Revisiting Preseason Predictions for the Phoenix Suns
After trading Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers, it was clear that the Suns had officially started rebuilding and that they would not be contenders in the upcoming season.
Still, Phoenix had a plan. They drafted point guard Kendall Marshall with the 13th overall pick in the draft and signed a few major free agents in Goran Dragic, Luis Scola and Michael Beasley. Near the end of the offseason, the Suns found two more cheap, underrated free agents in P.J Tucker and Jermaine O'Neal.
After adding several new players, the Suns were a completely new team and since their roster was so different, not many basketball experts were sure of what to predict.
Surely there was talent, but whether the players would form any chemistry or the acquisitions would pan out was a different question. As a result, there were many opinions and predictions about the Suns when the regular season was ready to begin.
Fast forward several months later, and Phoenix is dead-last in the Western Conference. This is clearly one of the worst seasons in franchise history, and while there have been some pleasant surprises, a higher position in the draft is really one of the only positives to take out of such a disastrous year.
But now, it's time to look back at those original predictions and see what the analysts got right and where they went wrong.
I took Suns' season previews from Sports Illustrated, NBA.com, Yahoo! Sports blog Ball Don't Lie and Hoopsworld.com to see which predictions were spot-on and which ones couldn't be further from the truth.
Goran Dragic Will Thrive in Phoenix
Replacing a legend like Nash is an extremely difficult task, but the Suns perhaps found the perfect replacement for him when they signed Dragic to a four-year, $34 million contract.
Dragic started 28 games for the Houston Rockets at the end of the 2011-2012 season, and he was fantastic. In that span, he averaged 18.0 points and 8.4 assists while shooting 49 percent from the field.
That was only a small sample size, however, and it was not known if Dragic could keep up that level of play and be the go-to guy in Phoenix.
Dragic is not a go-to scorer, and that is a huge void the Suns are still struggling to fill. Even so, most experts predicted that Dragic would still thrive in Phoenix, and he has undeniably been the team's MVP.
Dragic is averaging 14.7 points and 7.1 assists, and those stats simply aren't that eye-popping. However, his determination and great work ethic can not be questioned, and Dragic always fights hard on the court despite a number of times this season where he has collided with another player and received a bump or bruise.
"The Dragon" has been a consistent presence for Phoenix each game and is a better all-around player than most people give him credit for this season. In fact, Dragic is one of just four NBA players this season to average at least 14.5 points, three rebounds, seven assists and 1.5 steals. The others are LeBron James, Jrue Holiday and Russell Westbrook—some elite company in which to be grouped.
Since the All-Star break, Dragic continues to take his game to new heights. He is evolving under interim head coach Lindsey Hunter and he has been playing at an All-Star level for the past month.
In March, Dragic averaged 16.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists while shooting 47 percent from the field and 31 percent from 3-point range. That stat line is about equal to other great point guards such as Brandon Jennings, Ty Lawson and Jrue Holiday.
Dragic also had six double-doubles for the month and has topped 20 points five times since the All-Star break. He has taken over as not only the team's go-to scorer, but as the Suns' main facilitator. ragic is doing it all right now and Suns' fans could not be more pleased.
Again, Goran simply could not be the primary scoring option on a playoff team. However, he has stepped up for the Suns this season, and with his recent play he has proved that he could be a legitimate No. 2 option on a playoff team. It is his season that gives Suns fans some hope for the future, and the analysts could not have been more correct about Dragic taking over in Phoenix.
Michael Beasley Is Not a Reliable Scoring Threat
When the Suns signed Michael Beasley to a three-year, $18 million deal, we all wanted to believe that he could finally live up to his potential.
Everyone saw how dominant Beasley was at Kansas State and he showed flashes of greatness in the NBA too, scoring 19.2 points per game for Minnesota two years ago. Many people wanted to believe that a change of scenery would rejuvenate Beasley's career.
Unfortunately, that never happened. Wwhile some analysts were critical of Beasley as soon as he was signed, others such as TNT analyst and former player Chris Webber, truly thought that the 24-year-old forward could finally thrive in a new setting.
It's so easy to fall into that trap because Beasley has all the potential in the world. He has the athleticism to get to the rim, a decent mid-range jump shot and the quickness to get by defenders at either the three or the four spots on the floor.
