The Phoenix Suns have long been identified as Steve Nash's team. For good reason too. The two time MVP was the engine that made that car go. But now he's off to Hollywood and the Suns are in search of a new identity.
Phoenix's strength last season -- and throughout Nash's tenure -- was offense. The Suns ranked No. 9 in offensive efficiency in 2011-12, including No. 9 in shooting and No. 10 in turnover rate. The other two major offensive categories -- offensive rebounding and free throw rate -- were mediocre. There is very obvious reason to believe that minus Nash, the team's shooting numbers will fall off of a cliff. Not only was Nash the team's most efficient scorer (by no small margin over Marcin Gortat), but studies have shown that he has long been the best in the league at making teammates more efficient.
So the Suns are being rebuilt. In fact, they wasted no time at all in trying to rebuild the roster.
Enter: the New Guys. With the 13th overall selection in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Suns chose North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall. Marshall might not start right off the bat because of the return of Goran Dragic and the solid play of Sebastian Telfair last season, but I can see Phoenix handing him the reigns to the team within the next two seasons. Winning the amnesty auction for Scola gives the Suns a pretty decent inside presence with him and double-double machine Marcin Gortat. Phoenix also is taking some risks by signing Michael Beasley and Jermaine O’Neal and hoping Wesley Johnson contributes more than he did in Minnesota.
The most critical new piece is Dragic.
Setting all that aside, though, the operative question is whether the Suns are getting the Dragic that starred for the Rockets last year or the Dragic that struggled so much for the Suns before that. Dragic has always had the ability to be the kind of player he showed last season, but some combination of confidence, work ethic and fitness held him back in the past. Last year, Dragic rededicated himself and found a coach in Kevin McHale that believed in him and let him control the offense. As a result, Dragic was able to put his creativity on display and had a breakout year.
Will these interesting pieces form a well rounded team or did they try to rebuild too quickly and doom themselves to mediocrity and fighting for the 8th playoff spot every year?
Although the team surely wants to still win, cultivating young talent now is a primary goal of the season as well, perhaps more so than in seasons past. Overall Gentry succinctly summed up what he’s going to ask of his team: “For us, what we’re going to do is we’re going to play hard every single night and compete like crazy. We’re going to play unselfish basketball. I think if we do those things right there we’ll be a tough-minded team. If we do all of those things, we’ll take the results.”