Legend’s Take: Cowens on Suns
Posted Jan 25 2005 10:24PM
Hall of Famer talks about Suns, what up-tempo strategy means to title hopes
By Dave Cowens (as told to John Hareas)
High scoring, lots of ball movement, fluid play, uptempo style, what’s not to like about the Phoenix Suns and their red-hot start? The Suns are good for the NBA because they play old-time basketball.
Those who suggest that a team that relies on the fast break won't win in the playoffs have it wrong. It's the same game. The playoffs are different, but not that different. The idea that it suddenly won't work in the postseason, that's a fallacy.
Why do I say this? I've played on up-tempo teams that have won it all. That's what my teams did in ’74 and ’76. I recently watched the seventh game of the ’74 Finals between the Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks. We pressed for 48 minutes in the last game of the year. Can you win doing that? Well, that's what we did. We knew it was about who was going to dictate the tempo of the game. If we pushed the ball, we knew we would be in a position to win, as opposed to letting them come down, set up and look for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. We know that slowing it down would not favor us.
Suns' burning offense
From a scouting and a matchup perspective, the Suns have some unique things going for them that cause problems throughout the league. Instead of having a cookie-cutter type of offense, which most teams practice against, they can force opponents into different spots that they are not used to practicing against.
From Amare Stoudemire to Shawn Marion, Steve Nash, Quentin Richardson and Joe Johnson, they have a number of ways to break down an opponent. Even though they don’t have a true center, they’re all good, young athletes, so there isn't a big separation between their power forward and their center, their quick forward and their two man.
I like their relentless style. They keep the up-tempo game pressure on, but in order to run, you still have to be a good defensive squad. You have to be able to get rebounds and kick it out and get the numbers to be a running team. You need man-up situations; you can't run when it's five-on-five all the time. Players are too good defensively.
Nash gives Phoenix flavor
The real difference-maker this season for the Suns has obviously been Steve Nash. When he’s in the lineup, they seem to win every game. When he’s not, well, they’re not the same team. He’s a real MVP candidate based on what he means to his team. His teammates all believe that he's looking out for them to get them the ball, and that's what he really likes to do. Yet he also has the ability to score when he needs to based on the matchups and situations.
The Suns are a great example of a team that gets that one player that makes it whole. Nash is that one last ingredient that makes the recipe top notch, as opposed to just so-so. All of the sudden, the team just pops and goes boom.
I am really impressed with Stoudemire’s play. I never thought that kids that young could be as developed physically and emotionally as he and LeBron James are. To be in the league for a few years, and to be doing what they're doing -- these are men. They're kids, but they're men. Even Moses Malone took three or four years to mature into a dominant player. These guys are doing it right out of the gate. It's really amazing. No one could have told me that was possible, but then nobody thought anyone would run a four-minute mile either.
The bar raises higher with time and now there are kids who have only known the era when high-schoolers were being drafted and they assume that they are capable. They've been learning what it takes and many have been putting in the work. Amare is a great example of this shift.
Having fun, with an edge
The Suns look like they're having an awful lot of fun and they’re really hungry, like they want to prove something. There's a certain nastiness to them on the court. If they're for real, they should be able to carry this throughout the season and the playoffs. Will they have a dip? Sure, every team has one at one time or another over the course of the season.
Very few teams can sustain the level dominance that the Chicago Bulls or the Los Angeles Lakers each had at one point. The ’85 Lakers and ’96 Bulls teams were so good, that they would win even when they had bad nights.
I wouldn’t underestimate the Suns and their up-tempo style. Speaking from experience, you can win playing full-throttle basketball. Some may think that this type of fast-breaking team can't go far in the playoffs, but I disagree.