BSotS Season Preview Series: How do the Suns stack up in the Pacific Division?

Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

Before the Suns can think about the playoffs, they have to take care of business in their own back yard: the Pacific Division. The season will hinge on how well they compete against the Lakers, Clippers, Kings and Warriors.

Martin Knezevic (knez@blognbasketball.com) provides his insight on the Suns and their competition in the West this season. He previously reviewed the Suns open scrimmage in early October for Bright Side, and has written articles on the NBA for years.

By: Martin Knezevic, BlogNBasketball.com

How do the Suns stack up out West?

{Warning: the words "Steve" & "Nash" will not be used in the following article}

The Phoenix Suns, for lack of a better phrase, are a poor man's Denver Nuggets. As bad as that sounds, it's actually a compliment. Few teams want to face a roster that's 10-deep and a bench that's arguably as talented as the starters. That kind of squad can force opponents to play a complete game and puts a lot of pressure on opposing reserves. This particular Suns roster reminds me a lot of the Minnesota Timberwolves of a few years ago: a deep group that threw waves of versatile wing players at you, though lacking a true superstar (which eventually became Kevin Love).

In Phoenix, I think head coach Alvin Gentry should abandon the D'Antoni-style rotation and play ten guys evenly this season. He should throw them out there in shorter spurts and ask them to go 'all out'. Hopefully, that will also allow him to keep a shorter leash on the enigmatic Michael Beasley.

Here's what Gentry appears to have settled in on as a rotation and depth chart heading into the season:

PG: Goran Dragic, Sebastian Telfair, Kendall Marshall

SG: Jared Dudley, Shannon Brown, Diante Garrett

SF: Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson, P.J. Tucker

PF: Luis Scola, Markieff Morris

C: Marcin Gortat Jermaine O'neal, Luke Zeller (Channing Frye - out for season)

The first question you're probably asking yourself is, who leads this team in scoring? If you go by talent, it's undoubtedly 'Beez'. But we all know that it takes more than just talent to be a featured player over 82-games. This takes consistency and the discipline just ain't there for Michael. Goran Dragic will have the ball in his hands a lot this season. If he breaks the playbook and goes solo off of those pick n' rolls, he'll easily average 20. But will that translate into victories? Jared Dudley, meanwhile, has that leadership-vibe to him this year...and also a shiny new green light. He's worked on his playmaking skills and will be expected to do more than ever, offensively. But is that facet of his game good enough to consistently draw double-teams? Then there's the veteran Luis Scola, who would likely still be an MVP candidate in the Spanish League today. Gentry, however, doesn't appear to be featuring him in the post much. The Suns need to find a way to put opposing teams in the penalty and Scola's scoops in the lane would go a long way in that regard.

Heading into the regular season, you ideally want to look at how a team stacks up in their division before looking at the overall playoff picture. In the case of the 2012-13 Phoenix Suns, how the Pacific Division pans out will likely determine playoff hopes out in the desert.

The first thing Suns fans need to accept is that the division goes through Los Angeles these days. It's not personal, it's just the yin & yang of the league. Phoenix was on top for a handful of years, now it's L.A.'s turn. The Lakers and Clippers will undoubtedly be the top two teams in the Pac Div this season. The talent (LAL) and depth (LAC) is just too much over an 82-game season to bet against. Of course, you still go out and play the games and I'm sure the Suns will 'bring it' in those two matchups. But a team must set realistic, attainable goals first before striving for the top of the mountain. The goal for Phoenix should be to finish 3rd in the Pacific behind those Staples Center squads. Beating Golden State and Sacramento head-to-head should be an emphasis this year.

The Suns are in year one of a rebuild while the Kings & Warriors are already a couple of years decade into theirs. This doesn't bode well for Alvin Gentry's crew. But, if you dig a bit deeper, there are a lot of positives for Phoenix fans.

It's all about the letter "H" when discussing the bottom half of the Pacific Division.

