Wuzzup. I'm sitting back and enjoying the Suns recent return to the realm of 'entertaining' basketball. I hope you are too. We may not be at or above .500 yet, but the team is noticeably more cohesive, full of effort, chemistry looks to be improving and the overall demeanor of most of the players on a night-in night-out basis has been extremely positive. This has lifted my spirits and again peaked my hopes in the season. Instead of numbing the pain with apathy - I once again find myself emotionally invested in a team, but only because I can see that they are emotionally invested in themselves.
For a while there, Suns basketball had become lifeless with both discouragement from fans and players alike translating to painful-to-watch basketball and the mounting of heartbreaking shoulda-coulda-woulda-needed to-losses.
Personally, during the period of declined spirit found a few other things to do.
- Rosterbate and look for 'big-picture' positives from the season
- Play video games
- Watch the Clippers
- Practice my guitar skillz
- Train to be a cage-fighter...
Let me go into a little depth regarding numero uno...
Identify the Issues
Let me start with what's lacking from the team and clear-up the obvious. I think we all can agree that as our team currently stands - we've got a few too many wings, we don't have a real (traditional) Power Forward, and we don't have a reliable 'go-to' guy that can finish games. These are the biggest holes that I see in our team, it's the reason we've had 87 different starting line-ups, it's partly why we made an in-season trade, it's also the product of that very trade (especially the not having a 'go-to' guy now that JRich was gone and remember we even questioned if he could fill that role while he was here since Amare had left).
We were also lacking some intangibles - like effort, focus, cohesion, basic knowledge of the plays, yatta yatta. I feel like we've actually made improvement in those areas over the last 10 or 11 games. The team is gelling better, guys are on the same page as Steve, we're seeing consistent effort for nearly entire games now and overall chemistry is looking better.
Now the roster deficiencies are something else... for those to be fixed we will inevitably need to make some personnel moves. As Lon Babby and Lance Blanks have said before though - with the roster as constituted, we have very trade-able assets that can make correcting our roster easier as players that fit our needs become available. That's a positive way to look at our little problem.
So since I've pretty much rehashed what we already now by identifying these problems I started thinking about what we could do. Aaaaaand then I stopped because I realized that with the Trade Deadline just weeks away... I had no idea what the new Suns FO would or wouldn't do - I mean, we had no idea they were going to make a move to grab up Gortat and dump Hedo and JRich as soon as they did.
No Power Forward? No Problem... yet
So clueless and resigned by admission I dug deep and found a positive spin on what we are seeing from this Suns team despite our current roster issues. It's that we don't have a real PF, or in reality - we don't have a traditional PF. And right now that's a good thing. Actually IT'S A WONDERFUL THING.
Why? It's a simple answer.
Because we've just established a double headed monster at Center with the acquisition of Marcin Gortat and the recovery to health of Robin Lopez. We have, "the Wall not named John'. We have the Polish Hammer and Mofo'in Robin Lopez! Two legitimate centers in this league. Young guys. Guys with potential. When was the last time we've had two players at the center position with the skill-sets that both Robin and Marcin bring to the table? I can't remember, maybe never.
Here's the reality of it though - they are both projects in development. Gortat is a little further along. Our lack of a bonafide PF that isn't a spot up 3 shooter or a PnR finisher-only has helped and given these two young talents more time to develop their offensive game and physical precsence on the court. (More on this in a second - stay tuned) Would our team ultimately be better with a guy like Josh Smith or LaMarcus Aldridge at the PF along side either Lopez or Gortat? Undoubtedly it would, but the breadth of opportunity for these young centers wouldn't be as wide open as it is with him or someone else comparable.
Robin and Marcin have shown great signs of progress in the last month - and it's encouraging. Their competition and production at center I feel has been an inspiration to the team as a whole and they are literally centering a team at the moment that was ready to tip and fall off the season for good.
So as for now - No PF? No Problem, for me at least. I'm enjoying the development of these two young players.
