Over the next month, we’ll be talking with a variety of people who cover each NBA team to talk a little bit about their team, and how they expect the season to go. We’ll also find out what they believe will be the most intriguing matchup when the two team’s meet during the regular season. We continue the Pacific Division with the Phoenix Suns. We’re joined by Andrew Lynch of FanSided’s Hardwood Paroxysm. You can follow Andrew on twitter @AndrewLynch and HP on twitter @HPBasketball.
Sunday, November 30th @ Phoenix
Wednesday, March 4th @ Orlando
Last Season: 48-34; Finished Ninth In Western Conference
November 24th: Suns 104 Magic 96
March 19th: Magic 93 Suns 109
Shooting Guard: Goran Dragic
Small Forward: P.J. Tucker
Power Forward: Markieff Morris
Center: Miles Plumlee
Below Andrew answers some questions about the Suns for us.
Q: How will new comer Isaiah Thomas be able to potentially fill the void left by Eric Bledsoe’s departure?
A: Fortunately for Phoenix, it looks like they’ll have Bledsoe for at least next season, pending his decision on whether or not to sign the qualifying offer. But whether we’re talking short- or long-term when it comes to Bledsoe’s possible departure, Thomas’ ability to fill the void is almost entirely predicated on the offensive end. If anything, I’d expect Thomas to be a bit more of a pass-first point guard than Blesdoe in Phoenix; the system was so perfectly designed for Bledsoe that he often didn’t need to make a play for another Sun, because his way to the rim was wide open.
That’s not always going to be the case for Thomas, though he’ll get his fair share of waterbug dribble-drives. And beyond what Thomas might or might not do, coach Jeff Hornacek isn’t going to ask Thomas to be Bledsoe. Hornacek will change the system, especially with the departure of Channing Frye, and he’ll play to the strengths of all of his guards. Thomas will also likely play off the ball a fair amount, and he’s been a better 3-point shooter in his career than Bledsoe has — and a more prolific one at that.
Where Thomas would be lacking relative to Bledsoe, and where Phoenix would most miss the departed point guard, is on the defensive end. Bledsoe is an absolute terror on that end. Sure, he’ll gamble himself out of position at times, but he makes the right play the vast majority of the time. And Bledsoe thinks he can guard anybody in the league, no matter what position they play. That kind of mindset is tough to find, particularly in a point guard.
Q: How big of an impact will Channing Frye’s departure have on the Suns this season and how can they work to fill that void?
A: Frye’s departure is going to be huge. His shooting speaks for itself. He’s a decent, if unspectacular, rebounder. His ability to space the floor and affect the gravity of a possession is in the top one percent of NBA players; defenses have to account for him at all times, and that in turn opens up huge lanes for driving guards and wings. Elfrid Payton’s development should get a decent shot in the arm if he’s able to see floor time with Frye simply because there will be so much more space in which he can operate. The same goes for Home Dipo, naturally.
And Frye gets a fair amount of credit in my book for his effort on defense. He’s never going to be a shutdown defensive big man, but he’s game against bigs in the post. He does a good job of staying vertical — not in the Roy Hibbert sense, just making sure his arms are straight up when an opposing offensive center or power forward tries to go up for a shot over Frye’s outstretched arms. His pick and roll defense can be a bit uneven at times, though that seems to come from a natural inclination to help more than anything else. To my eyes, he showed a fair amount of improvement in that niche in assistant coach Mike Longabardi’s Thibodeau-style defense last year.
Q:When the Magic and Suns meet this season, what’s one matchup that will have your attention the most?
A: I’ll keep this one short and sweet: Vucci Mane vs. Sky Miles. Vucevic and Plumlee couldn’t be more different stylistically at the center position, but the development of each big man, particularly as a pick-and-roll defender, will go a long way toward defining these teams over the coming seasons.
Q: The Suns were arguably the leagues biggest surprise last season. How can they build off of that this season int he tough Western Conference? Can they break into the playoffs or are they still a year or two away?
A: Defense, defense, defense. That’ll be the key for Phoenix this year, as I’ve hinted in my previous responses. Plumlee’s growth in Longabardi’s system will be one of my biggest things to watch this year for the Suns. The Western Conference seems to get better and better, and Phoenix could easily improve as a team and still miss the playoffs once again. And with Frye gone and the possibility of some natural regression at the wings with P.J. Tucker and Gerald Green, improvement is far from assured.
If Anthony Tolliver can bring some of what Channing Frye did last year, and if Bledsoe is still on board, and if Goran Dragic is otherworldly again, and if the wings nail triples, and if Phoenix can take a step forward on defense while refining a top-10 offense, then they’ll make the playoffs. Take away one or two of those conditionals, however, and it becomes another crapshoot. Either way, it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.