Those of you familiar with my writing know that I do not try and hide how much I enjoy watching Jason Richardson play basketball (my man-crush has not reached unhealthy or abnormal levels as of yet). For those who are less familiar, fear not I'll get to it shortly.
This weekend, while watching the Suns tear apart the Mavericks (they looked good, didn't they?), I began to ask myself why it was I was so enamored with J-Rich's play. The answer - he brings back a lot of what we lost when we traded away Shawn Marion and our run-n-gun offense. Shawn Marion was and continues to be one of my favorite Suns players of all time. When the time came for me to choose who's jersey to buy (the choice was between Marion, Nash and Stoudemire), I purchased a Shawn Marion throwback. It seemed fitting seeing as he was the longest tenured Sun and one of the most exciting players in the league. In hindsight, I should have known that when the shake down inevitably happened it would be he who would be shipped out. Oh well, 20/20.
Marion was underrated and even under-appreciated as a Sun. He was consistently near the top of the league in rebounding and steals. He was a double-double machine and people forget that he is listed as being 6'7"! When we lost Marion, we lost our best and most versatile defender. People can talk about Bell all they want but Marion was the guy called upon to guard every position on the floor. He would guard Tony Parker one night (while getting time on Tim Duncan, too) and then be asked to guard Lebron James or Dirk Nowitzki the next. He was also the most exciting player on the team. Yes, Nash had the passes and Amare the power, but nothing was as exciting as seeing the Matrix get a steal on one end, sprinting to the other end and either finishing an alley-oop or driving in and gliding in the air (a la Clyde Drexler) for the finish. Granted, I'm 6'3", 170 lbs. and power has never been used to describe my game so I may be a bit biased, but I loved watching Shawn Marion play.
Then came the trade that brought the fun and high speeds to a screeching hault. 300+ lb. anchors tend to do that, you know. The Suns suffered another disappointing loss at the hands of the Spurs and dropped off of everyone's radars as a legitimate contender. At the beginning of the season, the Suns looked heavy. Kerr was trying to make Goran Dragic happen (honestly, why is he still taking up space on the Suns' bench?), Porter was trying to make Shaq happen and we were struggling to find an identity. Suns players came out on more than one occasion to say that they were not happy. Amare and Shaq wanted more touches, Bell, much like Jack from LOST wanted to go back once he realized how good he had it on the island known as SSoL.
December 10. 2008 - Redemption. The Suns traded Boris Diaw and Raja Bell for Jason Richardson. The impact on the court was seen almost immediately. It appeared that the Suns were having more fun and playing a lot lighter than they had all season. The Suns were running with one of the best finishers in the history of the game. They were gunning with the NBA's best 3-point shooter. Matt Barnes began to seem a lot more comfortable after his buddy from an incredibly fun Warriors squad arrived. The transformation was complete - now the only thing left to do was to sit back and watch everything come together. When the Phoenix Suns brought in J-Rich, they brought in a spark that had been missing ever since Shawn Marion was shipped away.
With Richardson, we once again have a quick perimeter defender who likes to go after rebounds. We brought in a slasher who knows how and when to get to the rim for easy buckets. We also added another player who has the ability to create his own shot whether in the post or out on the perimeter (which is something Marion struggled with). Most importantly, we brought in an exciting player that can get the energy going when the Suns get sluggish.
So, why do I like J-Rich's game so much? Maybe it's not as much of a mystery as I thought.