PHOENIX Reality check, please.
"It's going to take time. It won't happen overnight."
Those words were supplied by Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry, who wasaddressing another inquiry regarding the vigorously attempted upgrade in histeam's defense.
Using Alvin's comment as a template, go ahead and pencil in several days oreven weeks (months?) before the Suns' ability to shut down the oppositioncauses them to be mistaken for the 2008 Boston Celtics. Knowing that baby stepsare required before running into a defensive revolution, heres a look at otherways this year's squad can improve.
Unless Terry Porter's around, the Suns will be pretty good on offense. Oh,right, the 40-42 Suns from last season were little more than decent on offense.Forget about the points-per-game ranking (fourth, at 105.0, by the way). Whatmatters considerably more is offensive efficiency, and last year's Suns droppedto ninth in the NBA.
Dropped from where? Actually, the previous ranking was first place. Precedingtheir 2010 run to the Western Conference finals, the Suns rang up 115.3 pointsper 100 possessions. Last season's dip was almost six points. When you're notdefending and rebounding with fury, that's a problem.
So, while the Suns worked on defensive rotation and communication during afour-on-four drill in a training-camp session at Grand Canyon University'sRecreation Center, Gentry interrupted with a demand for better movement onoffense.
"We're not an isolation team," he said.
No, the Suns are a team that looks to get something easy in transition (evenafter an opponent's field goal), then play screen-roll with Steve Nash whilesetting down screens or staggered screens on the weak side.
"That's what we want," Gentry said of court balance and movement."But we've always had that."
That's always been the basis of the system, but the Suns didn't have it enoughlast season. While attempting to hit a quicker stride on defense, it certainlywouldn't hurt for the offense to be more efficient in short order.
Before looking at variables for this potential revival, review the usualsuspects associated with last year's dip.
One important weapon in the Suns attack is the 3-pointer. During the glory daysof two seasons back, Phoenix led the league at 41.2 percent but were only sixthin attempts. Last season, the Suns were fourth in percentage (37.7) and anitchy third in attempts.
The first explanation for any offensive slip last year is, of course, theabsence of Amar'e Stoudemire. With him, the Suns squeezed off fewer 3s but madea much higher percentage of them because of the defensive attention hecommanded.
That seems reasonable.
With Stoudemire roaming the middle, Jared Dudley made 45.8 percent of his 3s.Without Stoudemire (and with a greater emphasis in the opposition scoutingreport), JD slipped to 41.5 last year. Channing Frye's 3-point metamorphosis(43.9 two seasons back) gave way to only 39 percent accuracy last season.
But other factors included nagging injuries that kept Nash from moving with friskydefiance of any ball-screen defensive tactics or took him completely out ofgames. Nash, who (in my opinion) is the greatest game-night shooter we've seen,even dropped to 39.5 from a robust 42.6.
The Suns, who made several interesting roster moves to counter the loss ofStoudemire, certainly started last season with some credible snipers.
It should be noted the December trade with Orlando sent Jason Richardson (41.9percent before the transaction) and Hedo Turkoglu (42.3) to Florida, with VinceCarter (36.6 as a Sun) and Mickael Pietrus (34.2) coming to Arizona.
How does the current roster shape up in 3-point potential?
The Suns will welcome any shot Nash wants to fire, an open Dudley remainsdeadly and Frye spaces the floor like very few power forwards. So if Dudleybeats out newcomer Shannon Brown and starts at shooting guard, there should beenough threats on the floor for Nash to work screen-roll with Marcin Gortat,while Grant Hill drives along the baseline.
The second unit, which last season included Dudley, Frye, and Goran Dragic whenthe campaign began, looks a bit light in shooters who inspire help defenders tostay home. Brown keeps working and keeps improving, but will continue having toearn the long-distance respect of opposing defenders.Josh Childress should back Hill at the three, and an upgradein his trajectory has resulted in solid shooting at camp. Chilly, who startedthe season with a broken finger and never made a consistent dent in therotation, made just one 3-pointer in 16 attempts last season. But he did make49 percent of his bombs in his second NBA season with the Atlanta Hawks and hasa 34 percent career stroke.
Sebastian Telfair, a 31-percent 3-point marksman over his career, made 36percent in limited burn for the Minnesota Timberwolves last season. He andrecently signed Ronnie Price will compete for minutes that went to Aaron Brooks(32.8 from 3 in 25 games) at the end of last season. But Brooks led the leaguein makes the previous season (as the league's official Most Improved Player)and had to be respected in a way Telfair and Price (29 percent for the UtahJazz last year) won't be.
Backup center Robin Lopez won't be eyeballing the rim from out there any timesoon, and four man Hakim Warrick's range typically ends near the elbows.
Rookie power forward Markieff Morris, usually regarded as the inside brutewhile twin brother Marcus worked closer to the perimeter at Kansas, actuallyshot more accurately (42.4 percent to 34.2 percent) than his sibling frombehind the college arc.
Morris, who spent part of the extended offseason training with former NBA guardPooh Richardson, has looked comfortable shooting from the NBA distance in camp.
A big key in how the offensive system works will be Brown, who was 29 of 57 from3 in the first month of last season before tailing off. If hard work and beliefin himself translate to sustained improvement, the Suns offense may, at least,continue to make teams nervous.