What we have at U.S. Airways Center is not your godfather’s Phoenix Suns, especially if the godfather is Mike D’Antoni.
With D’Antoni presiding over an offensive syndicate that produced the best shot to be found as quickly as possible (not always within seven seconds, mind you), the Suns defined a movement toward fast tempo, floor spacing and 3-point aggression.
With that still stuck in the minds of NBA sharpies, a recent chat with an assistant coach employed by another team inspired this remark concerning the Suns and their revamped roster.
“I’m not sure they have the components to keep playing the system like they have,” he said.
Much of the provocation for this remark was aimed at power forward Luis Scola, an amnesty acquisition whose crafty work in the lane should help allow the Suns to compete for a playoff spot and mediocre pick in what may be a less-than-mediocre draft.
Scola, who squeezed off a grand total of three 3-point attempts (making none) for the Houston Rockets last season, also may be considered incapable of allowing Coach Alvin Gentry and the Suns to space the floor.
But what quite a few casual observers haven’t noticed is a shift away from the gunslinger style demonstrated by Suns teams during the halcyon days of Steve Nash.
In Nash’s final season before dribbling off to Los Angeles, the Suns were a mere 15th among NBA teams in 3-point attempts, bagging a chilly 34 percent to finish a measly 17th in accuracy.
For context, they were third in attempts the season before, making 38 percent — fourth for marksmanship. And one season prior to that (the last with Amar’e Stoudemire in uniform), the Suns were sixth in attempts and first (41 percent) in accuracy.
It also should be noted their pace (possessions per 48 minutes) was eighth last season, dropping from seventh the year before and fourth the year before that.
Although Scola will be firing from mid-range and closer, the newcomers also include 3-point cozy performers named Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson and old pal Goran Dragic.
Dragic made 34 percent from behind the arc for Houston last season, with his late run as a starter boosting his per-game attempts to 3.1. Nash, we feel compelled to point out, shot 39 percent from deep last season, hoisting 2.3 per game.
Beasley and Johnson, shot 38 and 31 percent for the Minnesota Timberwolves last season. Beasley, working at small forward, took 2.1 3s per game; Johnson, a small forward playing shooting guard, put up 2.6.
The previously referenced assistant coach also had this to say:
“Based on roster moves, I think they’ll be about the same on defense.”
A D-PLUS FOR BEASLEY?
Ah, speaking to defense, in his meet-the-press event a couple of months ago, Beasley promised a significant upgrade in his guarding-the-opposition focus.
The coach I was chatting with suggested that asking the former No. 2 overall draft pick to guard small forwards may be a bit unfair.
“I mean the guy is 6-10 and athletic, at least vertically, but chasing smaller guys around screens or off the dribble seems unreasonable to me,” the coach said.
Well, according to the Suns roster, Beasley is 6-foot-10. But according to measurements taken at the 2008 NBA’s pre-draft combine, the former Kansas State star was 6-7 without shoes and 6-8 ¼ in his Nikes.
This tells us Beasley has been growing (physically, at least) since he entered the league, or … that getting better defensively simply requires more effort and work on hip flexibility.
For the record, prototypical small forward Carmelo Anthony registered three-fourths of an inch shorter than Beasley, suggesting that defending perimeter-oriented foes isn’t unreasonable.
LONG ROAD TO MINNESOTA
Brice Long, the coordinator of basketball technology at Arizona State the past few years, has been hired by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Long, who attended Mesquite High in Gilbert before matriculating at ASU, will be the T-wolves’ video coordinator.
Once Ricky Rubio returns, Brice should get much busier putting together those Timberwolves highlight packages.
With Jahii Carson eligible, Long would have had more opportunity for highlight duty than he’s had in Tempe since James Harden was around.