The upcoming 2010-2011 season for the Phoenix Suns is somewhat of a mystery right now. With the departure of Amare Stoudemire, Leandro Barbosa and Lou Amundson, this team looks a bit different.
Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress, and Hakim Warrick are now the contributing newcomers and rookie Gani Lawal hopes to crack the rotation.
The team seems to be more athletic but lacks size. The Western Conference is still strong. If the Suns are to come close to duplicating the success they had last season, they need solid to great performances for the season from specific players.
Let's see who these are:
Yes, Steve Nash is an obvious choice. However, that does not diminish his importance. He is the engine of the team, the artist, the playmaker, the architect, the (fill in the blank with a metaphor). The Suns go as Nash goes.
Even at age 36, he is playing at as high a level as any other point guard. You may criticize his defensive shortcomings, but you cannot deny his impact on the game of basketball.
Just two seasons ago, there were whispers of his skills diminishing skills. It turns out that he was just handcuffed under Terry Porter's schemes.
Last year, he averaged over 16 points a game and dished out a league-high 11 assists per game, all while shooting over 50% from the field, over 42% from three-point range, and over 93% at the free throw line.
If Nash cannot play at a level similar to this, there is little hope for Phoenix because he makes every player on the team play better.
Jason Richardson becomes a very important piece of the team this year. With Amare Stoudemire now in New York, he must become the type of offensive force he was in Golden State and in Charlotte.
He would be the first one to tell you that it took a while to get used to not being a main offensive option, and the result was very inconsistent play. But the stats don't lie, the Suns were almost unbeatable if J-Rich scored at least 20 points in a game.
Now, whether his scoring was the reason for success or if his scoring was the result of the teams success, they went hand in hand. This season, he will need to shoulder more of the scoring load more consistently, being more than a spot-up shooter from behind the three-point line. He will need to attck the rim as well and play in the post, which are also strengths of his.
In addition to increased scoring, due to the lack of size on the Suns' roster, his rebounding skills are also vital. With Turkoglu likely replacing Stoudemire at the power forward position and not being known as a great rebounder, the rebounds from the wing positions (Richardson and Grant Hill) will be the only way to keep from being completely demolished on the boards.
As this is a contract year for Richardson, look for his having a great year.
With the trade of Leandro Barbosa, Dragic must become the offensive option number one off the bench. We all saw flashes of brilliance and he threw himself into the national spotlight with his 23-point fourth quarter in the playoffs.
His scoring is very important, but he lso must continue to improve as a playmaker. He is making better passes and improving his court vision, but he must continue to improve and be more consistent. If he does, the bench play, which was a strength last season, could be even better.
Turkoglu is the great unknown commodity, even though he is a known talent. Will Phoenix be getting the mismatch causing, dynamic shooter and scorer from Orlando, or will the overweight malcontent from Toronto be the one to join the Suns?
So far, he has said the right things, but there is that fear that everyone has.
He takes over for Amare Stoudemire at the power forward position. He has the size and the ability to cause big mismatches, much like Shawn Marion did when he played for Phoenix. The issue is that he is not the rebounder that Marion was and is not considered a strong defender.
Phoenix is hoping that he can at least become an okay rebounder and do more damage offensively than cause problems defensively. He will be used much like Boris Diaw was when Stoudemire was injured the entire season in 2005. It will be the first time that he will be playing mostly off the ball.
If he can do these things well, then Phoenix will be all right. If he is more like Toronto, then it may be a long season without other big contributions from other players.
As strange as it may sound, the Phoenix Suns' season rests on the shoulders of the third year seven footer, and hopefully his back is healthy enough to hold it up.
Lopez is the only established post player on the roster. If he progresses in the same manner he did last season, then the Suns are fine.
Teammate Jared Dudley even said that for the Suns to get back to what they achieved last season, Robin Lopez ould have to play at a "near All-star" level of play.
In a season of incertainty, Lopez is the wild card. If he is very good, the Suns will be one of the best in the league. If he is not, they may score oodles and oodles of points, but playoff success will be unlikely.
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