Beasley, however, has always been terribly inefficient and his work ethic is questionable, to say the least. His shooting is only getting worse each year, and now this season has been the worst of his career. The graph illustrates that with red as his field-goal percentage, green his three-point percentage and blue his effective field-goal percentage.
Beasley is averaging 10.3 points and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 41 percent from the field and 31 percent from beyond the arc. Those aren't horrendous numbers, but Beasley was expected to come to Phoenix and be a scoring threat on the wing. In a best-case scenario, some hoped that he could take over as the team's primary scorer and average up to 20 points.
In reality, he has been a train wreck and has not lived up to expectations at all.
Beasley instead is known for his poor shot selection and continues to chuck mid-range shots when he could be driving to the rim. On defense, he shows a lack of effort and is one of the worst defenders on the team, as his defensive rating of 109 can attest.
Beasley has so much talent that it's a shame to see him waste his potential, but to be fair, people probably should have seen this coming.
Beasley has always had issues off the court and coaches were unable to keep his attention even before Phoenix. Now, he is exclaiming that he has stopped listening to his coaches completely and his strange personality, combined with his boneheaded plays, are creating a tense relationship with current coach Lindsey Hunter.
There were plenty of publications that were not fond of the Beasley signing, such as this season preview from Ball Don't Lie.
But even so, a lot of people thought that Beasley could finally change his ways. That just doesn't seem to be the case, as he lost his spot in the starting rotation a long time ago and is already with his third team in just five years.
There will always be busts, and it's starting to look like all the scouts were just wrong about Michael Beasley several years ago.
The Suns Will be Bad, But Not Awful
After losing Steve Nash to the Lakers and missing out on signing Eric Gordon, the Suns were not expected to be a very competitive team this season.
However, they did acquire a significant amount of talent and a lot of people expected them to at least be in the late-lottery for the third consecutive year.
SI.com writer Chris Mannix predicted that the Suns "are not a playoff team, but are not going to fall into the depths of the Western Conference either".
At Hoopsworld, many writers shared the same opinion. Three of five columnists there expected the Suns to finish fourth in the Pacific Division and a couple even thought the Suns might be able to compete for the eighth seed.
In its annual NBA season preview, Sports Illustrated projected the Suns to finish 10th in the Western Conference and said the Suns would only lose 50 games in a worst-case scenario.
How many games did you think the Suns would win at the beginning of the season?
The Suns, however, did fall into the depths of the West and they have already lost 54 games. So why have they been unable to meet expectations this season?
There are several reasons. The first one is obviously the poor performance of Beasley, who has only frustrated fans, coaches and teammates all year long.
There are other reasons as well.
Kendall Marshall did not receive much playing time until Lindsey Hunter took over, and even now, he has not been great. He can facilitate the offense, but has trouble with his shooting and defense and is a fairly one-dimensional player. He is averaging 4.0 points and 4.1 assists in his past 10 games, which is decent, but probably less than you would expect from a lottery pick.
Marcin Gortat is injured, but even when he was healthy, he did not play the same way he did in 2011. Gortat averaged 11.1 points and 8.5 rebounds this season, which was a significant step back from his previous year with Nash.
Gortat looked like a potential All-Star with Nash running the point, but with Dragic at the ,point he was clearly not a focal point in the offense. On top of that, Gortat also seemed to express his discontent with the team in general and the amount of effort he gave was sometimes questionable.
One last reason that the Suns have played so poorly is their terrible defense. Other than P.J Tucker, the Suns do not have any great defenders. Gortat is above-average, and Jared Dudley, Wesley Johnson and Dragic are all serviceable on defense, but other than that the team was completely incapable of stopping opposing offenses.
Beasley has been criticized for his lack of effort on defense, but he isn't the only one.
Markieff Morris often looks lost on defense, as does rookie Kendall Marshall. Scola may give an effort, but since the Gortat injury, he has been forced to play at center where he is often overpowered by post players. Shannon Brown is another player who is inefficient on offense and lacking on defense, which has led to his benching.
The Suns had some talent on this roster, but the players just couldn't always mesh well. Acquiring a go-to scorer who can get at least 20 points per game would help this team tremendously.
As long as the Suns continue to develop their current prospects, work on improving their defense and look for a superstar in the draft or free agency, they should be relevant again soon enough.
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