Greetings, fellow Brightsiders, and welcome to the second part of our look at Suns Ring of Honor players. The picture below tells the story of what it's like to be a Suns fan for me. That's Kevin Johnson dunking over reigning league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Hakeem Olajuwon in a 1994 playoff game against the Rockets. KJ was an incredible player, lightning quick and fearless, an accurate shooter who could also break down any defense driving to the hole and dish to his teammates for easy buckets.
The dunk is recognized as one of the greatest of all-time. And it occurred during an extraordinarily tough loss, a game 4 loss at home as the Suns squandered a 2-0 lead earned on the Rockets' floor and eventually lost the Western Conference semi-finals series in 7. The Rockets went on to win the title, though I'll never stop feeling that the Suns had a superior team. Yes, it's bittersweet to be a Suns fan. It's also a lot of fun. Let's look at the second set of players who have helped make it so.
For a franchise without a championship, the Suns have had exceptional success. Their franchise record is 1954-1540, a .559 winning %, and they've made the playoffs 29 times out of 43 seasons, a .674 success rate. After my last post, the question was asked about the point I was trying to drive home. There is the element of placing Steve Nash's career into context but, more than that, I wanted to share some of my experiences as a grizzled veteran Suns fan. As great as Steve Nash is, team history didn't start with him. Set aside the lack of a championship and our current predicament, and revel in the glory of our five next Ring of Honor players, again in alphabetical order.
Achievements as a Sun:
After being named in a point shaving scandal in college, Hawkins had been blacklisted from the NBA (even though there was no evidence Hawkins was involved in any wrongdoing) before joining the Suns at age 27 from the ABA, where he was 1968 league MVP. "The Hawk" was even before my time, so I can't speak to him firsthand, but he was The Human Highlight Reel before Dominique Wilkins was, a skywalker who electrified fans with his dynamic play. He averaged 24.6 points and 10.4 rebounds in his first year with the Suns, as he led the team to the 1970 playoffs, only to lose to the loaded Lakers (sadly, a recurring theme in Suns history). Hawkins finished 5th in league MVP voting that year. It would prove to be the best of Hawkins' four Suns seasons, but the former Harlem Globetrotter gave the Suns franchise some pizzazz. Check this out. The music of the great Marvin Gaye is really the only soundtrack that works for Hawk's exquisite style.
How he departed:
Hawkins' play declined in each of his Suns seasons, as knee problems plagued him, and he was eventually traded to the Lakers for Keith Erickson and a draft pick. He was merely an average player statistically after that. Hawk's best years were in the ABA and his short stint with the Suns, and he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.
Achievements as a Sun:
As you can probably tell from the introduction, KJ is one of my favorite all-time players. He was traded to the Suns in 1988, along with Mark West, Tyrone Corbin and a draft pick that would become Dan Majerle in exchange for Larry Nance (among other minor trade considerations). Nance isn't in the Ring of Honor, but he netted the Suns two future ROH players in a trade. At the time of the trade, the Suns were reeling from the drug scandal and a 28 win season in 87-88. Led by KJ, Tom Chambers, Eddie Johnson and Jeff Hornacek, they turned it around the next season with 55 wins and a berth in the Western Conference Finals, ushering in a new era of the franchise.
In the 10 full seasons of his Suns career, Kevin Johnson was All-NBA five times and the Suns made the playoffs every season of his playing career. That's worth restating. The Suns made the playoffs every season between 88-89 and 97-98, making the WCFs twice and the NBA Finals once. KJ's other accomplishments are too numerous to be listed, but are well-documented here.
How he departed:
KJ retired for the first time in 1998, then made a brief comeback in the 99-00 season, stepping in for an injured Jason Kidd and helping the Suns to a playoff series win before retiring for good in 2000. Except for the first 52 games of his career, KJ only played for the Suns and was a team leader during one of the most successful stretches the franchise has ever seen. Currently the Mayor of Sacramento, KJ has been credited with helping his hometown keep the Kings in the city for at least one more season. The man's a winner, and I would not be surprised to see him rise above the office of Mayor of Sacramento in the future.
