PHOENIX SUNS PREVIEW 2011
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Suns missed the playoffs for the first time in the Steve Nash era last season, finishing 40-42. The Suns tried to replace Amar’e Stoudemire’s production with a combination of Hakeem Warrick and Marcin Gortat, and while Gortat was a revelation despite only playing 55 games, Warrick failed to justify the four-year, $18 million contract the Suns gave him. Soon Warrick found himself on the bench, and Channing Frye stepped in as a three-point specialist and a popular option for Steve Nash on the pick and pop. The Frye and Gortat partnership, while lacking name recognition, could turn into one of the league’s more potent big-man combinations on offense. With Steve Nash still orchestrating the show, both will get a number of good looks at the basket.
After signing Hedo Turkoglu to a lucrative contract in the offseason, they traded him and Jason Richardson back to the Magic for a package including Vince Carter, who disappointed in his one year in Phoenix. Eventually Carter found himself on the bench in favor of Jared Dudley, who provided solid defense and three-point shooting from the shooting guard spot. Dudley is naturally more of a small forward, but Grant Hill was recently re-signed, and will re-man the three for at least one more season.
Orchestrating the offense is Steve Nash. The Canadian maestro was as good as ever last season from an assists perspective, averaging over 11 dimes per game. Scoring-wise however, he saw a slight decline, which could be concerning for the Suns.
The key backups should be the newly-acquired Sebastian Telfair and Shannon Brown at the point guard and shooting guard spots, respectively, as well Hakim Warrick and Robin Lopez at the four and five. Markieff Morris is a wildcard, and could see time if Warrick and Lopez are ineffective.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
The starters will likely be Nash, Dudley, Hill, Frye and Gortat. Despite Nash’s advanced age (37), he still played 33 minutes last year, and should see something like that again. That leaves about 15 minutes per game for Sebastian Telfair as his backup. Expect a three-man rotation at the two and three with Dudley, Hill and Brown playing about 25 minutes each. Josh Childress and Mickael Pietrus are likely on the outside looking in in terms of playing time, and Pietrus may not even be ready for the beginning of the season due to a knee injury. The big man rotation is slightly murkier, but expect to see Frye and Gortat starting, with Warrick, Morris and Robin Lopez all seeing minutes as backups.
Marcin Gortat: Gortat broke out as a Sun in his first year out of Dwight Howard’s superman-sized shadow. In close to 30 minutes per game, he put up 13 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks and formed a formidable pick-and-roll duo with Steve Nash. Expect similar numbers if not better, and with solid percentages for a center. There is upside for Gortat as well, because he did not begin the season as a starter and only took over from Robin Lopez about halfway through the season. He should be one of the first centers taken in fantasy drafts this year.
Robin Lopez: Handed the starting role in Phoenix, Lopez squandered it thanks to poor play. He is foul prone and has no offensive game to speak of. Even if Gortat were to get injured, it’s hard to foresee Lopez producing enough offensively in order to be worth a roster spot.
Garrett Siler: The 300-pounder from Augusta State only played in mop-up duty in his rookie year. It is unlikely that the Suns will give Siler any serious minutes this season, and even with injuries to players ahead of him, the team would likely go in an alternate route.
Channing Frye: After appearing to be a bust in the NBA, Frye has rediscovered himself as a stretch four. There are not many seven-foot players who can hit the three, and as such, Frye poses a matchup problem for most NBA bigs. His three-point ability makes him very intriguing from a fantasy perspective, as he can provide rebounds, blocks, points and over two three-pointers per game.
Hakim Warrick: An athletic big, Warrick never really found his role after joining the Suns as a free agent in 2010. He has always been able to jump, but never developed a good midrange game, and is a disappointing rebounder for someone with his physical gifts. Still, he should see 15-20 minutes per game in a reserve role.
Markieff Morris: Morris is an intriguing rookie coming out of Kansas. He has legitimate size for a power forward (6’10, 245), and could even see some minutes at center. He was a monster on the glass at Kansas, and has legitimate three-point range. If both Lopez and Warrick continue to underwhelm, Morris could find himself some playing time and is a talented enough big to have fantasy value.
