What’s wrong with the Suns?

the first quarter of their NBA game against the Miami Heat in Phoenix, Arizona, USA on 23 December 2010. EPA/ROY DABNER fotoglif850991

With the season a third of the way done, I will take a quick look at where the Phoenix Suns have gone wrong. The Suns are 14-19 and have dropped two straight. How do the Suns get back on track? Its time to look at what’s wrong with the Suns.

The most important fact is the Suns don’t play defense. They are at the bottom of the league in rebounding. Channing Frye, Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez all average below six rebounds per game. Frye and Gortat are the only Suns who average a block per game. Because of a lack of an inside presence, no one is afraid to take the ball into the paint against the Suns. The Suns are next to last in total defense and they are giving up a league worst 108 points per game. Gortat and Mickael Pietrus were brought in to shore up the defense, but at the expense of the Suns best defender and leading scorer, Jason Richardson. One step forward, two steps back.

The next problem is the Suns mismanagement of the offseason after Amar’e Stoudemire left town for New York. They traded with the Raptors for Hedo Turkoglu. Turkoglu made a name for himself in Orlando, but did nothing in Toronto. Hakim Warrick was another guy brought in through free agency to try and replace Stoudemire’s production. Both guys are close to the same height, the same age and the same build, but Warrick doesn’t have Stoudemire’s athleticism, swagger or power inside game.

Do the ends justify the means? Looking back, the answer is a resounding no. Turkoglu should never have been chosen to play power forward. He is a perimeter, finesse player with neither the skill nor the body to bang with the best power forwards in the western conference. Warrick is serviceable only as a supplement to a big name power forward. The Suns front office should be held wholly responsible for this. Al Jefferson, Zach Randolph, Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh and Kevin Love were all there to be had. There was a bumper crop of power forwards capable of filling in admirably to Stoudemire’s shoes and the Suns didn’t make a play for ANY of them. As a result, this Magic trade was made to undo the damage they caused in the offseason and that blunder may have sabotaged the Suns playoff chances for this season.

Now that Richardson is gone, the Suns don’t have a closer. When the game is on the line, who is tapped to take the game-winning shots? Last season it was Nash and Stoudemire scoring points and drawing fouls at the end of the game running the screen-and-roll. This season the ball moves around the horn and the Suns hope for the best. Pietrus and Gortat won’t fill that role. Vince Carter won’t be healthy long enough to fill that role. As a result, close games are going to the opposition because the Suns have no one to make that hard cut to the basket for the hoop and the foul.

The unit acquired in the offseason were beginning to gel, then the trade happened and the Suns have played poorly since. Now the pieces have to gel again and learn to play together. There is still no defensive philosophy to speak of and now that Richardson is gone, there really is no offensive philosophy to speak of either. Give the ball to Nash and keep your fingers crossed. There is no inside-out or outside-in balance. There is an arsenal of three point shooters, but if they’re cold, opposing teams just stay in the paint and rebound the misses.

Alvin Gentry has until the All-Star break to get this team figured out and implement a system that will generate wins or the season will be lost. His modification of Mike D’Antoni’s system has been great so far, but the true test lies here with a mash-up of complimentary players and a lack of star players. We have not questioned his genius up to now and us in the Valley will keep the faith. For now.

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