After 48 games played this season, and 21 games since the major trade with the Magic, it's time to assess what our current Suns players have brought to the table so far this season. When grading player contributions, it's important to consider:
- A player's role on the team
- Expectations for the player coming into the season
For example, it wouldn't be fair to compare Steve Nash to Zabian Dowdell or Robin Lopez to Garret Siler because of roles and expectations. And, salary must be factored in because, in a salary cap sport, a player must perform commensurate with his salary for the team to have a chance. Jump it to see who's at the head of the class. It's going to be a big surprise, no?
Steve Nash: A
We all know what Steve Nash does. So far this year:; 16.7 PPG, 11.0 APG, 51% FGs, 41% 3-pointers, 92% FTs. But, Nash isn't even an all-star this year. His game is declining, right? Not really at all. In his 2004-2005 MVP season, Nash averaged 15.5/11.5 on 50% FGs, 43% 3s and 89% FTs. See a lot of difference there? No. That's because there isn't much. Plus, Nash had a better supporting cast then. And do you realize that, while Nash has arguably been the best player on the team for his entire Phoenix career, he has never been the highest paid? I call that a bargain, the best we ever had. Steve Nash still plays with the precision of a Swiss clock and the sweetness of Swiss chocolate.
Grant Hill: A-
How often do you see a 38 year old player perform better than he did the year before? And how often do you have a rock solid veteran co-captain on your roster for a measly $3M per year? Hill's 14 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists per game won't wow anybody, but his contributions in defense, leadership and intangibles go far beyond those numbers.
Jared Dudley: B
With all the unrest among the second unit, Dudley has been the constant. The slimmed down Dudley added to his offensive repertoire this offseason, and came back as a player with improved ballhandling and mid-range skills to go with his 3-point sharpshooting, defense and junkyard dog hustle. He filled in admirably as a starter for a few games, showing that he has potential to be more than strictly a 6th man. Why only a B then? His 3-point % dropped from the elite level of last year (46%) to the merely pretty good level (39%) this year.
Channing Frye: B-
This was the hardest grade to decide. Frye's 11 points and 5 rebounds per game are about the same as last year. He's playing more minutes this season, taking more shots and hitting at a lower %, but he's also had his role changed. As a backup big to come into the game and bomb 3s, Frye is one of the game's best, and he was a significant part of the Suns' success last year doing that. With Amare Stoudemire's depature and the Suns' failure to acquire a viable replacement PF, Frye's been forced into the starting PF role. It's not an ideal fit, for him or the team, but it's the best option right now and he's doing an acceptable job.
One could say that Gortat has exceeded expectations for a backup center. But then, Gortat isn't just a regular backup center. He was the centerpiece returned to Phoenix in the Suns' trade that shipped Jason Richardson to Orlando. Gortat is also on a 5 year/$34M contract, making him our highest paid big. He has a lot to live up to. A dirt worker who has shown to be a fierce competitor, Gortat has ridden a recent hot streak to average 11 points and 8 rebounds so far with the Suns. Hard to complain about that, but the Polish Hammer needs to nail down a better mid-range jumper and post game to become a legitimate offensive threat.
Robin Lopez: C-
Growing pains, back pains, knee pains. Lopez has had a rough go of it so far this year. He's shown flashes of an effective offensive game, and his per 36 minute numbers are similar to last year, but more was expected. A 7 footer who only grabs 7 rebounds per 36 minutes? That's hard to swallow. Whether due to injury or inexperience, Lopez' overall game has been erratic this year, and the coaching staff doesn't appear to completely trust him, resulting in fewer minutes per game than last season. As a former lottery pick, 22 year old, 7 footer with athleticism, Lopez is a key to the team's future. The Suns need him to deliver, and he's not exactly been dependable so far this season.
Vince Carter: D
Another tough one to decide. Of course, there is quite a divide between VC haters and lovers here. Carter's doing some positive things since he came to Phoenix. He's scoring 16 PPG and hitting 42% of his 3s. There have also been a few games sprinkled in where VC virtually disappeared. If he can be an above average, near star player for the Suns the rest of the way, they can make a run at a playoff spot. However, even if he does that, there's no way he's going to be worth his $17M salary. Carter should offer to swap salaries with Nash. It would only be fair, and it would result in fewer people wanting to light Carter on fire.
Goran Dragic: D
Don't yell at me! I love Goran and want him to succeed too, but he's not succeeding so far this season. It's one thing to give him a pass for not progressing from his breakout last year, but his production so far has been comparable to his rookie year. While his 15 points and 6 assists per 36 minutes compare to last year, he's doing it much less efficiently, as his shooting %s have plummeted. 29% from 3 and 61% from the FT line? That hurts. In last season's playoffs, the gap between Nash and Dragic narrowed to the point that Gentry was able to ride out games with Dragic since he was playing so well. This year, the wheels generally fall off when Nash leaves the game. Of course, it's not all Goran's fault. The second unit has been in flux all year. But in a season when we need more from him, he's provided less.
Warrick is only a backup PF and he's paid a reasonable salary for a role player. His one-dimension of PnR finisher/dunker can be awfully impressive, as seen in some highlight reel plays this season. Unfortunately, the other deficiencies in his game (poor mid-range game and defense, barely competent rebounding) render him useless at times. On a team thirsting for a PF who can finish, he is that. And yet still it's rare that he makes much of a positive impact on a game. Not easy to be effective as a power player in a slight body that gets pushed around on a regular basis.
This one really hurts because I was convinced Childress would be a wonderful fit on this team and would contribute right away. In limited time, Childress has shown some of the skills we knew he had, always being around the ball, hitting the offensive glass and making plays around the basket. But it's hard to make it as a wing on the Suns when you don't have much range, and Childress doesn't. Part of it is due to his broken finger, and part is due to a logjam at his position, but the bottom line is that a $6M+ player who is buried out of the rotation isn't delivering. The Childress bandwagon has a flat and I can't work the jack to change the tire.
Mickael Pietrus: D-
If Pietrus were hitting the 39% from 3 he was hitting with the Magic, it might not be so bad. But, for a guy with only 3-point shooting to offer on offense, the 29% he's hitting for us causes fans to gnash their teeth. His calling card is defense, and his defense has been OK, but nothing special. His D Rating of 113 (estimated points allowed per 100 possessions) for us is the worst of his career. Maybe I'm being harsh, but I don't like the cut of Pietrus' jib. Theoretically, he's a Raja Bell type, but Bell wasn't prone to bonehead plays the way Pietrus appears to be. Prove me wrong the rest of the way, Mickael!
Zabian Dowdell: A
This is assuming Dowdell is signed by the Suns for the rest of this season. In that case, he's an NBA player, and that's the most that could realistically have been expected of him.
Garret Siler, Gani Lawal: Incomplete
Lawal is injured and spent most of his time in D-League before that, so who knows? Siler is reportedly working hard in practice and has clearly improved his conditioning. And, he has a nice smile. Would love some blowouts to allow us to see the Silo in action.
There is a 100% chance I have been unfair/incorrect/hopelessly biased/totally full of crap in some of my assessments. But I put my red pen away now. I'm done grading. What grades would you give our players and why?
Note: This is not a rosterbation thread. Let's keep the conversation focused on current Suns players and how they're performing.
***All cited statistics from http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/PHO/2011.html