More photos » Francis Specker - AP
This Suns want to get after it defensively this year.
I wish I could say that I've given the kind of "balls out" effort that Gentry says is required of his team 100% of the time. I do my best, you know, but sometimes my fingers get tired and if I'm honest, my effort can be lacking.
Here's a snapshot of my notes during today's highly intense and rather long practice session:
Intense. Set screens harder. Deny lanes. We've got to turn it up. Blue collared desperate is the only way we're going to win.
It was that kind of day.
The kind where the language would make Katy Perry's uptight censors turn as red as Elmo. The kind where Robin Lopez and Gani Lawal exchanged some shoves (in the course of play) and glares (after). The kind of practice that puts meaning behind the coach's words when he says, "We're going to play as hard as hell."
Jason Richardson taking a full-on charge from giant Garret Siler on one end and getting leveled by a Siler screen on the other. Hard, physical play. That's what was earning praise today.
In other words, good stuff, although Gentry doesn't want to have go this way.
Gentry made a point of saying that he's never had to coach effort since he's been here and he's not about the start now. He clearly wasn't pleased with what he was seeing at one point and let that be known.
"I'm not even happy that I have to mention that (effort). That's not something that we have to talk about around here," Gentry said after practice. "That's not anything that's going to be able to seep into our culture here."
Defensive game plan
The focus for this season defensively is going to be taking teams out of their offense. That means getting into the passing lanes, pressuring the ball, occasionally employing the full court press and generally playing aggressive on that end of the floor.
"Most offenses are initiated with a guard-to-wing pass and so we have to be able to take that away and then we have to keep the ball out of the painted area. If we have to front, we will, and three-quarter and things like that. We just have to be more attentive to the little bitty things as far as disrupting offenses," Coach said.
Overall, Gentry said he's not disappointed, but instead of playing "hard as heck" 90% of the time, he's looking for 100%, "We're deep enough that we don't need to pace ourselves."
Steve Nash looks at the defense and talks about needing time to get used to each other. "We're starting from scratch again with all the new guys. Our defense, we're not the biggest team, so it's built on cohesion and understanding and we've got to find that if we're going to be a really good defensive team."
Josh Childress agreed. He pulled up the old "playing on a string" cliche to talk about the team's defensive potential.
"I think if we really concentrate and focus on coach's principles, we'll be a good defensive team. It's just a matter of everybody getting on a string. Everybody helping when the other person is out of position. It comes with time. Slowly but surely we're getting there."
Both Nash and Hill are looking very good right now as the season gets ready to start, but let's remember last year when both came out of the gates firing, only to fade in the middle months.
Hill had four double-doubles in the first seven games, but only grabbed 10+ rebounds two more times the rest of the season.
After starting the season shooting the ball in the mid-40's (FG%), Nash dropped to 39% in March. There was a long stretch there in January where he was hobbled with the back and shoulder pains and would regularly admit after the game that he had no "pop" in his legs. The active defense we saw Saturday night was there early last season as well, but faded with time.
Not to knock those guys, as Gentry says they are the two best conditioned athletes on the team and if the season was 30 games long, they would be fantastic. Both also combined to miss only 8 games over the past two seasons.
Between luck eventually wearing out on the injury front and the wearing down process that we've witnessed over the past two or three seasons, there's simply no reason to expect that Nash and Hill can play at their highest-level for the entire season.
This is where Hedo will (potentially) shine for the Suns.
Right now, Turkoglu can't play his normal small forward spot. Gentry simply has to play Grant when he looks this good. Hedo can't be a primary, or even shared facilitator of the offense when you have Steve Nash on the floor.
But should age and luck eventually catch up to either Grant or Steve, Hedo will be there to step in.
If Grant goes down, Hedo can slide over the small forward spot and the Suns can start either Frye or Warrick at the power forward. If Phoenix lands Erick Dampier, this is even easier since Frye would have less responsibility at the five.
If Nash goes down, Hedo can share more of the ball-handling and offense-running responsibilities with Dragic.
For now, it's going to look awkward for awhile and there are already calls for benching Hedo in favor of Warrick, but that's a mistake. Hakim is a nice offensive spark and will give some energy and perimeter defense, but we've seen through his career that his game has too many holes to be a full-time starting power forward.
More importantly, Hedo needs to learn to play with the Suns starters so he can step up into a bigger role later in the season.
After 3 preseason games, Sebastian Pruiti breaks down all of the early pick-n-rolls with Nash and various roll men (Lopez and Lawal, for the most part).
Frankly, 3 preseason games is too early to tell anything for sure. For now, Nash is looking harder for the 3-point kickout off the pick, rather than the roll man.
This is llkely true - that Nash will more often kick to an open 3 off the pick than in prior years - but not to extent we're seeing in preseason.
Also instructive is how much slower the pick-n-roll develops with Lopez vs. Stoudemire. Lopez just doesn't dive as fast as Amare did, so Nash has to hold the ball longer. Lopez will likely improve as the season wears on, but never to Amare's levels.