Gani Lawal: Lawal played in one game for two minutes as a rookie out of Georgia Tech last season. Needless to say, he is a fringe player for the Suns and likely won’t see much more time this season.
Grant Hill: Hill has had a renaissance of sorts since joining the Suns in 2007. Despite being 39, Hill has played his best extended period of ball since the beginning of his career with the Pistons. His 13 points, four rebounds and 2.5 assists don’t jump off the page, but they were complimented with fantastic shooting percentages. He is certainly worth a spot on most fantasy rosters, especially in deeper leagues.
Josh Childress: Childress’ return to the States was less than triumphant, as he found himself outside the Suns’ core rotation for much of the season. He is a capable scorer and can provide rebounds and steals if given enough minutes, but it is unlikely that will happen this season.
Mickael Pietrus: Pietrus suffered a serious knee injury last season, and even though he was likely not going to see any time in the Phoenix swingman rotation, the knee injury makes it even more improbable. He was nearly traded to the Raptors, but his knee had swelling after a workout with Toronto, and the trade was voided. The near-deal leads one to believe that his days in Phoenix are limited, and he could be gone before the season even starts. As a player, pre-injury, Pietrus was a good defender and athlete with a capable outside shot, but it has yet to be seen how much explosion is lost due to the injury.
Steve Nash: The backbone of this Suns team, Nash orchestrates just about everything that happens on offense. He is one of the best shooting point guards of all time, and paired with his close-to-unparalleled passing skills, he is the total package as a fantasy point guard. Last season was actually a down season from a scoring standpoint, but he still managed close to 15 points and over 11 assists per game. What is especially remarkable is how efficient Nash is, shooting at about 50 percent from the floor (including about 40 percent from beyond the arc) and over 90 percent from the line. He should be one of the first point guards drafted in all fantasy leagues this season.
Jared Dudley: Once Vince Carter got benched, Dudley stepped in as the starting shooting guard and provided a number of things for the Suns – scoring, rebounding, steals, and three-point shooting - and he didn’t turn the ball over much. Look for Dudley to gain league-wide recognition as the capable starter he is with an increased role this season.
Shannon Brown: The Suns’ biggest signing this offseason, Brown will likely act as the team’s sixth man. He’s an explosive athlete with ability to play point and shooting guard. Brown isn’t a great shooter, but has three-point range, and his defensive abilities will mean he’ll see the floor quite a bit for a defense-challenged Suns team.
Sebastian Telfair: “Bassy” has had a disappointing NBA career thus far after being a highly-touted prospect out of Lincoln High School in New York. The Suns will be his fourth team in four years, and he will try to keep the Suns functioning on offense when Steve Nash is on the bench. It’s unlikely to see him getting over 20 minutes per game as Nash’s backup, but if something were to happen to Nash, Telfair would be put into the spotlight.
Ronnie Price: After playing with the Jazz last year, Price joined the Suns during the offseason and should back up Nash and Telfair. He’s a solid defender, but offers little as an offensive player, and is not a player worthy of a fantasy roster spot.
Jared Dudley: As a starter Dudley scored 16.3 points on a .518 field goal percentage, including per-game averages of 1.7 three-pointers and 3.2 free throws. He added 5.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.1 steals and only 1.2 turnovers. Those are fantastic fantasy numbers, and he is about to become a full-time starter. Dudley is not a flashy player and as such doesn’t create buzz or headlines, but he is a much better and more efficient player than he gets credit for, and should owned in every fantasy league for the upcoming season.
Steve Nash: “Bust” here as a relative term, because Nash will still likely be a remarkably-efficient point guard capable of putting up great assist totals. It’s important to note, however, that his scoring average dropped two points last season, and he shot at worse percentages than he did since going to Phoenix. Nash is also 37, and has fewer weapons around him than he’s had at any point in his Suns career. A further decline in scoring could be on the horizon for the Canadian point guard.