Phoenix Suns' Rays, Week 1: Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Other Early Trends
The Suns’ 2011-12 season is under way and has gotten off to a ho-hum 2-3 start. I initially thought of writing a preview article but then paused until after the first five games for a couple of reasons.
First, in an abbreviated season, I figured the first five games are akin to a preseason calendar in the sense that they are likely to reveal what ails and what does not to a greater extent than the two-game actual preseason.
Second, I was quite sure that the Suns would use the first week of the season to do a quick evaluation of the roster and make an under-the-radar flea market buy to complete the basic make-up of what the team is going to be for the majority of the season—case in point, the Michael Redd signing.
So after the first five games, how do things look? For better or worse, nothing earth-shaking here. To use the legendary Denny Green quote, “The Suns are who we thought they were.”
To that end, here are my five observations for the first week of the season.
Marcin Gortat and Grant Hill Are AWOL
Much of the duo's lame start can be blamed on their respective injuries, and in Gortat’s case, it is the first significant one in his career, so his adjustment quotient has been that much tougher.
The injury excuse notwithstanding, it is clear that unless Gortat gets his act together offensively, the Suns are likely to be slow starters. Their first and third quarters have been horrendous, and last season’s Steve Nash-to-Gortat pick-and-roll chemistry is missing.
In Hill’s case, it's more a matter of his getting into game shape (which he clearly does not look to be in now). I am a lot more worried about Gortat than Hill, as the former’s 19-and-10 (points/rebounds) on the stat sheet is inordinately overdue.
Nash's Intent Is Clear
Steve Nash has made up his mind to take over games in the fourth quarter a lot more than in seasons past. This could be due to (i) his realization regarding the talent base on the roster and/or (ii) the equally obvious fact that he looks to be in a significantly better physical shape than a lot of the opposing, younger guards that he has faced thus far.
Unfortunately, while that does not bode too well for his wear and tear in a compressed schedule this season, it looks to be the only way for the Suns to succeed.
Jury out on the New Suns
I had decent expectations for Shannon Brown, less so from Ronnie Price and had absolutely no idea what to expect from the rookie, Markieff Morris.
Thus far, though, Morris has impressed thoroughly with his energy, willingness to be physical and a growing penchant to score effectively. He has had two double-digit games already (first Suns rookie since Amar'e Stoudemire to do so) and has played in crunch time recently.
Price looks like another in the long line of Nash backups who have failed at being such.
Oh Three-Pointer, Where Have You Gone?
A lot of ink has already been spent on the fact that the legendary Suns run-and-gun offense has been nowhere to be found. I am not as worried; we have already discussed the injury factor. Plus, the new faces are still looking for roles, spacing and expectations.
What I am worried about, though, in this regard is one thing: Where have the three-pointers gone? Channing Frye is at the nadir of his confidence (hopefully, his 23-footer yesterday was a morale booster), Jared Dudley looks to be trying too hard and Josh Childress and Morris should not be lobbing three-point tries frequently.
The Suns are getting wide-open looks at times and are just not knocking them down. To me, all the talk of other teams "figuring" the Suns offense out is humbug. A few made threes will solve all of those concerns, as was the case often last season and is well documented in the accompanying video.
"Closest to the Pin" Prediction
I say the Suns are locked in for a lower-seed playoff spot. Prognosticators are absolutely justified in looking at OKC, DAL, the two LA teams and the immortal Spurs as the true contenders in the West and have projected Portland, Denver, Utah and even Golden State and the Timberwolves as aspirants for the other playoff ranks.
To me, though, there is value in experience (can go no further than Nash, Hill, etc.), consistency (core of the team is intact, a fact that is even more important in a weird, shortened season) and the ability to play above expectations.
For those precise reasons, I am expecting the Suns to hang on to somewhere between 35 and 38 wins, which should be good for a No. 6 seed.