A couple years ago, the Suns had a logjam on the wing. At the end of the 2010 offseason, the Suns were overloaded at the small forward position in particular. Not only did they already employ Grant Hill and Jared Dudley, they had acquired Hakim Warrick, Josh Childress and Hedo Turkoglu in July.
We spent the rest of that offseason trying to move guys around to make it work, assuming the Suns wanted to give minutes to all five. Childress, Hill and Duds could all spend a little time at shooting guard, we said, since SF and SG were interchangeable in the Suns' offense. In fact, I remember talking myself into Chilly being a straight SG. Don't worry about Warrick, we said, because would be Amare-lite at the PF position. And Hedo? The Suns called him their new starting PF and I, for one, talked myself into that as well. Hedo had played some PF next Dwight Howard, so why not? As we all know now, that roster was flawed in a big way and didn't last two months. All five were truly small forwards at that time.
Fast forward to September 2012. The Suns have had a major roster turnover, and this time it's the power forward position that's overloaded. Luis Scola, Markieff Morris, Channing Frye and Michael Beasley all profile best at PF, and all expect to earn minutes in the regular rotation.
Since there's only 48 minutes available each night at the PF position, let's explore who can shift where.
Disclaimer: for the purposes of this article, Beasley is being classified ideally as a PF because his stats show he is much more effective at PF than SF in his NBA career. That's our starting position, before moving him to SF due to the makeup of the roster.
Before we throw any of these guys into a different spot on the floor, let's review who's already at those spots.
Center: Marcin Gortat and Jermaine O'Neal. None of the aforementioned PFs is better at C than Gortat, who will get 30-35 minutes a night. That leaves 13-18 minutes open for O'Neal or anyone else.
Small Forward: Wesley Johnson, P.J. Tucker, Jared Dudley. Dudley will definitely get at least 25 minutes a night, but likely play at least half those minutes at the SG spot. That leaves 36 or more minutes available for Johnson, Tucker or any of the PFs.
Shooting Guard and Point Guard: Dudley, Johnson, Tucker, Shannon Brown, Goran Dragic, Kendall Marshall, Sebastian Telfair. All 96 minutes will go to these 7 players. None of the PF candidates profiles as worthy of minutes at shooting guard or point guard. Though Beasley does like to shoot, he is not quick enough to defend a SG or PG for any length of time.
To recap, the available minutes for Scola/Morris/Frye/Beasley are: 48 minutes at PF + 13-18 minutes at C + 36 minutes at SF = 97-105 minutes per night.
The only competition for those 97-105 minutes are Johnson, Tucker and O'Neal.
Sounds simple, right? Scola, Beasley, Frye and Morris can each play about 25 minutes a night at three positions. Problem solved!
Channing Frye can play either PF or C. In fact, he was most effective in 2009-2010 as the change-of-pace to Robin Lopez at C, and floor-spacer next to Amare Stoudemire. By standing at the 3-point line (and with zone defense being illegal), Frye drew the other team's biggest player outside the paint. This opened the passing and scoring lanes for Nash and Stoudemire's devastating pick-and-roll.
That same thing happened last year, with Frye spacing the floor for Nash and Gortat's pick-and-roll. The only difference being that Frye officially played the PF position because Gortat is a C. But otherwise, it was the same offensive scheme as 2009-2010. Now Dragic takes over the PG spot from Nash. He still runs the p-n-r, but it's more of a drive-and-pop where Dragic is the aggressor rather than the roll man being the aggressor.
Yet the Suns really don't want Frye to play in the same lineup with Dragic and Gortat. That would make Frye a starter. The Suns would rather play Luis Scola or Markieff Morris or Michael Beasley over Frye. The say that because the Suns FO acquired all three in the past 15 months despite having Frye on the roster, so I'm just reading the writing on the wall.
That puts Frye on the second unit at C or PF, most likely next to one of the other three PFs. Let's, for now, chalk Frye up to 12-15 minutes a night as the floor-spacer at PF/C. If Frye regains his 2010 shooting touch, or one or more of the other guys is injured or playing poorly, Frye might get more than that.
