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