The sun is setting. They're so thin that they're now one injury away from going down in the pack.
Amar'e Stoudemire made up for a lot of tough times. Steve Nash is so good in the pick-and-roll and Amar'e was such a great catcher and finisher -- an impactful player. So now Amar'e is gone and you put Nash in the pick-and-roll with Hakim Warrick -- is that going to have the same results? Robin Lopez is not as good in the pick-and-roll. They're going to pick-and-pop with Hedo Turkoglu, but there has to be other guys for Nash to pass the ball to as a finisher. I don't see anyone on their team finishing his plays as well as Amar'e did.
Nash's game has changed. He's not as reckless of a driver as he used to be. He still takes hits -- he'll get his eye cut open and other things will happen to him because he still plays hard and doesn't worry about the consequences, but at the same time he takes fewer chances and is smarter at avoiding contact than he was in his 20s. He's still as fast as anybody with the ball. He's never been known as a great defender, and that's one area where people try to take advantage of him, but I would say he's not going to look too bad defensively.
His conditioning is a big deal. He's one of those guys who can run all day, so over the course of the game he'll be running at a constant high speed for 35 minutes -- while someone like Rajon Rondo might be running at that speed for 20 minutes and then at a lesser speed for 15. Despite Nash's age, you'll still see him running fast in the fourth quarter, and you don't see him walking the ball up the floor so that the guy who's defending him can take the play off. If you're not focusing, he'll go past you the minute your back is turned.
Grant Hill has turned into a reliable player physically, which is testament to what he does in the offseason. He has that veteran's mentality. He doesn't force things and he knows his limits. His range is 17 to 18 feet, he runs the floor, he's great on the break, he can finish. He's smart enough defensively that he doesn't get taken advantage of. He's not going to embarrass his team by being out there.
Playing in the Suns' style helps Hill a lot. The fact he plays with Nash keeps him involved in the game, especially at the offensive end. If he were playing with a different type of point guard, like Aaron Brooks, Hill might get only three or four shots a game, but playing with Nash gets him seven or eight shots by running the floor and knowing that Nash is going to recognize him and get him the ball. On another team, Hill might get lost in the game offensively and then people would start taking him for granted.
Turkoglu is going to help them. He'll be comfortable with the way they play. He can shoot the three and he's another guy who handles the ball and can step in if Hill doesn't have it rolling. He is used to having the ball in his hands a lot, and now he's going to a team where Nash will have the ball a lot, so that will be interesting. I want to see where he's going to play. I think you'd like to bring Turkoglu off the bench as a secondary ball-handler who can match up against the smaller power forwards. But he doesn't appear to be the kind of guy who would adapt to that. He has a reputation for being a bit of a diva, and now he's starting to get old. He hasn't been a consistently hard worker based on what you hear from the other coaching staffs that have had him over the last three or four years.
Let's also see what they're going to do with Jason Richardson in the last year of his contract and whether they look to trade him in February. If they lose Richardson, now they're looking at a core of 36-year-old Nash, 38-year-old Hill and 31-year-old Turkoglu to go with Goran Dragic and Lopez. That's not exactly encouraging.
Richardson is one of the most underappreciated scorers in the league. By playing with Nash, I think he's become a smarter shooter. He doesn't force as many shots, and Nash has helped him to become more patient and trusting when he doesn't have the ball. Richardson has the size and strength to play the 2 or the 3, and he's more than capable as a defender when he wants to be. He's going to be up for a big contract because he should be their leading scorer now that they didn't bring back Amar'e. In the past you worried about Amar'e and Nash, and all of the sudden Richardson would get 30 on you. Those kinds of games have helped improve the perception of him. Will he take less money to contribute to a contender, or will he want to make the most money and score the most points?
Last year they had a second unit that seemed to understand each other's strengths and weaknesses to the point that Alvin Gentry would leave them in the game together as a group. But that group isn't together anymore, so I'll want to see how Josh Childress fits in after two mildly productive years playing in Greece. He has always been a good complementary player and they'll be counting on him to do a lot of different things off the bench.
They had to be encouraged because of the way Dragic came through in the playoffs as second banana, and they could move him over and pair him with Nash at times. But the issue they really need to address is Nash's minutes, which need to be cut back if they want to remain in contention, and that means they'll need to rely on Dragic.
I've seen Dragic grow a lot since playing for Terry Porter over the first half of his rookie year. Porter wanted him to be a tougher guy and avoid mistakes, and then Gentry took over and he just let Dragic play. It helps also that he has an assistant like Igor Kokoskov who comes from the same part of the world and knows the kid and works with him on a daily basis.
Dragic is sneaky quick. At 6-3, he uses his length -- whether it's with long steps or arm movements -- to get by people. He needs to improve his perimeter shot, but he's one of those guys who you don't appreciate until he's gone past you and he's laying the ball up. He's fast with the ball and he's pretty consistent with his pace. He's willing to give the ball up and his teammates seem to like to play with him. But will he be able to perform those traits as a No. 1 point guard someday?
Lopez is another guy who needs to be reliable, because they didn't sign any rebounders. So they need him to be healthy and continue to develop. He's a big kid with skills and a lot of positive traits that can help a team in all kinds of little ways, but the only way for him to develop is to be on the floor and stay healthy.
Warrick is a good fit as an up-tempo 4-man and he could have a good year. He hasn't been consistent, and now they're going to be relying on him to guard the Pau Gasols, which is going to be an issue. He is a streaky shooter, but he does have a nice elbow jumper, and they'll be hoping that Nash can get him enough easy shots to provide him with 12 points just by running the floor every night.
Jared Dudley is another guy who is easy to disrespect, and that gives him an advantage right there. You look at him and think he can't be as good as a lot of other guys in the league, but then he hustles and he uses his energy to change the game while avoiding the things he knows he can't do. I don't think anybody knew he could shoot the three as well as he shot it last year. He's a good driver and he can play two or three positions.
Channing Frye is another guy who benefited from playing for Gentry and the freedom he creates for his players by focusing on what they can do well. Frye obviously can make threes, though if he's not making them, I don't see how he's helping.
Are they asking too much of Nash this year? It was such a perfect-storm team they had last season, and now they aren't as good. So it's going to be up to Nash to stay healthy and pull all of the pieces together.
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