Achievements as a Sun:
"You'll be sorry you ever booed this young man," coach Cotton Fitzsimmons famously told fans who had booed the announcement of the Suns drafting Majerle with the 14th pick of the 1988 draft. Cotton could not have been more right, but fans were confused by the selection of a guy with a hard to spell name from a school (Central Michigan) which hadn't exactly churned out bushels of future NBA stars. "Thunder Dan" quickly won Suns fans over with his hustle, toughness and defense. The ultimate glue player, Majerle honed his 3-point shooting skills to the point that he twice led the league in made 3-pointers. He also made the All-Star game three times and the NBA All-Defensive team twice.
As much as his considerable accomplishments on the court, Majerle simply had star quality. He opened a restaurant, Majerle's, still open today. He had his own line of clothing, Thundernine (yes, this young lad proudly wore one of the t-shirts). Women wanted to be with him. Men wanted to be him. Majerle played the first seven seasons of his career with the Suns, they made the playoffs every time and the Finals once, but if you look at his stats, they won't blow you away. Those stats only tell a small fraction of the story of Thunder Dan's impact on the Suns. Watch these highlights. Cut the Celine Dion song some slack because this is a great highlight reel otherwise.
How he departed:
It's hard to fail to fully appreciate a player like Majerle, yet he was still somewhat under-appreciated, at least ultimately by the front office. After two seasons of the Suns losing to Hakeem Olajuwon's Rockets in the playoffs, it was decided the team needed to add size. Majerle, along with Antonio Lang and a first round pick, was traded to Cleveland for John "Hot Rod" Williams in 1995 in one of the worst moves in franchise history. The Suns had been knocking on the door of a championship for years, and now were down the hall of another building from a championship, going only 41-41 in the 95-96 season. A 36 year old Majerle returned to the Suns for his final NBA season in 01-02 and now, of course, is one of Alvin Gentry's assistant coaches. Oh, and the "Dan Majerle Hustle Award"? Yep, that helps tell the story, too.
Dick Van Arsdale
Achievements as a Sun:
Van Arsdale is another player who was before my time, but when a man has the nickname "The Original Sun", you'd better stop and take notice. Selected by the Suns in the 1968 expansion draft, Van Arsdale led the young franchise in scoring for two of their first three seasons, averaging over 20PPG in each season and making the all-star team three times. He scored the first basket in franchise history on October 18, 1968. "The Flying Dutchman" went on to play the final nine seasons of his career for the Suns before retiring in 1977. This is a great pictorial history of Van Arsdale. And, yes, he has a twin brother Tom Van Arsdale who you see in some of the pics.
How he departed:
After retiring, Van Arsdale held several jobs within the Suns organization, including broadcaster, General Manager and VP of Player Personnel. The 68 year old Van Arsdale now makes another kind of art. Along with Alvan Adams, Van Arsdale is a Phoenix Sun through and through.
Achievements as a Sun:
Westphal holds a special place in Suns history as a player and coach of the two Suns teams that came closest to bringing a championship to the franchise. As a player, Westphal was traded to the Suns in a 1975 deal with the Celtics in exchange for Charlie Scott and immediately became one of the team leaders on a squad that made the 1976 Finals against those same Celtics. A 6'4" shooting guard, the sharpshooting Westphal scored over 20PPG in his first five seasons with the Suns and his career FG% is .504. In those five seasons, the Suns made the Finals once and the conference finals another time as Westphal made four all-star games, was 1st team All-NBA three times and finished 6th in 77-78 MVP voting.
How he departed:
Looking to add defense, the Suns traded Westphal to the SuperSonics for Dennis Johnson in 1980, in a trade that was reasonably fair. Things went south for the Suns when they traded DJ for Rick Robey in 1983 in another one of the worst moves in franchise history. Westphal returned to finish his playing career with the Suns in 1983, became an assistant coach, then head coach of the 92-93 team that made the NBA Finals versus Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls. He's currently head coach of the Sacramento Kings.
What have we learned here?
That's up to you to decide, but I hope you've enjoyed the ride. Of the Suns Ring of Honor players, only Alvan Adams played his entire career in Phoenix. Others, like Majerle, Westphal and Chambers, left Phoenix but ended up coming back. How will it end for our current hero Steve Nash?
