Last night I had the chance to do an interview with Bright Side of the Sun editor/writer Jacob Padilla about the Suns. What follows is a transcript of our discussion about the Suns and what to expect from them in 2012-2013.
The Suns have a much changed roster this season. Who is in the starting five and are there any injuries to report?
For the Suns, the likely starting 5 is Dragic, Dudley, Beasley, Scola, Gortat. That should be the starting 5 on opening day, and should be the 5 for tomorrow unless Gentry decides to sit some vets and experiment more. Sebastian Telfair is the only player dealing with an injury right now, and he missed the first 2 preseason games. I haven't seen an update, but I think he might play since he was only a late scratch against Portland.
With Steve Nash no longer a Sun, what does Goran Dragic bring to the PG position that you are most excited about?
Goran Dragic is a terrific all-around point guard who Suns fans are really excited about. If you paid any attention to his time in Houston, he started the last two months of the season and put up All-Star numbers. As a more athletic and aggressive type of point guard, he brings something different than what Suns fan are used to. While not the shooter or passer Nash was, Dragic is a more capable scorer and a better defender who is still a good distributor. If he can replicate the 18 points and 8 assists per game he put up in Houston, I'll be ecstatic and the Suns might have a chance to be good. If you're really interested .in spending a lot of time reading about Dragic, here's a write-up I did after he returned to Phoenix.
How is the frontcourt combo of Gortat and Scola working out on the offensive end? What about the defensive end?
The starting frontcourt is looking pretty solid right now. The chemistry isn't quite there yet and we haven't seen exactly how the two will be used, but I've seen enough to feel pretty confident.
Gortat spent much of the offseason beasting with his Polish national team, so he hasn't been around as much as the rest of the guys and wasn't there for the early scrimmages. This means the chemistry with his new teammates isn't quite there yet and he hasn't found his role in the new offense. That explains his low scoring numbers in the first two games. However, the rebounding is still there and he'll be just fine by the time the season starts.
Scola, on the other hand, has been very engaged in the offense. The team is using him in the high post a lot, and that's something I expect to see this year. From there he can shoot, run high-low with Gortat, or look to find the shooters as he's a pretty good passer. He should get a decent amount of post touches as well, as he's the best post player we've had in a while.
Defensively, they've been OK. DeMarcus Cousins put up 21 and nine in the first game, but Gortat is a bit small for a center and has always struggled with bigger guys. Cousins also only shot 5-15, though, so they did slow him down a bit. In the second game, Scola and company really frustrated LaMarcus Aldridge and held him to 4-13. Scola is decent in the post, but struggles when he needs to play in space, while Gortat is the exact opposite. They are not a great defensive duo, but they shouldn't be a liability either.
What are expectations as far as Michael Beasley is concerned?
Well, my expectations were pretty low when the Suns originally signed Beasley. I had watched him play in Minnesota and he just was not very good. However, after hearing him say all the right things during the offseason and seeing the way he's played in the first two games, I'm starting to become more optimistic. Beasley has played very efficient basketball so far, shooting over 50 percent from the field and racking up a handful of assists as well. I've even seen some effort defensively. So far, we haven't seen any of the black hole Beasley was known as in previous stops. In fact, Alvin Gentry thinks he's been TOO unselfish. If Beasley continues to play the way he has as a Sun thus far, then he's going to be a solid addition.
I'm a big believer in Gortat, but how will he fair without a hall of fame PG getting him the ball this season?
Marcin Gortat is going to be just fine. Steve Nash did not pull down 10 rebounds per game, nor was he the one on the finishing end of the pick-an-roll (you know, the part that actually scores points). Steve Nash may be the best pick-and-roll point guard in the game, but Gortat is a great roll man in his own right. The rebounding and defense will be there no matter what, and when the Suns and Dragic (who is a good pick-and-roll point guard himself) choose to get Gortat the ball, he'll be ready to finish.
However, Gortat's 15 points per game last year was due to him being the primary option. Our entire offense was Nash running the pick-and-roll and looking for Gortat. This year, the offense is going to be different and more diverse, so the points per game might come down a bit. But that's only because the Suns are going to spread it around a little more this year, and not because he can't play without Nash.
Which player or players are fans most excited about?
The answer is unquestionably Goran Dragic. Excitement for the return of the Dragon is through the roof, and big things are expected of him. As I said before, he's different than what Suns fans are used to and we're really looking forward to seeing what he can do.
Michael Beasley is a bit more polarizing. There is a certain amount of surrounding Beasley, and that has only escalated with the way he has played in the first two games. But there is also a great deal of apprehension considering the way he has performed in the first four years of his career.
What are the goals of the Suns in 2012-2013?
Well, that's a very good question. Honestly, I have no idea. Complicating matters is the fact that our president of basketball operations, general manager and head coach are all entering the final year of their contracts, and might not all be on the same page.
Most national media outlets have the Suns fighting to stay out of the Western Conference cellar, so I suppose the first goal is proving them wrong. Publicly, the players have said they think they'll have a chance to compete this year and are hoping to make the playoffs. There is a chance if everything comes together early they can surprise some people and snag a playoff seed (Dallas missing out would certainly help their case) as the starting five is looking pretty solid so far. However, there is a chance things can go horribly, terribly wrong as well if guys don't show improvement. It's an entirely new team and anything can happen.
Realistically, I'm not going to base success on wins and losses. One of Michael Beasley or Wesley Johnson (preferably both, or at least Beasley as he has a 3-year contract) need to turn their careers around. We need to see improvement on defense and more efficient offensive play from Markieff Morris. I'd like to see Kendall Marshall win the back-up point guard spot at some point during the season. Shannon Brown and Telfair need to carry over their play from April instead of regressing to the guys we saw in January. If most of those things happen, I'll consider the year a success regardless of what the record says.