Ben from the appropriately named Ben's Suns Blog contacted me about doing a Q&A on our respective teams prior to their meeting today. As a fan of NBA basketball in general, beyond my Bobcats leanings, I enjoyed seeing the Suns revert to 7SOL and was disappointed to see Amare's season end, so I was particularly interested to see how things were going in Phoenix. My answers to Ben's questions are here and on to my questions and Ben's answers:
1. 140 points in 3 straight games (not stout competition but still)…then a blowout loss to the Celtics minus KG. Which is more indicative of the Suns under new coach Gentry?
(Ben) Honestly, and I've said this before, Alvin Gentry puts the Suns in the best position to win. By that I mean that he at least utilizes our best assets which are Steve Nash and the up-tempo pace. Now, having said that, it doesn't mean that our best assets are better than any other teams' best assets, but they put the Suns in a position to win games.
I agreed with the ideas/philosophy behind Porter's system, but we truly didn't have the personnel to run it effectively. I also don't buy for a minute that the Suns quit on Porter, like Jeff Van Gundy recently asserted on national television.
If I were on the Suns, I would've found it extremely challenging as well to continue this system while losing games. Not to mention, it wasn't working. Nash virtually walked the ball up the court and dumped it into the post for almost 2 months to start the season. That isn't using your personnel effectively.
I think the game against the Celtics exposed more of our defense rather than our offense (so suprise there). Nash gets a bad rap for his defense, and I know he's not great, but there has to be a guy or two that can step in to help him when Rondo beats him off the dribble! That didn't happen, and Rondo got about 6-7 easy layups with no weak side help from the Suns.
I think it will be interesting to see how they bounce back against Charlotte. The Suns have been known for being resilient, and it seems they've lost a bit of that this year.
2. How is Shaq handling the return to a faster pace system?
(Ben) Well, it's mixed. I still think that he can effectively co-exist in the system, even if his preference is to dump the ball into him in the post more frequently. I think the Gentry (D'Antoni) system if obviously more challenging for him, and it forces him to run and spreads the responsibility of scoring around; thus, utilizing our youth, athleticism, and scoring ability (our best assets). When we first acquired Shaq last year, our fast-break points actually went up and we finished the year strong. If not for a lucky bounce (or five) by the Spurs in the first round, I think we'd all have a different opinion of the trade.
However, he's said a few times that the reason the Porter system wasn't working because a few guys didn't want to adapt. Now, whether that's true or not, I don't know. But it's clear that Shaq isn't going to be the focal point of our offense anymore…and that's a good thing! I heard someone refer to our offense as “Seven Seconds or Shaq,” and I couldn't agree more. We are going to need Shaq down low in the playoffs (if we make them that is) to be effective against the Western powers.
I really think we could surprise a lot of people if we somehow get it together. These next 11 games or so are basically make-or-break for the Suns.
3. And could there have a been a worse timed injury than Amar'e's? New coach and the team looking spry, just past the trade deadline, and bang – likely done for the year. How do the Suns handle the absence? (Sorry for the apparent salt in a wound – but I doubt it is not something already on every Suns fans' minds)
(Ben) You're absolutely right – it came at (literally) the worst time. We had just begun feeling pretty good about ourselves, probably the first time all season long, and then we learn that Amare is basically out for the year. That hurt. However, as I watched what was seemingly the “old” Suns put up three games of 140 points or more…the fan in me wouldn't let me lose hope – I couldn't help but be reminded of the 2005-2006 Suns team.
That really was a magical season. Everyone bet against us and didn't give us a chance in hell. We lost Joe Johnson, Quentin Richardson, and Amare Stoudemire (three starters) for the entire year. However, that team went to the Western Conference Finals and drastically overachieved. That Suns team sorely lacked an inside presence, played small ball, and still found a way to beat elite teams when it counted.
Our bench and role players that year were much, much less talented than this year. Heck, our starters were much less talented that year compared to this year. We got by (barely) on Nash's MVP season, Marion shoring up our front line, Kurt Thomas, a young Barbosa, and old Tim Thomas, an under-achieving James Jones, Jim Jackson when he wanted to show up, and Pat “I'm taller than everyone but I'm only going to shoot 3's” Burke. This year? We have Jason Richardson who can shoot lights out, Shaq as an inside force we didn't have that year, Matt Barnes as an upgrade over James Jones, Jared Dudley, an (emerging?) back-up PG in Dragic, and an athletic Lou Amundson. Hey, maybe we'll even add another solid rotation player soon.
And what did that team have that vaulted them to the top? Rhythm, belief, and heart; something the Suns have lacked until recently.
It's not like it's a secret formula or some new age way of thinking. It's actually something that every NBA champion has had in history. Whether that rhythm or style was a methodical flow (Phil Jackson Lakers), defense oriented (Spurs, Pistons), or even just superstar heavy (old Lakers, Bulls) they had a consistent rhythm that all players bought in to.
It's funny how far belief and rhythm can take you sometimes. Look at the Arizona Cardinals! Look at the 2007 Warriors! They all got hot at the right time (as I said in a post a while ago). They also knew what they did best…and did it. Is it any coincidence that the Suns scored as much as they did these past few games? No. They utilized what they did best and exploited the other team. Granted, it hasn't been against very good teams, but they were the most convincing wins of the season none the less.
I never felt confident for any game prior to Gentry taking over. But before I get too excited, the Suns are going to need to bounce back win a convincing win to ease my spirits.
Thanks for the time Ben and I am looking forward to taking in the Bobcats/Suns tilt tonight.