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Phoenix Suns 2010-2011: With No Power Forward, Is It SSOL All Over Again?

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Read all the articles around the Suns lately, and you'll see precious little about how this current rotation will actually play out the season.

Will it be the hybrid "12 Seconds Or Less" from last season?

Or, without a true PF, will the Suns be forced to return to the "7 Seconds Or Less" from the 2005-2007 era?

Or will they try to "4 Out" scheme of the Orlando Magic, with one guy in the middle and 4 on the wing?

Even the Suns players don't know yet.

"Everybody feeds off Steve and Amare," Dudley said in an exclusive interview with Seth Pollack yesterday. "Let's be honest: 90 percent of our offense is pick-and-roll. He made me better, he made Channing better. Now it's an unknown. Anytime you have an unknown, expectations are low."

Considering that Hedo Turkoglu is quite effective as a pick-n-roll ballhandler himself, it looks like the Suns have a handful of instigators (Turkoglu, Nash and Dragic) but not enough "roll" men. Or, at least, not the best roll man in the game today.

This is like the chicken-and-the-egg dilemma that's plagued mankind for centuries. Did Nash's passes make Amare look like the best finisher in the game? Or did Amare's incredible skills make Nash the best passer in the game?

But that's ancient history. The Suns PG Steve Nash knows its time to turn the page.

"I'll just embrace the challenge of plugging in new pieces," Steve Nash said in a recent interview. "Trying to make it work and make everyone feel good about what we're doing [and] try to spread those guys between the two (off-guard) and four (power forward) at times."

But how will the Suns do it?

Since Amare has missed all of one season and half of another since Nash returned in 2004, we can look at the recent past to see how this team measures up to those.

2005-06 season

54-28 regular season record, 10-10 playoff record, Western Conference Finals

That season was, in retrospect, a down year for the Western Conference. The only true threats to San Antonio's dynasty were the upstart Dallas Mavericks and the banged-up Phoenix Suns.

Ultimately, Dallas benefited from a Manu Ginobili brain fart (fouling Dirk on a 2-point dunk attempt with 3 seconds to go and a 3 point lead in game 7) and yet another Phoenix Suns injury. In that WCF, the Suns were missing 3 starters: PF Amare (all season), C Kurt Thomas (since January) and SG Raja Bell (pulled calf in game 1).  Couple those losses with Mike D'Antoni's inexplicable benching of sparkplug Eddie House - the same Eddie House who played the same role successfully for Boston the very next year - and the Suns were trying to play Dallas with 6 players. No wonder they ran out of gas in every second half.

Let's compare the teams:

2006 2011
Nash 6'3" Nash 6'3"
Bell 6'5" Richardson 6'6"
Diaw 6'8" Hill 6'8"
Marion 6'7" Turkoglu 6'10"
Thomas 6'10" Lopez 7'0"
Barbosa 6'3" Dragic 6'4"
Jones 6'8" Childress 6'8"
House 6'1" Dudley 6'7"
    Warrick 6'9"
    Frye 6'11"
Ave Height 6'5.6" Ave Height 6'7.8"

Most obviously, the 2010-2011 team is taller and deeper. And with Earl Clark, Gani Lawal and Dwayne Jones waiting in the wings, this current team could withstand some injuries and still keep trucking along.

Frye provides the same offense that Tim Thomas gave in 2006, but is bigger and plays better low-post defense than Tim Thomas ever did.

There's no Marion on this current team, but there was no Turkoglu and Dragic to help Nash run the offense, and no Childress and Dudley to sub in on the wings.

And that 2005-06 had ZERO pick-n-roll finishers. Marion would slash and covert the occasional alley-oop, but who else would finish at the basket? That team was built on Nash running the show the entire game without the threat of a pick-n-roll finish. This would eventually earn him his second consecutive MVP. 

In constrast, the 2010-2011 team has Hakim Warrick and Robin Lopez to the pick-n-roll. They each have proven in their careers that they are good roll men in the pick-n-roll. And this team has 2 more pick-n-roll facilitators in Turk and Dragic.

But don't discount the 2010-2011 team's ability to drain the 3-ball too.

