San Antonio Spurs @ Phoenix Suns: The chicken or the egg?

by

In finally breaking through the San Antonio Spurs in last year’s playoffs, the Phoenix Suns exposed Tim Duncan in numerous pick and rolls.

Obviously some of that success had to do with age and its effects on Duncan, but tonight should offer an interesting case study on the impact of each component of the pick an roll between the ball handler and the dive man–the chicken or the egg?

When Tim Duncan and company return to the site of one of their biggest playoff failures they will find a much different Suns team. Steve Nash is still there, as is much of the depth that finally undid the years of torment suffered at the hands of the Spurs.

But Amare Stoudemire is gone, and with him left the best roll man since Karl Malone retired. In his place Nash stands to see waht he can do with an army of small forwards, trading a cannon for infantry.

While going even smaller poses its own matchup problems for opposing defenses, in starting Hedo Turkoglu at the power forward position, the Suns are the one team in the NBA that could trade for the Toronto Raptors Andrea Bargnani and come out tougher for it.

Predictably, the Phoenix Suns are 25th in the league in rebounding. Oddly enough, the San Antonio Spurs check in even worse at 27th, though some of it can probably be attributed to a small sample size and the fact that there have not been many rebounds to be had during Spurs games (a shot at the defense to be sure).

It will be interesting to see if the Suns have become too small, allowing Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair to dictate things at both ends, or if the faster, more versatile look causes even more problems.

Michael Shwartz checks in with a few answers:

The Suns ran through the Spurs defense in their playoff sweep last season, surrounding the Nash/Amare pick and roll with three shooters. But without Amare, do the Suns have the personnel to keep their offense/pick and roll balanced?
This is my biggest concern. The Suns were a pick-and-roll offensive team last season, and when you surround arguably the best pick-and-roll duo in the game today with shooters you will be a dynamic offensive team. The question now is who will step up as that pick-and-roll guy. On the starting line Robin Lopez will get some reps as Nash’s partner and he did very well in this role in limited time last season. He has also improved his jumper this offseason, but still I have reservations about him. Hakim Warrick will obviously be a roll guy off the bench. Still, the pick and roll won’t be as balanced and thus I don’t think the Suns will be able to milk that play quite as much as they have in the past.

With Childress and Hedo, the Suns are certainly a different looking team, maybe taking on the same persona the team had when Diaw was filling in for an injured Amare. But does that make them better, worse, or merely different in regards to how they match up with the Spurs?

At this point it’s too early to say anything other than merely different. Amare always gave Duncan and the Spurs fits, but the Suns’ versatility and depth were one of the biggest reasons that led to the sweep in last year’s playoffs. Now the Suns are even more versatile and deeper and they have another athlete in Josh Childress to hound a Parker or a Ginobili. They are also probably even better suited to defend the Spurs’ pick and roll with more of these long defenders, and losing Barbosa doesn’t really hurt since he was always pretty bad against San Antonio.

Were you surprised at all about the effectiveness of Jason Richardson and Dudley in the playoffs against the Spurs last season and what are your expectations this season?
Really not. The Suns were basically unbeatable last year when J-Rich scored 20 points (31-5). We’re talking about a guy who has been a go-to scorer on a lot of bad teams, so when teams loaded up on the Nash-Amare pick and roll, he’s not going to hesitate to score. J-Rich’s white hot three-point shooting was one of the biggest keys to the Suns’ playoff run. This year there will be more of an onus on him offensively without Amare, and I expect another big year out of him. Jared Dudley is the kind of guy whose impact cannot be measured by stats. He turned a number of games during the regular season but he raised his game in the playoffs, and he really was the reason the Suns won Game 2 of the Spurs series. Having brought in Josh Childress, a guy who does some similar things, his impact may be mitigated a bit, but at the same time he has been working on being a guy who can shoot off the dribble more and I expect another quality year out of him.

George Hill or Dragic?
Got to go with The Dragon. You remember Game 3, I presume? Both guys have high ceilings and should take another step this year. Dragic is coming off a nice World Championship run leading Slovenia to the final eight, and he’s just so much more confident than he was his rookie season. Both guys are very good defenders who can also do some damage offensively, but Dragon is my guy

  • bduran

    I’m not a fan of Hedo, not over the course of a season. You have to respect his shooting though as he can burn you in any given game. I really, really think a lot of Childress, but he’s still getting back into the swing of things. Overall I think the Suns can be a solid team this year, but I’ll be disappointed if we don’t win tonight as they need time to integrate Childress and Hedo in order to approach last years Suns team in ability now that they don’t have Amare.

  • bduran

    According to Hollinger’s Rebound Rate we’re one of the top on the defensive glass and one of the worst on the offensive glass and we come out somewhere in the middle overall. We definitely need to improve, but we’re far from terrible. According to the same stats Phoenix really is that bad on the glass.
    Playing two thirds of your games against the Lakers and the Blazers probably skews things a bit though.

  • junierizzle

    I honestly don’t know what to expect.

    But I will be surprised if the SPURS lose big. A close loss won’t be so bad.

  • Flavor

    FINAL: Spurs 107 Suns 94

  • Jim Henderson

    Well, we’re a better team than the Suns this year. We should win this game. However, that doesn’t mean we will. We have to play hard for 48 minutes at both ends, and crash the boards. Get on their 3-point shooters…..

