PHOENIX -- First-year Phoenix Suns point guard Sebastian Telfair knows he's not expected to be Steve Nash. He's right, but that doesn't mean he won't try to be.
With the NBA's schedule shortened and condensed by the lockout, Telfair's role as backup point guard takes on an amplified importance, particularly in the Suns' fast-paced offense.
For years now, the Suns have been among the NBA's top offensive teams, playing an up-tempo style heavy on transition play and pick-and-rolls. So just how important is a point guard in Phoenix?
"It's the most important position," said Telfair, 26. "The ball is in your hands. (This system) is really good for point guards who love to have the ball in their hands and control the game."
Given that, the Suns are pretty well set with Steve Nash. But Nash is now 37 and has battled nagging injuries the past two seasons. With the schedule the way it is this season, he'll need to be spelled more often.
"Depth is going to be really important, whether it's point guard or any position," Nash said. "For every team depth is going to be a huge part of the team trying to get into the playoffs, trying to exceed expectations and trying to make it through the schedule."
There's where Telfair comes in. Though Suns coach Alvin Gentry said Friday that Telfair and recently signed Ronnie Price are still in a battle to be the primary backup point guard, Telfair appears to be the favorite.
The Suns aren't just looking for Telfair to give Nash a break, though; they're looking for him to run the offense efficiently. The Suns have searched for a truly effective backup point guard for quite some time and are confident Telfair can be that player.
For the past few seasons, the Suns waited for Goran Dragic to evolve into the next Steve Nash but gave up last season and traded him to Houston for Aaron Brooks. During the lockout, Brooks signed with Guangdong in China, where players aren't allowed an out clause to return to the NBA. Thus the Suns turned to Telfair.
"He's never really been in a position where it was a good fit for him," Gentry said. "I think this could be a really good fit for him. I told him we fought to get him here.
"He's been in the league a long time, but he's a young player that's still searching for that team where it's a good fit."
Now on his sixth team in eight seasons, Telfair is confident Phoenix is indeed the right fit for his style of play. The day he first worked out at US Airways Center, he called it "the perfect situation."
Telfair fits with the Suns' for a number of reasons. His speed fits the Suns' pace, he's a classic pick-and-roll player that should thrive with Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez and he can find teammates in the open floor. If that sounds familiar, its because those are some of Nash's greatest strengths too.
"I feel like our style is pretty similar as far as coming off the pick-and-roll and being able to mix in our passes," Telfair said. "I think at first it takes a little time to make sure I'm reaching the same level as him on the court."
The same level as Nash? Does anyone actually expect Telfair, whose best season saw him average 9.8 points and 4.6 assists, to play on the same level as a two-time MVP?
"No one's expecting that," Telfair said. "But if we can get that out of me that would be the best for the team."
That may sound obvious, but the low-risk, high-reward dynamic of Telfair's presence in Phoenix makes him somewhat of a wild card this season. Realistically, the chances are slim he'll make it seem like Nash hasn't left the floor, but Telfair has an opportunity to thrive here like he hasn't anywhere else.
Playing behind Nash made Phoenix attractive to Telfair, and now that he's here, he can only learn from one of the league's most revered point guards. Backing up Nash is a tall order, but he Suns and Telfair are hoping Nash rubs off on the young backup. Given Telfair's existing skill set, there's little reason to believe that won't happen.
"Just watching the small things -- how he's patient coming off the pick-and-roll, his shot selection, things like that," Telfair said. "I'm still a young player in this league and I still have a lot to learn. Who better to learn from?"
A hot prospect out of high school and a lottery pick in 2004, Telfair knows many have written him off as a bust in the NBA. But now in a system that he's desired his whole career and with more minutes on the table, Telfair sees Phoenix as the place where he'll take his game to a new level.
"A lot of situations I've been in I had excuses in front of me that were clear, but I think this situation is an opportunity with no excuses," Telfair said. "It's exactly how I like to play -- a lot of big men, a lot of shooters. I think there's no way not to be successful here."