Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Scoop With Ben's Suns Blog!

This week on the Scoop, we're talking Suns and we've got one of the best to answer all my Suns related questions. The man behind Ben's Suns Blog, a blog that seems to be gaining lots of momentum. If you haven't checked it yet, here is where to get your Suns fix. Our thanks to Ben for taking the time!

NBAtipoff: How would you assess the Suns recent play, they've gone 5-5 in the last 10 games.

Ben: In a word - mediocre; and we're lucky that we went .500 in that stretch.
It'd be easy for me to place the blame on the road trip and playing in 6 different cities in 9 days, but our problem really has been intensity and turnovers. Our defense is based on effort and energy - both of which the Suns didn't have in the past several games. However, to be in 7th place after our showing's against Boston, New York, and Charlotte is something to be thankful for.
It seems that every time we take a step forward, we take two steps back. By that, I mean that we seemingly begin to find that balance between running and dumping it into Shaq then all of a sudden a) go into Shaq every time or, b) stop running all together.
There has been a distinct difference when the Suns play with hustle and energy - something our team is predicated on.

You recently made an argument for the Suns to switch to the triangle offense. I feel their defense needs work. What can they do to be more consistent defensively?

Ben: Well, our defense has been better the past couple games in Atlanta and Washington, but it's all about knowing which gaps to fill and anticipating rather than reacting. The Suns have largely been a reactive team on defense the past few years and that was something Porter wanted to change this year.
Ultimately, much of the difference in our defense has to do with the change in our pace of play. Thus, teams are getting fewer shot attempts against the Suns. The Suns have also made a conscious effort to help in their weak side gaps/help, especially Grant Hill. I'd say he's been our best defensive player this year, and he was sorely missed in our series vs. the Spurs last year guarding Parker.
In short, it's all about desire and heart.

NBAtipoff: What's the best piece or skill on the Suns team that is not used? Why is it not used?

Ben: Great question. I think at the beginning of the season, our best piece/skill was certainly not being used, and that was allowing Nash the freedom to create.
At the start of the season, we virtually stopped running. Anyone could've played Nash's position which was bringing the ball up the court and dumping it into Amare or Shaq. The Suns are just not built to play that way - there has to be a balance.
When we started running more, we started winning. After getting J-Rich, we won 9 of 12 and two of those losses were on a last second shot. It seemed that we turned the corner and were finally discovering that it's possible to blend the slow/fast styles.
However, that's not been consistent the past 8 games, and it's shown in our record. Hopefully, we can continue to limit turnovers and find a happy medium between our running and low-post sets.

NBAtipoff: Exactly what style are the Suns playing? I think it's a mix or running and half-court execution, but is there more to it?

Ben: That's pretty much it. However, the reason I called for the triangle (even though it will never happen) is because our offense becomes so stale after a while of just running set plays. I see hints of a set motion offense but we get caught up in where the ball "should" go rather than just looking for the open man.
The triangle would allow Nash to create, but also allow for mismatches on Shaq/Amare while keeping the offense free flowing. As it stands now, we try and run more with Shaq out of the game but he's playing close to 35 minutes a night - leaving only 10-15 minutes of running.
It's vitally important for the Suns to create the up-tempo pace to keep the defense off balance. Then, when we need to slow it down, they'll have to adjust quickly for our dumps into the low-post.

NBAtipoff: 52% of the Suns shots come within 11-20 seconds of shot clock use, how do you think this fits into the style the Suns want to play?

Ben: I think in order for us to be most effective, that number should be closer to 40%, and the rest should come between 7-10 seconds of shot clock use. Meaning, we are built to be a running team and it's worked! Thus, we have to establish that style of play early, then we can work Shaq into the game as needed. In our key wins this season (Orlando, Atlanta, Dallas) that is what we've done.
Having said that, I do believe that Shaq needs touches - and he's justified that with his stellar play. However, we can still work Shaq into the more up-tempo version of the offense as we did last year, but also giving him time to work in the post.
My gripe is that there really hasn't been much consistency or adjustments regarding this balanced style. I'd like to see the Suns continue to run, but with discipline.

NBAtipoff: Amare has been a little inconsistent when I've seen him, what's going to put him over the hump and get him playing well about 95% of the time?

Ben: I've been a huge critic of Amare this year.
What's surprised Suns fans, and NBA fans for that matter, has been the underproductiveness (is that a word?) of Amare Stoudemire. Based on the way he finished last year, Suns fans pegged him to have an MVP type year this season. He certainly started that way, scoring 49 in the Pacers game and having one of the best games I've ever seen a NBA player play. However, I think his decline correlates with Shaq's production. The more Shaq produces, the less need the Suns have for Amare to be dominant.
Amare has, at times, turned into a complimentary player to Shaq and Nash this year - much different than I expected. However, I don't think we'd be having this discussion if Amare made more of an effort on the defensive end and rebounding. Plenty of players have had to sacrifice their play for the betterment of the team (see Grant Hill) - but I'm not sure Amare is ready to do that based on his comments to the media etc. I do give him credit that he is putting more of an emphasis on rebounding and defending than recent years.

All in all, I think it will just take time for Amare to find his niche in the offense. It's clear that he isn't the focal point we thought he'd be, but we do need his energy and determination to go anywhere in the playoffs.

NBAtipoff: You are liveblogging the Suns game with Suns and Spurs bloggers! Is there going to be a virtual flagrant foul tally someone will have to keep track of?
Ben: I'll be tallying and tracking all blog-flopping, blog-tripping, and blog-complaining from Spurs fans. If there are any Suns fans out there, make sure to come to the site and comment your ass off! ;)

NBAtipoff: How will the Suns play this season translate to the second half of the season?

Ben: It's my hope that we've already played our worst basketball this year; really though, it can't get much worse than losing by 30 points to the Celtics and Bobcats in the same week. I'm hoping that the adversity we've faced so far will make us a grittier team come playoff time.
I wrote a post a while ago, that the Suns have a chance to gain ground in the West with a favorable schedule through February. We actually have a good chance to win about 20-25 of our 29 games in January/February even with our recent skid. If we can find the tempo and gain confidence, there is no reason why we couldn't move up to the 3-6 seed.

NBAtipoff: How far can they get into the playoffs? What piece could they add to help them?

Ben: I think it's all about momentum. We certainly are better built, regardless of what anyone says, for a deeper run in the playoffs.
In the NBA, aside from the Lakers (who do have flaws by the way) teams #2 - #9 in the West are fairly even. To win a series (or multiple series), the team that is playing better at the time is going to win. Rather, you have to get hot at the right time (and be playing your best ball together) heading into the playoffs.
The Suns formula this year is much more balanced than the last four years - stating the obvious. However, the balanced approach taken by the Suns has been proven to be effective in the post season. The Suns previous approach has been proven time and time again, to not be effective in the playoffs.

Yes, the Lakers have established themselves as a clear favorite in the West. But do you really think that the Jazz couldn't knock them off if they played well? The Rockets? The Spurs? Any one of those teams could start playing well at the right time and take the series.

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