Tuesday, March 25, 2008

On The Break: Phoenix Suns

Back like Indy.

As I dive back into the now murky and dangerous waters of Google Reader (1000+ Sports Blog entries. It took me four hours just to work through the NBA stuff in a separate folder. Gizmodo alone will destroy me.), I realized we've been awfully quiet. We have some ideas and some big stuff coming in the next two weeks, but I wanted to spit some stuff out that's been rattling around the old noggin'.

It's been a while since I've spoken about what's been going on in the league while I've been doing features and whatnot. So here are some quick thoughts on where we are, less than a month away from the playoffs. This installment: The Phoenix Suns.
The rumors of the eclipse have been greatly exaggerated.

After a disastrous start to the Shaq era in Phoenix, the Suns not only have righted the ship, but now look like a team that no one wants to mess with. They have added the half-court system into their offense, have raised their defense, and shifted the weight from Steve Nash to Amare.

Amare's transition was the one thing I was certain of when the trade came. When you watch Amare play, he's not an ISO player. He doesn't do well in the paint when played straight up. Get him in transition, though, and he's killer. Shaq provides just enough lean on defenders to get Amare to the hole. And with the middle guards and forwards (Hill, Barbosa, Bell) now moving further to the perimeter, it's opening up Amare's midrange game.

Then there's the new Triangle offense and other wrinkles built in, beautifully outlined by Xs and Os (which you should RSS now, now, now).

Versatility is the name of the game in the playoffs. It's the ability to run when you have an opening, and trade blows when you get into a tight spot. Here's what Corn had to say about the Suns recent versatility:

We are now witnessing the versatility of the Suns. Up until now, they could run and gun with the best of them, effortlessly sprinting past every defense. Mainly, this is because the half court was rather unpleasant to them. Now, they can use the dynamic Shaq/Amare combo in the slow down game, while still maintaining an incredibly high level of athleticism and precision when they send the Big Cactus to the bench. Also, I think it lends something to the positivity and general pleasantness of the Suns organization and clubhouse that such derided dogs like Shaq and Gordon Giricek have seemlessly worked their way into the rotation, tried harder and produced better since they arrived in the desert. This is a team who has its identity -- Nash is the sagacious leader, Amare is the unstoppable force, Hill is the warrior, Bell is the attitude, Barbosa is the explosion, Diaw is the offensive glue, Shaq is the enforcer and Giricek is the fresh air. For once, there is a puzzle in Phoenix and they are all playing with the full compliment of pieces. Is this the best team in the West? That's debatable. Are they a sure fire contender, capable of switching styles and tempos with ease and showcasing that fun and energy that made them so appealing just a couple of years ago. Without a doubt. It is not often that I am wrong (seriously, its true), but all my temper tantrums and near heart attacks at the Shaq trade and the desperate scramble to help our bench that resulted in Giricek have, at least temporarily, turned into great positives for this team. Now, if they can just figure out who to run the offense through when Nash is on the bench...

The big questions for the Suns is going to be consistency. They no longer need great shooting to win. But they are going to need consistent energy. The Spurs can get by with an Eeyore type approach. The Suns can't, not with their play style. The problem is, there's no resting in the West, not with homecourt throughout the playoffs in sight. It'll be interesting to see if the Suns can continue to burn in April and May, now that the fires have been lit.

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