STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Phoenix spent the 2012-13 season salvaging moral victories, because the team's record reflected few in the win column. With no clear go-to player, the Suns struggled to produce many mismatches for opponents. One of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league, the Suns' wings didn't capitalize on the distribution of Goran Dragic. In the post, Marcin Gortat failed to improve on his breakout season and will remain the subject of countless trade rumors throughout the season. Several offseason acquisitions made the squad younger but also better.
The franchise is in full rebuilding mode, staging separate trades for Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green and future draft picks this summer. Promising-yet-troubled forward Michael Beasley was cut from the roster after an August 6 arrest, capping a tumultuous offseason of misconduct. Key contributors Luis Scola, Jared Dudley and Jermaine O'Neal all changed addresses, leaving the Suns without four of their top seven scorers from last season. The team used its two first-round draft picks to select Alex Len and Archie Goodwin as fixtures of the youth movement.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Goran Dragic will reprise his role as the starting point guard. Beyond handling a customary 30 minutes, coach Jeff Hornacek expects him to contribute in the development of a promising young backcourt. The Suns have a plethora of protégés who will log minutes behind Dragic. Kendall Marshall will be given the first crack at serving as his primary backup and should see an increase in his 15 minutes per game from last season. Ish Smith is in line to see spot duty at the point.
Prized addition Eric Bledsoe will play on and off the ball in an offense that should have plenty of fast break opportunities. A first-time starter, he could be eased into a full workload and, at least at first, may scarcely play more than 25 minutes. Shannon Brown and the rookie Goodwin are listed at the two-guard position, with Brown likely to see the lion's share of playing time.
Phoenix's rotation is fluid, with interchangeable players all over the floor who can play multiple positions. With no definitive star player, Hornacek has the ability to mix and match, playing the hot hand and moving young players in and out of his lineup. One of those players, Gerald Green, is a high-upside acquisition who seems like the most likely to be penciled in as starter on the wing. Marcus and Markieff Morris will each get a shot to start at power forward. Look for Markieff and Green to see an uptick in minutes, ideally pushing 25 minutes a game.
A pair of veteran forwards will compete for minutes and serve as calming influences for Green and the Morris twins. Channing Frye and P.J. Tucker are slated to average between 20-25 minutes per game, depending on whether the team's younger frontcourt players can secure starting jobs and run with them.
Marcin Gortat and Alex Len are the only true centers on the roster. Gortat will begin the season in the starting lineup, but Len could play his way into the job at some point with his mentor's days in Phoenix seemingly numbered. Gortat is expected to play around 30 minutes per game with Len approaching 25. Leftover minutes will be gobbled up by Miles Plumlee.
Marcin Gortat: Gortat took a step back last season, a year after emerging as the Suns' starting center. He averaged 11.1 points per game and shot 51 percent from the field, both down from even his days as a backup. Nevertheless, he's back in the starting lineup and is expected to help first-round pick Alex Len along. He will continue to be a good source for blocks and rebounds, but expecting a bounce-back campaign in line with his first season as starter will likely leave owners disappointed.
Alex Len: Len gives Phoenix a rare true 7-footer who is the team's primary backup center and understudy. After averaging 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game at Maryland as a sophomore, Len makes the considerable leap to the league. He will assuredly face some ups and downs as a rookie, but should be a reliable rebounder out of the gate. A relatively low volume of shots will prevent him from being the type of asset he should be in field goal percentage in seasons to come.
Miles Plumlee: Plumlee will begin his second season as a professional with aspirations of solidifying his role with the Suns in hopes of eventually pairing with Len to form the frontcourt of the future. During his time at Duke, he established a reputation for being an elite rebounder and athletic big. He will look to do the same in Phoenix this year in anticipation of the trade of Gortat.
Markieff Morris: Morris showed modest statistical improvement last season, mostly a result of a slight increase in playing time. He stretched the floor as a 6-10 forward and managed to make better than 33 percent of his threes for a second straight season. A sagging field goal percentage and lack of shot-blocking ability saps his value.
Gerald Green: A journeyman forward, Green has spent time with six NBA teams and also played in Russia for two seasons. For someone of his experience, he is still a relatively young man at 27 years old. Having never started more than 26 games in a season, the 6-8 swingman should be expected to log at least 20 minutes per contest. Limited range on his jumper has prevented Green from becoming the star he was expected to become as a first-round draft pick of the Celtics. He must improve upon his 31 percent shooting from long range to earn and keep a starting position.
