The Suns are currently 5-7. Before last night’s blowout win over Portland, they had lost three in a row and were giving up 104.3 points per game (30th in the league). Their current record matches only Houston, New Orleans and Sacramento for worst in the Western Conference. However, the Suns are by no means a “bad” team and there’s still plenty of hope for the rest of the season. A lot of improvements have to be made, but it’s not out of the question for this Suns team to develop team chemistry and get hot in March and April. Remember, Phoenix teams of the past have started off with worse records and still made the playoffs before. With the Rockets in town tonight, here’s what each player in the Suns’ main rotation needs to do to improve this struggling team.
Goran Dragic – We start with the Suns’ starting point guard. Dragic has been the most consistent player on the roster by far this season, averaging 16.2 points, 7.3 assists and 2.1 steals per game, leading the team in all three categories. He’s scored in double digits in each and every game and has vastly improved his defense from the past. So what can The Dragon do to improve? As stellar as he’s been for the Suns, Dragic has been good largely in spurts. Dragic jumpstarts the offense in the first quarter and plays strong near the end of the game, but he’s a little too passive at times and sits on the bench too much, either with foul trouble or because Alvin Gentry is prone to playing his bench too long. That part’s not his fault, but Dragic needs to stay out of foul trouble and be assertive throughout the game because the Suns offense stalls when The Dragon isn’t making plays.
Jared Dudley – Dudley’s biggest problem is confidence. After a horrid start to the season with his shot, now Dudley thinks too much when he gets an open look. As a shooter, it can be a mental block when you miss so many and can’t get a friendly bounce, but Dudley has to remember he’s a good shooter and start playing like it. Since he’s not the most athletic guy in the world, Dudley’s value is largely in knocking down threes and mid-range jumpers. And since he was replaced by Shannon Brown in the starting lineup Wednesday, he’s going to have to work harder than ever on knocking down open looks.
Michael Beasley – Beasley is a tough player to cheer for as a Suns fan, if only because of the vast potential he has that isn’t being lived to. Beasley can score when he’s hot, but his lack of intensity on the defensive end is disappointing. In recent games, he’s passed the ball to open teammates well, but he still has a tendency to become Black Hole Beasley, jacking up shots every time he catches the ball. The Suns are best with Dragic running the offense, so Beasley needs to let his offense come naturally and put some extra effort in on the defensive end.
Luis Scola – It was a streaky start to the season for Scola, who has an impressive post-game that Suns fans didn’t get to see for a while. Scola was too busy bricking open jump shots on the baseline and elbows, which is one reason he was demoted out of the starting lineup for Markieff Morris. However, Scola’s biggest problem is he’s quite possibly the worst defensive player the Suns have, which is saying something for a team with Michael Beasley. Being physical isn’t a part of Scola’s game, but on defense it should be for any power forward. Plus, his time on the floor took away from Gortat’s confidence and production, so benching him might be helpful in the long run. If improvements aren’t made in these areas, Scola might not see the floor unless Morris really struggles.
Marcin Gortat – Gortat looked like the team’s MVP to start the season, but has recently received a lot less playing time due to decreasing production and Gentry’s ever-changing rotations. Gortat was leading the league in blocks at one point and looked like he’d be a constant double-double threat running the pick-and-roll with Dragic, but his production fell off the map until Wednesday. Gortat made his presence felt on both ends of the floor against Portland, however, which might not have happened had Scola seen more minutes.
Sebastian Telfair – Telfair has actually been a very good backup for Dragic, but Gentry rides his hot streaks for too long, which hurts the team in the long run. Because while Telfair’s production off the bench is a great addition, when Gentry leaves him in too long, Dragic is getting cold on the bench. That’s not Bassy’s fault and he continue to play to his maximum level, but this point guard situation is something to watch for.
Shannon Brown – Brown has been the Suns’ most consistent producer off the bench, averaging 13.4 points per game. He’s a regular 3-point threat and has the athleticism to get to the rim. His constant offensive presence moved him into the starting lineup over the struggling Dudley Wednesday. However, like Beasley, he has a tendency to start jacking up bad shots every time he gets the ball. Brown can get hot in a hurry, but he needs to know when to take his foot off the gas as well.
Markieff Morris – Consistency wouldn’t be a word to describe Markieff Morris so far this season. Bipolar would probably be better, as Morris can make a terrific play on one end and then follow it up with a head-scratching decision on the other. Morris makes some bad decisions, but his post-game is greatly improved from last year and he can knock down the occasional three-ball. If Morris can stay consistent and make smart plays, he’ll live up to his new starting role and develop over time.
P.J. Tucker – Tucker brings energy and hustle off the bench, which is why he’s become a fan favorite so rapidly. He also brings much-needed defensive intensity and smart rebounding, positioning himself to grab boards over (or under) much taller players. Tucker is probably the only player on the Suns roster that needs to just keep doing what he’s doing.
Jermaine O’Neal – As one of the Suns’ captains, O’Neal brings leadership and veteran knowledge to a young and new team. His defensive intensity against the Lakers in shutting down Dwight Howard was great to see after missing time with an injury, but O’Neal could really use a post-up game. I know, he’s getting up there in age, but some offensive contributions off the bench would be a great bonus.