    But I think many underestimate the impact that Amare had on that team. There’s no way they’ll be as good this year without him. They were already a suspect rebounding team with him last year. Now they’re destined to be in the bottom ten in the league — maybe the bottom five. You can’t win a lot without rebounding, and now they also have very little inside presence at both ends. I don’t know what the Suns were thinking not acquiring some size up front. They’re lucky to make the playoffs without it.

    That said, with Splitter just getting back from injury, and the other adjustments we still need to make as a team, tonight’s game will most likely be anything but easy. Let’s hope for a win, and further signs of progress on multiple front’s.

  • rob

    What the Spurs player’s need to realize is that they don’t need to be spectacular more so than SOLID.

    Have the patience to let their game come to them and let each other develop an understanding as to which works best in the situation they may encounter.

    That’s how a subjective team in consensus becomes the best team on the court and how a great team keeps their composure. Teamwork.

  • lvmainman

    Entertaining win. Spurs almost choked. 5 Turnovers in 7 possessions until the 4th 3 by Jefferson in the 4th qtr!

    Jefferson saved the Spurs bacon. 4 3′s in the 4th qtr – including 3 in a row from the same spot in the corner!!

    Blair shouldn’t start. He needs to come off the bench. Splitter should start in his place.

    Great win for the Spurs confidence. Need to cut down on the turnovers (23 vs 13) and improve the FT shooting (22 of 32).

    Spurs are looking like Western Conference Finals contenders.

  • td4life

    I don’t like the way we are using DB, we really could of used some offensive boards in this game. That and giving up fewer points off of turnovers would have made it an easier night for us. Hated seeing Phoenix get back in the game all night long.

    I expected us to get this one, would have been disappointed if we hadn’t found a way to get it done, not suprised Timmy went off, but RJ continues to surprise me… I hope he does so all season long, it will be interesting where he will finish in scoring this year, but prefer to see defense.

  • christian

    d-blair is going to move to the bench soon enough. tiago has the most skill next to tim since d-rob. neal reminds me of a younger derek fischer, and james anderson knows how to play the game. last year we had too many people like roger mason and bogans that just could not play an all around game. unfortunately we still have bonner, but our other bigs are playing great. tiago knows how to move with and without the ball. i cant wait to see how he does against the elite bigs alongside. its been a while since we’ve been looking as solid as we did tonight down the stretch in a tough environment. a lot to be happy about after that game, even though it is so early in the year.

  • christian

    alongside tim*

  • Jim Henderson

    christian
    November 3rd, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    “d-blair is going to move to the bench soon enough.”

    I wouldn’t be too sure of that at this early stage.

    “tiago knows how to move with and without the ball. i cant wait to see how he does against the elite bigs alongside.”

    Be careful what you wish for. Splitter is not particularly athletic compared to most NBA 4/5′s in the league.

  • The Beat Counselor

    - RJ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! For all practical purposes, he has surpassed his entire production from last year, in just 4 games this year.

    - Timmy had a great offensive game. Vintage.

    - Tiago looked really solid tonight. He actually had some post moves! His free throw shots look flat. Another big that can’t shoot FTs?

    - Defensively, Temple was getting used by Nash early on, but started looking much better during the second half.

    - We still had trouble guarding Nash and Dragic, LUCKILY Nash was missing stuff he normally hits.

    - Seems like Dragic just has our number. Kid was amazing.

    - We had real problems sticking to Warrick on pick and rolls.

    - Manu made some really dumb entry passes into Timmy. Throwing, INTO double teams…hmmmm. At least Manu reigned it in with his 3 point attempts this game.

    - Siler looked like a decent pick-up.

    - There were a few interesting minutes in the 2nd qtr (I believe) where we had Temple, Neal, Anderson, McDyess and Splitter on the floor. Crazy that Pop would even consider attempting such a line-up. I think the Suns came back and took the lead with this line-up out there, but they looked liked they actually had some potential to defend AND score. Way better than any line-up we could have thrown out there last year not consisting of the Big-3, Hill, Jefferson & Blair. Are we looking at having a deep enough bench that we can actually do line changes and have a legit 2nd unit like the Suns did last year?

    - Neal & Anderson give us a TON more flexibility.

    - Our defense gave up 106 points…still questionable.

    A really sloppy win tonight, but I’ll take it.

    -Side note, I’m surprised there isn’t more of a reaction to the flagrant foul on George Hill from the Clipper game. Inexcusable.

  • doggydogworld

    “Siler looked like a decent pick-up.”

    For us.

    “There were a few interesting minutes in the 2nd qtr (I believe) where we had Temple, Neal, Anderson, McDyess and Splitter on the floor.”

    Yes, late 1st and early 2nd. This lineup was +1. I also loved the Parker/Manu/Temple/Anderson/RJ lineup with 18 seconds left in the game.

    “- Our defense gave up 106 points”

    Who’s defense gave up the other 4? :)

    “I’m surprised there isn’t more of a reaction to the flagrant foul on George Hill from the Clipper game.”

    Amen to that.

  • The Beat Counselor

    @doggydog
    “For us”

    “Who’s defense gave up the other 4?”

    hehe…