Scola is different than any PF we've seen here in Phoenix in a long time. He has a lot of post moves, likes to back down his man and figures out crafty ways to score around them. He plays about 10 feet from the basket, out to 15 feet. Defensively, he's the PF version of Steve Nash. Can't play effective straight-up defense, relying instead on arts and crafts and smarts to get by. He needs Gortat's help to be really effective.
Scola can be just as effective at C vs. PF, but you really don't want to expose Scola for too long at C simply because he's too undersized to take on the opponent's biggest player. If Scola is playing C, you're employing a small lineup. Great at scoring, bad at defense. Don't be suprised if you see Scola at C in some lineups, surrounded by Frye, Beasley, Dudley and Dragic. You can swap Frye for Johnson for an even smaller lineup.
For now, let's chalk Scola up to 25 minutes a game, with a couple of those being at C.
We have now chalked up 37 minutes a night at PF/C for Frye and Scola. Assuming 12 of those are at C, that leaves only 23 PF minutes a night remaining, plus 36 SF minutes.
Now you see why the Suns are calling Michael Beasley a SF?
The big question is which Markieff Morris will we get this season. Is it the brash, confident Morris that started his rookie season making nearly 50% of his threes as the Channing Frye clone? Or the one who hit his rookie wall and nearly lost his rotation spot? Or the guy who dominated the Summer League with a variety of scoring moves and very few three-pointers? The summer Morris was the alpha male, clearly the best player on the court for either team in each game he played.
Summer Morris would earn at least those remaining 23 PF minutes each night, squeezing Scola and Frye down to the bare minimum. Rookie Morris would get lost in the shuffle. If you see a more of Scola in 2012-13 than you expected, it's because Rookie Morris reappeared.
Regardless, Morris doesn't profile at any position other than PF. He could spot time at C, but I think Gentry would rather play O'Neal, Frye or Scola there first.
Can Morris play alongside Frye or Scola in the same lineup? Depends on which Morris shows up. Rookie Morris WAS Frye, so that wouldn't work. No one would be inside 13 feet of the hoop. Rookie Morris could complement Scola though, as the 3-pt floor spacer just like Frye could. If Summer Morris shows up, he would appreciate the floor-spacing Frye provides, but would clash with Scola.
Let's assume Summer Morris shows up this year. Can he play next to Gortat? I would guess so. Gortat is a garbage guy who could clean up Morris' mess when he drives or shoots, and grab passes from Dragic. Morris has never appeared to be a good p-n-r guy. You'd think anyone could be the roll man, but it does take acumen to take the pass on the run and creatively score in traffic.
Beasley is a talent. He's a basketball player who can play multiple positions - PF, SF or even some SG. So with three other guys on the roster who really need the PF minutes, Beasley has already been designated the starting small forward (SF).
The problem here is that Beasley is much better at PF. While his skillset - shooting, driving - seem well-suited to the SF position, he settles way too much for contested jumpshots when he's slotted on the wing. Beasley is a major mismatch under the basket, with a variety of smooth moves and ability to finish with either hand. But when he has two bigger teammates on the floor clogging the lane, he just pulls up for jumpers.
Yet that's where Beasley is slotted right now, as the third biggest Suns player on the court most of the time. Playing with Gortat and Morris/Scola, Beasley will see a clogged lane and settle for the easy shot attempt. Gentry can open the lane by playing Frye, or telling Morris to be Rookie Morris, but is that the best PF option?
Does the upside of an aggressive Beasley outweigh the downside of Rookie Morris or Frye standing at the 3-point line all night?
Who knows, but expect to see Beasley at SF for up to 36 minutes a night. If Beas isn't playing well, Johnson or Tucker could take some of those minutes, but otherwise that's what we have.
Alvin Gentry has a lot of options. And there's a chance that everyone meshes perfectly and the Suns become an unpredicable juggernaut. Scola and Morris would ideally share the PF position, with Fye at floor-spacing backup C and Beasley an aggressive SF.
But it could all be disjointed too. An aggressive Summer Morris might mean a passive, jump-shooting Beasley. Passive Rookie Morris might mean Scola gets a lot of playing time, which also means a clogged lane and passive, jump-shooting Beasley. Maybe Frye gets a lot of PF minutes to clear the lane for Beasley (and Dragic), but then tehe FO has brought in the other three guys to unseat Frye's hold on the PF minutes.
Only time will tell what happens.
I just can't wait for it to start!