Phoenix Suns: The Top 10 Realistic Expectations for the Suns

Roberto PayneContributor IOctober 3, 2012

Phoenix Suns: The Top 10 Realistic Expectations for the Suns

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    The Phoenix Suns have shaken things up this offseason and are ready to begin a new era of basketball in the desert.

    Gone are Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Robin Lopez. Incoming are Goran Dragic, Michael Beasley, Luis Scola, Wesley Johnson and Jermaine O'Neal.

    All these changes will not only greatly affect the outcome of this season, but will do so for years to come.

    That leads to talks of team expectations. Honestly, what can we expect from this team?

    It's not like there have been many seasons in team history like this year is shaping up to be.

    Read on for 10 realistic expectations for this year's Phoenix Suns as they embark on their first post-Steve Nash season in almost a decade.

Goran Dragic Will Have a Career Year

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    Goran Dragic comes back to the Phoenix Suns after a stint with the Houston Rockets and will take over the starting point guard spot after the departure of Steve Nash.

    Dragic is coming off a career year and he couldn't have picked a better place to kick-start his career.

    Phoenix will hand over the reins to a more mature Dragic and expects him to lead the team in the post-Nash era.

    His assist and point totals are bound to go up with the increase in playing time and I expect averages around 17.4 points per game and 7.8 assists per game.

    Getting those starter minutes last season with Houston was huge for his development and he has a newfound confidence around him.

    This will only aid his ability to have a successful year and might even put this season over the top.

The Defense Will Be Much Improved

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    It will be extremely tough to replace the defensive versatility provided by Grant Hill. He provided the perfect amount of hustle and technique for a wing defender.

    This year's Phoenix team will not only recover from that loss, but improve defensively because of the offseason additions.

    The three main defensive additions are Goran Dragic, Wesley Johnson and Jermaine O'Neal.

    Dragic might be the most important of the three because he provides a noticeable defensive upgrade over the departed Steve Nash.

    Dragic has proven to be quick enough to stay in front of starting-caliber point guards and is capable of getting a steal or two per game.

    Johnson will probably play the least out of these three, but his length and athleticism make him an ideal wing defender.

    The nice thing about Johnson is how versatile he is defensively. He can switch over to guard different positions in a hurry because of that athleticism and length.

    O'Neal is the type of physical, mean player the Suns have lacked the past couple years. He's not afraid to push people around and will step into the backup role behind Marcin Gortat.

Channing Frye Won't Return This Season

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    Coming in to the season, Channing Frye looked to be the backup center but will most likely be forced to sit out the entire year.

    According to reports, Frye must have at least six months of rest before attempting to come back.

    That alone puts his possible return near the last month of the season.

    If I were a betting man, I would say Frye will miss the entire year and then some.

The New Guys Will Have a Huge Impact

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    Seven new members of the team all but assures this season will be nothing like last season. That can be either good or bad.

    Either way, all these new players will have a major impact on the team's record.

    Out of all the additions, Goran Dragic and Michael Beasley seem to be the most impactful players.

    Dragic and Beasley slide into the starting point guard and small forward spots, and will be looked at to provide a big chunk of scoring.

    Also new to the team are Wesley Johnson, Luis Scola, Kendall Marshall, P.J. Tucker and Jermaine O'Neal.

    Scola comes over from Houston and will immediately become the starting power forward. His production will be even more important now that Frye is out indefinitely.

    Johnson and O'Neal bring defensive toughness and should be critical parts of the revamped bench unit.

    Marshall, the team's 2012 first-round draft selection, will probably ride the bench while he learns the ins and outs of being an NBA point guard. Don't expect that to last long, though.

    The team has too much vested in him to not play him all year.

Michael Beasley Will Be the Team's Leading Scorer

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    One thing that really hurt last year's team was the lack of a go-to scorer. Far too many times Steve Nash was counted on to score points and get assists in his decreasing minutes.

    Simply put, it didn't work well. And the team finished right at .500.

    This season, the team has more scorers and is getting closer to having that go-to scorer every team needs.

    That role should be filled by enigmatic small forward Michael Beasley.

    The former second overall pick has really struggled to gain traction in the NBA because of a couple factors; mainly drug use and a general lack of coaching stability.

    He comes to Phoenix looking to put all that behind him and show everyone why he was drafted behind Derrick Rose in 2008.

