(This is another in a series of 30 guest columns that will run in October, when optimism reigns supreme across the NBA. The theme will be “Five Reasons to Feel Positive About … ” We encourage you to follow the authors on Twitter and visit their sites. – CS)
For the past few seasons, Phoenix Suns fans watched their two favorite players slip from peak performance as age and injury conspired to erode their skills. Steve Nash was 38 and Grant Hill was 39, which is like 76 and 78 in NBA years.
While the world marveled at TwoTime’s ability to remain effective as a point guard long after any other NBA player had done the same, Suns fans cherished each bounce, pass and shot like they were watching a re-release of an old classic on cable TV.
Hill’s ambassador-like personality was magnetic, and his lone ability to create offense not generated by a Nash pass was a revelation amongst fans who’d watched countless players live and die off those dimes for nearly a decade. On top of that, he put in more effort on perimeter defense than anyone in the valley since Raja Bell.
However, the Suns were in steep decline as a team. Despite fighting until the final days of each season for a playoff spot, recent Suns teams never posed a threat to the contenders.
Time to reboot. Here’s five reasons to feel positive about the new version:
1. The hourglass has been turned over
Suns fans knew exactly what they were going to get the last couple of years: 30-32 minutes from Nash (the last few being a struggle), above-average but slow offense from the starters, below-average defense, below-average production from the second unit, and a .500 record. It got to the point that we didn’t even need to watch the game to know what would happen. Lose to the best, beat the worst and split the rest.
“It was like watching the sands in the hourglass,” said Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby. “There was a lot more sand at the bottom than at the top. Now we’ve turned it over. We don’t know what that means yet in terms of wins, but no question we are more talented than we were a year ago.”
There is excitement inherent to any unknown quantity. With the season-long injury to Channing Frye, only two starters (Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley) and three bench players remain from last season’s squad. Gortat was one of only three players in the NBA last season who averaged a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds).
In are Goran Dragic (4 years, $30 million) and Luis Scola (amnesty claim) from Houston, and Wesley Johnson (trade) and Michael Beasley (3 years, $18 million) from Minnesota. Three of those four will start this season. We have seen in preseason that the starting unit of Dragic, Scola, Gortat, Beasley and Jared Dudley can really play well together, grabbing strong leads in each game. The second unit is still a shambles, but everyone will play hard and fast, and they won’t lose games from lack of effort.
After two years of watching what appeared to be a poorly conceived “SSOL Tribute Tour,” at least the reset button has been set.
2. The best players can play the best minutes
One of the most difficult aspects of coach Alvin Gentry’s job the last two seasons was managing the minutes of his aging stars.
Even on a healthy night, Suns fans knew that whenever Nash had to play more than 24 of the first 40 minutes (to the 8-minute mark of the final period), we were asking for trouble. Nash had a kitchen timer for a body clock. Once that 30-minute mark went off (though sometimes it was set for 24 or 28 minutes), he was done. His passes weren’t as crisp, his decision-making off, his shots short. Heaven forbid that timer went off with 2-4 minutes remaining.