Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our 2012-13 guide to the upcoming NBA season, in which we identify the reasons why your favorite team might have to start looking forward to 2013-2014 — and highlight at least one reason for you to be hopeful. Today: the Phoenix Suns, the team Steve Nash used to call home.
Last year, Suns fans already knew they’d be screwed this season. Two-time MVP and face of the franchise Steve Nash was playing his last contract year in Phoenix, and pushing 40 years old having never even made it to a Finals (much less won one). It seemed Nash was finally going to leave his adopted home in pursuit of one first – and maybe last – shot at a title. Fans were aware of this, and in a heartwarming display of altruistic care for their favorite star, they sent off Nash like a hero, thanking him for all the great memories, and letting him know it was okay to leave:
In a somewhat stunning move, the Suns administration traded Nash to the L.A. Lakers, allowing him to pursue a championship, but also trading him to one of their biggest rivals. Now, the only remaining member from that Cinderella Suns that almost made it to the Finals if not for a Ron Artest put-back (an a potential game seven at home with all the momentum), is Jared Dudley. However, even though the Suns lost future Hall of Famer Nash, and the Seven Seconds or Less Suns are officially gone forever, the 2012-2013 Suns are actually a bit interesting. There’s one problem, though:
The best this team can hope for this year is to sneak into the eighth seed and get demolished in the first round.
Their biggest and best offseason acquisition, Goran Dragic, is probably a guy you never heard of unless you were a diehard Suns fan a couple of years ago when he backed up Nash, or happened to play some serious Fantasy NBA last year and paid attention to teams that don’t make it into the playoffs. In 28 starts for the Rockets last year, Dragic averaged 18 points, 8.4 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.8 three-pointers. To compare, Chris Paul, largely seen as either the first or second best point guard in the NBA, averaged 19.8 points, 9.1 assists, 2.5 steals, and 1.3 three-pointers.
No, basic stats don’t reveal the whole picture, but they reveal a good part of it. Plain and simple, Dragic is good, and he now holds the reins to the Suns offense, so he’ll most likely get enough experience to get better. The issue is that the cast surrounding Dragic, along with his own inexperience, won’t lead to very many wins, much less a playoff spot in the heated West.
To sneak into the playoffs, the Suns will have to somehow knock out the Mavericks, who still have Dirk Nowitzki, Elton Brand, O.J. Mayo, and Chris Kaman as feature players, the Utah Jazz, who took the eighth seed last year, and should only be better this year, or the up-and-coming Timberwolves, who seemed to be headed into the playoffs last year until injuries derailed them.
However, for surrounding Nash with a bunch of pieces that were either paid too much, didn’t fit, or weren’t productive, the Suns managed to rebuild ever so slightly. Luis Scola, though we all watched his skills decline last year on the Rockets, is a pretty decent third or fourth banana, while Marcin Gortat is a serviceable, actual center, rather than a power forward pretending to be a center, as is the new trend in the NBA. Jared Dudley is still an excellent role player, and Michael Beasley tends to be useful when there isn’t anyone else on the team taking shots away from him.
Unfortunately, the 2012-2013 Suns are more like a winning Fantasy team built with late-round picks than a team that wins in real life.
The 2012-2013 Suns are both in the oft-discussed “rebuilding mode,” and in the West. They’ll have a much more difficult time knocking out the Jazz or Mavericks than they would knocking out whichever team sneaks into the East, be it a Rose-less Bulls or the newly Bogut-less Bucks.
One reason you might not be screwed: The Suns could sneak into the playoffs if just one simple thing goes wrong, such as if a key Jazz, Mavericks, or Timberwolves player succumbs to injury. Well, Kevin Love already broke his hand, this happened to Dirk Nowitzki (plus he’s getting old), Ricky Rubio got injured during his first season, and Al Jefferson’s been injury prone in the past. The Suns will need to get into the playoffs by default to get there at all, but it could happen.
Actual season prediction: Ninth or tenth seed. Sorry, Suns fans. Either that, or Phoenix manages to barely make it into the playoffs… and gets demolished by the Thunder or the Lakers. Or, really, whoever they end up playing.