On Tap: The Phoenix Suns

Kurt —  November 3, 2005

The rumors of the Sun’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

At least that’s what I came away with after watching the second half of their opening night game against Dallas. Yes the Suns lost (in double OT), but they looked good doing so (well, except for the last 8 minutes) against a team I like. This is not the same team without Amare Stoudemire, but they’re not bad either.

Tonight they get a Laker team that is playing its second game in as many nights and had to go to OT on the front end. But oh, what a game! Certainly not in terms of execution as both teams were sloppy (the Lakers turned the ball over on 20.5% of their possessions, as did Denver) but it was entertaining at the end nonetheless.

One of my first thoughts of the end of the game, both regulation and overtime, is how much this reminded me of Phil Jackson’s previous teams. Those teams were always killers at the end — yes they had MJ to take those crucial shots in Chicago (and Kobe in LA), but it was always a team thing with key stops and clutch shooting. Kerr hit some. Paxson hit some. Pippen hit some. If you left the door open just a crack they were going to bust through it. Denver left the door open just a crack and the Lakers acted like winners.

A few other quick thoughts from Denver before the focus shifts to Phoenix:

• That Kobe guy is pretty good. We should keep him on the roster.

• Great debut from Smush Parker, especially on offense. Early in the game Denver didn’t rotate out to him quickly, they dared him to shoot from the outside. He responds by shooting 79% (eFG%) on the night and scoring 20. He gets a dunk over Miller (a move I bet he picked up at the cage) that ended up all over ESPN highlights. He struggled some defensively, but Andre Miller and Earl Boykins give a lot of guys trouble. Bottom line, he played 40.5 minutes and was +9.

• Devean George was also +9 for the night and had some tough minutes trying to guard Carmelo as Jackson tried to send Chris Mihm a message. George did a good job pestering ‘Melo. (By the way, all four of Mihm’s five fouls were on the offensive end.) We’ve all got concerns about the Laker bench but if George can continue to play like that it will be a big boost.

• The triangle was in about third gear most of the night and often players were breaking out of it for isolation. Odom does not look comfortable running it yet.

• What’s bugging me about Kwame Brown is his instincts don’t appear to be very aggressive. He pulled down three offensive boards but each time (as I recall), rather than go right back up he looked to kick out. When he is aggressive to the basket, whether on rebounds or in the offense, he is effective, he just needs to do that consistently. To his credit, when he missed the game winner in OT he hustled and got his own rebound, then found Kobe. One game’s worth of +/- doesn’t mean much, so take it with a lot of salt, but he was last on the team (-11), while Chris Mihm was first (+11).

• Good to see Andrew Bynum get in the game, and he acquitted himself fairly well. He made some nice defensive and rebounding plays, and he learned that Kenyon Martin has hops.

One thing that was very weak for the Lakers last night was transition defense, which they had better fix tonight against Phoenix if they want to be close enough for last-second heroics.

With Amare out Steve Nash appears to be taking on more off the offense (good news for you Nash fantasy owners), taking 25 shots against the Mavericks and having 9 assists. Backing up Nash is Leandro Barbosa, who struggled so much running the point last season that when Nash was down everyone would say, “look how bad they are without Nash.” I’m not sure a guy should get the MVP because his backup sucks, but that’s a debate for another day. It should be noted, however, that Barbosa is 23 and has the potential to be better — he had eight points in 17 minutes and led the Suns with a +/- of +11 against Dallas.

Shawn Marrion had great season last year — he can run floor and hit threes, and while at it grabbed 11.6 rebounds per 40. However, with Amare out Marrion may spend more time at the three than the four (where nobody could match his quickness) and that may hurt his productivity.

Just like last season, Phoenix’s starting five is very good, but the bench is suspect — in a double-overtime game only Jim Jackson and Boris Diaw saw significant minutes.

The Lakers need to control the tempo tonight, not let Phoenix turn the game into a track meet because the Lakers have just run an event (last night). How good is Phoenix without its real MVP? Good question, but they won’t be a gimme and the Lakers need to move on from last night’s win quickly. No matter how much fun it was.

to On Tap: The Phoenix Suns

  1. Great preview. Where did you find +/- stats on the Pheonix v Dallas game. I always check PopCornMachines Gameflows, but didn’t find anything there. Thanks in advance.


  2. The +/- for each game is in the popcornmachine game flows, way at the right of the chart. Starting this weekend 82games will start having season stats up for +/- and the rest. All that said, until there are 20 games in the books it’s dangerous to read much into all this.


  3. what made the biggest impression on me was the camera shot after kobe made the gamewinner with 2 guys all over him, of phil jackson just sitting there with his mouth hanging open all sleepy-eyed as he won. kind of underscored how luck and the unique talent he’s had to work with has played such a role in his rep. even if he is a great coach.

    i love him designing the final play for kwame though [in theory– if his thumb wasn’t busted]. more than that it discourages a sit-and-watch kobe mentality…it helped not repeat what happened in regulation. I CAN’T STAND IT WHEN KOBE USUALLY GETS THE BALL IN THE FINAL SECONDS. why? because he just holds the damn thing and ends up chucking a 25 foot prayer with a guy hanging all over him.

    he’s the best at that shit, but still, it’s not a high percentage shot, even for him. better to set up a play and get some movement that allows for more and better options to open up.

    all in all i thought the defense looked pretty good, despite the embarassing breakdowns and mistakes. the effort was there. the effort caused that buckner dude to make that serious flub– and anthony had created some decent space against george [who did a great job] during one of the last plays where he shot too early, smush coming to help and bother him may have been the difference.

    were you as shocked as me that kobe passed off to mihm on not one but TWO straight pick and rolls in the clutch? i wonder if that’ll continue. even i thought that was a little bit too much confidence goin on. luckily chris got the call and nailed a free throw. he looked pretty awkward going up.

    i hope the lakers don’t get killed tonight. at least the game is at home, that might be enough energy boost to get it done.

    i wasn’t impressed with the suns. the mavs looked like they were sleepwalking, both teams’ defense was way girly.


