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Team Preview: Phoenix Suns

By Kyle Fisher, RotoWire.comView: All Team Previews

STATE OF THE FRANCHISE

May 14, 2007: A day that will live in infamy for the Suns and their fans forever. With just 18 seconds left in Game 4 of the Western Conference semi-final and the game out of reach, Spurs’ forward Robert Horry body-checked Suns’ point guard Steve Nash to the floor. While Horry was suspended for two games, Suns’ star center Amare Stoudemire and forward Boris Diaw were each suspended one game for leaving the bench area. The shorthanded Suns played well for most of Game 5 but fell short at home and lost to the eventual champion Spurs in six games.

Statistically, the 2006-07 Suns outplayed the Spurs, something that usually does not happen. The Suns outscored and outshot them and were almost even in rebounds, turnovers and blocks in the series. While the Suns were held to almost 10 points a game below their regular season average, they did shoot 47.4 percent from the floor and 41.6 percent from the three-point line in the series against the vaunted Spurs’ defense. In fact, it’s not far-fetched to believe that had Stoudemire been available for Game 5, the Suns would have been raised the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June.

And you thought Amare Stoudemire was good last season?
(Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)
This offseason, the Suns tried to acquire Kevin Garnett as the final piece to their championship puzzle. However, as you know, he ultimately wound up in Boston, as the Suns were unwilling to part with Amare Stoudemire and could not work out a deal to trade Shawn Marion. Phoenix did make news by acquiring free agent Grant Hill, who was able to play 65 games for the Magic last season. The Suns hope that his versatility and experience will help get them over the hump. The major loss for the team this offseason was forward Kurt Thomas, who provided toughness and a defensive presence against the big forwards in the league. In the draft, the Suns increased their depth by selecting forward Alando Tucker and guard D.J. Strawberry. For the Suns to win an NBA Championship, they’ll need to continue their blistering offensive pace – they led the league in scoring at 110.2 ppg, field goal shooting at 49.4 percent and three-point shooting at 39.9 percent – and keep the Big Three (Stoudemire, Marion, Nash) healthy and on the court during the Playoffs.

PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION

The Suns had six players log over 30 minutes a night last season. With the addition of Grant Hill, look for a reduction in those numbers. Expect Nash, Stoudemire and Marion to continue to see their usual heavy usage at point guard, power forward and center, respectively. A healthy Stoudemire could even lead the team in minutes, as he was nursed back to good health early in the 2006-07 season. Leandro Barbosa should continue to come off the bench at both guard spots and provide firepower in 25-30 minutes a night. With the arrival of Hill, starters Boris Diaw and Raja Bell could see a reduction in playing time at the swing spots, but they will still get 25 minutes per game. Hill himself should come off the bench and get 20-25 minutes a night. The rest of the minutes will be split between reserves Marcus Banks and rookies Strawberry and Tucker. Sean Marks will see action in a mop-up role.

PLAYER OUTLOOKS* = Projected Starter

CENTER

* Amare Stoudemire – PHX [C]: Stoudemire could be the best fantasy center in the league. His scoring should easily exceed the 20.4 ppg he averaged last season. Before Stoudemire injured his knee, he averaged 26.0 ppg. Stoudemire demonstrated during the Playoffs that he is near that level again, as he averaged 25.3 ppg on 52.3 percent shooting from the floor. Stoudemire also contributes on the glass (9.6 rpg last season). If that’s not enough, Stoudemire consistently has one of the highest field goal percentages in the league and last season was no exception, as he ranked fifth in field goal percentage at 57.5 percent. Stoudemire has also improved his free throw percentage to 78.1 percent. A healthy Stoudemire is one of the most unstoppable forces in the league. He had microfracture surgery in early October, but it shouldn't set him back in preparation for the season.

Why? While Stoudemire’s not a “sleeper” in the traditional sense, he might be a steal in a lot of drafts if he falls into the second round. With Steve Nash able to get Stoudemire the ball wherever he wants it, look for Stoudemire’s scoring numbers to soar near his pre-knee injury status of 26.0 ppg.

*** UPDATE - Oct. 3: Amare had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Oct. 2. He is expected to miss the next 3-4 weeks.

Sean Marks – PHX [PF,C]: Marks should only see time in a mop-up role. When Stoudemire leaves the floor, the Suns are very comfortable playing without a true center. Marks has size but only played in three games last season.

