2013--14 RECORD: 48--34 (3RD IN PACIFIC) COACH: JEFF HORNACEK (2ND SEASON WITH SUNS)
A year ago the Suns reshaped their roster and devised their strategy based on their strength at point guard. After Phoenix's floor leaders made good on that approach by fueling a surprising 48-win season, the team doubled down over the summer, neglecting other positional needs—especially depth inside—to bolster what it does best.
The Suns' biggest acquisition was 5'9" Isaiah Thomas, 25, the 60th and final pick in the 2011 draft, who signed a four-year, $27 million deal after putting up career highs in points and assists with the Kings. Their biggest investment was a five-year, $70 million contract for 6'1" Eric Bledsoe, whose breakout fourth season was interrupted by a torn right meniscus that required surgery and cost him 33 games. When healthy, the 24-year-old Bledsoe was part of a perpetually pick-and-rolling backcourt with 6'3" Goran Dragic, 28, the NBA's Most Improved Player and one of four players in league history to average 20 points and five assists while shooting 50% from the floor and 40% from beyond the arc. (While Dragic can become a free agent in July, his brother, Zoran, a 6'5" rookie guard, is signed through 2015--16.)
The ballhandling surplus will allow Phoenix to keep two starting-caliber point guards on the court at all times, easing the burden on wings and bigs more suited to supporting roles. Size could be a problem against some opponents, but the pace-pushing, floor-spreading attack that lifted the Suns to eighth in offensive efficiency in 2013--14 will be potent again.
20.3 PPG; 5.9 APG; 50.5 FG%; 40.8 3FG%
17.7 PPG; 5.5 APG; 4.7 RPG; 47.7 FG%
9.4 PPG; 6.5 RPG; 43.1 FG%; 38.7 3FG%
13.8 PPG; 6.0 RPG; 1.8 APG; 48.6 FG%
8.1 PPG; 7.8 RPG; 1.1 BPG; 51.7 FG%
20.3 PPG; 6.3 APG; 45.3 FG%; 34.9 3FG%
15.8 PPG; 3.4 RPG; 44.5 FG%; 40.0 3FG%
Plumlee's development firms up the defense. The Suns snap a four-year postseason drought.
Chemistry issues, the loss of Channing Frye and regression to the mean ding the offense.
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE SUNS
Some teams might have speed with their first unit or second unit, but the Suns feature it for 48 minutes. They execute well in the half-court, but they're especially formidable in transition.... Jeff Hornacek was impressive as a rookie coach in putting players in position to succeed. So many guys surpassed expectations.... With Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green and the addition of Isaiah Thomas, that's a lot of firepower.... The Dragic-Bledsoe backcourt works because Bledsoe can guard twos despite his lack of size. Having two ballhandlers gives them the flexibility to run multiple pick-and-rolls on the same possession, creating more opportunity for defensive breakdowns.... Dragic is the better shooter of the two. Defenses go under screens against Bledsoe, but he's so quick and takes such smart angles that he still gets to the rim.... Thomas excels at the pick-and-roll. He tends to overdribble, though.... Markieff and Marcus Morris compete, and P.J. Tucker brings toughness, but interior defense is a question mark. Will Alex Len play more in his second year? Run through the list of preferred skills for a five—such as post scoring, pick-and-roll finishes and rim protection—and he hasn't checked any of them off yet.... Miles Plumlee symbolized their team last year, coming out of nowhere to contribute consistently.... The backcourt is crowded for rookie Tyler Ennis, but you can never have too many point guards. They are valuable as insurance or trade chips.... The Suns have to be patient with Archie Goodwin because he's only 20, but he's explosive and suits their style.
BARRY GOSSAGE/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
Bledsoe sparks a loaded backcourt.