Ever since I've been a fan of the Phoenix Suns, the starting point guard has been the one constant on the team. From Seven Seconds or Less, to Seven Seconds or Shaq, to the Old Man Pick-and-Roll, Steve Nash has been the driving force behind the Suns from the point guard position. Now, that constant is gone, as Dave chronicled in his season preview, an the Suns will rise and set with their new point guard.
Goran Dragic has returned to the Valley of the Sun after a slight detour to retake his rightful place as Steve Nash's successor. With the Dragon at the helm, the Suns will continue to be a point guard-driven team.But don't expect to see the same old offense. Dragic is a very different player than Nash is and is going to have the freedom to play to his strengths. 2012 is the Year of the Dragon according to the Chinese Zodiac, so you can expect big things from No. 1.
Dragic is the undisputed starting point guard and will be the leader of the offense this season. Coming off a fantastic final two months in Houston, big things are expected of Dragic.
I already wrote extensively about the kind of player Dragic has become a while back. Check it out if you missed it the first time, or if you want to remind yourself of his awesomeness, or if you just want to waste some time at school or work. For those who don't have the time or attention span to read the entire thing, here's a brief summary.
Dragic started the last two months of the Season for Houston after Kyle Lowry went down with an injury and put up All-Star caliber numbers. As a starter, Dragic put up 18 points, 8.4 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 36.5 minutes per game, and with great shooting percentages to boot.
Dragic is a very good pick-and-roll point guard who usually uses screens to set up his own drives rather than looking for the big man rolling to the basket. He also loves to get out in the open court and is very effective on the fast break. Dragic is a pretty decent defender who likes to put on the pressure and force turnovers.
As Seth mentioned, Alvin Gentry is implementing parts of a new kind of offense this year, one that will allow Dragic to showcase more of his athleticism and versatility rather than asking him to create everything off the dribble, and that should only make Dragic that much more effective.
If the Suns want to stay out of the cellar in the Western Conference, they are going to need a huge year from Goran Dragic. As I said before, 16-18 points and 6-8 assists per game seems like a realistic projection for Dragic. If he's on the low end of the spectrum, that puts him on par with the likes of Denver's Ty Lawson. If he's closer to the high end, that would put him in the same area as San Antonio's Tony Parker. Either way, that is pretty good company.
Telfair is back and will likely begin the year as Dragic's primary back-up. The question is, which Bassy will we get?
The Telfair that we saw in the first couple of months last season was one of the worst players in the NBA. He couldn't even win the job straight-up with Ronnie Price as his primary competition, and when he was out there the offense was completely dysfunctional.
But Bassy turned it around and started to play better in March, then blew up in a good way in April and was actually one of the Suns' better players. His jumper started to fall, and the confidence from that infected his all-around game.
Telfair is a guy who can push the pace and score in transition, get buckets in the pick-and-roll and provide some hard-nosed defense and hustle.
Bassy should begin the year as the number two point guard. How long he retains that title is up to him. If we see the April Bassy, rookie Kendall Marshall could be in for a redshirt season of sorts. If Telfair reverts to the guy who can't do anything right, then we might see the rook sooner rather than later.
Kendall Marshall is the Suns' 2012 lottery pick, but don't expect him to have much of an impact in his rookie year. Marshall shows exceptional court vision and passing skills, but he has a lot of work to do in the other areas of his game.
As I wrote after watching him play in the Las Vegas Summer League, Marshall has a long way to go and a lot of work to do before he's a viable NBA point guard. His jump shot needs some work, but even more importantly his mindset needs to change. He has to learn how to be more aggressive and actually make plays for himself as well as his teammates instead of sitting back and spreading the ball around.
Marshall should start out the year as the third-string point guard. If Telfair stumbles, his name could be called upon much sooner than anticipated. Or if he makes the necessary adjustments and learns how to play at the NBA level, he could press Bassy an ultimately take his job. It's a perfect situation for Marshall. With Telfair on the roster, the SUns can bring Marshall along slowly and let him develop at his own pace. But if things click for Marshall sooner than expected, he'll have the chance to compete for playing time.
Overall, the Suns have a pretty good situation going on at point guard, both now an moving forward. Dragic gives them near All-Star play, Telfair provides a solid back-up now and Marshall offers potential for the future.
Marcin Gortat wants and needs to become a better player.
For the record, the 2011-12 season - Gortat's first as a starting center in the league - was a pretty good one on both ends of the court.
Gortat was 8th among all NBA big men (C and PF) last year in Win Shares, 10th in WS/48, 12th in defensive WS, 4th in offensive WS, 7th in field goal %, 8th in blocks, 9th in steals, 4th in total rebounds, 4th in defensive rebounds, 7th in defensive rebound %, 8th in offensive rebounds and 8th in free throw attempts.
Clearly, statistically, a top-10 big man in the entire NBA. Not just among centers, and not just among Western Conference players. All statistics above were based on big men listed as C, PF-C or C-PF on www.basketball-reference.com.
But Marcin Gortat is not satisfied and nor should he be. He wants to get better, and he knows he has to get better.
One thing fueling that fire is the egg he laid against Utah where he made only 1 of 8 field goals and did not draw a single foul while getting his shot blocked five times by the more-active Utah front line. Five times. Phoenix lost that game by 12 points but it felt like a lot more than that.
As the Suns' primary offensive weapon (the Suns other starters in that Utah game were Morris, Dudley and Brown, along with Nash), the team needed Gortat to have the game of his life. In a good way.
He stressed over that game all summer - what he did wrong, what he could have done better. But what he talked most about at practice yesterday with SB Nation Arizona's Kris Habbas was the team's fans.