    Beasley has the versatile skill set to get his shot off against multiple defenders and has already had a near-20 point per game scoring season in his four NBA seasons.

    That near-20 point per game season occurred during the 2010-11 season, which was also the year Beasley averaged a career high 32.3 minutes per game.

    That's a huge reason why he will score a lot of points in Phoenix. He'll be getting starter minutes and should have the green light to score at will.

    Combining the increase in minutes, bigger role on the team and the general need of a scorer will lead to Beasley becoming the top scorer on the Suns.

The Team Will Still Run Without Nash

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    The underlying tone to this season will be the departure of Steve Nash, and that will continue whether or not the team wants it to.

    That's the nature of losing a surefire Hall of Famer.

    Even with the loss of Nash, this Phoenix team has the necessary pieces to get out in the fast break.

    The real key to an effective fast break is having a point guard capable of making quick decisions.

    The Suns have a capable point guard in Goran Dragic but he's not nearly as heady as Nash is.

    Quite frankly, few are.

    Dragic will be able to effectively run the fast break, although it will be a different kind of break than what Nash ran. Dragic is more of a scorer and should be able to get a lot more points then assists when he runs.

    Next, a plethora of transition finishers are needed. On the roster is Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson, Shannon Brown, Jared Dudley and Markieff Morris.

    Therefore, the finishers are there and the point guard is there. All the Suns need to do is not go overboard with the fast break.

Markieff Morris Will Take the Next Step in His Development

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    Markieff Morris is coming off a successful rookie season in which he established himself as a building block for the future.

    This year, Morris comes in with increased responsibility and will be desperately counted on to perform throughout the season.

    This holds even more true now that Channing Frye is out indefinitely.

    Morris will be relied on to provide toughness and rebounding, all the while being that outside threat Frye was for the past couple years.

    It's a lot of pressure for a second-year player, but Morris has been working hard all offseason to make this a successful year.

    Looking at his summer league performance, Markieff has bulked up and seems ready to shoulder a bigger load.

    Expect big things from Markieff Morris this upcoming season.

The Suns Will Finish over .500

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    Notice I said the Phoenix Suns will finish above .500, not that they will make the playoffs. It will be extremely difficult for the team to make the playoffs, there's no doubting that.

    As for finishing above .500, I honestly believe this team has enough talent to make some noise in a loaded Western Conference.

    A starting lineup of Goran Dragic, Shannon Brown, Michael Beasley, Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat does not have a superstar in it, but can put up stats in a hurry.

    Throw in bench players like Jared Dudley, Markieff Morris, Wesley Johnson, Jermaine O'Neal and Kendall Marshall, and this team could be deadly and will finish over .500.

Kendall Marshall Will Not Be Rushed

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    Kendall Marshall was drafted with the 13th overall selection in the 2012 draft with the hopes of one day becoming the team's franchise point guard.

    Marshall has big shoes to replace in Steve Nash, but is kind of a lesser version of Nash.

    Marshall has all the passing skills and smarts to be a starting point guard in the NBA. His problems are on the defensive side of the ball (like Nash) and his shooting stroke (unlike Nash).

    Both can be fixed and I expect a lot of fine tuning for Marshall in a bench role this season.

    Expect Marshall to start the year out with little playing time behind Goran Dragic and Sebastian Telfair, but Marshall will earn more playing time as the season progresses.

    Phoenix has a lot invested in Marshall and will take great care in how he progresses as a player.

The Suns Will Not Make the Playoffs

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    It's a tough pill to swallow and even tougher for me to acknowledge but, the Phoenix Suns will not make the playoffs this year.

    The team will definitely challenge for a lower spot but the odds are not in our favor to secure one of those lower seeds.

    Phoenix has the depth to make some noise, but the lack of a bona fide superstar will really hurt them, especially when the majority of the teams above them have clear-cut superstars and plenty of role players.

    A couple additional detriments to the Suns is too much turnover on the roster and far too many good teams in the Western Conference. Barring injuries, the top seven seeds in the West are set.

    It's really a matter of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Utah Jazz, Golden State Warriors and Suns fighting for the eighth seed.

    Just looking at these teams from a pure talent standpoint, the Suns would be ranked last out of the four teams.

    Don't get me wrong, Phoenix will finish above .500 and have a nice year, just don't expect to go to the playoffs till the next year.