Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 12/13/11
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 was addressing another inquiry regarding the vigorously attempted upgrade in his team's defense. Using Alvin's comment as a template, let's go ahead and pencil in several days -- or even weeks (months?) -- before the Suns' ability to shut down the opposition causes them to be mistaken for the 2008 Boston Celtics. OK, now that we're reminded that baby steps are required before running into a defensive revolution, let's take a look at other ways this year's squad can, well, rise. Let's see. Well, unless Terry Porter's around, we can rest assured the Suns will be pretty good on offense. What's that? 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). What matters considerably more is offensive efficiency, and last year's Suns dropped to ninth in the NBA. Dropped from where? Actually, the previous ranking was first place. Preceding their 2010 run to the Western Conference finals, the Suns rang up 115.3 points per 100 possessions. Last season's dip was almost six points. And when you're not defending and rebounding with fury, that's a problem. So, while the Suns worked on defensive rotation and communication during a four-on-four drill in a training-camp session at Grand Canyon University's Recreation Center, Gentry interrupted with a demand for better movement on offense. "We're not an isolation team," he said. No, the Suns are a team that looks to get something easy in transition (even after an opponent's field goal), then play screen-roll with Steve Nash while setting 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." Well, that's always been the basis of the system, but the Suns didn't have it enough last season. While attempting to hit a quicker stride on defense, it certainly wouldn't hurt for the offense to be more efficient in short order. Before looking at variables for this potential revival, let's review the usual suspects associated with last year's dip. One important weapon in the Suns' attack is the 3-point shot. During the glory days of two seasons back, they led the league at 41.2 percent but were only sixth in attempts. Last season, the Suns were fourth in percentage (37.7) and an itchy third in attempts. The first explanation for any offensive slip last year is, of course, the absence of Amar'e Stoudemire. With him, the Suns squeezed off fewer 3s but made a much higher percentage of those because of the defensive attention he commanded. That seems reasonable. With Stoudemire roaming the middle, Jared Dudley made 45.8 percent of this 3s. Without him (and with a greater emphasis in the opposition scouting report), 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 frisky defiance of any ball-screen defensive tactics or took him completely out of games. 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 of Stoudemire, certainly started last season with some credible snipers. It should be noted the December trade with Orlando sent Jason Richardson (41.9 percent before the transaction) and Hedo Turkoglu (42.3) to Florida, with Vince Carter (36.6 as a Sun) and Mickael Pietrus (34.2) coming to Arizona. How does the current roster shape up in 3-point potential? Well, the Suns will welcome any shot Nash wants to fire, an open Dudley remains deadly, and Frye spaces the floor like very few power forwards. So if Dudley beats out newcomer Shannon Brown and starts at shooting guard, there should be enough threats on the floor for Nash to work screen-roll with Marcin Gortat while Grant Hill dives along the baseline. The second unit, which last season included Dudley, Frye, and Goran Dragic when the campaign began, looks a bit light in shooters who inspire help defenders to stay home. Brown keeps working and keeps improving but will continue having to earn the long-distance respect of opposing defenders. Josh Childress should back Hill at the three, and an upgrade in his trajectory has resulted in solid shooting at camp. Chilly, who started the season with a broken finger and never made a consistent dent in the rotation, made just one 3-pointer in 16 attempts last season. But he did make 49 percent of his bombs in his second NBA season with the Atlanta Hawks and has a 34 percent career stroke. Sebastian Telfair, a 31-percent 3-point marksman over his career, made 36 percent in limited burn for the Minnesota Timberwolves last season. He and recently 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 league in 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 Utah Jazz last year) won't be. Backup center Robin Lopez won't be eyeballing the rim from out there any time soon, and four man Hakim Warrick's range typically ends near the elbows. Rookie power forward Markieff Morris, usually regarded as the inside brute while twin brother Marcus worked closer to the perimeter at Kansas, actually shot more accurately (42.4 percent to 34.2 percent) than his sibling from behind the college arc. Morris, who spent part of the extended off-season training with former NBA guard Pooh 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 from 3 in the first month of last season before tailing off. If hard work and belief in himself translate to sustained improvement, the Suns offense may, at least, continue to make teams nervous.
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