Before the season started, the Suns were actively involved in player movement, and it hasn’t stopped yet. They weren’t able to coax Amare back and they refused to match the Warriors offer to Lou Amundson. They traded for Hedo Turkoglu and Josh Childress and signed free agents Hakim Warrick and Matt Jannings. And, they drafted Gani Lawal. They still had Nash, Dragic, Hill, Richardson, Dudley and Lopez, so while they looked to be a little undersized down low, the roster looked to fit their style of play.
Granted with a three man big rotation of Robin Lopez, Hakim Warrick and Channing Frye, the Suns weren’t going to have a dominant low post presence, but that isn’t the nature of a run and gun offense anyways. Rebounding would be a major weakness. And, after the first 25 games, Phoenix was 2nd to last in rebounding, and dead last in points allowed ( 110 per game ).
After almost 2 months of the regular season, they had a record of 12-13 and were tied for eighth in the Western Conference. So on December 18th the Suns front office decided the team needed a change, and worked out a six-player trade with the Orlando Magic. Phoenix acquired Vince Carter, center Marcin Gortat, swingman Mickael Pietrus, a first-round pick in this year’s draft and cash considerations in exchange for Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark.
In their first game with the Suns, Gortat and Pietrus combined for 6 pts / 4 rebs is 30 minutes of play and Carter sat with a quad strain in a 95-83 loss to the Heat in Phoenix. In their next game against the Clippers, Carter was still injured but Pietrus scored 25 on 9-14 shooting and Gortat had 11 pts / 5 rebs. Each played 27 minutes off the bench in the 108-103 loss in LA.
Back home on Wednesday, Carter started in the backcourt with Nash, and scored 18 pts on 8-20 shooting and 1-6 from 3pt range in 32 minutes. Gortat again came off the bench, but continued to see more playing time than Lopez. Marcin contributed 13 pts / 6 rebs in nearly 35 minutes, while Lopez played barely 13 minutes and had 8 pts / 2 rebs. (Note: Hawes had 10 pts / 11 rebs in 26.5 minutes) And, Pietrus continued his very efficient scoring, with 18 pts in 5-8 shooting in 26 minutes.
Friday night against Detroit, the Suns finally started to see some benefit from the trade, in a 92-75 win at home. Carter started and played 37.5 minutes scoring 19 pts with 8 rebs and 3 assists. Pietrus started a PF in place of Channing Frye and had 11 pts / 4 rebs in 27 minutes. And, Gortat played nearly 30 minutes off the bench, scoring 4 pts / 8 rebs / 5 asts. The Suns prioritized defense during practice, and then held the Pistons to 41% from the field. And with impressive 3pt shooting of their own (12-27), they were pretty much in control the entire game. But, the overall impact of the trade has been 1 win and 3 losses so far. And, they have yet to win the rebounding battle in any of the 4 game.
In our only meeting so far this season, on Nov 12 at US Airways Center, the Kings lost 103-89. Steve Nash’s wife gave birth to his son that morning, then Nash almost single handily defeated the Kings shooting 13-18 (72%) for 28 pts and adding 14 assists. Eleven of his assists were inside 10ft ( 7 @ rim ) and he shot better than 66% from everywhere on the court except from beyond the arc where he was 0-1. The Kings out rebounded the Suns 50-42 and 21-13 on the offensive boards, and we outshot them 5-4 from 3pt range. But, they outscored us at the FT line by 5 on 8 more attempts, and outshot us from the field by 5 baskets even though we had 9 more attempts. Even with our size advantage the Suns outscored us 54-42 in the paint.
In the game our backcourt of Dalembert, Landry, and Casspi combined for 36 pts / 27 rebs, while the Suns starters Lopez, Hill and Turkoglu combined for 18 pts / 11 rebs. But, we had no defensive answer for Richardson and Nash who combined for 42 pts / 15 rebs / 15 assts. And, our bench was outscored 43 to 18.
Since the trade Childress and Warrick seem to be the odd men out. Gortat & Lopez are taking all the Center minutes, with Nash and Dragic taking all the PG minutes. Carter is starting at SG with Dudley backing up the SG & SF positions. Fry is starting at PF with Warrick backing him up, and Hill starts at SF. But don’t be surprised if the Suns go small with Hill & Pietrus at the Forwards and Dudley or Carter at SG.
Nash has a career average of 10 apg and he’s right on pace to match that this season; with half of them creating easy baskets at the rim. With Amare gone, Nash has found a trio of new recipients for his lobs and Pick & Roll feeds; Hill, Warrick and Gortat. Richardson was more of an outside shooter who could slash inside, while Carter is more of a slasher who shoots for average from outside. This is the worst case scenario for the Kings, who had a hard enough time keeping Nash out of the paint, and now they have to worry about Carter too.
Beno is going to need a lot of help from his bigs defending the Pick & Roll and unfortunately that’s not a strong part of Carl or JT’s game. Cisco and Omri will need to funnel the SF’s baseline and hopefully Dalembert and DeMarcus can rotate over to help. Those are probably the only 2 times that we need to double team, so let's not sag too far off the 3pt shooter. DeMarcus isn’t unlikely to foul out in 21 minutes, like he did in the last game based on how he’s been playing recently. But, I don’t think he’ll have an easy time bulling his way thru Gortat. The matchup of the game should be reigning ROY Tyreke Evans versus eight-time All-Star Vince Carter.
I have it on good authority that Nash’s wife isn’t expected to deliver a baby on Sunday, so that’s good news for us. But, I don’t think we’ll be lucky enough to have the Suns shoot 20% from 3pt range again this game. I’m not buying in to the idea that the Suns have turned into a defensive team just because they held the Pistons to 75 pts, so I’m expecting another high scoring game assuming the Kings doesn’t shot like they did in Denver. I’ve no doubt that we’ll win the battle of the boards, but I have some doubts about our Pick & Roll defense and our ability to rotate when the Suns get into the paint. I think the backcourt that plays best wins, and while that would seem to favor the Suns, I'm looking for a great game out of Beno. Go Beno! Go Kings!!