Thursday’s game is a showdown of Western Conference powers, as much as there can be a showdown in November (which is to say not much of one). But if before the season we’d said showdown of WC powers, you would have assumed it was the Lakers playing the Spurs, Nuggets or Blazers.
The Suns? I thought the Clippers might pass them this year. Turns out I was wrong, and I am not alone. So what is happening there? I asked Brett Pollakoff of Fanhouse — who lives in Phoenix and goes to the games as part of his NBA beat — to talk some Suns for us:
The Suns are the story eight games into this season, and with good reason. This is a team that traded Shaquille O’Neal for nothing more than cap relief, and even though they brought back aging stars Steve Nash and Grant Hill to play alongside Amar’e Stoudemire and Jason Richardson, that’s where the talent (on paper) was supposed to run out.
But it hasn’t. The team has been getting loads of production from starting center Channing Frye, who’s tied with Richardson for second in the league in made three-pointers with 22. And as a team, the Suns lead the league in three-point shooting percentage, hitting a blistering 47 percent of their shots from downtown.
That’s tough to deal with for most teams, especially when you have a rejuvenated Nash penetrating at will and getting the shooters around him wide-open looks. Nash leads the league in assists with almost 13 per game; there’s only one other player in the NBA that’s averaging over 10, and that’s Utah’s Deron Williams.
Phoenix’s weakness would appear to be their ability to get defensive rebounds, given their undersized front line. But Alvin Gentry has made this a point of emphasis in the early going, and the team has responded by being in the top eight in the league in this category, ahead of much bigger teams like the Celtics, the Jazz and the Clippers.
Kurt Rambis may have said it best, when his Timberwolves were in Phoenix on November 1: “During the regular season, they’re just extremely difficult to prepare for,” Rambis said. “Unless you have a team that’s used to playing them and understands who they are. But when the pace slows down, what are they going to do defensively? That’s what has been, and will continue to be their issue.”
So far, teams haven’t been able to slow things down, and that’s why the Suns are sitting at 7-1 at this early point in the season.
Vic De Zen says
Loving these Suns. Nash will never die. Amar’e is not a complete sieve on D anymore. Can’t say enough about them.
Thanks for the editing tool!
It’ll be interesting to see how the club will handle them. Lakers are used to playing them and Phil has the template. Drew should be back and has shown in the past he could take it inside to slow down the Suns attack.
I think this should be a fun game to watch and another one where you can look for signs of growth and adjustments. It’ll also be fun to see if Kobe and Ron start posting up hard inside too.
Also, how will Farmar do when the temptation is there to run. He normally does much better in that type of setting. Will he do a good job of balancing? Run when it’s there but pull back too when it’s not?
Should be fun.
Any update on Pau or Bynum for this game? I think that all we need is one of these guys. They are the perfect counter-attack to run and gun small ball. They run the floor well, but can punish smaller teams in the post.
What I’ve always liked about Phil Jackson is that he doesn’t give into the mismatches that the other team creates. He sticks to his own mismatches. He will combat run and gun with halfcourt mismatches. Nash is great, but who’s gonna stop Kobe in the post?
By the way, seeing Nash play this well and watching how bad the Knicks are, you kind of get the feeling that D’Antoni got a little too much credit for the SSOL era.
Travis, Bynum will play but Gasol will not. That’s not official yet, but it’s pretty clear that is what will go down.
Make Nash work on defense as much as possible.
And make Nash primarily a scorer, not a passer.
the other Stephen says
what does “made this a point of emphasis” mean? does it mean, “hey guys, rebound really hard??” is he putting players in better positions to rebound, giving them a swift kick in the arse, what?
T. Rogers says
Richardson has been lighting it up for Phoenix. If Artest can take him out of his rhythm (or Kobe) then the Lakers should be alright.
They also have to make Nash a scorer. Twenty points from Nash is not that bad, but fifteen to twenty assists from him is back breaking. The Lakers have to stay on home their guys.
The Frye/Drew match up should be interesting. Frye can take Drew out with his shooting. But Drew can (if he chooses to) can abuse the rail thin Frye on the block. No player on the Suns roster can deal with Kobe. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ron get some time on Amare. It would be nice if Lamar turned in a top level defensive performance on STAT.
It will be fun for sure.
Joey Jo-Jo Shabadoo says
Somebody in my fantasy league dropped Kevin Martin. I’m trying to get him on waivers. This is entirely off topic but the prospect of getting Kevin Martin is too much. I can’t believe somebody would drop him with 8 out of 10 teams making the playoffs. Should I not be so intrigued?