Here's a bit of weekend reading for you.
Okay, so I'll admit it right off the bat, the title may be a little misleading but trust me - you want to read this beast all the way through. It will open your eyes to some fallacies found in the conversation surrounding Jimmer Fredette and the possibility of the Phoenix Suns taking the NCAA Player of the Year at 13 in this year's NBA draft.
If I'm going to call out some things that are wrong with what people are saying, let's first identify a few things that are right.
"So Eutychus... what in tarnations are you trying to do here, you just admitted that you have no argument?" - Captain Obvious
Thanks Captain, now jump it and hold your questions until after I'm finished.
There is this fable that is gaining popularity among some faithful members of Bright Side of the Sun as well as local sports media giants like Paul Coro and our own Seth Pollack.
Suns beat writer Paul Coro expressed his agreement with the above statement during an interview he did on Thursday (5/26) for a local radio show. You can listen to the audio here.
Our own Seth wrote an article for SBNationAZ about it that can be found here. In it he says,
The second part of this equation is the stated commitment from Suns President Lon Babby to get better defensively.
In his final press conference of the season, Babby made a point to talk about the need to improve on the defensive end and add size to the team. Jimmer Fredette is the opposite of both things.
This my friends is what I'm going to call a fable. Don't get me wrong I'm a fan of Coro and I'm a fan of Seth, I love those dudes like uncles - but I'm going to open up a different perspective here.
Let's break this fable into two parts.
Starting with the first.
It's true, the Suns desperately need to improve on the defensive end. As a team we saw small victories towards that goal this year with the development of Channing Frye, the acquisitions of Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus and the wise and standard work of Grant Hill and Jared Dudley.
How do we get better defensively? It's going to happen two ways - through personnel changes and through coaching changes (i.e. schemes, practice, demand, accountability). By now we've all heard the word that 'cheap' Sarver has given the OK to add another salaried coach to the staff to help with the second part of that improvement (I forgot how to use the sarcasm font so I hope you realize I don't think Sarver is cheap). Alvin Gentry says,
"What I decided was we just needed someone from the outside with a new voice and outlook. It's not anything against who we have. Dan Majerle played for Pat Riley and was all-defensive, and I do have confidence in Bill Cartwright and the other guys, but we need a new approach because if we're ever going to be good, we need a whole new voice to be consistent."
I think this is a great step forward for the Suns and if this is the only thing the Suns do in the off-season (obviously it won't be the only thing) I'm sure the team will improve defensively.
For the personnel part... we have the Draft and we have Free-Agency. Who goes and who stays!? Who knows. But if you want guaranteed results as far as acquiring a defensive player you do it through free-agency... unless there's a Blake Griffin, nothing is guarantee in the draft. You go out and get guys who are proven NBA defenders if that's your goal. And where do you start? What positions are the defensive priorities to upgrade? (Here's a kicker and one of my 'new perspectives')
It doesn't start with the Point Guard. In fact, the point guard position is the LAST priority when it comes to defense.
Let me prove my position. Let's take a look at the best defensive teams in the league this year. That's determined by who has the best team Defensive Rating (DRtg - a combination of defensive factors compiled and thrown together by scientists and super-evolved monkeys).
Oh - a note for you advanced statistics noobs, the lower the defensive rating the better, it's an estimation of the points allowed by a player/team per 100 possessions.
Another note - the league average DRtg is 107.
Let's keep going, this is fun.
I think you get the idea. Good defensive teams have a solid foundation of defensive BIGS (Centers and Forwards).
In case you wanted to know... the Phoenix Suns ranked #25 out of 30 defensively with a rating average of 110.4. Zabian Dowdell was the only guard to crack our defensive top ten. Marcin Gortat was our defensive anchor sporting a team best 106 (yet a career low for him)... it's also notable that in his 25 games with Orlando this year he had an amazing 99 DRtg
I'm not done yet.
Let's show a graphic here - I went through a list from last season of all the players in the NBA (There were 452 total players last year) and checked out where the point guards ranked defensively per their DRtgs. Let's take a look.
Here are my notes regarding this chart.