Marcus Morris: Life in Phoenix did not treat Morris kindly. Coming over in a mid-February trade from Houston, he was not granted consistent playing time. When he was on the floor, the former Jayhawk shot the ball poorly. He averaged 7.7 points in 20 minutes last year and made 56 percent from the stripe. Morris must outperform his brother from long range to find minutes.
Channing Frye: One of the elder statesmen remaining on the roster, Frye is the oldest Suns' player at 30. He is also far and away their best shooter. Recently cleared to resume workouts after missing a year with an enlarged heart, the hope is for him to provide double-figure scoring and a couple three-pointers per game, while teaching the Morris twins to do the same.
P.J. Tucker: Tucker has carved out a niche as a solid tweener who does a little of just about everything. His work ethic allows him to rebound well for a player his size and guard larger players. Mainly, the veteran's expectations will be to infect the rest of the young roster with his approach.
Goran Dragic: The veteran point guard from Slovenia finally became the starter in Phoenix and posted career-highs in points, assists and minutes last season. His number of assists should only increase with the Suns' addition of some dynamic weapons. Most notably, Eric Bledsoe whom is a high-flying athletic specimen to whom Dragic said in the offseason he was excited to pass the ball to. While he will contribute in assists and steals, mediocre three-point shooting will again rub some of the luster from his fantasy value.
Eric Bledsoe: Playing behind Chris Paul for the last two seasons, Bledsoe earned the label of most-coveted player not in an NBA starting lineup. No longer does that label fit. Rather than a fixture of a team's second unit, Bledsoe will join Goran Dragic in the Suns' starting backcourt to bring blinding speed to a squad looking to run up and down the court. He is capable of providing help on both ends of the floor, starring as a highly-productive offensive weapon, while also appearing among the league leaders in steals and blocks from the guard position.
Shannon Brown: Brown's career-high average of 24 minutes per game should remain steady. His points, however, should dwindle for a second straight season. Last year, he came off the bench to spell both guards and has no reason to expect anything differently in 2013. The primary difference will be sharing the ball with Bledsoe, who is expected to play some point. A below-average shooter, Brown is a strange fit.
Kendall Marshall: Marshall showed flashes late in his rookie season, notching double figures in assists during three games in which he played more than 30 minutes. Drafted 13th overall last June from North Carolina, his lofty status was linked to his ability to find teammates quickly on the break. That will be an essential skill this season when he is running the show in relief of Dragic.
Ish Smith: The Suns are collecting ACC players, and Smith is the least likely of the bunch to find the floor. Stuck behind Dragic, a pair of combo guards and his former counterpart Marshall, he should provide decent playmaking ability in limited action.
Malcolm Lee: Multiple injuries limited Lee to 35 games in the first two seasons of his NBA career, making this a make-or-break season of sorts for the 23-year-old. His contributions should be minimal in Phoenix. A long, athletic defender, the former UCLA product must stay healthy.
Archie Goodwin: Expectations should be tempered somewhat for the 29th overall pick out of Kentucky, but Goodwin's draft day slide does not diminish his ability. During his one season with the Wildcats, he displayed a knack for getting to the basket and free-throw line. That tendency carried over to summer league play, where he even showed improvement on his developing jumper, a source of frustration in college.
Archie Goodwin: Goodwin boasts an intriguing skill set that has many in the Suns organization excited about what he can do. Ironically, Phoenix drafted Goodwin the same offseason it acquired Eric Bledsoe, a fellow guard and former Wildcat who left school after one season to become a first-round selection. Team executives see an opportunity to pair the freakish athletes together for future dividends, but do not be surprised if Goodwin has an excellent season backing up Bledsoe sooner rather than later.
Marcin Gortat: Time is running out on the center. His numbers were down across the board last season, and the Suns' frontcourt is getting crowded. As a rookie, Alex Len is unlikely to outperform Gortat – who will turn 30 this season – and take the job from him outright. If Phoenix piles up losses in the early portion of their schedule as expected, it will move the center. It is hard to imagine scoring opportunities easier to come by than on a team with few alternatives, so if dealt to a contender, expectations should fall.