Hi there, This is my first blog ever and for my first blog I'd like to blog about my thoughts on the Phoenix Suns up coming season. First, let me tell you just a little about myself. I am a native to Arizona, a life long Suns fan and a proud father of two young boys. Well, for now, I suppose, that's far as I'll need to go.
I, like most Suns fans, have been anxiously awaiting the first glimpses of the new, play at 75% speed, defensive minded, mix of "old vets" and "unproven backups" that are the 2009 Phoenix Suns.
I've read the press quotes, interviews, and blogs from various Suns insiders, watched the practice and scrimmage videos, and I have to say; so far, so good.
The veteran players have all come back well rested and in good shape and to a man, I've heard true excitement seeping from the their voices when reporters would ask the players about the new emphasis on defense. They seem to finally believe that defense is the way to a championship and understand that improving this area will take a huge commitment from the entire team.
Over the summer, Amare Stoudemire stated his own ambitions to be one of the most feared defenders in the league. Wanting to be mentioned in the same breath as Ron Artest. If he puts the same work into his defense as he has with his jump shot, he could very well get there. There's no doubting he has the physical tools to be Defensive Player of the Year during in his career.
Steve Nash seemed to have a gleam of self pride as he talked about his commitment to the new coach and his desire to improve his defense. It's very nice to see he's feeling so well. Steve seems like he's 28 years old with the way he's bouncing around and has even come out and said he'd like to play 4 more years. All I can say is that I sure hope if he does, they are all with the Suns.
Raja Bell looks completely healthy now. I don't remember the last time I watched him run without thinking to myself, "man that looks painful" Not many outside of Phoenix know that he played the vast majority of the season with various leg and ankle issues last year. There might have been a cracked rib in there as well. I expect he'll be back to his old ways; low- mid 40% from behind the arc, All Defensive Team selection, and back to having that shear ability to make big plays on either end of the court when it counts. Raja, along with Grant Hill, were the team's most dependable defenders last season, and having a strong defensive scheme to compliment his skills will only bolster his contributions.
Speaking of Grant Hill, he reportedly took an extra month off from playing basketball this summer compared to last in attempt to be as rested as possible for the season. Surprisingly, Grant was the most consistent defensive player the Suns had last season, edging the hobbled Raja Bell, and can only be elated to now have a little more help from the team this season. Based on his shooting touch and speed getting to the basket he displayed in the scrimmage, I'd say he's not far off his game already.
Of the starters, that leaves the big fella, Shaquille O'neal. Reportedly, he trained with an ex-UFC champ turned personal trainer and is in very good shape as well. The videos I've seen have him looking trim and to refer to the scrimmage video again, his movement looked fluid and quick. Dare I say there may have even been a little "pop" in his jump as well. Of course, all of the players will need time to get into full "game shape" before the season starts. This year, I look for Shaq to play 70 or more games during the season. He stated that the Suns' training staff has been able to get to the root of his nagging injuries he's had with his hip and has little to no pain. I also think he'll be motivated to play as many games as possible, soaking these games in ala Randy Johnson this past year with the D-Backs, knowing each game that passes is one closer to his impending retirement.
Of the young kids coming in, I must say that I am most impressed with Goran Dragic. With him being relatively unknown to me, I had prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. Besides needing to add a little strength, he looks like he's fully capable of handling the backup PG spot today and potentially do very well at his position in the near future. In just the little time I've had to watch him play, he's made a number of nifty passes, both in transition and in the half court. He attacks the basket and finishes pretty well. He's also shown he can play a little D. The best part to me is that he seems to be in control most all of the time and is very confident. He doesn't have that dear-in-the-headlights look that most rookies do and I think this is especially important for him. As a point guard poise, is a valuable asset, being the floor leader, and knowing that he has the task of backing up one of the greatest point guards to play the game, his poise is of even greater importance. I also like the fact that he is reportedly very coachable, a great teammate, and has attached himself to Steve Nash like a shadow at any chance he gets. I can understand why Steve Kerr mentioned taking Dragic at 15 overall in the draft if Robin Lopez was no longer available. He looks like he could be the real deal and if Nash is around 4 more years, he'll have all the time he needs to experience and learn all he'll need to to be successful for may years.
Speaking of Robin Lopez, he too has looked better than I imagined he would at this point. For a 7 footer, he moves very well and is very aggressive at blocking shots around the rim. Along with Luis Amundson (another player that is surprisingly talented), the Suns brass made some really nice moves to shore up the inside. In Shaq, Lopez, and Amundson, the Suns have 3 guys that can knock people around, block shots, and rebound. And speaking of shadows, Robin has apparently made claim to be Shaq's. Also being touted as coachable and fun to be around, Lopez seems well ahead of the rookie learning curve as well.
I also look forward to watching the Matt Barnes show this year. After a down year last year in Golden State, I look for him to break out. He was all over the place during the public scrimmage, hitting 3's from everywhere. If he can come in a limit the ware and tare on Grant Hill during the season, it will bode well for the team's post season chances.
One last thing I'd like to mention on the player front. Alando Tucker has been terrific during the entire offseason and was the top scorer in summer league and at the scrimmage. I look for him to push Diaw for minutes with the Suns going to a 9-10 player rotation.
Overall I think the suns will be a much better team than the "experts" are predicting. I am also not completely sold on some of the other Western Conference teams and don't believe they've unseated the Suns as being in the elite category. Barring major injury to a key player, I could see them winning 56-58 games, and finishing top 3 in the conference. Once there, I think this team now has the tools and direction needed to succeed.