Random thought: While I'm all in 'glass half-full mode' maybe the injury to Goran Dragic's foot is a good thing - If Zabian Dowdell can continue to play well in his great opportunity now to back up Steve Nash, I'm crossing my fingers that much like Gortat has sparked a little fire in Lopez, Dowdell can light a fire under Dragic's cheeks. Dragic played especially aggressive and well this year in training camp with the extra competition of Dowdell, Janning, and that other veteran dude that was cut.
Captain Obvious says,
"That sounds cool and all Eutychus about not having a PF and RoLo and ChinTat... but we still don't have a PF and no problems are actually solved with what you are saying..."
I'm glad you caught that - because what I was saying there... it wasn't a solution, I was just making applesauce out of apples.
But with that being said... what are some real solutions to our roster-jam?
Here's the way I see it - we can fix our problems through either,
- a) a trade here coming up around the deadline
- b) free-agency and stuff at the end of the year
- c) the draft and developing our young players
Since I've decided not to delve into Trades, I also don't want to mess with Free Agents - because I don't know who's available and who we've got pegged as disposable.. err.. movable. That leaves us with the draft and developing our young guys. And it's awkward to think about at this stage of the year because there are still so many 'unknowns' about the future that are up in the air - trade deadline hasn't passed - we know we probably don't want to pay Vince Carter to come back next year - Grant Hill's contract is up at the end of the year... - Pietrus has a player option for next year - Garret Siler's contract is unguarenteed for next year...
See, there are a lot of roster issues still floating in limbo. But like I said to start - I've had some time to think about things to take my mind off of being a sub-.500 team and watching terrible basketball for a large stretch of the first half of this season. So let's give this a whirl.
Developing a Traditional PF
I'll be honest with myself - I would be more at peace if a trade or off-season move was made for a PF than banking all hopes on draft day or developing our 2 picks (both PFs) from last year, Gani Lawal and Dwayne Collins. The reason being that the PF we need has to have specific offensive skills. More on this in a paragraph - hold that thought.
While we saw flashes of promise from Gani in Summer League and training camp, he's out with a bad injury and remains a giant question mark as to his development... Dwayne Collins as well is a mystery, since he was injured when we drafted him we couldn't even take a peek at his potential in the Summer League - now he's in Italy or something and nobody has heard anything about what the heck is going on with him.
I will reserve judgment on these two - because I'd really like to see what we have. The mold we're looking for offensively is a player of two skills, a PF who can (like Amare did) provide a threat both by finishing inside on the PnR and by hitting a consistent mid-range jumper. This combination is what optimizes a Phoenix Suns offense because it provides correct floor spacing for Steve or Goran to manipulate. Opponents must respect the shooting ability of all players on the floor but also protect the inside from diving, rolling, and slicing offense all around. It's the only way the 'pick-your-poison' offense can be maximized.
Seth wrote a good piece earlier in the year over at SBNation AZ that explained this void in the Suns offense this year and outlines Channing Frye as the hub around which our offense has been dependent. Here are the significant points -
For the Suns' "Nash System" to work on offense, the floor has to be spaced and that means there can only be one big man in the lane who doesn't have decent range. Four shooters surrounding one big man in the paint is a classic NBA alignment, but for the Suns, that "big man" has been Steve Nash. He's the one who needs the painted area relatively free so he can do his best work.
Last year, Phoenix reached its offensive pinnacle with Amare Stoudemire being able to both space the floor for Robin Lopez and, of course, play in the paint with Steve Nash when Channing Frye was in the game.
But when Amare blew out of town like a high-priced tumbleweed, it turned out that it wasn't his pick-and-roll finishing abilities that were most missed. It was his ability to both space the floor for Lopez AND finish on the pick-and-roll that left the big hole big enough to drive Robin Lopez's hair through.
So we brought in Hakim Warrick - he can finsh... but that's it - his jumper has not been consistent and that hurts spacing, it has allowed defenses to clog the lane when he is in and that results in either Hakim settling for a low percentage jumper or Hakim barreling into defenders crammed in the paint for a charge.
