The Phoenix Suns proved one thing last season: never, ever, ever count them out.
Before the season, most prognosticators were down on the team. They missed the playoffs in 2008-09, and didn't do much to improve the roster last summer. Steve Nash was getting older, the depth seemed shaky and Amare Stoudemire was bandied about in trade rumors. It looked like the team's run was over.
But as they did several years ago, the Suns turned out to be far better than expected. Nash was still Nash, Amare was still Amare (especially after the trade deadline, when he was a monster) and coach Alvin Gentry pushed all the right buttons. The depth, which seemed like it would be a weakness, turned into a huge strength, as youngsters Goran Dragic, Robin Lopez and Jared Dudley made significant strides in their games. Throw in bounce-back performances from Grant Hill, Jason Richardson and Channing Frye, and you had all the makings of a very good team. The Suns became an even more effective offensive club by more selectively employing their fast break, and it paid major dividends.
As crazy as it sounds: were it not for a Kobe Bryant air ball in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, the Suns might have won the NBA Championship.
With all this in mind, it's probably worth heeding the message from the top when thinking about the Suns' chances this season. This summer, the team decided to let Stoudemire go in free agency. On paper, it's a huge loss, because Stoudemire raised his all-around game tremendously last season. The Suns decided to replace Stoudemire with quantity, signing Hakim Warrick for much less money, plucking Josh Childress from Greece and making a risky trade for disgruntled Raptors forward Hedo Turkoglu. It might not work, but again, never count the Suns out.
The end result of the Stoudemire departure is that a deep Suns team is even deeper, as SB Nation's Suns blog Bright Side of the Sun writes:
The Suns return one of the best second units in the NBA and have enhanced it with the additions of Childress and Warrick.
The additions of Josh Childress and Hedo Turkoglu allow Steve Nash to play off the ball more. The idea is that with Turk's ball handling skills, the Suns can utilize Nash's high shooting percentage to make up some of the scoring they lost with Amare Stoudemire's departure. The move also allows Nash to rest more and reduce the normal wear and tear he obtains during the normal 82 game season at PG. Childress can play at the 2 or 3 and provides a solid bench presence to spell either Jason Richardson or Grant Hill.
SB Nation Arizona writes that this improved depth allows the Suns to play multiple styles.
The versatility and depth of this roster will have to be used to overcome the loss of Amare's offensive efficiency and (yes) rebounding.
The Suns will be able to mix and match those ten guys into some very impressive defensive alignments -- Lopez, Frye, Hill/Dudley, Childress and Dragic is a pretty darn good unit, for example. Overall, this is the best defensive Suns roster in ages and certainly has the potential to be a top 10 perimeter defensive team.
Or with Turkoglu, Richardson and Nash on the floor together, the same old Suns will be trying to outscore teams faster than they give up points. Variety is the spice life.
Speaking of rebounding - that projects to be the Suns' biggest weakness this season. The Suns' rebounding numbers were a bit deceptive last year -- they finished tenth in offensive rebounding percentage, but just 29th in defensive rebounding percentage. The latter is a far bigger deal than the former. Also, their raw numbers are a bit misleading because of the fast pace the team plays. Nevertheless, the Suns did actually post a positive rebounding differential last season, so they weren't awful there.
However, the team has gotten worse in that department. Stoudemire was not a great rebounder, but he is better than anyone who is replacing him. Valley of the Suns writes that the rebounding will be a season-long problem.
But the biggest weakness will likely be rebounding. This was a major issue going into last season, yet thanks to the emergence of Robin Lopez the Suns actually posted a positive rebounding differential for the season, a major reason they managed to secure the West's No. 3 seed. Switching out Amare for Hedo at the four and it would be a surprise if the Suns could post another positive rebounding differential.
Despite that, the bloggers are fairly optimistic about the Suns' chances this year. Here are their record predictions:
- Bright Side of the Sun: 51-31
- SB Nation Arizona: No prediction, though it does list a win range of 40-55 games.
- Valley of the Suns: 48-34