Sunday, October 17, 2010

Suns Bigs In For A Long Year, Maybe

     The Suns have flat out struggled in pre-season action, going 1-5 in a lot of not-very-close-games. Good news, though, Suns fans - these games don't count. Bad news is also available, however, and in above average amounts!

Amazingly, I'm not going to be lamenting Hedo Turkoglu's hilariously awful contract (it's so bad)/ even more awful shooting (don't even ask). Instead, we're going to take a brief and probably not-all-that-worthwhile look at the Suns' centers' performances against the Raptors. Why? Because, even in pre-season, the Suns should be giving some effort on the inside.


The Raptors boasted a front line featuring Reggie Evans (6'8, but a good rebounder), Andrea Bargnani (7'0, an awful rebounder) and Amir Johnson (6'9 foul machine, though a capable rebounder).

Johnson and Evans are both above average rebounders, as far as grabbing available boards (aka rebounding rate) at the PF position (both were technically centers for most of this game, as Bargs plays outside, but the Suns only played Lopez for 12 minutes, meaning that neither was matching up on a true big for most of the game). Guess who isn't very good at grabbing available rebounds at their positions? If you said "The Suns' starting and back-up centers, duh" then you are right, and also kind of a jerk, probably. Back-up center Channing Frye is near the bottom of the league in rebounding rate, flat out, and Robin Lopez is below average, as well. Gani Lawal is a rookie, so I can't go to HoopData and knock his numbers (yet). Actually, we'll find that the rookie (at least in this game), may have been the stronger of the Suns' bigs.

Lopez played 12 minutes and had 0 rebounds. Frye played 17 minutes and had 2 rebounds. Gani Lawal had 1 rebound in 12 minutes. Marcus Banks had 2 rebounds in 5 minutes for the Raptors. He's 6'2.

Needless to say, the Suns did not fare well in the rebounding battle. To be specific, they were -19 for the game. They shot 19 fewer attempts from the field than the Raptors (both teams has 17 turnovers). That's not good.

With the Suns' offense missing a key component from years past in Amar'e Stoudemire and replacing him with Hakim Warrick and Hedo Turkoglu, the offense isn't going to be able to sustain a squad that gets out-rebounded by double digits every night. That means that the Suns bigs are going to have to start reeling in more boards, people, and I'm not sure if that's a possibility.

I watched the player at the center position for the Suns for the entirety of the 2nd half. I never took my eyes off of Channing Frye or Gani Lawal (depending on who was in). What I saw was not good. We're talking 'surrendered 23 total rebounds to Reggie Evans and Amir Johnson while collecting only 3 themselves' bad.

Frye's problem is simple: He isn't physical. In man to man defense again Johnson/Evans, he used his hands (which led to his team-high 5 personal fouls) and body to deny position and stop any easy baskets off the pick and roll with Jarrett Jack. Unfortunately, he also got shoved around under the boards, and I mean that literally (in a few cases, at least). Reggie Evans especially moved Frye around. He pushed, pulled, and slid in for 3 offensive rebounds, with Frye seemingly unwilling mentally or physically of doing much more than what he did. Enjoy these specific examples I noted during the game -

- On one occasion, Channing simply made the mistake of needlessly going out to help on a baseline jumper from Bargs, allowing Evans an easy OR and put-back.

-Frye's 4th foul came when he didn't recover fast enough while helping and committed a loose ball foul against Evans when he was unable to recover and box out.

-Shoved by Evans underneath basket while attempting to box out on Raptors FT attempt, FT was made, however.

-Fails to box Evans out when semi-helping on a drive by Jack.

Next up, Gani Lawal. I felt that Lawal did a much better job on the glass than Frye going purely off the eye test. Shockingly, he had only 1 rebound in his 12 minutes. I did note, however, that he was responsible for 2 or 3 offensive rebounds (tipped balls, kept them alive, you get the idea). As well, he often got into good offensive rebounding position when not getting the ball in pick and roll opportunities, something Frye doesn't do as often. He also seemed to battle for position on defense with plenty of passion (analysis!), which is good news.


Since we're talking about the Suns, it's hard to go off numbers to quantify defense. As far as the eye test, I again gave the advantage to Lawal. He battled hard and didn't surrender position,  (while not using his hands and fouling, unlike Frye), and only had one real break down in pick and roll defense. He also drew a charge against Sonny Weems in transition, which impressed me (he knew exactly when to hold his ground). 

Frye seems to have a good idea of his positioning on defense, but doesn't have the same urgency or physicality that Lawal has when coming from the help-side, playing the pick and roll, etc. 

Either way, it's tough for a big to look good with perimeter defense as poor as the Suns' was/ is/ always will be. I could count several occasions where Frye was absolutely left out to dry in transition, or when a blow-by occurred in the half-court. 


Despite unimpressive numbers, both Lawal and Frye knew their roles on offense. Frye was only 1-4 from the floor, but every shot was open and within the flow of the offense. He found the open space whenever possible, rolled hard to the basket and did a good job drawing the defense when diving into the lane. 

Lawal doesn't have the same offensive set as Frye, but did a fantastic job when rolling into the lane in the pick and roll. He shot 1-4 from the floor but was able to make it to the line 6 times, making 5, all by being aggressive when receiving the ball on the move. He also popped out a few times when the lane was crowded, but didn't hit either of his two jumpers (though he looked fairly confident, shockingly).  


Channing Frye is essentially a known quantity, at this point. We know that he's going to be worth all the below average rebounding when his shooting is on, and not all that useful when his shot is off. That's why I'm excited about Gani Lawal. He's only 21 (he'll turn 22 in early November), he's aggressive, and he's aggressive on the move. When you're pick and roll and transition oriented like the Suns are, you need a big, athletic guy like Gani. If he continues to develop his shot, especially from the foul line, then the Suns will be seeing good things from him. 

I pretty much wrote Robin Lopez out of my in-game notes, as I missed the majority of his playing time, but he seems to need to work on his feet. Specifically, moving them to box out and play defense. Robin Lopez has shown flashes of a 10-10 guy, and a solid defender, but he can't stay in foul trouble. Missing box outs and helping late on defense is not the way to stay on the floor, obviously. The more Robin plays, the more consistent he's going to become, the more his mediocre rebounding rate will improve (hopefully). 

The fact is that Suns are going to need more from their centers without Amar'e collecting 9 rebounds per game at the PF spot and threatening the occasional weak-side shot block, not to mention his nearly unstoppable explosiveness on offense. These young guys are going to need to do some fast growing up this season if the Suns want to do more than get knocked out in the 1st round, if that. 

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