Young Phoenix Suns Have Much to Prove
Being a top-five pick in the NBA Draft doesn’t guarantee a player anything in this league. Talent and potential can only get you so far before you have to produce and prove your worth as an NBA player.
Many times, the road of a top pick is filled with pitfalls and potholes that could seal the end of a career in this league. After two years with the Minnesota Timberwolves, new Phoenix Suns offseason acquisitions Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson could be at a crucial point in their young NBA careers.
“I think we have some talented guys,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said. “Obviously, you look at some of the guys we’re talking about: Michael Beasley was the second pick in the draft, Wesley Johnson was the fourth. We have to try and get those guys to that level of where they were drafted. They’ve had their moments, but I think consistency has been the problem they run into.”
While each has shown flashes of being solid contributors in this league, both have much to prove heading into their first season with the Suns. In both Beasley’s and Johnson’s favor is that the Suns organization is focused on moving forward and not looking back at past mistakes.
“That’s what we’re hoping and what we’re preaching is that you have a chance to redeem yourself and rectify anything that may have been a negative in the past,” Gentry said. “I told them, the legacy that we have, that started on the first day of training camp, was moving forward. We’re not looking back, we’re not speaking of anything of where they were last year or what they did. You get to come here on a clean slate and move forward from there. That’s really the way that we’re approaching the whole season and I think we’ve been very competitive from a practice standpoint, because we’re pretty deep at all the positions, so the practices have been pretty intense.”
After averaging a career-high 19.2 points per game in 72 starts for the Timberwolves in 2011, Beasley regressed this past season in Minnesota. The 2008 second overall pick primarily came off the bench for the T-Wolves last year, starting just seven games in what was his worst pro season. In 2012, Beasley averaged career-lows across the board in points (11.5), shooting percentage (44.5 percent) and rebounds (4.4).
“In Michael’s case, the teams that he’s been with, obviously he’s had some bright spots,” Gentry said. “He’s averaged 19 points in this league, you got to be a pretty good player to do that. So I think with him, what we’re trying to search and find is the consistency of doing that night in and night out.”
When listening to Beasley discuss the next situation with Phoenix, it’s apparent that he’s ready to leave his experiences in Minnesota behind and to move on with the Suns. There’s little doubt that Beasley is taking a me-against-the-world mental approach heading into the new season.
“Not at all,” Beasley told HOOPSWORLD when asked whether or not he has something to prove going into the season. “As far as the world, what they think – whether it be good or bad – is not really a concern to me. … [The Suns] asked me to play how I know how to and basically just do everything the team needs.”
Beasley’s former teammate in Minnesota, Johnson, is also looking for a fresh start after two unremarkable seasons to start out his career. After a decent campaign in his rookie year, Johnson took a step back in his second NBA season as his numbers dipped dramatically. Johnson’s new head coach says he recognizes the desire in his player to turn his career around in Phoenix.
“Especially in Wes’ case, I think he has embraced the opportunity that he has here,” Gentry said. “I think the one thing that we need to be careful about with these guys is at the end of the day we’re talking about 23 year olds, we’re not talking about 27-28 year olds. So we’re talking about 23 year olds that have gone through a difficult situation with the last couple teams that they’ve been with.”
Even though he’s played two fewer years than Beasley, Johnson is two years his senior at 25 years old and realizes the stakes heading into his third NBA season.
“I think that everybody has that mindset that we’ve got nothing to lose,” Johnson told HOOPSWORLD. “Just go out there and play basketball, go out there and have fun and be aggressive. Do what we need to do on both ends and I think that will take care of itself. But I think everybody’s hungry in this locker room, knowing what we have to do to win so I think it’s going to be a fun year for us.”
While struggling to find his shot in Minnesota, it was apparent that Johnson was beginning to lose confidence in himself with the Timberwolves. Now, with a fresh start with the Suns, Johnson says his resolve is at an all-time high.
“I think it’s just the feel of everything here that the Phoenix Suns have brought me into,” Johnson said. “From the front office, down to the coaches and especially my teammates, they all tell me to shoot the ball and have confidence in myself so it’s really rolling over to the court. Especially when you have those guys on your side, it’s definitely a confidence booster.”
Running the show in Phoenix and helping these players to reach their potential will be former Suns backup point guard Goran Dragic. A free agent acquisition this summer for the Suns and Steve Nash’s replacement at the point guard position, Goran Dragic agrees that this group has much to prove.
“For a lot of guys it’s a new beginning,” Dragic told HOOPSWORLD, “Trying to fit in a new system and on a new team and just trying to play as hard as possible. That’s good for us that nobody’s thinking we’re going to make the playoffs. There’s no pressure on us and I think we just have to play our game, battle every night.
“I believe in my teammates and I think we can get to the playoffs.”
Redemption seems to be the prevailing mantra in Phoenix heading into the 2012-13 NBA season. While a playoff berth isn’t likely in the cards this year in the brutal Western Conference, there’s little doubt that the young, fast-paced and high-scoring Suns will be one of the more interesting teams to watch in 2013.
For Beasley and Johnson, failure is not an option as the window to their NBA careers could be closing if they have another subpar showing this season.
Can Beasley and Johnson rejuvenate their young careers in Phoenix? What other highly touted young players need to step up around the NBA to keep their jobs? Let your voice be heard in the comments section below!