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
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:
Here are his 4 year basic stats - remember, the 2011 season is still in swing, still 8 games plus a tournament run -
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."
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 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.
There's been a lot of talk in the past few days about how good Marcin Gortat is and how great he might become. Both in the comments on this site and on local radio, he's being touted as the a future All-Star and was called by KTAR's John Gambodoro as the best center the Suns have had in the last 20 years. Even assuming Gambo considers Amare Stoudemire a power forward, that's still a bold claim after just 20 games in a Suns uniform.
First, let me say that I've always appreciated Gortat's game and even in a trade that I didn't like, considered him by far the most valuable piece. I am not "anti-Gortat" either personally -- he's a pretty cool dude who gives great quotes -- and on the floor. I just don't see him being nearly as good as some people might believe.
Here's the numbers that people are using to make these claims (or maybe unaware of):
10.6 points and 7.8 rebounds through 20 games with the Suns. Shooting 58.6% and a career-high 75.9% from the line.
Advanced stats show his rebound rate as a Sun at 16.4 which is 19th among centers with at least 15 minutes per game.
His PER is 16.42 (avg is set at 15) which is 20th among centers with at least 15 minutes per game.
Of course, that includes some early games as well as his recent stretch in which he's recorded six double-doubles in his last eight games. He's averaged 15 points and 10.9 rebounds over that stretch while playing about 27 minutes. That's very productive and the Suns are 5-3 over that stretch.
Of course, those six double-doubles all came against inferior competition. Cleveland, Washington, Detroit and then a tired and/or depleted Boston, New Orleans and Milwaukee. The two games out of those eight that weren't as productive came against Philadelphia and Charlotte.
Offensively, 75% of his baskets are assisted which ranks ninth among centers with at least 15 minutes per game. He's behind guys like Chris Anderson, Kwame Brown, Anthony Toliver and yes, Channing Frye. This points out how dependent he is on Nash to get him the ball in scoring position.
In pick and rolls, which account for over half of his offensive possessions, he's done very well with a FG% of 56.9% (Robin was 68% on pick and rolls last season). Interestingly, he's FAR more effective on high pick and rolls versus right side or left side action.
Gortat is just 7-19 in post ups or isolation situations versus 37-65 in pick and rolls. He's also 6-12 as a spot up shooter which is surprisingly very good and shows his discipline in not taking bad shots.
Defensively, he ranks in the top 30% in pick and roll defense against ball-handlers and isolation defense. He's average (around 50%) in defending the roll man or post ups. He's very poor (bottom 10%) defending spot-up shooters.
The thing that jumps out at me is how skewed his big games have been against inferior competition. It's GREAT that he's risen to the occasion but calling a guy who got killed by Elton Brand and had very pedestrian games against the Nets, Nuggets and Trail Blazers a future All-Star because he's had six fantastic games is...premature.
The Suns next face the Thunder which should be an interesting test for Marcin against the undersized but highly athletic and energetic Ibaka and the big, lumbering, skilled Krstic.
After that comes two games against the Warriors with Biedrins and Lee and then another game against the Kings. (Remember DeMarcus Cousins dropped 28 points on him a few weeks ago.) Then comes Al Jefferson and the Jazz (twice) and Tyson Chandler and the Mavs before the All-Star break.
If Gortat can continue having good games (15 and 10) against these teams then maybe I'll start believing in The Hammer as anything more than an average NBA center.
Thank you, Milwaukee Bucks. I mean you, Ilyasova. And you, John Salmons. And you as well, Brandon Jennings. It's possible that these guys had the worst games of their careers, in terms of shooting.
The Bucks without Andrew Bogut are a poor team, that's made even worse because they've had no opportunity to practice without him. As Eddie Johnson said toward the end of a 31-point first half, "I don't know what offense they're running, but they haven't run it yet."
The Bucks as a team posted their worst shooting percentage of the season (31.3% for the game). And the Phoenix Suns, in turn, set a new season-low in shooting percentage allowed. This is because the Bucks attempted very few of their 90 shots in the paint all night. Why? Because they were blocked 11 times vs. only 9 made baskets. Ouch.
Again, thank you Milwaukee.
But for the Suns, no good game is worthy unless there's some bad news mixed in with it.
Steve Nash left the game limping and grimacing with about a minute left. Given how many dings Nash incurs throughout the season, it's not likely to sideline him for any period of time. But my guess is that he pulled something. We won't hear about it until practice tomorrow at the earliest, after some treatment. Let's just hope it's a mere ding.
