After eight preseason contests and three real games, we have now gotten an glimpse of our new look Suns. Many have prognosticated a season below 500, and early results point to that fate. To this point, we have seen some bright spots, some pathetic lows, and more of the SOS [same old Suns].
Lon Babby, explaining the marketing campaign on KTAR the other day, stated the reason the pictures used in their campaign show the whole team was because their was no clear star that stood out and that "team is what is all about, so it is fitting that we show everyone as this team has to come together to be successful." [OK that is my paraphrasing of what he said].
This team does need to gel together and find a way to win. However, despite marketing that notion, all teams need leaders. Sometimes natural leaders surface to the top and simply take over. Other times, it takes the coaching staff to place those that are best suited for leadership in the position of leaders.
The question on my mind through 11 observations is who's team is this?
Clearly Luis Scola is showing that he is a natural leader. He commands the ball. He talks on the court. He is producing, despite looking as nimble as I do after icing my knees down for three hours. Luis has far outplayed his contract value and is looking like a complete steal. If the OKC or Portland had signed him, well let's just say that everyone fell asleep at the wheel.
The problem is, while Scola has been solid for us, he is no superstar and does not have the ability to carry any team for the duration of a game, let alone the season. Going through Scola for parts of the game is a good strategy. Doing so for the whole game is suicide. Scola is great in spurts. He can pass out of the post and is creative enough on the block to cause trouble. Yet he can only do so when he is fresh. When tired, he resorts to intentional fouls, forced shots, and poor decision making. He has always been that way, thus has been a fringe starter throughout his career. Which is why using him in certain situations is great, but having another strategy available makes sense.
Michael Beasley has been given the green light by Gentry, in a mad experiment to turn him into Carmelo Anthony. The problem you have in this strategy is that Beasley is the furthest thing from a leader you could have. In fact, attempting to give Beasley any inkling that he is the leader of this team is insanity - much like thinking Beasley can duplicate Melo. Beasley is always talked about in terms of potential and talent. While I see that when given the opportunity to shoot at will, Beasley can score, I am not sure that wouldn't be the case with any player. If you told Gortat to take a shot everytime he touched the ball, would he not average 25 a game? If you gave Wes Johnson 30 mpg and told him to launch at least 15 shots, would he not average in the upper teens [and shoot in the upper 30's]. Beasley is worse that Amare on defense. He still takes bad shots and he is not getting to the line much. Yes, he scores, but I would contend that many of his buckets are meaningless. Beasley should be coming off the bench for scoring punch, not starting. He is not our leader.
Gortat? This is the guy that SHOULD be our leader, but I don't believe he has the demeanor to do so. His inconsistent play offensively is due to the fact that he gets lost when he becomes passive. He should be demanding the ball offensively and attacking the rim. Instead, he defers to others for shots [Scola, Beasley]. Gortat is what he is, a good starting center who really should be your 3-4th best player.
Dudley? He has the pedigree for leadership. He is hustle, normally consistent [not lately] and a glue guy. As a starter, he now should have the credibility to be more vocal. The problem with Dudley is that while he is that consistent glue, he isn't a guy that can carry the team. Yeah, he can get hot and knock down 28 one night, but every night? Everyone knows that isn't happening.
That brings us to Goran Dragic. For all the reasons above, this is HIS team. We all know that putting the "fill Nash's shoes" curse on him is fraught with potential dangers. Yet it is my belief that Gentry is going out of his way NOT to put too much pressure on Dragic and as a result, is doing more damage than good. It is time to tell the world that Dragic is our man and give him the keys to the Suns bus.
Nobody on this team plays as hard as this guy. Already this season I have seen him out-hustle everyone on the court numerous times to the ball. He has produced really good numbers despite his teammates not being in the right position. If not for several misses by teammates, Dragic should be leading the NBA in assists. Defensively, he is our best defender [yeah, I know PJ is solid, but he doesn't play 30+ minutes, so he has the ability to go balls out all the time - and Dragic goes balls-out almost the entire time he is on the floor].
Dragic is by far our best player, and I wasn't THAT sold on him when he signed [I had hopes]. I am convinced Dragic is an upper tier starting point guard. Is he an all-star? Don't know. But what I have seen of him so far I wouldn't trade for most starting point guards in the league. I used to think we should go after a guy like Lawson, but I would never do that deal now. Dragic is for real.
So now that we know who's team this is, it is time, this early in the season, for Gentry to hand the keys over. What we have seen to this point is a Gentry that is trying to build up Beasley into something he has no chance of being. He has quickly switched to relying on Scola to do things that he physically is incapable of doing on a night-in, night-out heavy minute basis. He clearly is trying to avoid putting too much pressure on Dragic by leaving him be.
However, I think all of that is a mistake.
If you have noticed anything over the 11 games is the number of times Dragic goes to the ball after the Suns acquire the rebound, only to have Beasley waive him down the floor. I have seen Dragic raise his hands and shrug his shoulders on at least five occasions - visibly showing that he does not approve of being frozen out of his duties by Beasley. Mark my words, the benefit of giving Beasley a confidence boost by allowing him to take the ball up the floor and make decisions of far less benefit than the damage of pissing off your point guard and relegating him to walking up the floor with no play called and watching Beasley try to freelance.
Gentry needs to stand on the mountaintop and declare this Dragic's team. He needs to tell his players that Dragic is our leader, he runs the show, and that your job is to get him the ball and let him run our engine. That requires him telling Beasley, Shannon Brown or anyone else that their job is to let Dragic push it and get us into our offense, not yours. Gentry needs to establish Dragic as the Alpha. Scola, Gortat, and Dudley all know what they need to do to contribute, and realize that simply allowing Dragic to run things does not mean they cannot do what they do.
By allowing Dragic to be that guy, it puts a sense of order and structure to what they are doing. It reigns in guys like Beasley and Brown. It rallys everyone so they know who to look for. And who better to follow than the guy that gives everything he has on the floor and gets it done. Dragic is the man here, and needs to be given the keys.