  4. John, I’m with you on running that last play for Kwame. If Kobe gets the ball late it’s two fake jab steps, a head fake and a fade away. You’re right, not high percentage. When Kwame got the rebound Kobe was able to get some space for his game winner.


  5. I have to disagree with you guys about Kobe taking the last shot. These 25-foot last-second fadeaways with 2 guys in his face may be low percentage for most people, but I’ll bet Kobe makes a higher % of those than he makes of shots overall. Why would you give the ball to Kwame Brown with the game on the line when you can give it to Kobe? And what’s this about how we got space on the last play? He had way more space at the end of regulation when he missed (only because he got hit in the eye, otherwise game over in regulation). In overtime, he had two guys right on him, and he just rose above, just as he always does. We’re lucky to have that man. The bigger the moment and the harder the shot, the more likely it is to go in.


  6. I don’t mind Phil running that last play for Kwame, but it seemed like it was one of the only times a play was run just for him. I agree with Kurt in that Kwame lacks aggression Everytime he gets the rock it’s a hot potatoe.

    Loved “hearing” Phil coach last night. Loved his animation and holding folks accountable for defensive lapses. Chris Mihm and the frontline were probably having nightmares about backdoor lobs last night. I’m a little scared that Nash will do an even better job of finding their defensive liabilities. Obviously, their in game adjustments need to get better.

    As far as Kobe having the ball in the waning seconds, I agree that he shouldn’t settle for jump shots like he frequently does, esp. last night shooting a three at the end of regulation when they only needed a two, but those 25 foot prayers are frequently answered.

    Marion was also third in steals last year. Thank God my daughter will be asleep when the game starts because she might be frightened by his hideous looking (even if it’s effective) shot. I’ve watched in slo mo on Tivo and still can’t figure out what he is doing…


  7. Kwame getting the shot was right in line with how Phil handles his teams and what makes him a great coach. Definitely in game one of an 82 game season, he’s trying to build the confidence of the supporting cast – way more valuable over the season to grow that then to win one game. It’ll pay huge dividends at the end of the season and in the playoffs. Kobe’s always up to take that shot, but building the rest of the team up to where being in that position is not foreign to them will just help them make the shot when it comes in a meaningful game.

    Granted he has a busted thumb, but I’d love to see Kwame get smart and get aggressive in a hurry.


  8. all I got to say is this….if SMUSH can play even about 75% as good as he did last night on a consistant basis then I agree with Bill Simmons on ESPN.com with saying that the lakers are one of seven teams that have a shot at winning the Title this year. GO black mamba shot that last second prayer because everyone knows that a black mamba strikes with 99% accuracy. I just wish that it was true with kobe’s shot being that accurate. Oh and I just pray that Lamar shows up for game number 2 it looked as though he was lost half the time out on the floor. Almost as if he was just thinking too much and not just letting the game flow. I’m sure that it will come easier over time though.


  9. I think we’re all hoping for Smush to keep playing — and shooting — somewhere close to that. If he can he’s a huge pickup.


  10. I absolutely think that Kobe should have the ball in his hands in the final seconds, and I agree he should not be settling for 23 footers for the win. He is faster than ever, so he should get a step on somebody, draw the double/triple team, then dish to somebody moving to the lane for the easy finish. Of course, easier said than done.


  11. If Smush keeps performing well, it’ll steal my thunder!! I was going to suggest they package a pick (picks?) and/or perhaps a player for Speedy Claxton.

    It seems to me that New Orleans will be wanting to get Chris Paul involved as much as possible, as they’re not going anywhere this season.

    And speaking of New Orleans, what’s up with Desmond Mason? Is it just learning the new system that’s keeping him down?


  12. Unreal quarter by Smush Parker here. He is now the official favorite non-UW, non-Sonics player of my family.

    Parker is about a thousand times more fun than Chucky Atkins.


  13. let’s try to keep in mind who’s been guarding smush the past couple games.

    and hope the areas he’s been so efficient in don’t suddenly dry up like a desert for some reason.


  14. good review of phoenix, but won’t marion get MORE time at the 4 while amare is out, rather than less? I think they had a lineup of nash/bell/jones/jackson/marion for significant time during the 4th quarter and/or overtimes. they will probably continue to see them go small whenever they can get away with it–kurt thomas played 23 minutes while jones and bell had played 47 and 49, respectively, and KT was not in foul trouble.

    I think the lakers can make the playoffs, with one caveat: is lamar too stoned for the triangle?


  15. Scott, I thought they’d go bigger now but clearly you are right, the plan is go smaller as much as possible. Some team is going to be able to exploit that, but not the Lakers.