Based on Rambis’ comments, you’d think a well-coach team could beat the Suns in a 7-game series, especially if it goes the full 7. Oh wait….
I’d expect alot of Odom on Amare, and Bynum getting burned by 3-pointers when not rotating on pick-and-rolls. Artest will be on Hill, which should mean he can wander a bit. Richardson might be stronger than Hill, so what do you think about putting Artest on J-Rich and letting Kobe wander/ cover Grant Hill?
chris h says
bryan, I was about to say the same thing, Hill isn’t as tough a cover, so we should let Kobe be the wanderer as he prefers, and let him guard Hill. I think J-Rich should be with Ron. curious to see how Drew matches up against Frye, and I guess this means LO on Amare, Fish on Nash, couple vet’s there, hopefull they can cancel each other out, so who do they put on Kobe now that Raja is gone, (I don’t miss seeing him 4 times a year!).
and I think the strength of the benches is going to be the key to a W.
The logical sense is that Drew guards Amare since he’s bigger than Lamar and likes to play closer to the basket, and have Frye against Odom.
It should be interesting game… I think the Lakers split these next two games and would be very impressed if they win both.
Rambis nailed it. The Suns are fantastic regular season team, because if you don’t have time to really prepare for them, they’ll literally run you off the court.
But there’s still a definite template for beating them.
If Lamar Odom had been able to grab a freaking rebound, the Lakers would have done it in 2006 with a starting 5 of Smush Parker, Kobe, Luke Walton, Odom, and Kwame Brown.
And that was against a Suns team that was BETTER than this year’s incarnation.
Think about it for a second, the game plan for beating the Suns is so air-tight (if you execute it), you can beat them with Kobe, an inconsistent fourth banana, an inconsistent back-up, and two guys who don’t belong in the league.
The game plan is essentially this:
1) Use most of the 24 second clock each possession.
2) Go Inside.
3) Go inside (I mean, they were doing this with Kwame Freaking Brown and it was working because the Suns’ middle is so soft).
4) Don’t shoot three pointers unless it is late in the shot clock and you are wide open (we’ll see how Farmar and Sasha handle this directive).
5) Sag way the heck off Nash on D and keep him out of the lane.
6) Stay home on the shooters.
7) When Nash runs the pick and roll with Amare, double Amare off the pick and deny, even if it means Nash can get to the cup for two reasons:
A) An athletic big (like Lamar) can recover in time and still challenge the shot, because Nash is ground-bound and thinks “shoot” last.
B) Even if Nash gets a layup, the important thing is Amare DOESN’T. The less involved Amare is on offense, the less involved he is on D, and ultimately, the less involved he is in the game.
I predict a lot of Kobe on the block, turn around jumpering the Suns to death.
I like the Lakers tomorrow. Even with Gasol out (which would be great to guard Frye), the Lakers defensively have the chops to keep the score from completely exploding. That combined with Kobe posting up should lead to a W.
As evidenced by the combinations suggested here, this is a team for which we have many defensive matchup possibilities, and I would expect to see a little bit of most of them, with lots of switching and simply picking up who is closest on the breaks and semi-breaks they run.
If we can be patient enough to get Drew into good position, I personally would love to see an old school, vintage mid-eighties game plan of dumping it down into the post and punishing them until they absolutely have to adjust.
Operating primarily out of the post also limits their opportunities for run outs.
One more thought – I would expect to see more of Farmar simply because of the matchup, not necessarily because he’s playing better.
I think we will see a deliberate slow game from the Lakers. Or at least that will be the game plan. There will be a lot of Drew, Kobe, Artest, Odom and even Walton in the post to slow things down. The extra time to prepare for them should help.
It would be interesting to see Phil go with a bigger line up for short stretches and make Nash run through some screens or get abused in the post.
P.S. I like the edit function.
nice call by burgundy. nash is fragile. if nash has to consistently drive to the basket because amare’s covered on the pick and roll, the bumps on the way to the hoop will wear him down.
Yeah, it seems like the Suns got an addition by subtraction, you know, trading Shaq away. The run and gun Suns were a good team, hmmm, they still are. One 7-footer is better than none.
Burgundy – Great points. When it’s all said like that, you realize just how fragile the Suns are. Or perhaps it’s the other way around (since the Suns did nearly make it to the FInals several times and dispatched solid to good teams) – it shows just how elite of a coach Jackson is, that he can get that much out of that roster.