The first thing to notice - there isn't a single Point Guard in the defensive top 20. In fact, there are only 5 impact points in the top 200 defensive players in the league. Though some of those players you see near the top have great defensive ratings, you should always temper them with how many DWS (Defensive Win Shares) they earn
It's a point I've been harping on forever - if you want a good defensive point guard you will likely be sacrificing the right to have a good offensive point guard. The only two exceptions to this notion are Derrick Rose and Chris Paul highlighted in orange. They are both freaks and I'll have some more notes on them in a bit. The two players highlighted in yellow, Kidd and Nelson are two players who are above average defensively yet a little below average offensively contributing - they're the in-between points in the league. There you have it folks - 2 point guards in the entire league who have both great defense and great offensive ability.
This is where I'll bring Jimmer Fredette back into the picture. I'll repeat my 'perspective' - improving defensively at the point guard should be the last priority. I already admitted that Jimmer did not display any defensive specialty in college. To his defense - like he and his coach and others have pointed out to no avail - he was not expected to play much defense. He played nearly 36 minutes per game this year in a 40 minute basketball game, that's 90% of the game. Monta Ellis led the league in MPG this year with 40.3 in a 48 minute game - that's only 83% of the game. It wasn't that Jimmer was a ball hog on Utah - he averaged a good amount of assists... but HE WAS the offense. So yeah, he didn't show much effort on the defensive end - the team still won 32 and lost only 5 and was ranked nationally in the top 10. So while there are questions of his defensive motivation, there is no question of his offensive ability - except some of those crazy people that say things like this,
One of Fredette's weakness in the NBA will be Finishing At The Rim: Despite showing a nice mid-range game that should translate to the NBA well, Fredette could have trouble finishing in the paint at the next level. While he might be crafty enough to finish over his man, he has struggled at times finishing over help defenders.
Fredette doesn't always have the athletic ability to finish with help coming, so he is forced into double-clutched, circus-style lay-up attempts. This puts the basketball on a tee for the help defense to block it, and if he does get it over the help, there is a small chance the ball actually goes in.
Rajon Rondo? Yeah he's good defensively - but we all see that at times he can almost be an offensive liability. I am also of the tribe that besmirches his assist numbers a bit... because wouldn't we all like to throw passes to K.G., Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. That doesn't mean I don't respect his ability to an effect - he's a top 10 PG in the league no doubt.. but I am bitter that he was chosen over Steve Nash for the All-Star game. I dug a bit into the archives and looked at what people were saying about Rondo before he was drafted...
"Despite his highly intriguing physical attributes and skills, Rondo is anything but a surefire bet to pan out as a starting caliber NBA point guard...
The biggest concern about his game revolves around his perimeter shooting ability...
Rondo is neither incredibly tall, nor strong. His frame looks fairly frail and he could face some issues fighting through screens on the defensive end or finishing strong at the basket offensively until he finds a way to continue to add strength...
Not a surefire NBA point? Interesting.
Defense: Very good on this end when he puts his mind to it, considering his limitations. Uses his unbelievable lateral quickness and 6-4 wingspan to dart in front of passes to create turnovers. Displays very good anticipation and quick hands when going for strips and deflections. Tough to get by due to his speed and improved strength. Struggles on the pick and roll, often late getting out and doesn’t do a great job fighting through screens. Can get posted up effectively due to his lack of size, or shot over the top of on the perimeter. Solid rebounder for his size and position. Will get anything that bounces long off the rim. Never late to a loose ball either.
"Paul may have to adjust some of the things he does as far as attacking the basket" - does that sound familiar? How's that working out for CP3?
Paul is a remarkably well-rounded point guard and prospect, but there are a few negatives to mention.
With his quick hands and dominant lateral quickness, you would expect Paul to be a dominant defender. However, he is mediocre at best in this area. While he ends up with a lot of steals, he isn't always an aggressive defender, and doesn't eat up opposing ball handlers the way that he should.
Wake Forest was a very poor defensive team this season, and it showed up in the tournament. While some of that falls on Skip Prosser's system and a few of Paul's teammates, Paul's inability to lock up primary ball handlers (go back to that West Virginia game again), is a place to start when discussing the Demon Deacons' defensive woes.
