With the NBA offseason activity beginning to wane heavily this week, albeit for a few signings still up in the air- Nikola Pekovic notably. And on the eve of the NFL and college football's annual takeover of all things media, I think it's finally time to make some predictions for the upcoming NBA season given that the majority of rosters are somewhere between working rough draft and fixed. Now before reading this column, I need you guys to realize a few things: 1) I'm making NBA predictions in JULY and literally ANYTHING can happen before the season to derail these predictions. 2) These are 100% serious. I am not here to troll or make fun of anybody. That would be churlish and a waste of time. 3) I encourage you to respond with how you feel about my predictions. So without further ado, I present to you a running column that will include a Fanpost for each and every NBA team, "The Flagrantly Early, Incredibly Half-Baked NBA Predictions Series."
No. 1: Marcin Gortat's farewell ride
With the offseason additions of Miles Plumlee and Alex Len, the Phoenix suns indubitably possess the whitest center rotation in the NBA. Nobody can match their whiteness, but that’s not to say it’s without talent. Plumlee did well for himself in Orlando summer league with the Pacers; while #5 overall pick Alex Len bursts at the seams with potential. That’s before we get to Marcin Gortat, the incumbent starter, who was solid for the Suns last year before losing 20 games with a foot injury. The problem is that foot injury still lingers well after it shouldn’t, and even though the season’s well off into the future, it’s always scary when an injury persists like this because it could mean the damage has surmounted to a point where it may never be 100% reparable. However, with the Suns wizardly training staff that apparently maintains the fountain of youth in its practice facility, it would be foolish to doubt Gortat’s imminent return
to strength next season.
Gortat’s numbers were down last year from the 2011/2012 lockout season when he averaged a superb double-double with Steve Nash manning the reins, who of course makes everyone look that much better. While a slight dip should be expected due to the injury losing Gortat minutes, it shouldn’t affect his field goal percentage, points, rebounds, and PER all falling while his turnover rate jumped 4 points higher. That’s a major drop and while losing Nash probably means less easy buckets (FG%, PER), it shouldn’t mean less hustle or intensity (rebound rate, turnover rate) despite the Suns lack of success. Now Goran Dragic is no Steve Nash, but he still runs the pick and roll- Gortat’s strength– pretty well. So it’s troubling that either the Suns was putting the ball in Gortat’s hands too much and trying to run the offense through him- possible as MG’s assist rate spiked upward- or Gortat might just be regressing (turns 30 midseason). Now it’s no time to write him off just yet, as Gortat is in a contract year, and given the relative dearth of quality centers I believe he will show out this season and get picked up by or traded to a contender who will utilize his strengths much better than the Suns within the calendar year. Okrzyki, Mr. Gortat!
No. 2: How will Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic work together?
It was stunning when the trade came out that the Phoenix Suns had acquired yet another point guard, Eric Bledsoe, a lifetime backup brimming with potential. Phoenix seemed locked down at the PG position with Goran Dragic- the feisty Slav- resuming starter duty and last year’s lottery pick Kendall Marshall returning as backup, who many pegged as the long-term solution. But hey, if some is good more is better, right? Now there’s been speculation that Jeff Hornacek will run a Dragic-Bledsoe backcourt, with Dragic off-ball playing more of a combo role. That’d be ludicrous defensively as it remains to be seen if either of them can guard the two spot; Bledsoe is too short despite his manic defensive intensity and I’m not sure if the word defense is actually in Goran Dragic’s dictionary. Though they may have to use that lineup with only one other viable backcourt option in Shannon Brown (yes, Archie Goodwin is brimming with potential but he’s got a lot to learn & if you think Gerald Green is good, why didn’t Indiana
keep him?), unless they go ultra big with Caron Butler at the 2 and Beasley at the 3.
There’s really little statistical comparison that can be made between the two. Their PER was about even last season, although Dragic played so much more that his advanced statistics completely trump the numbers Bledsoe maintained in his limited role with the Clippers. It will be interesting to see if Bledsoe has another layer to his game where he uncorks some insane offensive growth, and makes the leap from best back-up to real name in the point guard discussion. Yet, in those big moments when you need smart baskets/stops versus division rival PGs Chris Paul and Steph Curry, who do the Suns play? Do they cede defensive structure for offensive stability or lock them down and see if Bledsoe can facilitate? A lot remains to be seen, but Jeff Hornacek certainly has a large task at hand figuring how his two point guards fit together.
No. 3: Suns will be in the lottery once again
It will be a long season for the Suns this year. With a rookie coach, a stacked western conference, and an interesting arrangement of players, there’s not a whole lot of momentum built up behind them heading into 2014. The Suns made some good moves this offseason drafting Alex Len and Archie Goodwin who look to be long term guys, while trading for Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler’s expiring contract. So there is certainly a nice base of young talent when you throw in the Morris’ brothers, Kendall Marshall, and Miles Plumlee. Young talent, however, does not traditionally win games and not winning games means your team is in the lottery. Nonetheless, that could be a good thing as the Suns are completely devoid of a superstar player, but with the best draft since 2003 coming up the time is now to start “Riggin for Wiggins” and increase their chances of landing “the next LeBron.” Further with $18 million coming off the cap, the Suns will have plenty of room to snag some big name talent if they so desire. Although I’m not sure Phoenix’s small market is a huge destination spot for the NBA superstar trying to win right now, the Suns still might be able to snag a few savvy veterans with more reputable character than the Gerald Greens and Michael Beasleys of the world to aid the young guns in their maturation process. That’s as good as it’s going to get for the Phoenix Suns. Hopefully Jeff Hornacek mans the reins well into the future and 2-3 years from now they’ve got a squad saturated with home-grown talent that’s ready to compete. But this season, it could get ugly.