First Impressions of the 2010-11 Suns

Stefan Swiat, Suns.com
Posted: Oct. 6, 2010

The word is that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. But whoever crafted that phrase never took the NBA preseason into consideration.

“We continue to struggle in the turnover department,” Head Coach Alvin Gentry said after Wednesday’s 129-78 loss to the Raptors in Vancouver. “We have to get better defensively, and we have to stop turning the ball over. Those are the two main areas of concern right now.”

Although Wednesday night’s preseason game was just the second opportunity for many to see the Suns compete as a unit against an opponent, the rotation is nowhere near what it will be like on opening night.

For example, one can rest assured that Jason Richardson will play longer than six minutes. However, while the rotation may still be solidifying, some trends may last throughout the season.

First off, the Suns may break the record for most three-pointers in a season that was set by the Magic last season with 841. The Suns have one of the best three-point shooters in the league at every position, although they only shot 3-of-18 from behind the arc Wednesday.

Last season the Suns connected on 730 three-pointers, which was good for third in the league. With the addition of Hedo Turkoglu and his 100-plus three pointers a season, the Suns could be on pace to make that record short-lived.

Between Steve Nash and Goran Dragic at the point, Richardson at shooting guard, Jared Dudley on the wing, Turkoglu at power forward and Channing Frye at center, the Suns will not only shoot a high volume of threes, but will also convert on a high percentage of them. Although the Suns led the league in three-point shooting percentage last season, their ceiling could be even higher this season.

One ingredient the Suns missed at times last year was someone besides Nash to be a consistent penetrating threat. Now, with Josh Childress and Turkoglu in the mix, the Suns’ outside shooters should have plenty of time to measure up and shoot on drive-and-kicks. Childress, in particular, provides a lot of the same attributes and versatility that Shawn Marion provided for the Suns during his tenure in the Valley.

Not only does he move cleverly without the ball, he’s a constant threat in transition and always seems to be in the right spot at the right time. Against the Raptors on Wednesday, the 6-8 forward came up with a bevy of deflections and was always around the ball.

However, the biggest story to come out of the preseason thus far centers around how Gentry plans to manage his rotation. Although it’s a good problem to be so deep, Gentry only has so many minutes to dole out.

“We’re going to have to start narrowing down the rotation, because we just have a ton of work to do in these last six preseason games,” Gentry said. “We’re going to start cutting down on the rotations Saturday and start figuring out how we’re going to play. We’ll play at least 10 but we’ve just got some things we have to work on and go back and look at.”

Even though he was able to seamlessly play 10 deep last season, Gentry has at least 12 players vying for a role in the rotation. Factor in that every player needs at least 8-10 minutes to find a rhythm, one can understand Gentry’s predicament.

“Like he said before,” Richardson said, “he doesn’t make the decision. It’s the players that make the decision based on how hard and well they play. If you go out there and play hard, he’s going to find minutes for you. And I think we’re deeper than last year.

"Our defense is a little bit behind, and I think guys have gotten used to playing with Steve Nash. We have to learn to play well, even when he’s not in the game.”

It's safe to say that the team with arguably the best second unit in the league last season does have the potential to be even better in that area this season. However, no one was able to find much of rhythm against Toronto, with Dudley scoring a team-high 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting.

One player who is attempting to carve out a role with Phoenix is Earl Clark. Last season, Gentry said he would be “very surprised” if Clark didn’t crack the rotation this season. All reports out of training camp confirmed that the second-year forward was very impressive.

However, with newcomers Hakim Warrick and Gani Lawal also in the mix, it’s still unclear how Gentry will manage their minutes. Warrick, who didn’t play at all Wednesday, played a great deal the night before in Sacramento. Lawal received the lion’s share of minutes against the Raps, notching seven points and seven boards before fouling out.

Just a rookie, Lawal was taken aside by Gentry due to his lack of awareness on a couple of defensive rotations. Like with any rookie, playing within a pro system is quite an adjustment.

Although Lawal, Clark and Warrick all play the same position, they all bring different strengths to the table. Lawal is much like Louis Amundson in his ability to do the dirty work, Warrick is Amar'e Stoudemire-like in his ability to finish on the screen-and-roll, while Clark is like a small forward in a power forward’s body.

One person who must be a consistent offensive threat this season is Richardson. While he may have been the X-factor last season, he has to be the factor this season.

When he’s aggressive in looking for his shot, Phoenix is hard to stop.

“I think I do (know the importance of my scoring), but I think everybody has to pick up their scoring,” Richardson said. “I definitely feel up to the challenge, but I think guys like Grant, Hedo and Jared are ready to pick up their scoring, too."

On Wednesday, Gentry rested him almost the entire night, so it was tough to determine how ready he is for the season. However, the Suns’ coaching staff has really liked what they’ve seen from him thus far, especially after scoring 23 points in 17 minutes on Tuesday against Sacramento.

Since he arrived in Phoenix, the Suns are 40-9 when J-Rich scores 20 or more points. It’s a stat he’s heard often.

“I realized that last year,” he said. “I know that was a big stat that everyone kept throwing at me. But that’s not how it has to be.

“I think I could be a 20-point scorer, but I don’t think we’d go 82-0.”

With Gentry juggling the lineup and trying all sorts of combinations against the Raptors, the Suns were never able to get into any sort of rhythm on the offensive end. They turned the ball over 32 times; 12 more times than Toronto.

In addition, the team which led the NBA in field-goal percentage last season, shot just 38 percent from the floor Wednesday. Such results are to be expected when the coaching staff is giving players the opportunity and playing time necessary to make the team and rotation.

So there's no need to sound the alarm just yet. To keep things in perspective, the Suns were blown out by Portland in the last game of preseason last year.

They then went on to start the season 14-3. Phoenix next faces Dallas in Indian Wells, Calif., on Saturday on TNT at 6:30 p.m.

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