New Suns power forward Hakim Warrick gave Bright Side of the Sun an exclusive interview last week. We covered a number of topics, but one word that kept cropping back into the conversation: consistency.
Hakim let me know what was most important to him, when signing with the Suns this offseason.
"Just being able to go and have a consistent role," Warrick said without hesitation. "Knowing night in and night out that this is my role and I'm gonna be going out there and playing. That's good with me."
You can make a case that consistent playing time is a two-way street - bourne by both the player and the coach - but it's no secret that Warrick has seen his share of coaching and system changes in five short years.
His first coach was Mike Fratello in 2005-06, the year the Griz won 50 games and got swept by the Suns in the first round (remember that?). Warrick had little impact on that season, playing only 10 minutes a game as Pau Gasol's back up.
Since then, the Grizzlies organization has sunk into a quagmire. Warrick's coaches since that rookie season (with games coached): Fratello (30), Tony Barone (52), Marc Iavaroni (123 games, marked by the Gasol dump 40 games into his tenure), Johnny Davis (2), Lionel Hollins (39). Last year, he played for 2 more coaches: Scott Skiles (48) and Vinny Del Negro (34).
Through it all, Warrick's minutes bounced up and down like a yo-yo.
Here's a review of his 2008-2009 season (ESPN Insider / John Hollinger):
The Grizzlies made so many strange moves over the past few years that Warrick's bizarre internment on the bench last year didn't even register a blip on the radar. It should have, though. He played only 24 minutes a game off the bench while obviously inferior players started ahead of him. Memphis seemed unusually determined to keep him in a limited role as an off-the-bench scorer.
Warrick led the team in PER and averaged 18.7 points per 40 minutes for a team that finished 28th in offensive efficiency. But Memphis refused to stray from the plan. In fact, his situation worsened as the year wore on, with Warrick playing only 20 minutes a game in March. This was insane, of course, but that's life with the Grizzlies.
Of his entire career, Warrick had this to say.
"There was times I was a starter playing 36, 35 minutes a game. Then there was times that I didn't know I was going to get in. It's just been so up and down, so to finally have that set role knowing what the coach wants and what he expects from me night in and night out basis, that would be great for me. Something I definitely haven't had in my 5 years in the league."
Certainly, each of those seven different coaches gave Warrick a role. The problem, likely, was maximizing his expected role with his personal skillset and mindset.
For example, anyone can ask me to remember to take out the garbage every time it starts to smell. But only the best motivator can get me to take ownership of it. I don't like taking out the garbage. It doesn't come naturally to me. So to get me to do it on my own, a leader (wife) has to make me want to do it. Somehow, some way.
Apparently, Warrick's "garbage" issue is playing defense on a consistent basis.
Early in Iavaroni's tenure with the Grizzlies as a rookie head coach (beginning in the fall of 2007), he wanted the team to focus on defense. The Grizzlies had signed Darko Milicic in the offseason to play C next to Pau Gasol at PF. Warrick was slated to be Gasol's backup (or front-court partner while Milicic rested).
Yet, just a week into the 2007-08 season, Iavaroni decided to make an example of Warrick by playing him only 13.8 minutes per game after more than 26 minutes the season before. When asked why the reduction in minutes, Iavaroni was less than verbose.
"I think we've been over this a couple of times," Griz coach Marc Iavaroni said at the time, "but if you want to go there again we can." From there, Iavaroni willingly delivered a plausible scouting report that explained Warrick's noticeable absence from the rotation. The reasoning boiled down to one word, and Warrick knew exactly what caused his sporadic playing time in the Grizzlies' first seven games. "Defense," Warrick said. "I've been basically given the same explanation."
That's all well and good, as long as the rest of the team was doing it's job on defense. The Grizzlies won only 22 games that season, finishing 28th overall in defensive efficiency. Iavaroni lasted just 1.5 seasons, surprisingly marking the longest tenure of any coach Warrick has had since entering the league.
As I wrote above, consistent playing time is a two-way street. But it doesn't help when the street name keeps changing.
Warrick certainly has some offensive similarities to the Suns' previous PF.
Here's a scouting report (ESPN Insider / John Hollinger) on Warrick from a year ago:
Offensively, he loves to set up at the elbows, especially on the right, and either shoot a jumper or make a quick drive and draw a foul. He'll also post up against smaller players when he gets a switch and can be effective shooting short-range hooks despite a lack of muscle. He can finish under the basket but tends to pick up traveling violations while winding up before he rises for the shot.
Warrick generated free throws by the bushel, ranking third among power forwards in free-throw attempts per field-goal attempt.
But Hakim Warrick is not here to replace Amare Stoudemire, and he will be the first to tell you that.