For the Suns it's all about hunger. If this squad plays hungry every day, as a group and as individuals (battling in practice), they can have an edge here against their division rivals. The Suns have guys on their bench that can not only push the starters but even possibly replace them. Two guys in particular, Wesley Johnson and Markieff Morris, have the physical gifts to be stars in this league...they just need to lose the 'Joe Cool' act. The sooner they realize they have All-Star ability the faster the Suns will get to being playoff contenders.

The Warriors have an "H" word of their own to worry about...health. On paper, they have a great foundation. Few teams these days have All-Star talent at both PG & C. But with Stephen Curry's ankle and Andrew Bogut's...well...all of the above, the jury is still out on Golden State. Regardless of if Curry or Bogut are healthy, the constant this season will likely be young SG Klay Thompson. Versus Golden State, Phoenix must make him work on the defensive end in order to limit his energy for running off screens all night. Jared, Shannon, and Wesley need to be aggressive when they have the ball in their hands. Thompson is hardly a physical specimen on that end of the court. The Suns host Golden State in their home opener, on Halloween night. They don't play again till February, travelling to Oakland on the 2nd & 20th of the month. The fourth and final matchup will be at home on April 5th. It'll be a huge game if the Suns stay hungry all year and the Warriors stay healthy (a big "if").

Meanwhile, the Kings' concern this year is their heads. The team's best player, DeMarcus Cousins, has a little bit of Beasley in him...and not in a good way. He's a born leader but has yet to learn how to actually be one. He could as easily lead that young team into the cellar as he could the penthouse. I like how Marcin matches up against Cousins, head-to-head. Gortat plays hard on every possession and doesn't really get caught up in the officiating or the emotions of the game. He's the type of player that can drive DeMarcus nuts over the course of a game and get him to lose his cool (not a difficult trick). You also have to wonder what's going on in the head of Tyreke Evans this year, as the Kings have basically said they aren't committing to him long-term. The Suns' first game vs. Sacramento isn't until December 17th at home. The next matchup is January 23rd in Sactown. The final two contests are in March, on the 8th (road) & 28th (home)...the latter being the second of a back-to-back. All these games are pretty well spread out, a rarity between division foes. The Suns should try and give a new meaning to the cliche "one game at a time" in their 2012-13 season series against Sacramento.

It'll be a big week in late March, when the Suns travel to Sacramento on the 28th and then host Golden State just 7 days later. They'll need to play well in both of those games for the final week to even matter (finishing the season against Minnesota, Houston, & Denver).

The Suns also have to worry about the Utah Jazz this year if they have plans on getting that 8th spot. Unless Utah has a wave of injuries early and decides to let the young guys play, the combo of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap again be tough to stop down the stretch next season. The Suns' final meeting against Utah is a road game on March 27th, after three days off. If Marcin and Luis don't come to play for the Suns, the team could struggle mightily.

The Suns mirror the Atlanta Hawks out East. They're a team who let their franchise player move-on this past summer and now have a lot of equally-talented perimeter guys. Again, if Gortat and Scola get even close to resembling Josh Smith & Al Horford, Phoenix will be in great shape this season.

In the end, for the Suns to have a breakout season and make the playoffs, they'll need 2 or 3 guys to have career years. I think the likeliest one is lead-guard Goran Dragic. It's his show to run now in Phoenix. He has the talent and the experience to get it done. But the jury is still out on the rest of the roster. I predict that Alvin Gentry won't stay long with Beasley in the starting lineup. As talented as 'Beez' is, this team needs consistency. Michael would be better as a sixth man gunner than a featured player in the starting lineup. It's also a role that I think he can embrace quite naturally. I expect Wesley Johnson to be starting alongside Dudley before December hits. I also think Morris will emerge as a player the team will build around in the future. Whether he replaces Scola at PF or just plays the bulk of the minutes on the frontline, Markieff could be that guy by next Spring.

The 2012-13 season can go a lot of different ways for the Phoenix Suns. If they're healthy and hungry, that 8th spot out West is very attainable....if they're hurt and play half-hearted, it's back to the lottery.

Some think another lottery pick may be a good thing.

I think Phoenix has enough young talent.....they just have to grow it right.

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