Channing Frye can space the floor like we need - but when we depend on Channing that means we are entirely 'living by the 3..' and a jump shooter - we have seen all too often this season that when Channing isn't shooting well, we most emphatically 'DIE BY THE 3'. That's why he's the key to our offense at the moment, and it's not the most consistent quarter-horse to bank your success on (the three ball).
Things have definitely gotten interesting with the emergence of Gortat and Lopez recently -because both have been stepping out and consistently hit mid range jumpers - THIS IS AWESOMENESS. It's provided a lot of the spacing Steve and Goran need... but like Seth mentioned earlier today - I'm not entirely sold on the act just yet.
The ideal situation would be to add a piece to help with this issue - a PF who has a mid-range game, and has good hands and footwork to finish in traffic. So how we pick up such a specialty player is a mystery to me and the murkiest problem I see the Suns FO tackling.
Maybe like I said earlier - the best answer to this is following the Sarver Manifesto and aqcuiring said player through a trade. What I do know for sure is that tackling the next roster problem on my list (acquiring a go-to scoring option) is a little easier if one kid is still available when the Suns are up to pick in the 2011 draft.
Alright,let's get the transparency out of the way - this whole spiel might easily be seen (by you the reader) as the product of my college hoops bias (I've been a big BYU sports fan my whole life - my sister, my brother-in-law, my dad, my father-in-law, a majority of my cousins all went there - heck I'm trying to get into BYU for graduate school...), but don't let that muddy the water of what you take away from this.
In the upcoming 2011 NBA Draft, the Phoenix Suns have two first round draft picks 1) our own that might land anywhere from late-lottery to high teens, and 2) Orlando's first round pick that we amazingly got in the Hedo-Jrich-Clark <-> Carter-Peitrus-Gortat trade. Orlando's pick will definitely be a mid, to late 20's pick. There's no telling whether or not we will still have both picks by draft day again considering the still looming trade deadline and off-season moves that could be made prior to it - a draft pick could easily be thrown in some of those transactions.
But let's for a while imagine that we still have those picks. I am proposing that we draft Jimmer Fredette of BYU.
Let me introduce you to Jimmer Fredette:
First off - DraftExpress.com has a prospect preview up this week about him - here is an excerpt,
Fredette's skill level is incredibly high, as evidenced not only by his production, but also the way he gets baskets.
He creates a huge chunk of his offense (68% according to Synergy Sports Technology) on his own, be it in isolation situations, in transition or in pick-and-roll sets—in that order. He's an excellent ball handler who is capable of dribbling with either hand and is very adept at splitting screens. And he's as shifty as they come, given his ability to play at different speeds.
Fredette shows excellent quickness, outstanding footwork and incredible creativity with the ball in his hands. He creates space to operate about as well as any guard in college basketball not named Kemba Walker, and he is a more complete scorer than Walker in terms of his offensive polish.
His best asset is clearly his shooting ability, which borders on outrageous when it comes to the difficulty of shots he is capable of making.
Fredette's range extends well beyond the NBA 3-point line. Unlike most shooters, however, he's just as effective making off-the-dribble jumpers as he is with his feet set. He elevates high off the ground, squaring his shoulders instantaneously and balancing himself perfectly in mid-air. He's capable of pulling up on a dime from unbelievable distances with his lightning quick release.
He has supreme confidence in his shooting ability, taking jumpers that would be viewed as absolutely horrendous if attempted by anyone else. For him these are good looks, though, as evidenced by the rate he converts these off-balance, contested 25- to 30-foot attempts. He's shooting 44% from beyond the arc for the second straight season, even though he's arguably the most closely guarded player in college basketball right now.
Fredette shows little emotion throughout the game, except when occasionally working the officials or expressing mild disappointment in missing an impossible shot by clapping his hands together. He's never rattled, even in the most pressure-packed moments of an intense game, showing a cool and calm demeanor at all times. This bodes well for his transition to the next level.
Fredette has been a hot topic lately since he is leading the NCAA in scoring by a landslide and because as the games get bigger and more important, he rises to the occasion and produces at unbelievable levels.
