Position Breakdown: Suns Shooting Guards
Posted: Sept. 22, 2010
If the Suns have an X-factor, it’s Jason Richardson.
40-9 all-time when J-Rich scores 20 or more points, the Suns went on a tear when he became the team’s second option last season. Increasing his scoring average from 14.5 points on 45-percent shooting to 17.8 points and 51.3-percent shooting after the All-Star break, it’s no coincidence that the Suns became the hottest team in the league.
In fact, after the All-Star break, Richardson and former teammate Amar’e Stoudemire accounted for the third-highest scoring duo in the league. Now with the departure of Stoudemire and backup Leandro Barbosa, the Suns are expecting him to assume even a greater scoring role.
“We thought last year that he should be our second-leading scorer and there is no reason why he shouldn’t at least be our second-leading scorer this year,” Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry said. “After the All-Star break last year he got a lot in better in taking the ball to the basket, shooting the ball, at reading screens s and knowing where Steve (Nash) could get him the ball. I just think he’ll get better in those things this year.”
When J-Rich arrived in the Valley in 2008, everyone knew he could dunk. But no one knew how good of a shooter he could become.
Having shot only 43 percent before arriving in Phoenix, the two-time dunk contest winner has shot 48 percent from the floor since donning the purple and orange. The 6-6 jumping jack was second on the team (11th in the NBA) in made three-pointers last season, shooting 39 percent from downtown.
At times, the Suns will need Richardson to perform in critical moments, as he demonstrated throughout the 2010 NBA Playoffs. The former Michigan St. Spartan was the team’s leading scorer heading into the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers, averaging 19.8 points a game on 50-percent shooting from the field for the entire postseason.
In Game 3 of the Suns’ first-round series against the Blazers, Richardson single-handedly annihilated Portland when he erupted for 42 points and eight rebounds on 8-of-12 shooting from three-point land. It was just two short of his career high and the most points scored in a playoff game since Stoudemire racked up 42 points against the Spurs.
“I think he’ll probably feel like he’ll have to carry some of the scoring load with Amar’e not here,” Suns assistant coach Bill Cartwright said. “But I think that if he just plays like he did in the playoffs, takes good shots and is an attacker, he’ll have plenty of opportunities early in transition. If he just carries over what he did at the end of last year, I think he’ll be great this year.”
Not only will No. 23 be instrumental offensively, but he will also have to aid Phoenix on the boards. His 5.0 rebounds a game average from last season was the first time a Suns guard has rebounded more than 5.0 rebounds since Joe Johnson did so in 2004-05.
In addition, Richardson was asked by the coaching staff to use his freak athleticism to become a tougher defender. While contributing immensely in both of those areas, it was just developing a level of comfort with his teammates that has made the greatest difference with him.
When Richardson first came to Phoenix, he was a little reticent to be aggressive offensively. Accustomed to being the first option, he often deferred to other more-established teammates, such as Shaquille O’Neal, Stoudemire and Nash.
However, it finally clicked with J-Rich that his aggressiveness on the offensive end made Phoenix only tougher to defend against.
“We’ve made him more aware of that so our goal is to make sure we get him points because when we get him points, we seem to have a lot of success,” Gentry said.
Now with almost two seasons under his belt playing alongside Nash, a certain level of chemistry has formed between the two. For Nash and the rest of the Suns, it was a sort of recognition of Richardson’s explosive tendencies.
“Once you play long enough with someone you find a comfort zone,” Cartwright noted. “Now we know, once J-Rich gets it going, we have to get him the ball because he’s going to make every shot.”
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When Phoenix traded away Boris Diaw and Raja Bell in 2008, many Suns fans weren't impressed. The ones that were impressed, were excited about seeing Jason Richardson dunk all over everybody.
Dudley held the fourth-best percentage in the NBA from behind the arc last year.
(P.A. Molumby/NBAE/Getty Images)
Those that even knew who Jared Dudley was, thought that he was just a player that Phoenix was adding to make the deal work. Flash forward to this season, and now all Suns fans know who Dudley is.
“When we traded for him we knew that he was a solid player and because he was a smart player, we knew he would find a way to play once he was given the opportunity,” Gentry said. “We haven’t been disappointed and we really haven’t been that surprised about what he can do.”
A fan favorite not only his scrappiness and hustle, but for making himself readily available for his fans, JD became one of the spiritual leaders of the team during the 2009-10 season. After breaking into the rotation when Alvin Gentry took over as head coach in 2008-09, Dudley not only became a fixture in it, but would routinely be on the court down the stretch.
The recipient of the 2009-10 Majerle Hustle Award averaged a career-high 8.2 points, 1.4 assists, 24.3 minutes and 45.2 percent shooting from three-point land. Dudley led the best three-point-shooting team in the league in percentage, ranked fourth in the league in that category and nailed the third-highest amount of treys off the bench in the league.
“We’re very fortunate to have him because this guy comes off the bench and whether it’s something defensively or offensively, he makes something happen,” Cartwright said. “On some nights he does some really special things and you can’t coach what he gives you. He’s been a real big key to us winning games.”
The knock on Dudley is that he’s not built like the quintessential NBA player and isn’t going to intimidate anyone with his vertical leap, so he catches the bad rap of not being a super “athlete.” But Cartwright looks at the bigger picture.
“The kid is talented,” Cartwright said. “There aren’t too many guys that can shoot the ball like him and along with that, he’s really competitive. He takes advantage of what he has.”
After spending all of the summer of 2009 monitoring his diet and training for this upcoming season, Dudley worked himself into fanatastic shape, becoming one of only two Suns to appear in all 82 games last season. In an effort to keep improving, the 6-7 forward will head into this season about 15 pounds lighter than he finished the playoffs, cutting weight in an effort to defend the likes of the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki more effectively.
Although Dudley’s brains ultimately allow him to excel, Majerle believes an improved physique will pay dividends for him over the long haul.
“The better shape you’re in, the quicker you are and the more durable you are,” Majerle said. “JD sees what Grant and Steve have done. He’s a young player, so if he keeps developing his body, he can use that to his advantage over the course of his career.”
Described by Gentry as a coach’s “dream,” Dudley figures to see time at small forward, as well as at shooting guard and maybe even a little power forward.
“He’s just going to get better and better,” Majerle said. “He realizes what he brings off the bench in term of a spark. What I love about JD is that not only has he improved his shooting and he’s a force offensively, but he’s just such a smart player and plays a lot of different positions.”
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How a Deal Gets Done
Even before Matt Janning scored 20 points playing for Boston in the Orlando’s NBA Summer League, the Suns knew they had found a diamond in the rough.
Janning was second on the Suns' summer league team in rebounding.
(Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)
Tabbed to play with Phoenix in the Las Vegas Summer League from the get-go, the Northeastern graduate agreed to appear in two games for the Celtics in Orlando before heading to a mini-camp in Oklahoma City and then Las Vegas.
Once he shook off the jet-lag in Vegas, Janning started all five games and averaged 12.6 points a game, which was good for third-best on the team. In addition, the 6-4, 200-pound shooting guard averaged 5.8 rebounds a game, which was good for enough for second on the team.
“He’s like a sponge in that everything that you put out there he tries to look at and see how he can improve,” Gentry said. “There are a lot of things that I think that he can contribute and as he develops, he could become a good solid NBA player. He’s a one and a half, so I think he’ll be a combo guard that plays a little shooting guard and point guard for us.”
Janning reminded Cartwright of another NBA player that he scouted when he was the head coach of the Bulls. Cartwright said that he and the Bulls scouts went to one game to watch a prospect and all they could do was talk about was this kid that “did nothing but make shots” afterwards.
That kid ended up being Kyle Korver. The Suns assistant sees some Korver in Janning.
“He’s one of those guys people will regret having passed on in the future,” Cartwright said. “He’s got an ability to score and he’s a very competitive guy. Since he’s gotten here, he’s improved a lot.”
Suns assistant coach Dan Majerle, who coached him during summer league, thought that Janning had a lot of another former Sun in his game. That player, who Majerle knew quite well, was Jeff Hornacek.
“He’s a guy who just knows how to play,” Majerle said. “He shoots it well, knows how to score, makes others better, understands the game and makes the right play. He’s one of those smart guys that’s athletic and can do a lot of different things.”
The former Northeastern standout was a two-time First-Team All-Colonial Athletic Association selection, winning the league MVP as a junior. As a senior, Janning averaged a team-leading 15.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists while winning the 2010 Herbert Gallagher Award as Northeastern’s top male scholar-athlete.
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