At a generous 6'0, Paul is a bit undersized as a point in the NBA. While his explosiveness more than makes up for it, Paul may have to adjust some of the things he does as far as attacking the basket. He may have trouble guarding some of the bigger point guards in the league as well.
Doesn't have great footspeed or a very quick first step. Most NBA PG's have an extra burst of speed they can switch into to blow by their man and create their own shot, or get into the lane and create for others. Deron Williams doesn't. (EUTYCHUS LOL'D)
He finds ways around that on the NCAA level, using a wide array of body fakes and nifty dribbling to get his defenders off balance. Will he be able to do the same in the NBA?
Defensively, he plays very well on the college level, but could have trouble finding the lateral quickness to guard players like Stephon Marbury, Dwyane Wade and others.
His three point shot isn't super consistent just yet, but I don't think that's too much of a cause for concern. His release could be a little faster, but that will likely be worked on in the pros.
And lastly, how is his conditioning? He looks just a little pudgy; does he have room to get a little faster by shedding some weight? Is that just his body type?
"Defense: An average defensive player whose size allows him to be effective against many starting point guards. Would probably be more effective (like he was in college) if he wasn’t relied upon so heavily on the other end of the floor. Big and strong enough to push around most of the players he is matched up with. Is one of the league’s best at taking charges. Will get down in a stance and work to stay in front of his man, but lacks the lateral quickness and consistent focus to do so consistently.Gets beat of the dribble when he’s forced to close out. Does a solid job fighting through screens. Will keep his man from blowing by him when he’s playing one-on-one, but will give up a lot of midrange looks. Rebounds the ball at a solid rate for a point guard. Comes up with some steals due to his quick hands. Won’t deflect a lot of passes, forcing most of his turnovers on the ball. Commits quite a few fouls for a point guard, using his size too aggressively. Will play great defense in spurts, but is forced to play too many minutes to be able to put in the type of effort needed to maintain that same level of intensity for an entire game.
I'll stop there with all these notes on that chart... but you can see. Steve Nash is/was an All-Star/MVP/Franchise Player, Deron Williams, Tony Parker too - yet they are turrible defensively? Yet each has seen a lot of success and others even achieved championships because they've been a part of teams with good front court defense (Like T.P. with Timmay and Billups with Wallace, etc.).
What? This is the second part of the SethCoro fable - that adding Jimmer would contradict the goal to add size to the team. I hope when you guys adopt this opinion you mean that the fact the Suns are drafting a point guard instead of a PF or C is the contradiction - because I understand that view. But we all need to understand that drafting is also about filling 'needs' and taking 'the best available player'. Addressing our 'we need a scorer' issue and the future of our PG situation is a 'need' of the Suns and Jimmer fits both of those needs.
What I don't understand is when people say that Fredette is undersized at his position. That doesn't fly with me. The same people that say that are the same who believe he absolutely can't play defense at the next level because he lacks the 'tools' ... lateral quickness is a buzzword I've heard many use. Take a look at his pre-draft measurements up against those of Deron Williams, Stephen Curry and I threw Ty Lawson in there because I think he is the epitome of the new young/strong/quick PG generation taking over the league.
Jimmer is a heavy and strong 6'2" - of the same mold as Williams and taller than Lawson - his Bench Press was only beaten by 5 players during this combine - all 5 were either Centers or Forwards.
He obviously doesn't have the hops as do the others... but it says Williams only has a 35" max vert and he can throw down dunks from time to time - I've seen Fredette dunk it only once on a fastbreak (Youtube it), it was weak but it was a dunk. I've only heard rumors that Steve Nash can dunk - so I'm not concerned about Fredette's lack of vertical leap - he jumped high and quick enough to get his jump shot up and off against anybody he faced in the NCAA.
His wingspan is only an inch or so shorter than Williams and the same longer than Curry's. Lawson's got a small wingspan for a point guard - but we all know he does fine.
What was all that about he lacks lateral quickness? It looks to me that he has the best lane agility time and the 2nd best sprint time out of the 4. He definitely has the 'tools' to defend well, he has the mindset that he wants to prove he can defend - and I wouldn't bet against that.
Here's Andrew Siciliano talking about Jimmer's 'size'.