Most NBA off-seasons are full of conjecture and doubt. It's natural since we have no games to analyze at the moment. Instead, we are left to stew over the good, bad and ugly of the past season. I'm not going to lie, there are mostly bad and ugly for us to revisit. But this Phoenix Suns off-season has been different than those in recent memory. The negativity and criticism has been applied to virtually everyone in the organization. Steve Kerr has taken his lumps, as he should, Robert Sarver has also been the target of much written and verbal abuse. Of course, the consistent chants to trade Jason Richardson for everyone and anyone have been loud and heard often.
AmareSun Tzu and Steve Nash have also been the topic of discussion ad nauseum. But there are two youngsters on the Suns squad that have been receiving a fair amount of abuse on this site and elsewhere, and perhaps, undeservedly so: Goran Dragic and Robin Lopez.
Both players are entering their second season with the Suns, and both, arguably, could play integral roles on this team. Sure Amare could slide back to Center and Frye could start at PF, but wouldn't it be a nice luxury to have an active center who can run the floor and provide an inside presence? Yes Barbosa is capable of spelling Nash at the point, but it isn't where he belongs nor is it where he can be at his most effective. It would be pretty sweet to have a young, energetic, dependable point guard coming off the bench who can run the offense, play some defense, and give Nash his much needed breathers.
If Dragic was Derrick Rose or Chris Paul, we would have known if by now. But could he develop into a quality NBA point guard? Dragic is 22 and struggled through his first year in the NBA. But do we know why? Was he over matched, did the NBA game move too fast for him? Or was Terry Porter simply the wrong coach for him? We saw some moments late in the year where Dragic suddenly figured it out. He became more aggressive, took the ball to the hole and showed some excellent outside range. We have also seen some excellent performances of late in both the Summer League and the Euro Championships. Of course, we've also seen poor performances where Dragic consistently turned the ball over and looked, well, rather lost.
As a reminder of what Dragic was supposed to bring to the table, here is a pre-draft overview of his qualities pulled from a number of different sources:
- Ability to finish around the basket
- Long build and quickness-solid defender
- Work ethic
- Excellent first step
- Ability to create his own shot
- High energy
- Turnover prone
- Questionable decision making
- Average ball handler
- Offensive creativity
- Shooting mechanics
Is it not so out of the ordinary that a rookie PG lacks solid decision making and offensive creativity? Is it odd that a rookie PG is turnover prone? It's not even that odd to see a veteran PG that is turnover prone: see Nash, Steve. Dragic may have faced some quality competition in international play, but international play is not the NBA by any means. My point is that we could view his rookie season as a disappointment, or we could see it as typical: most rookies must adjust to NBA style of basketball. The minority of rookies have the poise, talent and coaching to make a smoothe transition.While Dragic has the size and talent to play in the NBA, he was certainly lacking in other areas. Remember, this guy has a difficult time speaking English. With Terry Porter barking indecipherable gibberish at him, what kind of performance did you expect?
If Robin Lopez was Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, or even Brooke Lopez, we would have known it by now. But like Dragic, no one should have expected him to walk on the court and dominate. Yes he was a first round pick, but he wasn't drafted to put up big numbers, he was drafted to mix it up on the boards, play near the rim and contest shots, run the floor, and hustle-you know, be that dirt worker that Cotton would be proud of.
Here is what we knew about Lopez before we drafted him:
- Active big man
- Defensive prowess
- Basketball IQ
- Good hands for a big man
- Physical Toughness
- Ability to run the floor/mobility
- Ability to contest shots
- Loses Focus-Control of emotions
- Average athleticism/explosiveness
- Ability to face the basket
- Footwork/Post Moves
- Lacking offensive skills
- Below average big man strength
- Below average free throw shooting
Gee, I'm starting to see a trend here. Both Dragic and Lopez suffered from inconsistency last season. Could it be that they were rookies and most rookies are often inconsistent? Or could it be that the internal issues going on with the team, including having Shaq and other veterans feuding and sulking through a confusing half a season make the rookie year even more difficult than what is "NBA typical?" Or could it be that having Terry Porter as coach contributed to both players falling behind the normal rookie learning curve?
I am not submitting that both of these players are and will be great. In fact both could turn out to be busts. But another Summer League and full training camp will help them. Having Alvin Gentry and NOT Terry Porter as head coach may help them. Not only is Gentry not the hard line prick that Terry Porter was, he is used to coaching young players. And while I cannot make a logical argument that Gentry is the right guy and has a history of successfully developing and winning with young players (his career record illustrates otherwise), the Suns could do much worse. Either way, both Dragic and Lopez are not future Hall-of-Famers. We should not expect them to be. As rookies, they played like rookies. Here's to hoping they can put it together for 2009-10.