledsoe, as he steps from behind Chris Paul’s shadow. On the flip side, his presence should actually make things a bit easier on Dragic, as teams should no longer be able to key in and funnel him into the teeth of the defense as easily as they did last season. The more playmakers you can have on the court at the same time, obviously, the better.
Top Defensive Player: Eventually, the team will want its 5th-overall-pick Alex Len to provide a major defensive impact, but his progress was slowed over the summer due to what was described as a “precautionary surgery” on his right ankle. While young big men with established foot/ankle problems should be cause for concern for anyone, the Suns may be the one organization able to feel comfortable about the risk. Known for employing one of the top, if not the best training and medical staffs in the league, the Suns have done wonders with injured players throughout the years. Hornacek can only be hopeful his shot-blocking center is available to alter shots and anchor the defense for a majority of the meaningful action.
Top Playmaker: Although Bledsoe provides a type of athleticism at the point guard position that is rarely seen, Dragic should still be expected to be the team’s most consistent playmaker. He may not put up eye-popping numbers on a nightly basis, but the added offensive weapon of sharing a backcourt with Bledsoe should provide plenty of opportunities for Dragic to thrive in. As scorer, in his own right, Dragic should also have additional space to operate within the offense.
Top Clutch Player: Dragic has proven to have a propensity for the big moment at various times throughout his career. Whether a reserve for the Rockets, or as the lead ballhandler for these Suns, Dragic has never been one to shy away from pressure. Bledsoe will also be able to provide clutch moments, but Dragic is likely to be involved as either a set-up man or a decoy, depending upon the situation. While possessing a more balanced attack may provide for an impact-by-numbers approach, when times are their toughest, expect Dragic with the ball in his hands.
The Unheralded Player: At the risk of sounding cliché, the Morris Twins are most likely to share this distinction. They’re shown promise early in their careers, and given the circumstances; they will have plenty of time to continue their progression. With the attention the backcourt will draw, each of these gentlemen should be able to benefit from open looks around the perimeter and finishing opportunities in transition.
Best New Addition: When all is said and done, Eric Bledsoe will be the best immediate impact addition for the 2013-14 Phoenix Suns. Len may be considered the figurative and quite literal ‘centerpiece’ of the franchise, but most of the damage is expected to come from the perimeter players. Bledsoe’s ability to find or create pockets in the halfcourt offense, and thrive when slashing in available transition opportunities should propel Bledsoe into this spotlight.
- Jabari Davis
Who We Like:
1. Goran Dragic – Dragic was definitely as good as advertised in his first year as a starter, as he averaged 14.7 points, 7.4 assists, and 3.1 rebounds per night. His season featured highlights like a near triple-double (31 points, 12 assists, 9 rebounds) against Brooklyn in March to go along with his 19 double-doubles throughout the season. Unfortunately, for the Suns, many of these performances came in a losing effort in 2012-13. As he continues to develop from a leadership standpoint, the Suns are hoping his skills can eventually lead to additional wins to go along with the impressive individual performances. Of course, additional firepower to work with never hurts that cause, either.
2. Eric Bledsoe – Everyone loves the backup quarterback, and Bledsoe definitely benefited from that role while a member of the Clippers in 2012-13. Now, he has the chance to not only start, but should have plenty of opportunities to produce. If the Suns develop into a team that likes to push the tempo in transition, watch for Bledsoe to have several electrifying plays throughout the season. For those that aren’t as familiar with his game, at only 6’1, Bledsoe’s combination of speed and explosiveness is almost certain to provide the US Airways Center crowd with plenty to get excited about. It would not be surprising to see Bledsoe nearly double his output of 8.5 points, 3.1 assists, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game in several categories.
3. Marcin Gortat – Gortat missed the final 21 games of the 2012-13 season due to what was initially considered ‘foot sprain’ he suffered back in March. Reports over the summer have since upgraded it to a stress fracture. The six-year NBA veteran raised some eyebrows in August when he had to leave his Polish national team in order to return to the United States for tests on that same foot. Gortat still has about three weeks to attempt to rest and further heal that troublesome foot prior to the start of training camp, but this may be a situation that must be monitored throughout the upcoming season.
4. Alex Len – Gortat’s health concerns could provide additional playing opportunities for Len, if he is able to fully return from foot/ankle issues of his own. Len is a shot-blocking, energy and effort player that found the attention of many basketball fans following his highly one-sided performance against the highly-lauded Nerlens Noel at the beginning of last year’s college season. Len still has room to improve on offense, but he does possess soft hands/touch around the rim and a relatively quick first step along the baseline. Like most young big men, Len needs to continue developing his offensive game. Fortunately, for Len, his future looks promising if his body is able to hold up.
5. Jeff Hornacek – As a player, Hornacek was a deadly shooter that had a tendency at times to push the opposing player’s buttons (ask Jerry Stackhouse). As a coach, the Suns are hoping he can push the “right” buttons with this team, and develop this collection of young talent. Hornacek was on record in August stating it was a goal to score 103 points per night, which would further support the anticipation of an up-tempo offense. Based upon the roster, expect Hornacek to encourage a pace similar to the one employed by the Houston Rockets last season. As mentioned, finding consistent contributions from the interior may be Hornacek’s biggest challenge, especially if his big men have health concerns.
- Jabari Davis
Heading into their sixth and fourth years (respectively), the interchangeability of Dragic and Bledsoe will be the strength of this Suns team. While Dragic is more of a natural playmaker, and Bledsoe is combination of explosive athleticism with natural scoring ability, both men are comfortable in either role. This should provide for plenty of cross-matchups and transition opportunities as each of them fill the passing lanes. Combined, Dragic and Bledsoe averaged three steals per game during the 2012-13 season. Even though they’ll be somewhat undersized when matching up with some of the larger backcourts, the Suns should at least be ‘pesky’ around the perimeter.
- Jabari Davis
Consistent post productivity and overall interior play on both sides of the court will likely be the biggest weakness of this roster. Marcin Gortat, although slightly off the career pace he enjoyed during the 2011 season, was still their most effective post presence in 2012. The Suns are hoping a combined effort from the Morris twins (Marcus/Markieff) will supersede and improve upon the power forward productivity they received from Luis Scola and primarily Markieff during 2012-13. Finding consistent productivity from the post players will likely be Hornacek’s greatest task.
- Jabari Davis
The Burning Question:
Will the backcourt of Bledsoe and Dragic pan out?
The Suns are likely to play a run-and-gun style of offense. With the roster they’ve put together, pushing the pace will be key. Without established scoring big men, they won’t be as keen upon slowing things down and running a traditional halfcourt offense as much, so dictating tempo will likely be their biggest advantage on a given night. They’ll also need consistent contributions along the way from each of the role players. While, they’re only likely go as far as the starting backcourt takes them, for this team to truly improve upon last season, it will take continued surge from within out of players like the Morris twins.
- Jabari Davis