This is the final installment of our five part Phoenix Suns 2008-2009 season preview series. Part 1 took A Look Back at the past season and era while the 2nd part examined the Suns Off Season moves. Part 3 explored The Players in depth and part 4 evaluated The Competition. This final part puts it all together and gives our predictions.
Hang on to your keyboards for the most comprehensive and over hyped preview of the preview season...
From high atop my perch in the Phoenix desert, looking out at the vast expanse of noise and curiosity drawn by the three ring circus of Shaq, Amare and Nash I see only one thing. Change. And hope. But mostly change.
Say Goodbye to Hollywood and the Showtime Suns and arrivederci to innovation and stubbornness. The Suns will no longer lead the league in pace and trail in rebounding. For fans and hopefully players the freedom and fun from being an underdog with mediocre expectations will come as a welcome relief after years of eying the prize only to have our dreams hip-checked into the boards. It is after all just a game.
Porter's Suns will be powered by the most dominate offensive big man in the game. We saw last season that Amare has all the tools to carry a team on the scoring end of the floor. I expect to see him more in isolation from the elbows and less dependent Nash's brilliant pocket passes. It will be difficult for teams to double Amare in the high-post and unlike Dirk, Amare will have more help on the floor. He will have to improve his passing and decision making a bit but only LeBron and Kobe are more capable of thoroughly dominating an opponent. And neither of them can score as efficiently as Amare. Porter will unleash that beast and make the Suns less reliant on one aging and one rookie point guard.
The rest of the scoring will be evenly distributed among what is still a very potent and talented line-up. Raja or LB can get hot and drop 25 occasionally and will reliably deliver 30ppg combined. Boris against certain match-ups in the post can put up 15 to 20. Hill, Barnes, Nash (and my sleeper pick Tucker) are all good for another 15+ on any given night. Even Shaq and Robin should be able to rack up 7 or 10 points just on offensive boards and the occasional drop off in the lane. This team should have no problem scoring 100 points per game without running themselves out of defensive energy.
Hope. Change. Defense.
Defensively of course is where we really hope to see the biggest change. We've heard from Porter that his team will emphasize D and how energy and accountability will be supported by a deeper bench. Amare is feeling fit and determined to silence his critics and the Suns for the first time in a LONG time have two legit (if Shaq stays healthy) seven foot centers who will be asked to defend the rim and control the paint. From Dragic to Lopez to the kid at the end of the bench with the pony tail, every off season move has been geared towards this goal.
The bigger question isn't about the new Kerr-Porter Suns style of traditional ball and its impact on the court. I want to know what the casual and bandwagon fans of the Suns style are going to do when then wake up in November and realize they aren't seeing the Suns in purple in orange but some off shoot of the Pistons? Phoenix Suuuuuns Basket Baaaaaalll.
My biggest concern about the Suns right now - aside from how quickly they can gel in Porter's new system - is the front court depth. Behind Amare and Shaq it gets thin fast and it's highly doubtful Shaq will play more then 60 games. I am very high on Robin Lopez after watching him up close in Vegas and think he will contribute a lot for a rookie. But he's still a rookie. Then there's the Amundson kid who isn't likely to see much floor time even with a deeper rotation. When Shaq goes down that leaves Boris Diaw backing up Amare and Lopez in a three man rotation that will see Amare having to play too much Center. Not a great situation.
For this reason I would not be surprised to see the Suns fill their final roster spot with Jiri Hubalek and not with Sean Singletary who's deal isn't guaranteed. Jiri's been invited to camp in Tucson and I saw him play for the Suns in Vegas for a few games before he banged up his knee a bit. He's big and active and if nothing else fills that 13th spot with some much needed size. Or perhaps another trade is in the works. I've long advocated for moving Barbosa if you can get back a solid veteran back up center and perhaps even cut a few million and get under the luxury cap. How about Andy Verejao to come in and teach young Lopez about the finer points of hustle play and crazy hair?
The Suns are walking a tight rope between bringing back their starting 7 and integrating a new coach, new system and new role players all the while trying to transition from the old vets to the future (hopefully) stars.
Don't be surprised to see the team start slow and look off kilter. I hope Porter and Kerr stay the course in the face of some rough times early and stick with the game plan of resting Nash and holding players - especially mega star dominant power forward(s) - accountable on defense. The West is tough and while I pray nightly for a Kobe fueled Laker's implosion I am not betting on it.
I look for the Suns to finish 2nd in their division and be a six or seven seed in April. That doesn't mean if they are peaking late and have learned Terry's lessons that they don't have a chance at making it back to the Western Conference Finals and that's more then I can say for 80% of the teams out there.