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Blazersedge 2008-09 NBA Season Preview: Warriors and Suns

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The lower echelon of the Western playoff picture revolves around the fortunes of four or five teams.  We have two of them today.  How you call these teams, plus maybe Denver, Dallas, and Portland, will determine how you expect the West to play out once you get past the conference elite.

 

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

Record:  48-34, 3rd in Pacific Division, 9th in Western Conference

 

Statistical Comparisons

 

Notable:

1st in the league in scoring (111.0 ppg)

30th in opponent scoring (108.8 ppg)

26th (tie) in opponent field goal %

2nd in steals

1st in opponent turnovers

 

Others:

13th  in ppg differential (+2.2 ppg)

12th in field goal % 

23rd in three-point % 

16th in free throw attempts per game

18th in free throw percentage

8th (tie) in assists

19th in blocks

8th in turnovers

Good offensive rebounding team

Very Poor defensive rebounding team

 

Movement

 

Significant Additions:  Corey Maggette, Ronny Turiaf, Marcus Williams, Anthony Randolph (R)

Significant Subtractions:  Baron Davis, Mickael Pietrus, Matt Barnes, Patrick O’Bryant, Austin Croshere

 

Roster

 

Coach:  Don Nelson

 

Key Players

PG:  Monta Ellis, Marcus Williams

SG:  Stephen Jackson, Marco Belinelli

SF:  Corey Maggette, Kelenna Azubuike

PF:  Al Harrington, Brandan Wright

C:  Andris Biedrins, Ronny Turiaf

 

Comments

 

Call me a fool, but I don’t like what happened to the Warriors over the summer.  I wasn’t exactly married to Baron Davis, whose brilliance is marred somewhat by on-again, off-again tendencies.  But the devil you know is often better than the one you don’t.  I do like Corey Maggette for what he is:  one of the league’s more underrated scorers.  The Clippers always had a love-hate relationship with the guy.  I never saw that much of a problem.  Nevertheless losing Baron and getting Corey seems like a wash for a team that needed to go forward, not sideways.  They have Monta Ellis at point, which is great for scoring but will take some adjustment as far as passing goes.  He’s not a great three-point shooter either, which is a useful attribute for a ball-handler.  Basically those wing players run scorer-scorer-scorer, which is great if you’re playing the slots, but not usually that productive in the NBA.  I know all about Don Nelson, but even for him this may be a little much.  Of course he won’t have to worry about fitting in those three guys for at least a third of the season, as Ellis is out, which leaves a decent-sized hole at point.

 

The frontline is interesting.  I believe Andris Biedrins is going to be one of the better non-star centers in this league for a long time.  He’s the kind of Rik Smits player who might get an All-Star berth at some point but isn’t going to be mentioned alongside the best big men of his generation.  He fits well into Golden State’s game…no complaints there.  It’s been a while since anybody has gotten excited about Al Harrington, but he’ll do.  Depending on who you talk to Brandan Wright is either a budding star or a guy skating on thin ice.  There’s nothing wrong with the Golden State big guys, but you’d probably like a crack defensive unit to supplement the frisky backcourt, and this isn’t it.  If only they could have gotten hold of Elton Brand…

 

That’s pretty much the story with the Warriors.  You can’t bag on them…they’re good.  But with this much effort, with this system, with the talent they’re trying to acquire you want more than “non-baggability”.  When you walk away from a fireworks show you want to be saying, “WOW!  That’s the best display I’ve ever seen!” not, “Yeah…you can’t really find fault with that.”  I fear Golden State will trend more towards the latter than the former.  The scoring should be there.  The opportunism should be there.  But the uncontrolled opposing offense will probably be there also, plus the rebounding issues, plus the shooting issues.  The Warriors just aren’t in as good of a position as they were two years ago in depth, record, or execution, and they seem to be treading water instead of reversing the trend.

 

Read more about the Warriors at the eternally popular GoldenStateofMind.com.

