Monday, October 21, 2013

NBA Season Preview 2013-14: Phoenix Suns

2012-2013 Regular Season Record: 25-57

Key Additions: G: Eric Bledsoe (from Clippers via trade),  C: Alex Len (Rd 1, Pick 5), G/F: Gerald Green (from Pacers via trade), G: Archie Goodwin (Rd 1, pick 29), Jeff Hornacek (Head Coach)

Key Losses: F Luis Scola, F Michael Beasley, G/F Jared Dudley, C Jermaine O'Neal

Projected Starting Lineup: PG: Goran Dragic, SG: Eric Bledsoe SF: Gerald Green PF: Markeiff Morris, C: Marcin Gortat

Key Backups: G Shannon Brown, F Marcus Morris, C Alex Len, G Kendall Marshall, F Channing Frye

New Suns GM, Ryan McDonough starting off with a clean slate
Ever since taking over for the Phoenix Suns, former Boston Celtics executive Ryan McDonough nearly rebuilt the whole rosters with younger players with lots of potential. McDonough has done a good job ridding the older players with heavy contracts, waiving the knuckleheads (*cough* Beasley *cough*) and getting a first round draft pick in the process. The problem during the Suns' disappointing 25-57 season was a lack of team chemistry, disgruntled players and a switch of coaches mid season, and with a permanent signing of former Suns player Jeff Hornacek as the new head coach, Ryan McDonough sent a message that there are spots up for grabs.

Player Spotlight
After being in John Wall and Chris Paul's shadow, in Phoenix, the lights are on Eric Bledsoe.
Ever since his days in Kentucky, I was a huge fan of Eric Bledsoe. Built like a football player and can jump out of the building, I rated him as nearly as talented of a prospect as his former teammate John Wall and during his time in Los Angeles, he became one of top backup point guards in the NBA.

The possibilities are endless on how this former Kentucky guard will perform for Phoenix with the chains unleashed. To get a sample of what you are going to see from this 23 year old, let's take a look at his stats. Eric Bledsoe in 20.4 minutes, averaged 8.5 points per game, 3.1 assists, 3 rebounds, 0.7 blocks and 1.4 steals per game. If we average those stats over 36 minutes, you get 14.9 points, 5.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 2.5 steals per game!

If the combo guard played 36 minutes per game the whole season, Bledsoe would be tied with Russell Westbrook for rebounds(although Westbrook played 34.9 minutes), would beat out former teammate Chris Paul as the top steal leader and would be far and away the number one block leader.As for scoring, that average can be exceeded as he has full freedom and the green light in the Suns offense unlike in LA where he had Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford and Chris Paul.
Dragic and Bledsoe, the ideal combo?
With Goran Dragic playing alongside him, that gives Phoenix a nice 2 guard combination. Eric Bledsoe's 6'8 wingspan allows him to cover shooting guards, if the opposing point guard is too athletic and strong for Dragic, Bledsoe can slide over and guard the Westbrooks, Roses of the world as he packs just as much strength and speed with the best of him.

As for the offensive potential of the two combo guards, both players compliment each other with Dragic's technical style of play and Bledsoe's explosive style of basketball. Both guards masks each others' weaknesses, Bledsoe can have problems slowing the tempo down in the offense, his high octane energy can lead to turnovers from bad decision making. Bledsoe also needs to improve his mid range game as he was 29 percent from 16-23 feet. Dragic is a better passer at this stage of his career than the 23 year old averaging 7.4 assists on the season, Dragic also has a more developed mid range game shooting 42 percent from that area.

The Others
Will 5th pick Alex Len make an impact this season?
Eric Bledsoe is not the only player in the starting lineup that has something to prove, Gerald Green has had an up and down career in the NBA so far and has not lived to the immense expectations he has had coming out of high school. The Suns will give him another chance in that small forward spot which has to be the position of weakness in Phoenix.

Another weakness is the power forward spot and while the Morris twins have proven to be good role players this past season, do they have what it takes to bring their respective games to the next level? Making a comeback is Channing Frye who missed all of last season with a tragic enlarged heart. Fortunately, Frye is clear and should add the veteran presence in the locker room as he is currently the longest tenured Sun.

Marcin Gortat has been frustrated with Suns life last season, still posting solid numbers as he is one of the better centers in the NBA. Hopefully Jeff Hornacek gave Gortat new found hope although it is yet to be seen if the Polish international is in Phoenix's plans or not. Rookie center Alex Len will have a say in that, a mobile 7'1 big man with a soft touch. Len has excellent pick and roll potential, a nice shot blocker averaging 2.1 per game in Maryland and a decent jumper. He has an obvious lack of strength as with most big men coming from college. May not be ready yet on day one, but could be the player to watch in the future if he can get over his ankle problems.

When it looked like Kendall Marshall would be the successor to Steve Nash, the Suns went out and signed back Goran Dragic and Marshall was limited to backup playing time. The former Tar Heel did not have a good season in his allotted  time and this season might be the determining factor whether Marshall is NBA caliber. There is some debate if former Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin left the Wildcats a year or two early, but the 19 year old had a encouraging summer league and could be the sleeper of the draft. Shannon Brown returns as the Suns possible sixth man and has the versatility to play the one, two and three if the Suns go small.

Jeff Hornacek has spent his first six seasons in Phoenix and enjoyed his time as a prolific scorer. This decision as the Suns head coach is a great move as he has the immediate backing from fans of Arizona. The Phoenix ownership will give him plenty of time and patience as this young squad is not ready to compete during this season of rebuilding. Nonetheless, I expect them to eclipse their last season's mark of 25 wins as they start their second season post-Nash era.

Projected All-Stars: None

Season Projection: Bottom of the Western Conference

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