Though he has had 13 games of 30+ points or more in his college career so far and has also had multiple games of 40+ (including 49 he splashed on UofA ....IN TUCSON, and 47 on bitter rivals Utah... AT UTAH) His performance that has brought the most attention to him in the past few weeks was his 43 point game against conference rivals and nationally ranked #4 San Diego State last Wednesday. Here are some highlights -
After this game - a number of NBA players, scouts, coaches... rappers alike tweeted about him and his performance.
Jimmer Fredette actually worked out and played with team USA in the Summer this past year and Keven Durant and others on the Gold team had an up close look at the BYU Guard. He had this to say in addition to his tweet,
"He had 34 points with 10 minutes left," explained Durant, who is at 28.6 ppg. "That’s something I never could do in college or the NBA. That’s very impressive."
"I had a chance to play against him this summer at my basketball camp, and he’s as good as advertised, especially against some of the top guys in the country," Durant said of Fredette. "He also played with us in USA Basketball (against the FIBA World Championship gold medal team in Las Vegas) and held his own. I’m a big fan."
Steve Nash -
Derrick Williams - Also an NCAA star this year and projected top 5 pick in 2011 -
Even rapper Nelly had something to say -
Lot's of people had lots to say about Fredette's performance in the biggest game of his college career.
Here's another video of earlier this season when Jimmer Drops 47 at Utah - notice the variety in his shot selection, he's not just a screen and shoot, or stand still jump shooter.
Now as highlighted in the beginning of this little post - the Suns need a couple tweaks to make this Roster work. We've talked about the need at PF - and I mentioned the need of a clutch-time scorer. Fredette is this clutch-time option, he's the scoring punch we could desperately use.
Perhaps the most important info you need to know about Jimmer regarding this is summed up here in the conclusion of DraftExpress' preview,
With all this in mind, one of the biggest factors in determining the type of success Fredette will have in the NBA is the team he ends up on. In a fast-paced offense predicated on getting shots early in the shot-clock and a coach willing to live with defensive lapses, Fredette will be an incredible weapon. Put him in the wrong system, though, with a team that likes to grind it out and a coach who demands perfection on every defensive possession and we could be looking at a disaster.
The good thing is that Fredette does not look like the type of player who will have a problem coming off the bench, especially in a winning situation. He has the perfect temperament for this type of role, in fact. He's a team player who is "hot" as soon as he steps on the floor. It's not difficult to see him coming in and changing the complexion of a game with his shooting range and his prowess in late-game situations and from the free throw line. He'd be a terrific option to have on your team in the clutch.
Now there are definitely a number of skeptics who doubt how well his game will translate to the NBA - they worry about his Defense. But absolutely non of those skeptics question his future ability to score and make an impact offensively at the NBA level. That is what we need - a scoring machine.
Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski wrote an article about how his dominance should slow as he reaches the NBA level that I found to be pretty good - check it out, here's a blurb.
Conversations with multiple NBA general managers and scouts who’ve tracked Fredette’s progress result in one consensus: Almost no one agrees on anything. Perhaps there’s something about a white guard with American roots which causes such prejudging, stereotyping and skepticism to abound. Perhaps there’s something about a white guard with American roots which causes such rooting interest and overhype. People are forever trying to pin Fredette into a neat little comparative box. Most agree he could top out in the late lottery around 12 or 13 but probably won’t last past the mid-20s.
The thing is - that's right in our wheel-house. Where he's projected to go is exactly where our picks should be and in fact, DraftExpress has the Suns taking Fredette with the 13th pick (ours) and NBADraft.net also has the Suns taking him at the 13th pick.
The great thing about picking up Orlando's pick, is that if someone else jumps out at us for the 13th - there's still a possibility that we could draft him with that 2nd first round pick in the early 20's (that's if he doesn't get picked up before).
Who knows. There are still the many 'unknowns' and there is a lot of time between now and draft day. For me it's a pipe-dream that all the 'experts' seem to agree with at the moment. Jimmer to Phoenix makes the most sense.