Coach: Alvin Gentry
2008-09 Record: 46-36
Pythagorean Record for 08-09: 46-36
Offensive Rating: 113.6 (2nd in the league)
Defensive Rating: 111.6 (26th)
Possessions per 48: 96.0 (4th)
|Offensive||54.5 (1st)||.144 (26th)||.277 (11th)||.250 (8th)|
|Defensive||51.1 (22nd)||.128 (21st)||.717 (22nd)||.233 (17th)|
Roster (Red indicates new acquisition, Blue indicates rookie) Click to enlarge
It’s amazing, but at 34, Steve Nash continues to crank out brilliant seasons. When Terry Porter tried to make the Suns into a half-court team, Nash struggled (by his standards) in the first half of last season, missing the All-Star game for the first time in four seasons. However, he played as well as ever in the second half of the year, and shows no real signs of drop-off. He continues to be effective because the two things that make him so good, passing and shooting, don’t fade with age. A great first step decays, a great bounce pass doesn’t. Nash is possibly the most fundamentally sound guard in the league. What sets him apart are the things that coaches from middle-school on up emphasize all the time. Keep your head up when dribbling. Work on your left hand as much as your right. Keep your elbow in and follow through, same form each time. In the history of the league, there are only 10 seasons in which a player has shot 50+% FG, 40+% 3FG, and 90+% FT. Of those 10 seasons, Nash owns 3 of them. Because of his shooting stroke and good size for the position, Nash is going to stay effective. The real worry as he gets older is injury. Phoenix can’t withstand Nash missing significant time, so they’re banking on a 35-year-old with chronic back problems to stay healthy and fresh all season, and that’s dangerous.
Channing Frye was a really smart signing for Phoenix, he should really thrive in this system. After getting only sporadic minutes off the bench in a deep Portland frontcourt rotation last year, Frye has the inside track on being the Suns’ starting center. He’s a poor defender and rebounder, but it’s not like those are highly valued traits in Phoenix. What he does bring to the table is the athleticism to run the floor and an excellent shooting stroke, two things that are highly valued. Between he and Amar’e Stoudemire, the Suns will have two of the better mid-range shooting big men in the league, making them that much harder to guard. In addition, Frye has a player option to opt out after this year, so he’s got plenty of incentive to play well this year.
I’m not sure people realize how good Leandro Barbosa was last year. 14.2 points a game doesn’t jump off the page, but he only played 24 minutes a game. His per minute scoring was actually 21st in the league, and he did it really efficiently. It’s even more amazing, given how poorly he started the season. Like Nash, Barbosa did not fit in with Terry Porter’s half-court system, but took off when Alvin Gentry made them a run-and-gun team again. Seriously, check out his first half/second half splits.
First Half: 22.4 MPG, 12.1 PPG, 1.4 A/T ratio, 44.8% FG, 33.1% 3FG
Second Half: 26.5 MPG, 16.4 PPG, 2.07 A/T ratio, 51.1% FG, 42% 3FG
That’s a massive difference. He had the best season of his career with an abysmal first half. With a whole year under Gentry, Barbosa may yet win his second Sixth Man of the Year Award.
Earl Clark has a real chance to contribute, and he might get the chance given the Suns’ lack of quality big men beyond Stoudemire and Frye. He’s a long, versatile, athletic forward in the mold of Lamar Odom, which makes him a good fit for a running team. The question, just as it was with Odom for a long time, is whether he’ll give a consistent effort or not.
There’s probably not a better fit for Jason Richardson than the Suns. Though he’s long been asked to be the first or second scoring option for his teams, that’s not really who he is. He’s doesn’t handle the ball well enough to create his own shot, but he’s a very good shooter and finisher. In Phoenix, that skillset lets him fit right in. He can spot up and drill threes or use his leaping ability to finish off cuts to the rim. Since Nash handles the ball so much, Richardson is left to what he does best, and he’s extremely effective in that role.
X-Factor: Amar’e Stoudemire – Amar’e always an enigma anyway, but he’s coming off a subpar (for him) season and an eye injury. If Phoenix wants to be anything other than mediocre, they need Amare at his dominant 07-08 level. At his best, STAT is the best pick-and-roll big man in the league. He’s capable of popping to the elbow for a mid-range jumper or flying down the lane to finish strong. He has tremendous hands, and the leaping ability to take one step and finish from basically anywhere below the free throw line. He’s also very fast, and regularly beats opposing big men down the court for easy baskets on the break. Offensively, he’s one of the most talented big men in the game, and he plays extremely well alongside Nash. However, despite his ridiculous athleticism, he’s a very poor defender. Mostly, it just comes down to effort. With his quickness and strength, Amare should be a mediocre defender at worst, and is capable changing the game at that end. However, he simply doesn’t care, so he gets beat all the time and ends up committing a ton of unnecessary fouls.
If nothing else, the Suns should be more fun to watch this year. After a season and a half of the Shaq experiment, they’re loosening the reins and running again. They won’t be any better, but they’ll be that run-and-gun team we all fell in love with when Steve Nash first came to Phoenix. They will almost certainly be an abysmal defensive team again. They were 26th in the league last year defensively, and there’s no reason to think they’re going to get any better. Offensively, it’ll be interesting to see how they do. On the one hand, Shaq was actually really good last year, and they lose his production. On the other hand, they only had Amare for 2/3 of the season last year, and playing more up-tempo should fit their personnel better. What we do know is that they’ll probably shoot a lot better than everyone else in the league (the Suns have led the league in eFG% every year that Nash has been there), they’ll struggle rebounding the ball (22nd in the league in defensive rebounding last year, and that’s with Shaq), and they’ll give up a ton of easy shots. Whether or not they make the playoffs is going to depend on how well Nash continues to age, if Stoudemire stays injury-free, and how long the Phoenix training staff can keep working their voodoo magic on Grant Hill’s ankles.