Skeptics warn that the Suns' ability to hit 3s will dry up without a "true" inside game, but look at the actual numbers.

2006 2010
Team 3-pt % 39.9% Team 3-pt % 41.2%
Att/gm 25.6 Att/gm 21.6
> 38% Ave. 6 > 38% Ave. 6
A/g Margin 8.2 A/g Margin 2.3
M/g Margin 3.9 M/g Margin 2.1
2006 2010
% Jump 73% % Jump 67%
% Close 27% % Close 33%

In 2006, without any sort of inside presence, the Suns rained 3s from the perimeter to the tune of more than 25 attempts a game and converted 39.9% of them. (2009-2010 was better, to be sure, at 41.2% but let's give the 2006 team a break. The 41.2% was the best EVER at the current 3-pt distance)

And this was on 73% of their shots being from 10+ feet away of the basket. In contrast, this last year's Suns team (and all the team's since 2005) were more like 67-68% jump shots vs. 32-33% from close in.

So, will the 2010-2011 team resemble the 2005-06 SSOL team?

Not likely. The 2010-2011 team is much bigger, deeper and has more of an inside presence, yet can still hit the 3-ball with the best of them.


The second-half of 2009 (after Amare's injury)

16-13 regular season record, no playoffs

This was the only other time that a Nash-era team played without Amare. Gentry dubbed that team "Seven Seconds Or Shaq". But in reality, that team was more of a half-court team than any since Nash returned. Playing Shaq 30 minutes a game will do that to you.

Let's compare the teams:

2009 2011
Nash 6'3" Nash 6'3"
Richardson 6'6" Richardson 6'6"
Hill 6'8" Hill 6'8"
Barnes 6'7" Turkoglu 6'10"
O'Neal 7'2" Lopez 7'0"
Dragic 6'4" Dragic 6'4"
Barbosa 6'3" Childress 6'8"
Dudley 6'7" Dudley 6'7"
Amundson 6'9" Warrick 6'9"
Lopez 7'0" Frye 6'11"
Ave Height 6'7.3" Ave Height 6'7.8"

There are several familiar faces between the team at the end of 2009 and today's team, but the talent difference is significant.

Dragic, Dudley and Lopez are all better than their 2009 version. Today's Lopez is even better than the 2009 Shaq, in this system..

Amongst the newbies: Turkoglu/Warrick > Barnes/Amundson at PF, and Childress > Barbosa at backup SG.

Even factoring in a decline for Grant Hill, the 2010-2011 team is light years ahead of the 16-13 late-2009 Suns.


The 2008-2009 Orlando Magic

It's worth mentioning that the 2008 and 2009 Orlando Magic played a scheme called "4 Out" with Hedo at the F spot with skinny Rashard Lewis.

No one could stop this team with a pair a 6'10" 3-pt shooting forwards along with scrappy guards and a monster (but offensively challenged) C in Dwight Howard.

The Suns' defense will have to be different than Orlando's, since the Suns don't have a Dwight Howard.

But the Suns' offense just might resemble that "4 Out" one, except even more powerful with Nash at the PG spot instead of Jameer Nelson/Rafer Alston.

Hedo will drive opposing PFs crazy with his game, and force opposing coaches to play a smaller lineup to keep up with the Suns on the perimeter. This just plays into the Suns's hands on defense, allowing Hedo to match up against a smaller player.


What does this all mean?

We don't know.

We just know that this PF-less team is way more talented and versatile than any prior PF-less Suns team.

If the chemistry is good, and everyone figures out how to play together as a team, the Suns will win 50+ games.

How far they get in the playoffs will be greatly dependent on the their playoff seed. Last season, the Suns needed wins in their final 2 games to nab the 3-seed vs. the 6th or 7th seed. Homecourt advantage is key to winning playoff series.

One final thing we know: It does not matter what the other teams in the Western Conference have done this summer, or how much they've improved on paper.

In six years, NO ONE outside of Phoenix has knocked the Suns off the 54+-win pedestal.

No one but the Suns themselves in 2009. And even that year, it took a bonehead play by Matt Barnes against Utah to knock the Suns out of the playoffs even amidst a sea of turmoil.

Trust in Nash. Trust in Hill. And get ready for a long playoff run. 

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