 

PHOENIX SUNS

Record:  55-27, 2nd in Pacific Division, 6th in Western Conference

 

Statistical Comparisons

 

Notable:

3rd in the league in scoring (110.1 ppg)

1st in field goal % 

1st in three-point % 

4th in free throw percentage

1st in assists

2nd in blocks

 

Others:

6th in opponent scoring (105.0 ppg)

7th  in ppg differential (+5.0 ppg)

13th in opponent field goal %

21st in free throw attempts per game

22nd in steals

17th in turnovers

20th (tie) in opponent turnovers

Very Poor offensive rebounding team

Very Poor defensive rebounding team

 

Movement

 

Significant Additions:  Matt Barnes, Robin Lopez (R)

Significant Subtractions:  Gordon Giricek, Brian Skinner

 

Roster

 

Coach:  Terry Porter

 

Key Players

PG:  Steve Nash, Goran Dragic

SG:  Raja Bell, Leandro Barbosa

SF:  Grant Hill, Boris Diaw, Matt Barnes

PF:  Amare Stoudemire

C:   Shaquille O’Neal, Robin Lopez

 

Comments

 

One of the recurring themes of the training camp report that ESPN’s Marc Stein filed from Phoenix this year is that the Suns, behind new coach Terry Porter, are all but abandoning the premature ejaculation offense that made them both prolific scorers and sure sell-outs around the NBA.  The move was all but mandated by the acquisition of the mature, plodding version of Shaquille O’Neal last year, but it doesn’t take a bloodhound to smell the admission that Phoenix’s window has closed and they’re searching for a crowbar to force it back open again.  They hope experience and a new-found commitment to defense will do the trick.  It’s a seductive thought.  You can’t read names like Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, and Shaq without saying, “Hey…wait a minute…”  Be warned.  This is like that girl back in high school that you always thought might date you but never did.  You might have been inches away from being Mr. Cool, but the way it turned out inches might as well have been miles.  So it goes with the Suns.

 

You’d have to have skipped the last four NBA seasons to miss what is right about Phoenix, so we won’t belabor the point.  Third in scoring, first in field goal percentage, first in three-point percentage…these guys know how to put the ball through the hoop.  Even those gaudy stats are not as dominant as they once were, though.  At that begins what’s wrong with the Suns.  They don’t have the horses they used to.  Shaq doesn’t fit this offense at all.  Grant Hill is serviceable but not exactly a greyhound.  Without all five players on board guys who once excelled from the shadows like Bell, Barbosa, and Diaw are starting to get more pressure put on them.  Plus with the relative lack of rebounding and defense the Suns’ margin for error against good teams is rather thin.  It used to be they’d run all over anyone who got in their way.  If you stayed with them in the first quarter you’d be gassed by the third.  Now they pretty much have to run and score in order to keep ahead.  It’s like starting out thinking you’re in control of a drug and then all of a sudden finding it controls you.  Clearly a change is needed because their problems aren’t going to get better with age.

 

So let’s throw out all of the stats and the blitzkrieg offense and try and project what the Suns will look like in a more conventional game.  As long as Shaq is active their rebounding should go up.  They’ll create more misses and be in better position to grab them, which is all to the good.  The Suns do need to keep moving so they can’t afford to stall at the opponent’s end trying to corral the ball.  Their shooting game and unselfishness should also remain intact.  These are veterans who have nothing to lose and everything to gain by playing together.  Grant Hill and Steve Nash aren’t going to mess up your team with ego.  They aren’t going to make many mistakes either.  Phoenix should be able to take care of the ball, another new focus.

 

On the down side, I’m not sure Shaq and Amare are compatible in a halfcourt game.  Both are best in the post.  It’s not Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry, but you wouldn’t expect both to score 20.  In fact we don’t know what Shaq can do, period.  He’s nowhere close to the dominant force he used to be.  If he has a disappointing season then that front line gets thin quickly.  The Suns may be forced to return to small ball in that case.  On the defensive end you have some slow feet.  It’s one thing to adopt a defensive philosophy.  It’s another entirely to put it into practice.  I don’t think the players will have any trouble picking up the new system conceptually but when you’re not used to playing a style it doesn’t come easy.  That mental game will get even interesting if Phoenix starts losing more than expected.

 

The best chance for Phoenix in a more conventional game is probably to bank on their extra point scoring capability.  They’re talented and athletic enough to draw fouls.  They’re also a good deep-shooting team.  If they can squeeze an extra 6-7 points per game from the line and the arc the pressure on their defense will be less.

 

It’s hard to imagine Phoenix doing anything but the Phoenix Offense.  That makes predicting their success or failure a tricky venture.  I’m pretty comfortable saying they’re not going to return to the league elite.  I’m pretty comfortable saying they’re not going to fail abjectly.  Where they end up in the middle regions of that continuum is anybody’s guess.

 

Read more about the Suns at BrightSideoftheSun.com.

 

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)