Suns adjusting to life without Amar’e Stoudemire
When marquee players move from one team to another, usually picking a winner and loser is not very difficult. Then there is the case of the Phoenix Suns and Amar’e Stoudemire.
When Stoudemire accepted New York’s guaranteed five-year, $100 million deal over Phoenix’s offer of only three guaranteed years, it marked a seismic shift in the Phoenix basketball landscape. And when Phoenix then acquired Hedo Turkoglu, Hakim Warrick, and Josh Childress, it was clear that the Suns were going to bank on ultimate flexibility to overcome the loss of their most dominant offensive weapon.
But through the preseason, Phoenix has struggled to make it work. The vaunted chemistry from last season’s squad has been lacking as the coaching staff tries to integrate three new rotation players (and six total new players) into the system, working out rotations and player combinations on the fly.
The exhibition schedule ended for Phoenix with a 2-6 record, several blowout losses, and a scoring average of 95.8 points per game while allowing 111.6. The Suns also shot remarkably poorly, hitting only 42.7 percent from the field, 24.6 percent from three, and 69.6 percent from the free throw line. Compare that to last season’s numbers of 49.2 percent from the field, 41.2 percent from three, and 77 percent from the free throw line while averaging 110.2 points per game, and there is reason to be worried. After all, this is a team with no inside scoring presence outside Robin Lopez — who has never been asked to be an offensive go-to guy — meaning that this team will have to rely on accurate outside scoring to be successful.
But the preseason is not about wins and losses; it is about working out the kinks before the games start to count. And while the Suns have gotten valuable opportunities to mesh with each other, there remain many kinks to be worked out.
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The most glaring outside of more accurate shooting would be rebounding and defense. Opponents out-rebounded the Suns by seven per game during the preseason and shot 47 percent from the field. For a team so undersized up front, everyone must rebound and battle for loose balls, play strong perimeter defense, and get in passing lanes to keep opposing teams on their heels.
None of this seemed to exist for the Suns in the preseason, but to say that it is a result of Stoudemire’s departure is also misguided. Stoudemire averaged just 8.9 rebounds per game last season and was never much of a defensive force. He provided strong weak-side shot blocking but was lacking as a one-on-one defender. His main area of importance was running the pick-and-roll with Steve Nash, drawing defenders to create open shots for shooters or finishing himself in the paint.
That will be the biggest adjustment. Turkoglu, Warrick, and Childress must find a way to integrate themselves within a system that was build around the pick-and-roll but now has no dynamic pick-and-roll player. Warrick seems to be the most capable of filling that role as an athletic slasher and high-flyer. However, he does not possess as polished an offensive game as Stoudemire, making him a liability against strong defenses.
Turkoglu will likely be the starting power forward in place of Stoudemire, but he will need to adjust to a role he has never played before. When he was at his best, Turkoglu was a playmaking small forward for Orlando who, at 6-10, could shoot over most defenses. But with Nash taking the brunt of the playmaking upon himself, Turkoglu has been used primarily as a spot-up shooter — a role he has looked uncomfortable filling at times. By not using Turkoglu as a playmaker, most of what makes him a unique talent is never seen, thus ensuring that his full potential is not met.
And that cannot be an option considering he is a liability on defense. He will be undersized on a nightly basis and have to battle guys much stronger than he is used to. The only positive to having Turkoglu play power forward is for the matchup on the offensive end, but by playing him as a spot-up shooter and not utilizing all his talents, he becomes a huge liability on the court.
Childress will have the easiest transition, simply stepping into Leandro Barbosa’s old role. He must provide energy and defensive tenacity while on the court and can be a major factor in the creation of a strong perimeter defense to compensate for a lack of size.
But ultimately, one or two players will not decide the outcome of this season for Phoenix. The entire team must take on the onus of being a small, perimeter-oriented team and prove to the league (and pundits) that playing the Suns will not be a walk in the park.
The decision to let Stoudemire go was not an easy one and will result in much transition and adjustment over the next few months, but it was the right one to make. To give a player who has a lengthy history of injuries a maximum deal is not wise, especially when that player often struggles in big moments when the team needs him to make a play.
He is not a superstar. A star? Sure. An All Star? Absolutely. But there are only three or four superstar players in the league deserving of max money, and Stoudemire is not one of them. And teams cannot afford to pay non-superstar players superstar money, considering what may happen with the collective bargaining agreement next summer. Paying him all that money could have potentially handcuffed the Suns financially for years. As it stands, the team is currently in good fiscal shape for the future.
In the present, however, the players and coaching staff must figure out how to re-shape the offense in order to maximize the talents of each player. Only by getting the best from everyone can they overcome the loss of their most dynamic offensive weapon. If they do not, then the draft lottery awaits.
By: Eric Lorenz
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer
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