with the help of basketball-reference.com’s and ESPN.com’s statistical pages I was able to finish my look into the Suns.
I just got done completing a little more research and I have decided in comparing the Suns now vs. previous years, I am going to exclude anything with 08 in it. The Shaq Suns were clearly not the same type of team, so I narrowed my comparison to what are arguably the best stretch of seasons in Suns history. First of all, these are REALLY good teams. Any of these teams could have won the NBA championship. 2004/2005 Suns had the unfortunate circumstance of Joe Johnson breaking his eye bone. The following year in 2005/2006 the Suns had to play without Amar’e for the season and were still able to make it to the Western Conference Finals against a 6o win Mavericks team. This is the starting point for my belief that these Suns compare most closely with the Suns of 2006/2007. These Suns seemed to outplay the Spurs in the Western Conference Semi’s in these six games according to most analysts at the time. It’s hard to even write about these playoffs because of how much non-sense happened. This is a series riddled with controversy. Nash had his Nose smashed in (as seen on front page) forcing him out of a tie game with 2 minutes to go. Later in the series, Amar’e and Boris Diaw were suspended for a game after Robert Horry body checked Nash into the scorers table. Not to mention: Tim Donaghy identified this series as having games that were rigged. Anyway, this team ended up losing to the eventual Champion San Antonio Spurs. This team, MANY thought was going to be THE team. It wasn’t. However, I believe this team looks more like that team than any other, and is even better in some ways, while worse in others.
The reason I gave the “These Suns were really good” disclaimer is because with minor improvement and maybe even a little luck, these teams could have gone to the Finals. So, are these Suns similar enough with enough changes to be successful? Here are the breakdowns:
Stats (easy to read download)
(Suns/Opp) PPG FG% 3Pt% RPG T.O. DEF. RANK
2004/2005: 110.1/103.3 .477/.445 .393/.335 44.1/46.1 13.7/13.8 17th
2005/2006: 108.4/102.8 .479/.454 .399/.363 41.8/45.9 13.3/14.9 16th
2006/2007: 110.2/102.9 .494/.457 .399/.363 40.5/42.8 14.5/15.1 13th
2009/2010: 110.4/105.9 .495/.462 .438/.366 42.1/43.4 15.5/13.3 25th
Now what I found to be interesting when comparing the Suns best years to this year, is that they are very similar in a lot of ways, but profoundly different in a few.
Scoring – These Suns score at the best clip of any of the Suns teams yet. They shoot the best, and obviously have a significant advantage in 3-point percentage. There is no reason to think that these Suns with their depth and bench scoring should be unable to score in a bunch of ways.
Tempo – The Suns today continue to use speed and tempo as their biggest weapon. The Suns continue to be one of the fastest paced teams in the league, and score a majority of their points early in the shot-clock. However, the addition of J Rich, Grant Hill and development of Leandro provide the type of off the dribble scoring the Suns need when the teams slow us down. Don’t forget, even though he is a true Sun, Hill never played on those teams.
That’s enough of the Similarities, everyone already knows how the Suns play. What’s the difference? Although there has been some talk of the differences in offensive styles for the Suns, and it’s obvious the Zone Defense is more regular. Even if these Suns don’t “fast-break” as much as the .07 seconds or less teams from 04-07, they are still a fast paced team. This has lead to the criticism that these Suns aren’t really any different.
The amount of minutes being distributed to the Suns starters is fewer than in EVERY year previous. This year, the max number of minutes anyone is playing in a game is Amar’e with 33.8 minutes per game. The 04-05 Suns that everyone talks about had 5 players with more minutes per game and a max of 39.5 MPG. Even last year the Suns had a Max of 37 MPG (they were deliberately limiting minutes).
04/05 – Starters averaged 36.92 Minutes Per Game . Only SEVEN players appeared in more than half the Suns games. The Suns eighth man was CASEY JACOBSON. Leandro barely played.
05/06 – 4 Starters averaged 37.23 MPG and the Suns increased the their depth after Amar’e went down playing 3 players 20+minutes in the rotation. Even without Amar’e this team literally RAN into the Western Conference Finals.
06/07 – Starters averaged 35.16 MPG and Diaw had 30+ as the sixth man. 8 players had 18+ MPG. This team was deeper and looked like it had the depth necessary to get by the Spurs… but didn’t. Amar’e only averaged 20.4 PPG. The Suns used a 9-man rotation and had 5 players scoring 15+ PPG. The wealth was distributed evenly and it worked.
09/10 – Starters average 32.0 MPG and ELEVEN players have 10+ MPG. Nine have 15+ MPG and Seven play 20+ MPG. This is clearly the MAJOR difference in this years team. It is far deeper and focused on developing defensive players and young talent than ever before with minutes. Gentry at times this year has used VERY unexpected line-ups early in games regardless of the score. He seems dead-set on having a game-plan with players minutes and sticking to it. This is NEW.
What is the effect of these limited minutes… hopefully we will get the opportunity to see a Suns team that can play as fast during the playoffs as they did during the season. As a running team, we have to stay fresh, and our bench players have to get in condition to play. In the playoffs when teams come right at Amar’e with their bigs or get us into foul trouble with physical play, we used to have NOBODY to come in and serve as a legitimate replacement. Consequently, we got dominated by other team’s benches OR our players get tired by the end of games and we used give up HUGE leads in the fourth quarter. As recently as last year we only won 4 games all season when trailing going into the fourth quarter. This year the Suns already have five.
The Suns of this year have the worst defense of any of the D’Antoni teams, can you believe it? One of the reasons this is happening hopefully is because of the early Injury to back-up center and BTW star Robin Lopez. These Suns also turnover the ball at an alarming rate. One of the main differences as you can see is that these Suns have over 15 turnovers per game. The old Suns teams used to get an advantage forcing TO’s. The faster you play, the more you should have, so if the Suns are a bit slower, I think those turnovers need to come down. If the Suns continue to be as dedicated to improving defense and reducing turnovers as much as they have rebounding, we should be okay. The Suns are rebounding as well as ever before, they just are giving teams a lot of second chance opportunities still. That has to stop for these Suns to be effective. The defensive talent is there, we just need time to figure out the most effective rotations.
All in all, All those GREAT teams were knocked for not having the size, depth, and defense to win a championship. Sadly, that seemed to be proven true somehow, year in and year out. The 2010 Suns seem to be utilizing all of the good from previous years successes, and trying to fix the concerns that continue to haunt us. If the Suns can manage to reduce turnovers and play better defense, this team actually seems built not only for regular, but post-season success as well.