Position Breakdown: Suns Centers
Posted: Sept. 17, 2010
The 2009-10 season didn't exactly get off to the right "foot" for Robin Lopez. On the last day of training camp, Lopez suffered a broken metatarsal in his left foot, keeping him on the sidelines until Nov. 27.
But before his injury, no one garnered more praise for their offseason development than the young Suns center. In fact, team captain Steve Nash couldn't stop raving about his progress.
It wasn't until late into last season that Suns fans were able to see why the two-time MVP was so excited. Now, with 60 more regular season games and one playoff series under his belt, the coaching staff believe that Lopez can make yet another giant step forward this season.
“I think he’ll be much-improved,” Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry said. “He does a good job defensively of clogging the lane and he gives us some size. Other than Robin, we’re a small team.”
After struggling to find his rhythm early in the season, Lopez blossomed after being inserted into the starting lineup on January 18. What appeared to be a risky move at the time paid off immediately for Gentry, with Lopez scoring in double figures in 19 of his 31 starts.
As a starter, Lopez averaged 11.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 24.5 minutes. For the season, the former Stanford star averaged a career-high in points (8.4 ppg), rebounds (4.9 rpg), blocks (1.0) and field goal percentage (58.8 percent).
With the Suns rolling after the All-Star break as the league’s hottest team, the 7-foot center was forced to miss the last 10 games of the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs with an injured back. Returning for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers and their massive frontcourt, Lopez responded with 14 points and six rebounds on 6-of-7 shooting.
In Game 3 of that same series, the 22 year old had his national coming-out-party when he erupted for 30 points on 8-of-10 shooting in a Suns victory. Now unable to sneak up on anyone this season, the former Stanford Cardinal will be asked to take on more of the scoring burden with Amar’e Stoudemire in New York.
“This year, we’re hoping to get him some more post-ups so we’re working with him on his positioning, how to attack, where to attack and giving him a sense of how to do that,” Suns assistant coach Bill Cartwright said. “He was never a real scorer in college; that was more of his brother’s role. Defensively he’s already got those instincts of how to rebound, block shots and play D, so we’re fortunate that he already has a good foundation mentally of how to do that.”
When the Suns signed Channing Frye last season, they knew he could shoot. But no one knew he could shoot this well.
Frye ranked fourth in the league in made three-pointers last season.
(Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)
After registering the greatest increase in three-point field goals made from one season to the next in NBA history last season, Frye was in the running for the league's Most Improved Player. Having only connected on 20 three-pointers in his first four years in the NBA, Frye drilled a team-leading 172 treys last season.
Not only did Frye rank fourth in the NBA in threes made, but he also became the first center in league history to nail six or more three-pointers in consecutive games. But it wasn't like he wasn't accurate, his 44 percent shooting from downtown was sixth-best in the NBA.
“He’s an integral part of our team and a great spacer on the floor,” Gentry said. “He’s also probably one of our smartest defensive players. He has a good feel for the game and this is just a great system for him to play in here.”
Frye, who attended St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix and graduated from the University of Arizona, was rewarded for his strong play with a five-year contract this summer. The 6-11 center posted career highs in minutes, field goals, rebounds, assists and blocks.
The former All-Rookie First Team selection with the Knicks also proved to be durable, missing only one game this past season, and that was due to a suspension. Already the best big-man “spacer” in the game, Frye would now like to devote his attention towards becoming a better rebounder and defender.
“Being a very, very good face-up jump-shooter, (this system) really fits Channing’s game,” Cartwright said. “But what we found out with Channing is that he’s an awfully good athlete. I think what he found out last year that we saw is that he could be a pretty good defender.”
Last season, Frye was called upon to take on challenging defensive assignments during critical moments. In the first round of the playoffs, Frye defended Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge, followed by San Antonio’s Tim Duncan in the Western Conference semis.
Both offensive threats were contained by Frye as the Suns clinched series wins over both teams.
“He’s smart and I think we’ve helped him really develop his all-around game,” Cartwright said. "Now everyone can see what he can do.”
Video: Frye Hoops Tournament
Video: Frye Re-Signs
Video: Frye at Locker Cleanout Day
Frye Ignites Suns to Victory
Photos: Frye at Jack-in-the-Box
Frye to Compete in Three-Point Shootout
Video: Frye Returns to Portland
The Suns never wanted to let Dwayne Jones go. When he was traded with Leandro Barbosa to Toronto for Hedo Turkoglu, the Suns knew that chances were high that the 6-11 center/forward would land back in their laps.
Jones led the D-League in boards last year.
(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Fortunately for the Suns, everything worked out. The former 2009-10 D-League leader in rebounds rejoined the team after the Raptors waived him.
Jones, who led the D-League in double-doubles last season, impressed the Suns’ coaches and front office staff during the postseason with his work ethic and intensity in practice. Although he only saw action in two regular season games and two playoff games, the organization was so content with Jones’ development, that it chose to bring him back for training camp.
“I just think he’s a real good, hard-working kid that has a chance to get better,” Gentry said. “I think that he’s a challenge to Robin in practice because he gives Robin a real athletic big guy to work against in practice every day.”
Although his contract isn’t completely guaranteed, the Suns’ coaching staff believes that he has an excellent opportunity to stick with the team throughout the season.
“I think the big thing about Dwayne is that he’s a very, very solid guy for a team,” Cartwright added. “He understands what we need for him to do as far as being a hard-worker that comes into practice every day and giving a great effort. He’s a really strong kid and offensively he’ll get his opportunities feeding off of other people.”
In the D-League last season, Jones averaged 17.6 points and a league-best 16 rebounds on 60-percent shooting from the floor.
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