Anyone know what Hollinger said about Kobe in his PER Diem? I’m curious, guessing it’ll be about his post game and scoring at the rim.
Also – since when did Thorpe’s Rookie column become Insider only? Tis tough times for everyone….
No Shaq, no problem. Cleveland fans should be worried.
I’m glad that the Suns appear to be back. As an NBA fan, I want there to be as many quality teams as possible. (The league appears to be getting top heavy, plus there seems to be more back to backs than normal. It’s leading to too many double digit wins. I haven’t looked this up. It seems that way though.) Besides Phoenix, the rest of the Pacific is pathetic. I think we need at least one team in the division to help keep us alert down the stretch.
I don’t think complacency should be an issue, but a little pressure keeps things full tilt all year long. No sitting guys because there is a comfortable lead in the standings. No overuse of the bench. And no stat chasing. Plus, this means 4 more statement games. Games that matter.
Snoopy, Hollinger does talk about Kobe posting up, but seems to think that he’s never done it before. He refers to his “new-found post skills” as a “new facet” to his game.
I like Hollinger, but I have no idea what he’s thinking on this one.
p.s. It must be the web designers, but even though Kobe is the fourth or fifth bullet point on Hollinger’s list, it’s his picture on the link…
21 – Plus we haven’t gotten true revenge on the Suns because they started sucking before we could take them out. I’d love to have them playing well and then run over them in the playoffs.
Sad news for Thabeet, but I couldn’t help laughing at this from ESPN: “Replays appeared to show Thabeet’s jaw colliding with forward Zach Randolph’s head.”
So Randolph’s punches barely knock a player a step back, but his head breaks jaws.
RE: 20 – Snoopy2006
I think it definitely has a lot to do with Phil Jackson as a coach…but I also think it has to do with Lamar Odom as a defender. To beat the Suns, you need an athletic 4 who’s quick enough to stay with Amare (and aware enough to stick with Phil’s game plan of not switching on the P&R with Amare).
The Spurs have so much trouble with the Suns, because they don’t have that athletic 4 to stay with Amare – Duncan has basically been a 5 for the past few years.
Ultimately, though, it’s not just about Amare. If the Laker defenders start leaving the 3 point shooters, the Suns can grab a pretty big lead, pretty quickly.
So Randolph’s punches barely knock a player a step back, but his head breaks jaws.
So does that make him head-strong, or just thick-headed?
I would have Artest hound Chandler around the perimeter and have Bynum pretty much keep a body on Amar’e/guard the rim all day
But armchair coaches would do a lot of things
j.d. Hastings says
14- great points, and I’m excited to see the matchup tomorrow because this lakers team is more of a pound it inside squad than they’ve been since Shaq. However- it is worth noting that 2006 was the year Amare sat out with knee issues. They were softer in the middle then because Boris Diaw was their starting 5.
Not that I still don’t look back at that series fondly (no matter what Bill Simmons tries to shove down my throat about game 7).
new post up, with some Ron Ron love
With the way the Suns are doing, and the way the Cavs are after Shaq’s arrival, Shaq has a chance to usurp Stephon Marbury.
The record I have in mind is this:
More wins by old team + More losses by new team.
Will have to go back home and refer to the FreeDarko Basketball Almanac to see what the record Marbury set (or was it even Marbury? Can’t remember), but regardless, I think that’s a storyline I’ll be watching.
Plus we haven’t gotten true revenge on the Suns because they started sucking before we could take them out. I’d love to have them playing well and then run over them in the playoffs.
It just wouldn’t be the same without Raja in there though…
Not sure Phil has the “template” for this version of the Phoenix Suns. The Suns that knocked the Lakers out in the 1st round in ’06 and ’07 didn’t have this deep of a bench and didn’t have a “5” who drained 3 pt shots with regularity.
The rest of the NBA and fans around the league will eventually come to realize that this Suns team is better at making 3 shots with consistancy, has more 3 pt shooters, is a better rebounding team, and has a more talented and deeper bench than any team Mike D’Antoni had.
Have to agree with Samie. This is not the ’06 and ’07 Suns team. Bench is deeper, rotations are better and Im not certain Grant Hill isn’t such of a tough cover, though he typically falls flat on the second night of a back to back. Another thing, this Suns team doesn’t depend so much on fast break points. The majority of the high scoring output comes from shooting over 50% from the field and 47% from 3. So far.