Just like we've heard the mantra on defense before, so too have we heard a stretch-big proclaim that he's going to thrive in the Phoenix Suns offense. This time, it's Bosnian import, 6'8" 250 lb. big man Mirza Teletovic.
"Somebody's gonna be open every time," Teletovic told Bright Side. "Especially having Bledsoe, Knight really driving the ball, the way they are aggressive and physical driving to the basket."
Of course he should thrive. The offense, heavy on pick-and-rolls initiated by slashing guards Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight from either side of the floor, is designed to break down a defense at the point of attack.
Depending on which big is setting the screen, the action will force the defense to scramble to react.
When Tyson Chandler or Alex Len set the pick, they will roll hard to the basket, forcing the big man to roll with them, leaving the just-picked guard to fight back into defensive position. Meanwhile, the other big and the wings will spot up around the perimeter to stretch out the defense and leave at least one shooter open, if not also the roller and/or the ball handler.
When Mirza Teletovic or Markieff Morris set the pick, they will reprise Channing Frye's role from 2013-14 and pop out to the side for a long ball while the guard drives into the teeth of whatever remaining defense tries to rotate.
In 2013-14, this plan worked very well. Channing Frye was a nightly threat to shoot after the pick-and-pop. As a roller, Miles Plumlee did well enough to keep the defense honest-ish. But it was really the Frye threat that helped the offense hum. That's why Frye played 30+ minutes a night despite losing steam in the second half. Not since Marcin Gortat perfected the roll action has a Phoenix Suns player been a threat on the roll.
Last year in 2014-15, the plan fell flat. Anthony Tolliver was supposed to take over Frye's role, while Markieff Morris and his brother Marcus were supposed to help make the pick-and-pop a real threat.
"I might lead the league in three-pointers made and attempted this year," Tolliver said after hoisting 8 three pointers in 18 minutes of play in a preseason game. "Because I'm going to get a lot of open shots. Any time I'm open I'm going to put it up."
But Tolliver couldn't stay on the floor because his rebounding was atrocious and his defensive presence was nil. The Morrii got most of the pick-and-pop opportunities, but shot poorly on threes, especially in the second half, neutralizing the threat. On rolls, Miles Plumlee didn't play nearly as well as he had the year before, and Alex Len was lost on offense. Even when he set a good pick, he often didn't dive hard enough to the rim to pull the defender with him before the guard (Thomas, Dragic or Bledsoe) was already past him.
The team's offense became primarily an iso-heavy scheme with either the driving guards forcing a shot, or a dump-off into the post for Keef.
Tolliver was traded by mid-December for table scraps, and flourished as a shooter in Detroit where he wasn't expected to provide the interior D the Suns had needed from their big men.
This season, the Suns added two players who appear to be tailor-made for a pick-and-roll offense. Tyson Chandler is even better at diving to the rim for lobs and dunks than Brandan Wright, coming in second in the league in dunks last season.
And Teletovic has made a career of catch-and-shoot threes.
"I think Tyson, offensively, is a huge strength in the pick and roll when he rolls to the basket," Teletovic explained. "When I roll up, I think it's going to be a huge advantage for us. They have to come and they have to help. So somebody, me or the guy in the corner, has to be open."
The Suns hope Mirza Teletovic is a better fit in the offense than Anthony Tolliver was, but he has to be able to stay on the floor at that means he has to provide something on the defensive end.
Frye was able to provide post defense in addition to his shooting, and at least a solid defensive rebounding presence. Mirza will have to provide something like that to stay in the rotation.
The good news is that Teletovic is a much better rebounder than Tolliver and roughly equivalent to Frye, which will already give him a leg up. Over the past two seasons, Teletovic's rebound rates (12.2% of all chances in 2014-15, 11.4% in 2013-14) far outpace both Frye and Tolliver in the same seasons.
Those aren't lights-out numbers by any stretch, folks. Don't get confused.
Teletovic's rebound rate the past two years would have only ranked about 3rd or 4th on the woeful Suns, behind Alex Len, Miles Plumlee and Brandan Wright.
However, his rebound rate is better than Frye, Markieff Morris or any other power forward the Suns had on hand over that stretch.
Otherwise, the key to staying on the floor for Teletovic will be making the right plays at the right time. Rotating properly on defense, and grabbing the necessary boards.
In Saturday's scrimmage, Teletovic couldn't be missed. While the rest of the team is loaded with sleek runners and gunners, Mirza looked a bit... slower. He's been recovering from the flu this week, so that probably played a part, but he also knows he's got to ramp up his speed.
"This is a little different," he said of the Suns. "It's running up and down, and using the first chance where you can score a basket. Playing in Brooklyn for the Nets, we always had a veteran team, playing older guys that we really couldn't run that much. We try not to exhaust ourselves."
The Suns believe that Teletovic will be a big part of their team because he knows how to play. He stays within himself offensively and provides toughness and effort on the defensive end.
They also believe he will provide a veteran presence in a locker room that badly needed vets last year.
"Eric and I are vets," Brandon Knight said with a smile at Media Day of he (23 years old) and Bledsoe (25). "But those guys are vet vets."
Knight was referring to Chandler (33), Ronnie Price (32) and Teletovic (29), who were added this summer to help the recover some of its lost chemistry. Training camp was a chemistry lesson too, with one of the five days being devoted to team-building with Navy Seals, and another designated a family day replete with a game of duck-duck-goose with the players' children.
Teletovic saw the chemistry-building during pre-camp voluntary workouts, which he joined three weeks ago.
"To me, the biggest surprise was the way the team chemistry works," he told Bright Side. "Everybody's really getting along with each other playing basketball, sharing the basketball. Everything's kind of working the way coach wants us to play.
"We have young guys to a little bit older veteran guys, and everything is working really good."
Let's hope that bodes well for the season.