2008-09 NBA Draft Kit: Phoenix Suns Team Preview
As part of the 2008-09 RotoRob NBA Draft Kit, we’ve got another team preview on tap today, with Herija dissecting the Phoenix Suns.
All systems appeared to be on cruise control on Planet Orange last season, but when the Lakers pulled the trigger on a deal for Pau Gasol, the Suns felt they could no longer stand pat. GM Steve Kerr swung for the fences to say the least, dealing talented enigma Shawn Marion to the Heat in exchange for “The Big Aristotle” himself, Shaquille O’Neal. The move was meant to give the Suns more size and rebounding on the interior, giving them a better chance to match the Lakers’ suddenly towering frontline and get past long-time rival San Antonio.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan as Phoenix’s up-tempo offense was slowed by O’Neal, who took a while to round into shape. Steve Nash and Grant Hill, two players on the wrong side of 30, were asked to play far too many minutes by now-departed head coach Mike D’Antoni, and Hill was useless by the time the playoffs rolled around. His inability to find any minutes for first-round pick Alando Tucker – he played 48 minutes the entire season – made no sense given Tucker’s athleticism and Hill’s age. Hopefully new head man Terry Porter will have more success integrating Tucker and this year’s first-rounder, Robin Lopez, into the team’s rotation to save their veterans’ legs for the playoffs.
While conventional wisdom suggests the window of opportunity has more or less closed on this team given the coaching change and advancing age of many of their key contributors – Nash (34), Hill (36), O’Neal (36) and Raja Bell (32) – the team does boast two legitimate superstars in Nash and Amare Stoudemire. The presence of O’Neal for a full season should help Stoudemire, who averaged nearly 29 PPG following O’Neal’s arrival.
Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw will be the first two guys off the bench, and their development will be critical to any postseason push the Suns hope to make. Barbosa has incredible quickness, but was maddeningly inconsistent last season, highlighted by his brutal play in the San Antonio series. Diaw has a ton of talent, but like Barbosa, needs to find a way to deliver the goods more often. The Spurs had no answers for him in that same series, and when he’s on his game he presents considerable matchup problems for the opposition. After that, Lopez should see some minutes behind O’Neal, while newcomer Matt Barnes will vie for time off the pine with Tucker.
The “seven seconds or less” era may be officially dead, but don’t bury this team’s title hopes just yet. They still feature a lot of talent, and for guys like Nash and Hill this may be their last best chance at a championship. It’s an uphill battle to be sure, but if they embrace some of Porter’s changes and become an improved defensive team, maybe it’ll be enough to put them over the top come playoff time.
Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Steve Nash
SG: Raja Bell
SF: Grant Hill
PF: Amare Stoudemire
C: Shaquille O’Neal
Key Bench Players: Leandro Barbosa, Boris Diaw, Matt Barnes, Robin Lopez, Alando Tucker.
The starting five is etched in stone, and we can pretty much guarantee Barbosa will be the top backcourt reserve while Diaw will be the first frontcourt player off the bench. Lopez is also a safe bet to see some decent minutes behind O’Neal. That leaves Tucker and Barnes to fight for the ninth spot in the rotation.
Barnes has the flexibility to play both forward spots, which gives Porter options if he wants to go small. Tucker dominated the NBDL and is a scorer that knows how to get to the basket and finish. He’s also a product of the University of Wisconsin, which has been known for their lockdown defense under head coach Bo Ryan. That experience could make him an attractive option as the Suns try to change their anti-defense culture. Considering they invested a first-round pick in Tucker, it would make sense for the Suns to at least give him some run early to see what they’ve got. Look for the second-year forward to get first crack at the job.
Stud: Twenty-eight games. That was how often O’Neal suited up with the Suns last season. In those 28 games, Stoudemire posted more than 30 points 13 times…and eight of those were double-doubles! His rebounding fluctuated a bit, but he failed to surpass 20 points just twice in those 28 games, and one of those came in the last game of the year in which he played only 18 minutes. At 25, Stoudemire is just reaching his prime and could push for 30-10 this season. No, seriously.
Dud: If Barbosa runs at back-up point this year it’s simply because they have no one else that can handle the job – I’m looking skeptically at you right now, Goran Dragic – as the Brazilian Blur was abysmal in trying to facilitate the offense last season. Look for him to primarily play behind Bell and to see fewer minutes as a result. Add that to his falling shooting percentages from a season ago and we’ve got ourselves an overvalued talent.
Sleeper: The Suns are a veteran group with few unknowns, leaving Tucker as the only really viable choice here. As noted, he was a tremendous natural scorer in college, consistently getting to the rim when everyone knew he was the Badgers’ only option. He averaged 27.7 points and 6.0 boards a game in the NBDL, and if he shows he belongs early he could log 15 to 20 minutes per night.
Rookies to Watch: Lopez should see minutes behind O’Neal, and Stoudemire to a lesser extent, but his primarily contributions will come defensively and on the glass. Don’t expect a lot from him offensively. The team likes Dragic, and he should get first crack at backing up Nash, but the question with him (other than who the frig is this guy) is whether or not he can score in the NBA.
Fantasy Stories to Watch
Amare disclocated his pinkie earlier this week, but fantasy owners can breathe a sigh of relief as the big man will be fine for the start of the season.
Watch for Shaq to either sit out completely or see reduced minutes in the tail end of back-to-backs this season. Coach Porter suggests that O’Neal will get 28 to 30 minutes in the opening game and then less or perhaps even no minutes in the second game. It will particularly be an issue in the second half, so Shaq owners take note.