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NBA Market Watch: Preview-Phoenix Suns

NBA Market Watch: Preview-Phoenix Suns
Oct 08, 2007, 01:25 am
Offseason Overview:

Phoenix had a difficult end to their season with a controversial loss to arch-rival San Antonio. It’s possible that the Suns would have finally exorcized their post season demons if it weren’t for Steve Nash’s broken nose and the suspensions of Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw.

The biggest acquisition of the offseason went by with little fan fare. Grant Hill may not be the player he used to be, but he enjoyed a very productive season with the Orlando Magic and should add another dimension to the Phoenix attack. Hill has the court vision of a point guard and has really developed his mid range shot over the past few years.

Hill could be used as a starter, which would help the team to keep Boris Diaw coming off the bench. Diaw has proven to be more effective when in the post, which he wasn’t able to play as much with Stoudemire’s return last season. Skinner, Diaw, and Barbosa should form a solid bench unit while improving the strength of the starting unit.

One of the bigger concerns this team had was adding additional defensive bulk to the frontcourt, which would allow star forward Amare Stoudemire to play more often at his natural position of power forward. The team searched most of the offseason for an affordable alternative for the departed Kurt Thomas, and is still very interested in P.J. Brown.

The recent acquisition of Brian Skinner should allow Stoudemire to slide down into the four spot more frequently than he’s done in recent years, which could be beneficial to the team’s half court defense. Skinner doesn’t have Thomas’ offensive touch, but he’s got the size and defensive intensity that could benefit the Suns half court post defense.

Alando Tucker and DJ Strawberry will be hard-pressed to crack the rotation, but they’ve each got an opportunity to earn coach D’Antoni’s respect by punching the clock and paying strict attention to the veteran players who will play the majority of the minutes. Both players have strong work ethics and competitive attitudes, which should serve them well going forward.


Depth Chart:

[c]courtesy of Synergy Sports Tech: Figure represents NBA offensive percentile rank[/c]

Strengths:

Phoenix has an absolutely ridiculous offensive attack, which is evident by the ratings of their primary rotation players. Grant Hill’s 73rd percentile offensive rating represents the lowest figure amongst the starters, and that still places him in the second highest of the 6 Synergy categories.

The Suns have a very short rotation, typically using no more than 8 regular players for the most part. Phoenix uses a rotation of Nash, Bell, and Barbosa for most of the guard play and Marion, Hill, and Diaw will inevitably take up much of the time in the frontcourt opposite Amare Stoudemire.

Phoenix emphasizes versatility and ball movement over traditional positions, so it’s not uncommon to see a lot of undersized lineups on the court. Shawn Marion has been the starting power forward for some time and Boris Diaw will see action at any of four positions on a given night.

The key attribute that most of the Suns regulars possess is shooting and ball handling ability. Every rotation player has range out to 17 feet and all are a threat to set up a teammate or themselves when attacking off the dribble. The constant motion that the team attacks with enables them to wear down opponents and mitigate some of their defensive and rebounding deficiencies.

Weaknesses:

The team’s greatest weakness has been their lack of effective defensive pressure against efficient half court teams with a significant low post presence. A more simple explanation is that they simply haven’t been able to defeat or defend Tim Duncan and the Spurs.

Stoudemire is an unstoppable offensive force in the paint, but he doesn’t have the length or the defensive tenacity to adequately protect the paint while guarding Duncan. Stoudemire also exerts a lot of energy on the offensive end of the court, so his defensive tenacity comes in fits and starts instead of consistently throughout the series.

For all of Nash’s talents, he is at a total disadvantage defensively against the speedy Tony Parker and this further exacerbates the post defensive issues because Stoudemire must help defend and leave Duncan open for better positioning in the paint.

Shawn Marion has been another sore spot for this team of late. His dissatisfaction with the team has been kept under wraps the past couple of seasons but has boiled over into the media this past summer. Marion is a super-role player, perhaps the best in the league. But he desires more of the spotlight than he receives apparently and his cap figure is hard to swallow for the cost-conscious Suns. With the team still on the verge of a title run, it would be a shame if locker room politics derailed what looks to be a fine season.

Outlook:

There’s really a very fine line between winning and losing when these two teams face off, and it appeared that the Suns had found some interesting new ways to counter the Spurs last season during their infamous playoff series. It’s hard to point to any glaring fault with the Suns since they are such a consistently excellent team every season, but half court defense is the one thing that is preventing them from overcoming their arch rival and reaching the finals.

With San Antonio looking their most vulnerable in quite some time, this may be the year that the Suns are able to break their long-time hex and get on through to the championship round. There is not much else the Suns can do beyond analyzing their weaknesses and improving upon them.

The acquisition of Hill and Skinner should go a long way toward helping Phoenix counter the problems they’ve faced in the past. Hill’s presence especially should help to allow the team to utilize Marion and Diaw more creatively when selecting defensive matchups.

The presence of an extra wing player with high level two-way ability should dramatically improve D’Antoni’s flexibility with substitutions, and may even allow him to utilize Hill as the de-facto point guard when Nash is on the bench, thus allowing Barbosa to do what he does best: score.

This may be the Suns finest year as it is certainly the best team they’ve had during their current run of excellence.

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