October 25, 2012
NBA Enemy Lines
Phoenix Suns
2011-12 Record: 33-33
Goran Dragic is back with the Suns thanks to a four-year, $30 million deal. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Losing Channing Frye [who is expected to miss the season because of an enlarged heart] was a big hit for them. Up until they lost him [in September], I actually liked a lot of their moves while they were trying to replace Steve Nash. They improved their depth by bringing in guys who can play to their style.

Without Frye in the frontcourt, Luis Scola turns out to be a heck of a pickup stepping up into that spot as best he can. I'm a Goran Dragic fan, and I love their draft pick, Kendall Marshall, who may not be a shooter but is just a real point guard. I'm not a fan of Michael Beasley's but he'll be good for that system, and I kind of like Wesley Johnson. For how they play, they have a bunch of guys who can contribute alongside Marcin Gortat, who has proved himself worthy at center.

Dragic has impossible shoes to fill, obviously, with Nash's departure. But I'll say this: The first time the Suns had Dragic [in 2008-11, before trading him to Houston], there were a few times when I thought he came off the bench and played better than Nash. Dragic was in a great situation backing up Nash. Then Dragic went away and now he comes back to Phoenix even better.

He's a great pick-and-roll player. I see him as one of those guys who took advantage of being around Nash every day. It's as if he took every single thing Nash told him and worked on it. He shoots the ball well and if you don't help on him coming off the pick-and-roll, he'll get past you and finish. He loves splitting the pick-and-roll. He can turn the corner and he can make the shot. Dragic has a mid-range game, he can shoot the three-pointer and he can finish at the rim. He could get stronger, but he has decent size and long arms. He's an underrated defender who will put his nose into you and try to guard you, which gives him an advantage over Nash. Look, he is not Steve Nash, but Dragic is pretty good.

[Chris Mannix: What to expect from the Suns this season]

Not having Frye is going to make things harder for Dragic. A big part of their offense has been that drag action that Nash would run with Frye while Gortat was sprinting to the rim. Nash and Frye would run that pick-and-pop with Frye shooting the three, but they don't have another big man who has that kind of range. They'll try to make do with Scola on the pick-and-pop, but he can't pop for a three. His style is to hold on to the ball and if you don't come out he'll shoot a 15-footer or pump-fake to drive. They won't be able to spread the floor nearly as well as they have with Frye. I think about how long it took for them to develop him in that role. I remember being at a game and coach Alvin Gentry was yelling at him to shoot and he wouldn't shoot it. And then all of a sudden Frye became one of the great big-man shooters in the league by extending his range. The floor is going to be more crowded now. It's amazing how one injury changes everything. I was thinking they had great depth at Frye's position, but now his loss has totally annihilated that depth.

I was shocked that Houston gave up Scola [via amnesty]. It would have been better for him to come off the bench behind Frye because then he would be going up against a smaller guy to beat up. He's crafty. We put in our scouting report, "Do not buy his pump fake." You can say it a million times and peope are still going to buy it. He's always been a good one-on-one defender in the post and a decent rebounder. He's physical, he gets a body on people, and though he's neither a big range rebounder nor particularly athletic, he still does a good job of rebounding his area.

They're going to miss Grant Hill on the perimeter defensively. They have a lot of guys who aren't great defenders. Jared Dudley tries, but he is going to be hurt most of all by Hill's absence because now they'll be asking him to be that perimeter defender. Overall, though, they'll probably be better defensively, first because they won't have Nash, and second because you instantly become better defensively when you aren't running as much.

I'm surprised that Gortat has turned out to so effective. I loved him as a backup in Orlando, but I didn't think he was good enough to be a starter. Now at his salary [$7.3 million this season], he's a bargain. He rolls hard every time and it's effective. He and Dragic are going to be great at the pick-and-roll, even without Frye stretching the floor. Gortat is a top-10 center. He's more of a threat offensively than guys like Tyson Chandler or Joakim Noah. He's not a great athlete, but he's similar to Scola as a crafty big who is strong and plays his butt off. He doesn't have any shooting range, but he does what he's supposed to do. He's a great help defender and he'll block a shot, though he's not particularly great at that.

Dudley plays so hard, he's very smart and he's a great teammate. He's going to suffer this year because the floor isn't spaced as much for him. He has so many deficiencies -- I mean, I think I'm quicker laterally than he is. He is one of those guys who really studied all of the little things coaches tell you to do, and he does them. Dudley gets all over a guy and that's how he takes away the guy's quickness advantage. And then he worked extremely hard to become a decent three-point shooter. Dudley will probably be a team leader, and he'll also be encouraging Dragic to show leadership.

[Lee Jenkins: Pacific Division preview]

Beasley is going to have to guard somebody. Otherwise, Alvin is not going to let him go out there. He just doesn't seem to care. He doesn't play hard. Everybody loves to play for Rick Adelman, and I know Beasley drove Adelman crazy in Minnesota. When you can get a negative expression from Adelman, you know something's wrong. I saw Adelman throwing his hands up over his head too many times with Beasley over a short time frame. The best thing for him would have been to have spent another year or two in Miami [which traded him after two years] because that's one of the teams that forces you to figure it out. He hasn't figured it out, clearly, but at least the system in Phoenix plays to his strengths. He'll put up points, but I don't think he'll be as effective without the floor spread by Frye.

Marshall has great size and he just finds guys. He does a great job with the pick-and-roll. Their other point guard, Sebastian Telfair, loves to play up-tempo and change the pace off the bench. But he's an extremely inconsistent shooter.

Shannon Brown is wild, but what a tremendous athlete. He'll come in and bring energy. He can get in the passing lanes and pressure the ball, and the way they play he can really get out and finish on the wing based purely on his athleticism.

I still like Johnson, though I wonder what the deal was for him his first two years with Minnesota. He was the No. 4 pick in the draft and then last summer they really weren't trying to get anything for him. But the guy I see has good size -- though he's not the strongest guy -- and can make the three as well as get to the rim.

Markieff Morris was great early as a rookie forward last year but then he leveled off. He shot the ball well early in the year, which was a surprise. He has a big body, and if he continues to improve as a shooter, maybe someday he could play a lot like Frye.


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