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Enemy: Phoenix Suns
3SOB Forecast*: 22-60

Photo: Jordan Garneau / KTAR

What’s the story in Phoenix?

Hire a new coach, change up the logos, draft Alex Len, trade for Eric Bledsoe, unveil some rad new jerseys, release that clown Michael Beasley… the Phoenix Suns’ off-season in a nutshell.

Let’s take it from the top. The narrative of the summer in Phoenix began shortly after the season came to a close, with the hiring of Jeff Hornacek to replace the interim Lindsey Hunter as the head coach of the team. Hornacek spent the last two and a half seasons as an assistant under Ty Corbin in Utah, and was a shooting coach prior to that. Hornacek is expected to bring an up-tempo system back to the Suns, but like any good Jerry Sloan disciple, he assures fans and reporters that his philosophy will be heavily grounded in defensive effort. Compliments of our friends over at the Suns-centric TrueHoop affiliate, Valley of the Suns, Hornacek is quoted as saying, that the main priority will be to “make sure we force tough shots, get turnovers. Then we can run.”

The next order of business was the NBA Draft. Sitting primed at the fifth position, there were a handful of scenarios that could have presented themselves, but the one that manifest on the night that counted had them pressed with the unlikely proposition of actively choosing between Kentucky’s uber athlete big man Nerlens Noel, and Maryland’s more traditional seven-footer, Len. Ultimately the Suns opted for the latter.

At the tail end of the first round, they maneuvered around and selected Archie Goodwin out of Kentucky. Goodwin profiles on paper as a plus athlete-combo guard, with a great frame and a terrible jump shot. The song sounds awfully similar to the one that the Grizzlies just got out of their heads in August, but Goodwin looked darn good in Las Vegas — something our blue bears saw first hand as he dropped 22 on their heads.

In spite of all the activity in Phoenix, the one event that could pale the rest is the trade that net the city Bledsoe. A definitive ringleader of the league of extraordinary Grizzly killers, Bledsoe was sent to Phoenix in the deal that shipped Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick in the direction of the Los Angeles Clippers.

As far as I am concerned, the deal serves two major functions, each equally fruitful for the overall well being of the basketball world: 1) it provides Bledsoe the room he needs to spread his wings and blast off his career, and 2) it draws him away from the Grizzlies’ arch nemesis.

Now equipped with a nice array of weapons at their disposal, the Suns possess great potential as a franchise when looking to the future. The team will put up a fight, but their immediate outlook is dreary. However, given the league’s incentive structure, that probably serves them better long-term. If Bledsoe proves to be a real building block in 2013-14 and the Suns see fit to initiate a full retooling around he and Len, Goran Dragic and Marcin Gortat could haul an excellent, excellent yield from a team with a more pressing timetable come February.

Who are they cooking with?

PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Eric Bledsoe
SF: P.J. Tucker
PF: Marcus Morris
C : Marcin Gortat
6 : Alex Len

On paper, Hornacek looks the part of a great hire, but prevailing logic tells us that a good head coach will only go as far as his personnel allows. There is a deceptively great deal of talent on his roster, but the terms ‘raw’ and ‘underdeveloped’ seem to loom over the discussion of much of its pieces.

For better or for worse, Bledsoe, Goodwin, Len, the Morris twins, and Kendall Marshall, all on their rookie deals, will take heavy shares of concentration in the concoction that will be the Suns’ on court product this season. Hornacek has made his living with great attention to shooting the basketball, and it must be alarming to him that the most accomplished shooters of that mentioned group are the 6’9 and 6’10, respectively, Morrises. Either his proficiency as a teacher will shine through, or these pieces are not going to work for him. Something’s gotta give, there.

In terms of leadership, P.J. Tucker has only played two seasons in the NBA, but as a 28-year-old workhorse is likely to assume the role of the team’s elder statesman.

As for the more truly seasoned members of this squad, Dragic and Gortat, they’re the type of guys that I would imagine to endear themselves to any coaches. In his first true go-round as a full time starter last season, Dragic entrenched himself as one of the truly rising players in this league, and at 27 years old is just entering his prime. Gortat was not the same player alongside Dragic as he was when he served as Steve Nash’s primary roll-man, but with his true center size and an expiring contract, he’s a very likely candidate to find himself stationed elsewhere by the Suns if Len appears ready to play some minutes.

Last but not least, Channing Frye is expected to make a triumphant return this season, after missing all of the previous due to the scary condition of an enlarged heart. When healthy, Frye has historically been a devastating stretch four/five option, and has a pricey player option for next season that may make him difficult to move on his own. As a result, I would expect him to have plenty of court-time to endear himself to Coach Hornacek.

How do the good guys stack up?

Photo: USA Today Sports

Chip Crain:

The Suns have been a difficult team for the Grizzlies to match up against recently. Goran Dragic has size and a scorer’s mentality which has caused Mike Conley problems. The addition of Eric Bledsoe won’t make it any easier on the Grizzlies PG either. The Suns don’t have other true scoring threats on the perimeter which negates the Grizzlies strength defensively as well. Marcin Gortat has not been a dominating interior presence but he has the smarts to make life difficult for Marc Gasol. Where the Suns have struggled is finding someone to contain Zach Randolph as only the Morris twins have had any success and that has been sporadic at best. Z-Bo averaged 24.5 PPG against the Suns and had 13.3 RPG as well. If the Grizzlies keep their mental focus they should not have any problems but keeping the mental focus against the Suns isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

Matt Noe: 

The Suns. Oh, the Suns.