"There's no one guy that's gonna replace what he did for this team, night in and night out," Warrick said. "(With) everyone running and everyone subbing and imposing our will I think we can concentrate and make it a team effort. We may get beat up on the boards a little bit but they still gotta guard us on the other end. And so (losing Amare's rebounding is) something that can hurt us but I think we definitely have some guys that are athletic and can get some rebounds."
For his part, Warrick knows he has to improve his own game.
"I think just me becoming more consistent," he said. "Outside shooting is something I've improved so much on from just coming into the league and being able to knock down that 15-17 foot jump shot and just being more consistent. I think I've become a much better, more consistent free throw shooter and just continue to get stronger every year."
Consistency. That word keeps coming back up.
If Warrick is consistent in his effort and production, then he will get consistent minutes.
In his last season-plus with the Suns, coach Alvin Gentry has been a master at keeping everyone happy with their role. The young/new guys became more consistent as the season went on, so that by the time the playoffs started the Suns were a complete 10-man unit who knew what they were going to get every game from each player.
The only guys who were given a chance but fell out of this rotation were those who failed to play aggressive when on the court. Stromile Swift, in the spring of 2009. Earl Clark in 2009-2010. Umm, that's about it so far.
Everyone else has thrived when given the chance. How did his happen?
Leadership, in the form of Nash, Hill, Gentry and his coaching staff.
We all know what Steve Nash can do for a player's consistency and offensive game.
By comparison, here are Warrick's prior point guards:
2005-06 - Damon Stoudamire (27 games, 31.9 min, 4.7 a/g), Chucky Atkins (43g, 27 mins, 3.0 a/g), Bobby Jackson (71g, 25 mins, 2.7 a/g)
2006-07 - Atkins and Stoudamire again
2007-08 - Kyle Lowry (82, 25.5, 3.6), Mike Conley (53, 26.1, 4.2), Javaris Crittenton (28, 18.1, 1.2)
2008-09 - Conley (82g, 30.6 min, 4.3 a/g), Lowry (49, 21.9, 3.6), OJ Mayo (82, 38, 3.2)
2009-10 - Brandon Jennings (82, 32.6, 5.7), Luke Ridnour (82, 21.5, 4.0)
Nash, by comparison, has been the starting point guard of the league's best efficient offense (points per possession) in the NBA for NINE consecutive seasons.
"Oh man," Hakim said, of playing with Nash next season, "Like I said before it's a dream come true. A lot of guys don't get a chance to play with a point guard of his caliber and its really exciting to play with a MVP and (future) Hall of Famer."
A hallmark of this offense is that the players are ordered to take the open shot, when Nash gets them the ball. It took Raja Bell half a season to get it. It took Channing Frye 3 games.
"(Gentry) told me it might seem weird to me at first. Not too many coaches gonna give the green light to go out there and shoot it. You got that confidence knowing there's not gonna be any backlash taking a bad shot just as long as you're playing hard and you're leaving it all out there on the floor. It will definitely have the guys more confident."
And how important is confidence in the NBA?
"That's most of the game," he said. "When you're playing on this level. So many guys that are just as strong and athletic, to have that confidence in yourself and to know the coaches have confidence in you is a big plus."
As far as his role on the team, he says it's too early to tell.
"It's too soon for that," he replied. "We got a lot of guys who can play multiple positions. I know coach likes to go out there and throw a lot of different combinations at different teams."
There are several players with similar builds, but they each have a different skillset. Lopez is a true center. Frye is a "Suns" center. Turkoglu and Hill are true small forwards. Childress and Dudley are tweeners at the wing. Richardson is a true shooting guard, and Nash and Dragic share the point. Warrick is the closest thing the Suns have to a true power forward.
But really, all we know right now is that there are 10 guys with the proven talent to play 20+ minutes per game and Hakim Warrick is one of them. Who starts and who comes off the bench is less important than figuring out who plays well together.
"I've shown I can be productive as a starter and off the bench. It really doesn't matter as long as I can go out there and do that to help the team. If its being that guy to come off the bench and bring that energy I'm willing to do. Just really looking forward to going out there and helping this team."
On a personal level, the only Suns player Hakim knows is Channing Frye, from his rookie orientation. He only knows the rest of the guys from playing against them and watching Suns games on TV since college.
Training camp doesn't officially start until the end of September, but for Hakim Warrick the season starts much sooner than that.
He expects to move to Phoenix full time right before Labor Day, then start hitting the practice court every day from then on. He knows the pickup games in September are important, and that most of the players will be scrimmaging and working out at the arena throughout the month.
"Its an exciting time. I can't wait to get out there and see the guys and can't wait to get started."