The offseason is over. The endless conversations debating the free agent acquisitions and departures of the new-look Phoenix Suns are gone and now the young team is forced to prove its merit.
Jared Dudley, Michael Beasley, Shannon Brown and Wesley Johnson are the guys on the wing this year. This Suns team will either sink or swim depending on how these four key players contribute this season. Without strong showings night in and night out from these four, it will be tough for Phoenix to win enough games to contend for a playoff spot.
It is a scary realization that Jared Dudley is currently the most tenured Phoenix Suns member. Since joining the team, Dudley has shown little to prove he can be someone to depend upon for scoring on a regular basis. As a role player, he could be valuable. Coming off the bench and providing some sparks late in games is what Dudley should be doing in the NBA. Last season, Dudley became a valuable role player forced to start on a team lacking depth.
Depth has been added. The Suns finally bolster a lineup of young, talented wings that have potential. They don't have the pressure of trying to give Steve Nash his ring and now they can try to develop a core that is energetic and eager to succeed. For Dudley, a successful season would be improving on his 12.7 points per game. His efficiency is crucial to his success this season, especially with fans around the Valley calling for the Suns to go after former Arizona State Sun Devil James Harden and the high flying Shannon Brown knocking on Dudley's doorstep.
Last season marked the first season in Brown's career where he averaged more than 10 points per game. Granted, he has been behind Kobe Bryant for a majority of his career. There were glimmers of Brown's potential last season. Most notably, his game against San Antonio in March of last season. That impressive outing featured Brown dropping 32 points and going 11-18 from the field.
Right now, it looks like Jared Dudley will begin the season as the starting shooting guard, but Brown could very easily snatch that spot if he shows more consistency this season.
Michael Beasley is an enigma. He has shown talent in spurts, talent that made him the 2nd overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft. He has to be comfortable with having pressure on him, able to hit those last second shots or be that go to guy when needed to be. It looks like he will be the person with the ball at the end of games for now.
I have high expectations for Beasley. As the number one scoring option in Phoenix, there is no reason why he can't score close to 20 points per game and combine that with at least five rebounds per game. Now, we probably won't see those numbers, but I am an optimist when it comes to the Suns. I can't help it.
Wesley Johnson has the abilities to be a valuable role player for the Suns. He can knock down the outside shot and provide energy off the bench when needed, but he hasn't shown the talents to make him a starter in this league. The Timberwolves seemed like it was easy to part with Johnson, especially since they are bringing in Brandon Roy. Doesn't that say something about Johnson though? The Timberwolves had no problem trading him and they would rather bring back the injury-prone Brandon Roy from retirement than start Johnson for another season. Suns fans, including myself, are hoping that we stole a valuable role player who can come in and give depth to this young Suns team.
P. J. Tucker
I personally do not expect much from Tucker this season. After being waived by the Raptors, Tucker has spent the past five seasons playing in Israel and Europe. Although he has been impressive in those international stints, Tucker still has a way to go before he proves that he has NBA-level talent.
Summarizing the Wings
We want these guys to succeed. Nothing would please me more than seeing this group of young, talented wings pull off a special season and make the playoffs. Jared Dudley has to step up and provide more than he has, Shannon Brown must be consistent, Wesley Johnson needs to provide that spark off the bench and Michael Beasley has to be dependable. If these things happen, the Phoenix Suns could be competitive.
I wondered how close the top three wings coming into this season might compare to the top three wings coming into the 2005-06 season, after Raja Bell was added to Leandro Barbosa and Shawn Marion, like Michael Beasley was added Dudley and Brown this year. Obviously, this is totally throw-away, but I remember the 2005-06 season being one where the Suns were NOT picked for the playoffs after the loss of Stoudemire to microfracture. But instead they became the legendary '7 seconds or less' team centered around the play of the guards.
The table below compares the 2004-05 stats of Bell-Marion-Barbosa to the 2011-12 stats of Beasley-Dudley-Brown.
If you look at it closely, the top three wings on this year's Suns don't pale in comparison to the ones entering the 2005-06 season. The SSOL guys were better shooters but two of them were coming off a 62-win season in an offense tailor-made for them. Sure, the big difference is the point guard but with how impressive Dragic has been, I have to wonder how good of a season these guys can have around that perimeter.
Just something to chew on.