WHAT WILL THEY DO WITHOUT BEAS????

It ain’t gonna matter.

The Suns are a mess, and that’s ok. They have surrendered to messness. Which is what they have to do to hope to ever emerge from it (see also: Sixers). This is not in any way to say that the Suns do not possess talent-they possess quite a lot of it, in fact. Eric Bledsoe has eaten the Grizzlies for lunch more than once in the past (of course, he’s made a meal of many NBA teams over the last couple seasons). The Morris brothers are not without NBA merit, although with Channing Frye set to (likely) come back from a heart condition, the “big man who can hit from outside who’s not much of a banger” spot is looking quite full for the Suns, and that will hurt them when it comes time to match up with Gasol and ZBo. The Polish Hammer is quite a good player, but one still has to surmise that he could wind up wearing another uniform before the season is over-if he does not, however, he will make it tough on the Grizzlies, as his rolling hook has worked on Marc before and could create foul problems for the Grizz’ D. The added depth and size of Koufos should help with that, though.

Watching Conley match up against Bledsoe will be a great barometer of MC11’s form, as Bledsoe is one of the players to most recently get inside Conley’s head and cause him to revert to shrinking violet mode (a most unwelcome sight for any Grizzlies fan, and surely for Conley himself). Dragic presents perhaps one of the best challenges in the NBA for Conley, as his combination of length and skill can make things VERY tough on any PG-would not be suprised to see TA/Pondexter/maybe Franklin even (??) get a turn against Goran. He’s just darned good. Shannon Brown is a competent wing who is a good shoot-or-drive threat, but as long as TA’s knees don’t turn into trouble, he shouldn’t pose too much of a problem. The Suns have either a very interesting or very vomit-inducing roster, depending on your perspective and level of expectation. They shouldn’t present too much of a problem for the older, more talented, and deeper Grizzlies…but then again, they weren’t supposed to last season either….

Henry Curtis:

Phoenix presents the Grizzlies with an interesting new lineup this year. These Suns are very different from the days of old. Fans such as myself who remember the Showtime Suns (or as close as they ever got to Showtime) with Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire will be quite confused. Instead of the flashy Mike D’Antoni seven seconds or less style with zero regards for defense, we see a much more meticulous team that is built around Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, and their merry band of centers. The five spot will be quite formidable for the Suns. The group is headlined by Marcin Gortat, one of the most underrated centers in the league. Amongst all big men two years ago, Gortat was seventh in scoring, fourth in rebounds, tenth in blocks, and sixth in field goal percentage. Backing him up is rookie Alex Len from Maryland who at one point gave Nerlens Noel some solid competition to be the top pick in last year’s draft until the Cavs dropped the Bennett bomb on everybody. Add to them the talents of Miles Plumlee and Viascheslav Kratsov and you have a group that should give Marc Gasol a bit of trouble.

Then there’s Bledsoe. Playing second banana to Chris Paul has made this kid hungry and he’s ready to shine in Phoenix. I predict he’ll have an incredible year next season now that he’s in the spotlight, but I’m not so sure he’ll be the greatest against the Grizz. As a point guard, he gave Mike Conley a decent amount of trouble whenever they met. However, Bledsoe is slated in at the two spot since Dragic already runs the point in Phoenix. This means that Eric will have to match up against the one and only Grindfather: Tony Allen. Allen, as has been mentioned many times on this website, has an incredible ability to completely suffocate the opposition’s main scoring threat. Bledsoe will be pretty quiet when he heads east to Memphis.

The Suns are going to give the Grizzlies a bit of trouble, but I don’t think it’ll be a matchup that the Grizzlies won’t win. With Bledsoe neutralized, there isn’t too much of a scoring punch that the Grizz can’t handle. The toughest battle to watch when these teams square off will be between Gasol and the Sun’s cadre of centers. Marc was unusually quiet last year against the Suns, picking up only one double-double in their regular season series with one match where he only got 6 points and 3 rebounds before fouling out after 23 minutes. Despite this, there’s one more fun tidbit of information to absorb: Last year, Zach Randolph average 24.5 points and over 13 boards per game against the Suns, including a show on December 4th where he got 38 and 22. That was against Luis Scola. This year’s headliners in Phoenix at the four? The wonder twins, Marcus and Markieff Morris, with Channing Frye bringing up the rear. Case closed…

When and Where do they square off?

December 3rd: 7:00PM at the FedEx Forum
January 2nd: 8:00PM at the US Airways Center
January 10th: 7:00PM at the FedEx Forum
April 14th: 9:00PM at the US Airways Center

For more Suns content, check out our TrueHoop comrades at Valley of the Suns.

*3SOB forecast projections are derived from an average of the contributing staff’s predicted win totals.

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