Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Why Shawn Marion Is Too Good For The Suns

Basketbawful unleashed a rather in-depth criticism of the Suns that touches on something I've been saying for months.

Homeys can't rebound worth a damn.

Oliver notes in his groundbreaking book that rebounding isn't the most important factor for a team. There are other stats that are way more important. Like shooting percentage. Funny how putting the ball in the hole helps teams wins, I know. But what it does mention is that it's more important defensively to get rebounds.

Huh?

My interpretation of this is that it doesn't necessarily mean that if you get a ton of offensive rebounds you'll win more often, or if you get tons of defensive rebounds you will (though that helps because it means your opponent is shooting crappy).

It means that you need to keep the other team from getting offensive rebounds.

Take the perfect microcosm of the Suns problems, the San Antonio Spurs series from last season. They were killed on offensive rebounds. It's great if you can force the Spurs into a bad shot, but it doesn't mean anything if Fabricio freaking Oberto is creating another chance for them 12 to 15 times a game. That killed them. And it's still killing them.

Knickerblogger's nifty stats page shows the offensive rebound % allowed by the defenses of all teams. The best? The San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics, arguably the two best teams in the league. The worst? The Golden State Warriors and the Phoenix Suns. No big deal right? They're all playoff teams.

The problem is that Phoenix is already a playoff team. They're aiming for one thing. A championship.

Now, of course, the effect has to have something to do with the breakneck styles of the Warriors and Suns. But is it really impossible to run and box out at the same time?

The fact is that if the Suns want to get to the Championship and win, they're going to have to get tough inside. And part of that is not letting the other team have multiple chances at scoring.

How does this relate to Shawn Marion?



Shawn Marion is one of my favorite players in the league. He's played brilliantly his entire career. I love the way he fills up the stat sheet. I think he's a tremendous one-on-one defender. I think he plays with passion and precision. And the man can dunk like the Thunder Gods.

Here's the problem. He's too good for the Suns. The Suns would be improved by getting multiple players that possess individual skills Marion possesses instead of Marion by himself. It's addition by division, even if the remainder is marginal.

Let's break it down.

Scoring. Matrix is averaging 16.2 ppg. He's been fantastic, coming up with big buckets in big games. Marion can shoot threes (with his funky shot), drive the lane, pull up for a baseline jumper, or work the post. He's extremely versatile.

But is scoring really what the Suns lack? For starters, the Suns lead the league in scoring. It's pretty clear they can shoot the rock. Second, if Marion weren't there, is there any doubt that at least some of his scoring would be replaced by a motivated Amare, Grant Hill, and Barbosa? They three possess the scoring options Matrix provides, just not in one easy to use awesome combination. If you factor in the points from any potential trade pieces, it becomes negligible. Let's say the Suns get two players for Marion. And let's say they don't play fantastic, they only average about 4 and 6 points a game respectively. That's ten. Are you saying Amare, Barbosa, Hill, Bell, and Nash can't fill in 6 more points a night?

Rebounding. Here's the big hurt. Marion is averaging 10.1 boards a game. That's pretty damn good for a small forward playing power forward most nights. And Marion definitely has a nose for the ball. He plays hard defensively and crashes boards. But he's not big enough to get down low and really get his hands dirty. He tries. That's the thing. He battles. But he's simply not big enough to box out the big meaty dump trucks some teams keep down low. As good as he is, the same rebounding position he takes up could be filled by Grant Hill or Boris Diaw, depending on position. But Diaw sucks this year, right? Absolutely. But let's say we get the above mentioned two players only for Marion. The key player in any trade would be a true PF, which Marion is not. Let's say that he's good, but not great, again, for the Suns. He only gets 6 rebounds a game. So Amare Stoudamire, Boris Diaw, and Brian Skinner can't pick up 4 more rebounds? 4? Between them? That's all you need for it to be negligible. Now, let's say the player actually produces 8 boards. You're almost certainly going to get positive production, plus you're going to be able to send a message down low, depending on the right player.

Assists. Matrix is only dropping 2.1 dimes this season. Nab a guard and a power forward for him, and call it a day. Nash can get one more, and lord knows Amare could work on his passing. Even Diaw's only positive contribution has been assists. So no hard break there.

Blocks. Marion is rejecting 2.4 per game this season. Wow. That's hard to replace, honestly. Shot-blockers are in short supply. If your big man you get back in return nabs 1 a game, though, you're halfway home. If the player adds any defensive grit, you've got a wash, essentially. You're going to lose some battles, it is Shawn Marion after all.

Defense. Hear me out. Marion is undoubtedly a huge asset because of his versatility. He can guard power forwards in the block (to a degree), and small forwards at the wing (to better degree). Here's the issue. The Suns don't need wing defense. They have Raja Bell. And they have Grant Hill who has been surprisingly deft at defense this season, particularly against slasher small forwards like Manu who kill them. They need help down low. And not just "okay" help. They need someone that can go up against Duncan, Dirk, Howard, Chandler and make them work. I'm not saying shut down Duncan, that's impossible. I'm saying make him work for his 30 and 15. Don't make it a formality. Because with Amare, that's what it is. I love STAT's game and his upside. But the man can't guard in the post, with any consistency. He'll have a great series followed by getting roasted and then getting in foul trouble. With Marion, you're getting capable but not imposing. The Suns need imposing. Throw in a guard that can play defense, which neither Nash nor Barbosa can, and you've got addition by division.

You're not looking to get equal value back for Shawn Marion. You're not going to be able to. But you can get the assets you need more, and divide the remainder by your already stacked team.

Now, finding that kind of trading combination may be impossible. I say never say never, because there are remarkably stupid GM's out there, and anything's possible. But Marion is going to be an All-Star regardless of where he goes. And if the Suns can improve in the areas they lack, they can jump to definite contender from possible contender, which is where they are now.

The other option is just to adjust coaching, try and get Diaw to become more physical, have Brian Skinner up his basketball IQ by about a hundred points and develop a mid-range J, and hope Barbosa can put on 15 pounds.

It's bizarre to remark about these things for a team that's leading the Western Conference. We still think the Suns are an amazing team, the most fun to watch, certainly, and a legitimate title contender. But the Suns know they don't have what it takes to win the title right now, and that's what's causing the dissension. Something's gotta give.

Now watch them go on a 15 game win-streak.

They do face Indiana, which we cover in our daily 15 Footer today.

 
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