With the preseason winding down, I still don’t have a solid feel for how good the Suns are going to be this season.
The operative word is HOW. I know they are going to be GOOD. Certainly good enough to return to the playoffs after a one-year absence, but how much better than that, if any, is a different question.
And maybe there are some clues to be found in last year when, even though they went the first part of the season with a coach who wasn’t a good philosophical fit for them nor they for him, and the whole season with a center who, despite surprisingly good numbers actually cramped their style, and lost their leading scorer in February the Suns STILL won 46 games and led the league in scoring.
And the reason I am sure they are going to be at least that good is that all of last year’s plusses are back and the minuses are gone.
Granted, they are going to miss Shaq’s bulk. But they are going to like missing it because Channing Frye is such a much better fit for their freewheeling style than was The Big Cactus (nee Aristotle-Diesel). Fry has more shooting range (about 20 feet more), and the offense, which wasn’t exactly stagnant with Shaq, will flow even more freely.
In addition to not having to carry the extra baggage they had to lug around last year, the Suns can reasonably can look forward to normal great years from Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Grant Hill, and Leandro Barbosa – and from what I’ve seen, an even better year than last from Jason Richardson, who figures to benefit from Shaq’s absence and an improved attitude.
Moving right along, Jared Dudley was a great pickup, Louis Amundson is your quintessential role player, rookie Earl Clark has the tools to really help in suspect areas like defense and rebounding (although it’s not yet clear he knows how to use them), and Goran Dragic seems at least little less tentative going into his second season.
And, of course, Alvin Gentry is a much better fit with the Suns than was his hapless (and mostly blameless) predecessor. In fact, Coach Alvin and this group look like they were made for each other.
But enough already about plusses. What about pitfalls?
Well, for one thing, two of their three absolutely vital keys have a lot of mileage on their sneakers and the third has had health issues much of his career. Reading from left to right, of course, that would be Nash (13 seasons), Hill (15) and Amar’e (knees, eye). If one of them goes down the ship will be hard to keep afloat.
For another, there is size. The Suns are smallish and figure to have rebounding issues. And of course, even though they may actually try to play it, defense is never going to be their strongest suit. And finally, there is the West, which may be even more top heavy this year than last.
So what do we really have here? Well, what we have here is a team a lot like last year’s, only healthier and happier.
Further deponent sayeth not until he sees at least one real game.