Greetings, Brightsiders! Welcome to installment one of our look at the Suns roster by position. We tip it off today with a look at our wing players. Only 8 days until the regular season opener!
When your starting shooting guard has only started 37 games in his career and your starting small forward is 39 years old, it's difficult to call the position a team strength. Then again, Grant Hill is hardly your typical 39-year old and Jared Dudley has made a career of proving his critics wrong. And there's no doubting the high character, basketball IQ and work ethic of either of them.
Backing them up will be two athletic players who are hungry for the opportunity to prove themselves: Josh Childress and Shannon Brown. Childress will attempt to rebound from a disappointing 2010-2011 campaign while newcomer Brown will be playing for his next contract after leaving the Lakers, and the job as Kobe Bryant's backup, to come to Phoenix.
Can the Suns' wings be a force this season? Or will we continue to lament the absence of former leading scorer Jason Richardson? Let's break it down after the jump.
Let's look at the four wing players the Suns will be relying on this season.
Can you believe that Dudley entered the NBA as a "tweener" forward? Scouting reports doubted his athletic ability to play SF, let alone the SG position he will be manning for the Suns this season, and will require him to defend players such as Kobe Bryant and Manu Ginobili. To prepare himself for this challenge, Dudley spent his offseason working with Impact Basketball in Las Vegas, playing competitive games against real NBA opponents.
Dudley's strengths are accurate shooting (career 42% 3-pointers), a high basketball IQ, toughness, and terrific attitude and work ethic. He started to add the ability to create his own shot last season and identified that as a point of emphasis for improvement this past off-season. On defense, he's a wily player but struggles to keep up with faster, quicker opponents.
Preseason reports of Dudley have been encouraging and it appears he has secured the starting spot over Brown. In a best case scenario, Dudley would be a bench player extraordinaire as he was for the Western Conference finalist 2009-2010 Suns. All of the work he's done, all the intangibles he possesses might not be enough to overcome his lack of athleticism, but if there is a player who has done everything in his power to earn the opportunity, it's Dudley.
In skillset, Brown is sort of the Bizarro Dudley. An outstanding athlete, Brown will wow us with breathtaking dunks and other feats of skywalking Dudley can only dream of, but lacks Dudley's smooth shooting stroke, basketball IQ and all-around game. The Suns are going to need Brown to be a spot-up 3-point shooter playing with the slashing Josh Childress and mid-range game of Grant Hill. His results have been mixed so far in his career. He's only a 34% 3-point shooter, but he's not shy about taking them, as he averaged 4.9 attempts per 36 minutes last season. This points to Brown's iffy shot selection, which sounds similar to the man he's replacing, Mickael Pietrus.
However, Brown will get out and run, which is a part of the game the Suns were missing last season, and is known as a strong defender. His career defensive win shares are greater than his offensive WS's, according to Basketball Reference, as his athleticism helps him tremendously on the defensive end. Physically, he can match up.
Like Dudley, Brown is a player with something to prove this season. He opted out of the final year of his contract with the Lakers to become a free agent and sign a 1-year deal with the Suns, expecting to have more opportunity to showcase his talents for his next contract. At 26 years of age, this next contract will likely be the most lucrative of his career, so he'll have plenty of motivation. As backup SGs go, Brown is above average. Over the last two seasons, he averaged around 8 PPG in 20 MPG. The Suns could probably live with that, but he can potentially increase those numbers depending upon Dudley's success and how many minutes Brown will get. The key will be more accurate shooting from Brown.
It can be said that Hill held the Suns' near-term fate in his hands when he weighed his free agency options after the lockout ended. Had he signed elsewhere, would Steve Nash still have been willing to finish out his career in Phoenix without his good friend and co-captain Hill in the fold? The Suns compensated him well, as his $6.5M salary this year will be his highest as a Sun, but that isn't why Hill returned. In an interview with Phoenix radio station XTRA 910, he said that:
"Last year was a tough year for us in a lot of ways with a lot of transition and a lot of changes personnel wise. A lot of changes in the front office. A lot of reasons for no excuses, but you just feel like you want to…you can’t go out like that."
Hill's drive is to bring the Suns back to relevancy. To that end, he figures to continue to be the glue player he has been in his time with the team, playing strong defense to go along with his excellent mid-range shot, passing skills and occasional 3-pointers. The condensed schedule this season might mean fewer minutes for Hill and could spell problems for the team if his body can't hold up to the grind. He's a special athlete who keeps himself in impeccable physical condition and has defied age in his time in Phoenix, but at some point the tank will run dry. Let's hope it's not this season.
Childress is a much better player than he showed last season. A toxic brew of circumstances including a broken finger, problems adjusting back to the NBA game and constantly changing rotations poisoned Childress' first season in Phoenix, and he was mentioned as an amnesty candidate as the lockout ended. Now with a defined role as Grant Hill's backup at SF, Childress is ready to make a bigger contribution than he did last year, when he made only one 3-point shot all season and averaged a career low 5.0 PPG.
Childress will probably never be a great shooter with his unusual stroke, but his offensive game last year was comprised of almost nothing but shots around the basket, and he's capable of more than that. Whether it was because of his injured finger, or inability to get consistent minutes, Childress never seemed to find his rhythm. His rebounding and work around the basket were welcome additions for a Suns team that struggled to get easy baskets at times last year, and a Brown/Childress pairing will bring energy and athleticism off the Suns bench.
It would be a waste to have Childress parked out at the 3-point line often, but he'll need to be able to knock that shot down when defenders sag off of him and leave him wide open. His career 34% 3-point shooting suggests he should be able to do that, but he has averaged less than one 3-point attempt per game so he's only really trying them when he's wide open.
With the exception of Dudley, I wish all of these players were better shooters. Hill and Childress should be able to hit occasional corner 3s, Brown will bomb away with questionable success, but the Suns could use another player with Dudley's sharpshooting skills. In that sense, Jason Richardson hasn't yet been replaced and this Suns team probably won't be an offensive juggernaut as in seasons past.
It should also be noted that, on a team with several likeable players, Hill and Dudley are the most beloved Suns outside of Steve Nash, and for good reason. Whatever they deliver this season, we can be certain they will have squeezed every last bit out of their abilities, and it's never smart to bet against characters like that.
All statistics quoted were sourced from BasketballReference.com.