The thankless job of replacing point guard Steve Nash grew harder with the loss of Channing Frye, who was diagnosed with an enlarged heart in September and is expected to miss the season. The three-point-shooting big man created all kinds of space in Phoenix's pick-and-roll offense, which will now be run by an old face: Goran Dragic, a 26-year-old who spent his first 2½2 seasons as Nash's backup.
Dragic, who averaged 18.0 points and 8.4 assists in 28 starts last year with Houston, will have to incorporate a trio of newcomers into the offense: hardworking Luis Scola, who was amnestied by the Rockets, and underperforming forwards Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson from the Timberwolves. In addition to Marcin Gortat, who gives the Suns their best paint presence since Shaquille O'Neal, Dragic will rely on Jared Dudley, a versatile leader who'll need to stay upbeat as he discovers there are more holes on the roster than he can fill.
COACH: Alvin Gentry (5th season with Suns)
2011--12 RECORD: 33--33 (3rd in Pacific)
OFFENSE: 98.4 ppg (8th)
DEFENSE: 98.6 ppg (21st)
PICK-AND-ROLL OFFENSE: 31.6 ppg (2nd)
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
he's a bargain.... Jared Dudley plays so hard, he's very smart, and he's a great teammate. He's going to suffer because the floor isn't spaced as much for him. He has so many deficiencies—I mean, I think I'm quicker laterally than he is.... I'm not a fan of Michael Beasley. It's his personality. He just doesn't seem to care. He doesn't play hard.
Johnson flourishes, second-year big man Markieff Morris fills in for Frye, and the Suns sneak into the playoffs.
The floor is too crowded, defenses bottle up Dragic, and Phoenix suffers its first 50-loss season in nine years.
Percentage of Marcin Gortat's baskets that were assisted in 2011--12, the highest for anyone with 250 field goals. Of his assisted baskets, 63.8% came courtesy of the now departed Steve Nash.
TONY GUTIERREZ/AP (DRAGIC)
ROCKY WIDNER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES