Suns News

Hill’s Return Poses Playing Time Problem For Suns’ Reserves

All-Star Grant Hill will return tonight for Phoenix in their contest against the Milwaukee Bucks.
(NBAE/Getty Images)
By Matt Paulson
East Valley Tribune
Jan. 22, 2008

If he was going to be sidelined for any more games, the fashion-conscience Grant Hill would have faced a wardrobe dilemma.

“I had to get back because I was running out of suits,” joked Hill, who participated in the Suns’ brief but full-speed practice Monday, then declared himself ready for tonight’s game at Milwaukee.

While Hill’s return from a Jan. 9 appendectomy means the Suns are back at full strength, it also presents coach Mike D’Antoni with the challenge of what to do with the reserves who performed so well while filling in for Hill, such as Boris Diaw and D.J. Strawberry. Getting them similar minutes will help their confidence and progression, but it’s an impossible task without taking time away from the starters.

“It’s tough, unless they let us go 55 minutes a game,” D’Antoni said.

Phoenix went 5-2 without Hill and during those two weeks, Diaw, who started in his place, was more aggressive and consistently played at the level the Suns expect. He had two double-doubles and averaged 11.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists while playing 37 minutes per game, all higher than his season averages of 7.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.7 as- sists, 28 minutes.

“We need Boris to continue to give us that same production,” D’Antoni said.

He will have to do it as a reserve, though. Despite Diaw’s improved play, D’Antoni said he never gave any thought to starting him and having Hill come off the bench.

“That’s not our best team,” D’Antoni said.

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“(Diaw’s) production is just not from starting. If you get 30 minutes, it should be the same. He has to be mentally able to accept that. That’s the best way to go and that’s the way we’re going to go … We’ve just got to keep his level where it is.”

Meanwhile, Strawberry emerged as a valuable and versatile reserve, giving the Suns the size (6-foot-5), energy and defensive toughness they have been seeking from their bench all season.

He was rewarded with 19 and 21 minutes the past two games, passing Marcus Banks on the depth chart in the process, and D’Antoni said he’d like to find a way to keep Strawberry in the regular rotation.

“I liked his energy,” D’Antoni said. “We don’t need a lot of stuff. We just need energy and a willingness to do all the little things. He has demonstrated that and hopefully we can keep him with some minutes.

“Again, I’ve got to balance it between giving Boris all he needs and L.B. (Leandro Barbosa) all he needs and being able to work D.J. in and maybe cutting down Steve (Nash) or whatever, Grant a little bit. But at the same time, you still want to win. That’s why Steve and Grant are so important. It’s a little bit of a balancing act, but I would love to see (Strawberry) keep getting some minutes.”

While it’s yet to be determined how much playing time Strawberry will get, his play, coupled with a healthy Raja Bell shooting the 3-pointer like he did last year when he sank 205, has more than likely taken the Suns out of the running for Damon Stoudamire should the Memphis Grizzles buy out the veteran guard’s contract as expected.

While the 5-10 Stoudamire would provide Phoenix with a true backup point guard if Nash were to get hurt, his defense is lacking and he doesn’t provide the Suns anything they don’t currently have.

BONUS SHOT: Phoenix recalled rookie swingman Alando Tucker from Albuquerque of the NBA Development League on Monday. In six games, Tucker averaged 25.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 40 minutes.

COPYRIGHT 2007, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.