Nash had 9 points and 13 assists for the night, most of that by middle of the 3rd. At halftime the Bucks adjusted to the Suns' pick-n-roll, stymying the Nash/Gortat combo with an extra defender and a couple more strategically-placed thumbs on Gortat's hands (or something equally sinister, I'm sure). Most of the time, the Suns can crush an opponent that puts 3 guys on the 2-man p-n-r. But alas, the Suns shooters stopped making any baskets.
Marcin Gortat was really good in the first half, and merely solid in the second. He was anticipating and rolling with Nash like they've been together for years, but then seemed to let his mind wander in the second half when the Suns were up more than 20 points. At the end, he tallied 19 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Channing Frye was solid as well with 14, 13 and 3.
The Suns corralled 54 rebounds in total. It helps when you're playing against shorter skinnier guys, but then I'm not sure what Robin Lopez' poor showing.
Both teams seemed ready to call it a night by 3 minutes into the second half, yet the Suns out-daydreamed the Bucks long enough to give little Earl Boykins a jolt of hope.
Luckily, the starters finished the game the right way this time.
"I was trying to battle over their two undersized big mans. I've got to tell you, for me it's really uncomfortable to play against undersized big men. Their leverage is lower than mine and it's harder to push them and both of these guys have a lot of energy so it was tough game for me," Gortat said.
Sam Smith AND Marc Stein are here. That means Nash will be trade to the Bulls for Ronnie Brewer, right?
Robin beat Ilysova for the tip. That's a good sign early.
Knowing chuckle from crowd as Nash hits a shot while lying on this back after being tripped.
And there's Violet Palmer...blind as a bat.
Suns pounding the ball inside taking advantage of opponent's lack of size. I can't tell you how many years I've waited to type that sentence.
Grant Hill gets T'd up for arguing the ball got tipped - which is the call he got from the ref on the baseline.
How long before Gentry goes small to match the Bucks? I anticipate a lot of Frye/Warrick tonight.
There's a crowd of Polish fans behind me just waiting to go nuts. They have red and white flags, signs, etc.
Nash covered by three guys and still finds Gortat in front of the rim.
Frye with a nice post up on Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
It took me more time to spell his name than for Frye to make this move and score.
Bucks are the worst three-point shooting team in the league. Zone it up, baby. Although right now that straight up D is working just fine. 23-15.
Seeing Earl Boykins on the court always surprises me. Tiny.
Zabian vs Boykins. NBA's finest!
Oh, Violet Palmer...
MP robbed Dowdell of an assist on a pretty pass by turning down the layup to hand it off to Gortat who was stripped.
Warrick joins the post-fest, scoring on Ersan.
Warrick with the ball at the elbow. Gortat at the other elbow. Gortat gets a back screen and rolls to the rim for a lob from Hak. Nice play...to bad Marcin blew the finish.
Dowdell did a great job breaking that press. Dude does not panic.
Suns up 44-31...they've let off the gas just a little bit....but Vince Carter is coming back in to light a fire under some ass.
Dudley on a 4-0 run since Carter came back in. See.
Jennings getting anywhere he wants but can't finish. Looks rusty. He's probably rusty after missing several weeks.
6-0 run since Carter came back in.
Garret Temple in now. The Suns have so many mismatches on the floor, they can't decide where to go.
8-0 run post Carter insertion.
Robin Lopez now stealing rebounds from his teammates. His learning how this works.
4th foul for Robin. That's not how you stay on the court, buddy.
Great defense by Vince Carter! Yup, that's right.
Suns getting sloppy now. Lead down to 62-43.
Channing Frye does something other than shoot a set shot. It happened. I saw it.
Jennings should be done for the night. At this minutes limit. Boykins in.
CDR is completely out of control and clueless beyond just putting the ball on the deck and moving towards the rim. That's not going to get it done at this level...even against the Suns.
Steve Nash = brilliant. The end.
These Polish fans behind me aren't nearly as rowdy as I thought they would be. No chants. Little cheering. Kind of lame, really.
Dowdell in. Suns up 70-53. That should be it for Nash tonight.
Brockman rocking the big bear, shaved heard. Not a good look for anyone.
Now, let's see if the Suns can put this game away.
Nope. Gentry forced to call a time out after 8-0 Bucks run to start 4th. Throws his arms up in the air as if to say he really cares.
Why is Mark Asher wearing a taxi driver hat?
71-58, 10:50 left.
This is a game that Goran Dragic could really dominate...if he had kept his feet off broken glass.
And another time out for Gentry. 74-65, 8:32 left.
Nash back in. Fun stuff.
Boykins simply refused to be screened by Gortat. Pretty cool. Guessing you have to be a tough mofo to play in the NBA at his size.
8-2 run since Nash came back in. Time out Bucks. 5:08.
Dudley's defender fell down and he didn't notice so he continued is shoulder fake post move and took a turn around fade away and missed.