In the midst of the upcoming season four of the five teams in the Western Conference’s Pacific Division improved on paper. The odd man out — the Phoenix Suns.
With this said, I think it’s quite simple who can win the match up between the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix — it isn’t the Suns. Last season, with a superstar who created the offense in Steve Nash, the Suns finished at .500 with a 33-33 record. Phoenix’s lost seven-more games than the Clippers, which finished at 40-26, and missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Like the bounty hunters they are, the Los Angeles Lakers swiped Nash, the 38-year-old point guard, for three first-round draft picks. In my opinion, this is good for the Lakers now, good for the Suns later. However, this is here nor there since this conversation has been going on for over a month.
At the same time, this trade is awesome for the Clippers when they go to Phoenix or invite the Suns to the Staple Center because Nash was all they had to win games. In 62 games of the 66-game lockout season, Nash averaged 12.5 points and 10.7 assist per game. Without him, the Suns don’t have one of the most efficient shooters in the game and one of the best passers.
In an attempt to replace Nash the Suns brought in Goran Dragic. Last season with the Houston Rockets he averaged 11.7 assists and 5.3 assists in 26 minutes per game.
I’m a fan of Dragic, but I don’t think he can carry an offense into a playoff berth. He can shoot, but not quite as good as Nash. He can make a great pass, but does he know when to make it? I’ve seen glimpses, but not enough to make me say yes. Filling the shoes of Nash is a lot to put in front of a four-year player, especially when the mission is to play fantastic from the get-go. Dragic is going to have people looking over his back from the first tip-off of the season. It is not easy to play to expectations when you could get the axe at any moment.
Rookie Kendall Marshall is not a good shooter but he can push the tempo of a game and find an open man better than anyone in the NCAA could last season when he was with the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Besides Nash, they lost Grant Hill — who the Clippers signed in free agency — Josh Childress, Michael Redd, Robin Lopez, Ronnie Price and Hakim Warrick.
Hill will be missed because of his experience and leadership. I know, I know leadership and experienced are overrated when the player is in his 40’s. In a few weeks, Hill will be 40-years-old. On the other hand, Hill can still run, grab rebounds and play a solid level of defense. I wouldn’t count the man out.
Childress has never been one of my favorite players and was overrated in Phoenix. The Suns are probably better without him since they have Jared Dudley and Shannon Brown. Both are better shooters and can do more than him elsewhere on the court.
I was surprised Redd could still play. When I say play, I mean come in the game for 15-minutes and fill up his portion of the box score with points. He scored 8.2 ppg in 51 games last season. However, he isn’t the player you keep on a team that is trying to find itself. See how I kept myself from saying rebuilding.
Lopez, Price and Warrick are replaceable and they were.
The remaining players could put up the numbers they did last season, but I think Nash’s 10 assists per game had a lot to do with their success.
Marcin Gortat averaged 15.9 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Dudley averaged 12.7 points, Brown 11, Channing Frye 10.5 and Markieff Morris 7.4. I guarantee a few of these players struggle this upcoming season because they are not getting as open shots.
What the Suns did do is bring in some supporting talent who could have/should have/might be All-Stars — Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson and Luis Scola.
Beasley is a physical upgrade to Hill, but can he keep his mind in the game long enough to make a difference? The pick-up of Johnson allows Dudley to move to the three and come off the bench, which the Suns will need him to be big. The Johnson/Brown shooting guard duo could be something special — if they can make it work.
Scola is definitely an upgrade over Frye. I think Frye is one of the worst players in the league for his size of 6-foot 10-inches. He was the second leading rebounder for Phoenix last season with 5.9, behind Gortat’s 10.5. You can’t tell me a man that tall shouldn’t grab a few more rebounds per game.
The pickups, drops, trades and the returning have the Phoenix lineup looking like this:
This means Scola and Beasley are the heartbeat of the team.
Can anyone trust Beasley to be a team leader or a main guy for a winning franchise? Can Scola ever become more than a good second or third fiddle? I honestly don’t think they can.
Beasley is going to chuck up a lot of shots and score points. He isn’t a great rebounder or defender and when his shot isn’t falling, he’ll disappear. The Suns don’t have enough behind him to let him fall into the abyss.
At the same time, Scola is exactly what I said he was, a second or third fiddle. When Beasley disappears Scola will be asked to step up. He will sometimes, but he is not always a guarantee to lead his team to victory. See the Houston Rockets last season or the season before in which he was the No. 1 guy for the most part. Scola puts up good numbers as an above average role player, not as the No. 1 option.
The Sun’s lack of leadership or guys to step up when they need to makes it easy for me to pick Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Paul is the formidable leader Dragic only hopes to be. Caron Butler is the highly productive player night-in and night-out that Beasley is whenever he wants to be, DeAndre is a better defender than Gortat and Griffin steps up to take over games at a level Scola only dreams of. Plus, the Clippers bench of Hill, Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford could school Dudley, Brown and Frye any day.
Phoenix may win one game, maybe two, but I’ll have my faith in Los Angeles every game since they have the better overall list of talent.
Tags: Blake Griffin Caron Butler Channing Frye Chris Paul DeAndre Jordan Goran Dragic Grant Hill Hakim Warrick Jamal Crawford Jared Dudley Josh Childress Kendall Marshall Lamar Odom Los Angeles Clippers Luis Scola Marcin Gortat Markieff Morris Michael Beasley Michael Redd NBA Phoenix Suns Robin Lopez Ronnie Price Shannon Brown Steve Nash Wesley Johnson Western Conference