"I feel sorry for the fans, I feel bad for them. They were supporting us from the first game to the last game. Being the guy who was leading the team most of the games in points and boards, and all of a sudden the main game is coming and you're failing.
"You know, it hurts.
"The only thing I can say is I'm sorry to the fans. I will try to do better. I'm just going to learn from it."
Marcin Gortat is a human being like the rest of us. He reads what is written about him and there was a lot of it over the summer.
"I read and heard a lot of things about me being a different player without Steve Nash. But right now, I'm staying away from the internet stuff. It's just too much. You can lose your mind over it."
With the advent of year-round sports coverage and a concerted effort by each outlet to keep content fresh all offseason, we have to generate stories and discussions. One of the easiest and most polarizing topics to cover was whether Gortat could score at all without the maestro spoon-feeding him passes toward the rim.
Gortat had something to say about that while making a great effort to give Nash the credit he's due. Take note here that Gortat was not bashing twotime in any way, shape or form.
"I‘m not taking anything away from Steve Nash, but at the end of the day there was a few other big men playing with him and they did not succeed."
Channing Frye. Hedo Turkoglu. Earl Barron. Robin Lopez. Markieff Morris. Hakim Warrick. All could have been the pick-and-roll finisher on this team just in the past couple of years since Amare Stoudemire left town. But none did. Marcin Gortat was the one who could set the pick, time his release, dive to the basket and finish the play.
"It's not like whatever he touches turns into gold. You need a second person who has some kind of skills, some kind of feel for the game. We were #1 in the league in passing and finishing.
"I would say there was a little bit of credit for me too. He's a great point guard, I'm not taking anything away from him."
Again I will say that Gortat was not just showing bravado, pumping his chest. He was just trying to emphasize that it's called a two-man game for a reason and I have no doubt that Steve Nash would second that notion.
Gortat may not be the Hammer. He may not finish with devastating dunks like Amare did. But he found a way to finish the plays he was given to finish.
Does that mean he expects to be the main guy again this season? No. He knows his bread and butter is rebounding and that he's the guy the team needs if they want to stay competitive on the glass.
"Rebounding is gonna be always my issue," he said. "If someone is going to get rebounds, it's going to be me."
Ah yes, playoffs. That's where Gortat really wants to go. With Goran Dragic, Michael Beasley and a shift to the 'corner' offense, Gortat won't be the Suns' main offensive weapon this year. But he doesn't care about that. All he wants is to win.
"I could get 1 and 10 or 6 and 2, that's okay if we go to playoffs."
His prognosis for the season?
"I would say we gonna be good. We just gotta get to know each other better. What I am dreaming about is surprising a lot of people, who are cursing us and (saying we are bad).
"I really want to win the games and see their faces later."
Wouldn't that be something if the Suns could win games without Steve Nash leading the way?
Aside from having a totally awesome name, Othyus Jeffers is what you might call in baseball a "Four-A" player. He's better at basketball than the vast majority of the known universe, but not good enough to stick on an NBA roster (so far).
Jeffers will likely continue to seek out opportunities in the NBA if there's a team with depth needs at the wing due to injury, or perhaps will go back to Europe for the money. Or, he could return to the D-league to bide his time for an NBA job. Jeffers has three years with the Iowa Energy under his belt.
Jeffers Released: With that being said, the Suns decided that they were deep enough on the wing, deciding to release Shooting guard Othyus Jeffers after practice Monday. Jeffers scored a bucket and dished out an assist in five minutes of preseason action.
By all accounts, Jeffers is a solid dude and real pro. Unfortunately, at 6'5, he plays the most replaceable position in the game and hasn't managed to stand out at any particular skill.
Randy Hill, Fox Sports Arizona's fantastic Suns beat writer, has provided us some very important details about the new wrinkles to Alvin Gentry's system. As we all know, Steve Nash basketball has been pick and roll basketball. With inarguably the best pick and roll point guard ever to lick his fingers now in L.A. threading balls to other ballers, it's time for a change in Phoenix.
In comes the Corner offense which Hill, who is also a basketball coach and player development pro, describes this way:
New-look Suns have Dragic in their corner
The base system is known as the "Corner" offense, and – although Adelman once had former Princeton coach Pete Carril on his coaching staff in Sacramento – the structure is not as close to the Princeton offense as many have assumed. With more high-post action, the Corner has some similarities to the Triangle.
These changes aren't totally out of the blue even if they do make perfect sense with the addition of four recent Adelman players (Dragic, Scola, Beasley, Johnson).
Over the past few years we've seen Gentry slowly introduce more motion sets to the Suns. He used these at times to give Nash a break and certainly with the second unit. Then in Vegas I noticed Markieff Morris operating more out of the high post although that was often in isolation where he could face up and use his "Amare lite" combination of dribble drive / jump shooting to score points. (Yes, I went to the "Amare lite" place.) I recall him having some nice dishes from there as well.
Of course, Morris even at this point in his career, and certainly Luis Scola, are far better passers and decision-makers than Amare. With both those guys in the high post, defenses face a true triple threat (pass, shoot, drive).
With that kind of talent at the four, and Dragic's ability to run off screens and create havoc (a bit like a Rajon Rondo), this system makes more and more sense. Mix in Michael Beasley's ability to to also work off screens and Jared Dudley or Wesley Johnson providing floor spacing and an outlet against defensive rotations and you can see how this might all work very nicely. Even Shannon Brown is a good fit for this system and has experience with the triangle in L.A.
Here's a cool video montage I found with Corner offense plays from the Rockets.