Blazersedge staff writer Chris Lucia will be writing team-by-team previews over the next month as we count down to the start of the 2013-14 season. All team previews can be found right here.
2012-2013 record: 25-57, No. 5 in Pacific Division, No. 15 in Western Conference
Roster additions: Eric Bledsoe, Archie Goodwin (Rookie, No. 29 overall), Gerald Green, Viacheslav Kravtsov, Malcome Lee, Alex Len (Rookie, No. 5 overall), Miles Plumlee, Ish Smith
Roster subtractions: Michael Beasley, Jared Dudley, Diante Garrett, Hamed Haddadi, Wesley Johnson, Jermaine O'Neal, Luis Scola
The Phoenix Suns are a team that knows exactly what it's doing. The front office has arranged for a possibility of three first-round picks in the vaunted 2014 draft: lottery-protected picks from both Minnesota and Indiana, in addition to their own first rounder.
The Timberwolves will be in a dogfight, so to speak, for the apparently coveted eighth seed out West with a glut of teams. That pick may or may not make its way into Phoenix, but the Indiana pick -- while almost certainly in the mid- to late-twenties -- is almost guaranteed to be in Phoenix' possession by the draft. The Suns' own pick will definitely be in the lottery, and with the way this roster is constructed, they are again going to have great odds at an earlier pick.
Over the summer, Phoenix either traded or let walk a group of veterans including Jared Dudley, Jermaine O'Neal and Luis Scola. Now the Suns' two oldest players are 30-year-old big man Channing Frye and center Marcin Gortat, 29. There is a full-on youth movement happening in Phoenix, and this season is all about seeing who of their young guys will be kept to build around for the future while piling on the losses under new coach Jeff Hornacek.
For a team that finished last in the West and fourth-worst overall last season, there were predictably few positives to take from Phoenix' 2012-13 campaign. Even so, they do bring back a few solid players and some promising new young guys are on the roster, too.
Point guard Goran Dragic, 27, is creative with the ball and racked up a career-high 7.4 assists a game last season, good for No. 10 in the NBA. He has excellent penetrating ability, which helps provide open looks for teammates on the perimeter, and his passing ability allows him to find them consistently. He's quick enough on defense to stay in front of his man and rack up a decent amount of steals. His downside is his mediocre-at-best three-point shooting, which is not a necessity for a point guard to be successful -- especially with his drive-and-kick ability -- but if he could improve to just average for the position, it'd be a huge asset for the team going forward.
Fourth-year guard Eric Bledsoe has the team excited about his potential, but he has never played more than 22.7 minutes a game in his short career and doesn't convert at an elite level from anywhere on the floor, offering almost no floor-spacing ability. He did make almost 40 percent of his outside attempts last year, but he only attempted one a game, making it hard to garner much from that statistical anomaly, as he shot 20 and 27.6 percent on threes the previous two years. He's athletic, quick and finishes pretty well at the rim, but it's his defense that has the Suns fans and front office excited.
Phoenix is loaded with depth at both forward spots, with P.J. Tucker, Gerald Green, Frye and Marcus and Markieff Morris -- or the Morii, as SB Nation Phoenix-affiliate blog Bright Side of the Sun refers to them -- all fighting for playing time. Each player stands out in a few ways, but so far, none seem to have separated from the pack.
Tucker can score inside but is pretty short. Gerald Green is one of the best leapers in the NBA, but he is pretty inefficient and probably can't be counted on for too many minutes. The Brothers Morris both bring scoring and energy and have a solid outside shot for the power forward position, although neither is consistent enough to be a stretch-four specialist at this point. They're not great rebounders, though Markieff shows more promise in that department. Marcus scores well when he attempts from inside, but tends to drift. Markieff doesn't convert at a high level from anywhere on the court, but he's decent near the rim.
Frye, the beloved former Blazer who still spends a plenty of time in the Rose City since he bolted for Phoenix in 2009, is arguably the Suns' best option from outside. He's a career 39 percent shooter on threes and has taken no fewer than 4.1 attempts per game in his three seasons in Phoenix. Frye can space the floor when he's playing with Gortat, who is one of the most efficient scorers in the league from inside. Frye is also one of the Suns' best candidates for drive-and-kick attempts from Dragic and Bledsoe.
Gortat is the team's best inside presence, though his scoring and rebounding dropped off a bit last season. He's on an affordable contract that expires this year, and he's looking for a long-term, financially lucrative deal as he hones in on 30 years old. Expect him to bounce back this year in a big way, especially if he can get the inside-out game going with Frye on a consistent basis.
No. 5 overall pick in 2013, center Alex Len, will back up Gortat. He's a little banged up, but he was a decent scorer at Maryland last year and rebounded well. He's also 7'1'', which never hurts. If he can grasp Hornacek's defensive scheme, he may push Gortat for minutes or even take the majority of them if Gortat is traded.
Young guards Kendall Marshall and Archie Goodwin will get limited time behind more experienced players like Dragic, Bledsoe and Shannon Brown. Neither is really expected to contribute much, but they should have decent opportunity as the season wears on, the losses pile up and the front office continues scouring the roster for guys that will stick in the future.
Even though there's some established talent in Phoenix with Dragic, Bledsoe, Frye and Gortat, they are not likely to do much better this year than their fifteenth-place finish in the West a season ago. They were a terrible defensive team last year and with the youth movement in full effect, it's not likely they'll improve much even with some good individual defenders in the starting back court and Gortat patrolling the paint. This is a transition year where Hornacek will try to instill some team-defense values and get everyone on the same page, and there will be plenty of growing pains along the way.
The Suns are in a good position to capitalize on the tantalizing 2014 draft with a possible three first-round picks, and they're going to do what they can to increase their odds at a better pick. Don't be surprised to see some veterans gone before the end of the season and a lot of younger, unproven players getting extended court time. This season is all about talent evaluation and and ping-pong balls in the upcoming lottery. The Suns will take their lumps, sure, but the fan base, front office and the players see a bright future, even if that means one of the worst records in the league this year.
-- Chris Lucia | Twitter