POWER/SMALL FORWARD

* Shawn Marion – PHX [SF,PF]: With the return of Stoudemire, Marion’s scoring was the lowest it had been since the 2000-01 season. However, 17.5 ppg isn’t bad when you combine it with 52.5 percent shooting from the floor, 81.0 percent from the line, 9.8 rpg, 2.0 spg and 1.5 bpg. Quite simply, even in a bit of a down year, Marion is still one of the most complete players in fantasy. He’s one of the most versatile players in the league, so even with Stoudemire taking more of the scoring load, Marion merits an early first-round pick.

Boris Diaw – PHX [SF,PF]: After a breakout 2005-06 campaign, Diaw’s numbers dropped significantly in the 2006-07 season when he averaged below 10.0 ppg and his rebound, assist, steal and block totals were all down. Most of that was due to Stoudemire’s return, but Diaw didn’t help matters by entering the season in average condition. Diaw, who has reportedly shed some weight this offseason, is extremely versatile – he can play almost any position on the floor, and when he plays down low, he has excellent passing and ball-handling skills for a forward. Nonetheless, with the addition of Grant Hill and the continued resurgence of Stoudemire, expect Diaw’s numbers to be closer to last season’s than what he produced in 2005-06.

* Grant Hill – PHX [SG]: Hill’s career began on the road toward the Hall of Fame, but the last six injury-riddled seasons have diminished those hopes. Hill was healthy enough to play in 65 games for the Magic last season, just the second time in six years he has played in more than 60. He’s still an efficient offensive player – he averaged 14.4 ppg on 51.8 percent shooting last season. Nonetheless, with all the offensive stars on the Suns, Hill may struggle to average double figures this season. He'll likely start, but Diaw might play more minutes. Hill’s value for the Suns is to provide depth, experience and leadership rather than fantasy numbers. The Suns are hoping that Hill can be the missing piece to winning that elusive championship, but he’s not likely to be on too many champion fantasy rosters.

Alando Tucker – PHX [SF,PF]: The Big Ten Player of the Year out of Wisconsin, Tucker is a scorer but not a great shooter, especially from the foul line, where he shot just 63.6 percent during his college career. Tucker probably won’t see a great deal of playing time or help your fantasy roster this season, but he’s the type of athlete that eventually could get into the Suns’ rotation and have an impact down the road.

POINT/SHOOTING GUARD

* Steve Nash – PHX [PG]: While Nash didn’t win his third consecutive MVP award, his numbers last season might have been the best of his career. Nash averaged 18.6 ppg, led the league in assists at 11.6 per game, shot 53.2 percent from the floor (best among starting point guards) and shot 45.5 percent from the three-point line while making 2.1 three-pointers per game (11th in the league). While Nash should be slowing down at age 33, he somehow keeps getting better. He’s worth a late first-round pick in most fantasy formats.

* Raja Bell – PHX [SG]: Bell averaged the second most minutes per game of any Suns’ player (37.4 mpg) last year. In that time, he averaged a solid 14.4 ppg while shooting 41.3 percent from the three-point line and leading the NBA in three-pointers made with 205 (tied with Gilbert Arenas). While that makes Bell a useful fantasy role player, he doesn’t do much else – just 3.2 rpg, 2.5 apg, and 0.6 spg. There’s also a good chance he could lose minutes to Grant Hill this year.

Why? Bell had a nice year, but he seems to be the most logical choice to lose minutes to Grant Hill. As a result, don’t expect Bell to lead the NBA in three-pointers made this season. And Bell also doesn’t give you a lot of fantasy value elsewhere.

Leandro Barbosa – PHX [PG,SG]: Barbosa won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award after averaging 18.1 ppg on 47.6 percent from the floor and 43.4 percent from the three. He was also fifth in the NBA in three-pointers made with 190. Barbosa is also one of the quickest players in the league, and when perimeter defenders get too close, he can blow by them. Barbosa should continue to pay big dividends for fantasy owners in his instant-offense-off-the-bench role. With the arrival of Grant Hill, Barbosa’s minutes should be affected less than Raja Bell’s, as Barbosa averaged almost five less minutes a game than Bell last season, and, in any event, has the more unique skill set.

Marcus Banks – PHX [PG]: Banks should be Steve Nash’s primary backup, though with the versatility on this roster, that doesn’t mean Banks will get a lot of minutes. In fact, Barbosa will often handle the ball when Nash is out of the game. Banks averaged 11.2 mpg last season, and he’ll probably be around that same total in 2007-08.

D.J. Strawberry – PHX [PG,SG]: If Strawberry provides anything to this roster, it will be on the defensive end. Strawberry is a very good individual defender with good lateral movement. But he doesn’t contribute enough offense or play enough minutes to merit fantasy consideration.

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