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The Suns' silver lining: A record-breaking offense

The Suns under Alvin Gentry posted the best points per possession in NBA history, all without STAT. Can a healthy Amare lead the Suns to the promise land?

The Suns under Alvin Gentry scored more points per possession than any team in NBA history, all without STAT.

As the popularized saying goes, looks can be deceiving.  With the Phoenix Suns last season, that was certainly the case.

The Suns have been used to success throughout the previous four NBA seasons. However, in a year that featured their lowest win total since 2003-04 and a failure to make the playoffs, the 2008-09 Phoenix Suns were deemed a bust.

A head coaching change, a five-player trade, a drastic change in style of play, and a midseason eye injury made up the disastrous 2008-09 season.

The Terry Porter experiment went awry, and the first half of the season was full of conflict within an organization that lacked a clear direction. After the firing of Porter, the post-All-Star break Suns were more like the Suns of old and the Suns we will see next year under Alvin Gentry.

Post All-Star break last season Steve Nash was able to orchestrate the high-pace offense that his game suggests, Leandro Barbosa was able to make plays in transition rather than standing in the corner in a half-court offense, and Goran Dragic was finally able to play the game without worrying about Porter forcing him to tears.

Although they still missed the playoffs, the second-half Suns were unearthly offensively, providing Suns fans with a bit of nostalgia. It seems that Suns fans are aware that the Suns were a much better team offensively with Gentry at the helm, but they most likely have no idea how good they really were.

Under Porter last year the Suns averaged a respectable 107.8 points per game. However in 31 games under Gentry the Suns posted a ridiculous 117.7 points per game – the most in the second half of the season by a wide margin.

The Suns also shot an absurd 51.9% from the field in the second half of the season (50.4% for the whole year). The Gentry Suns also led the league in assists per game in the second-half with 25.4.

The most telling statistic involves the Suns’ record-setting points per possession numbers. The second-half Suns scored more than 120 points per 100 possessions, the best such mark in NBA history when extrapolated out to a full season. While that statistic alone is mind-boggling, note that this was without the Suns’ best offensive player, Amare Stoudemire.

If the Suns were able put up those points without STAT in the lineup, imagine how lethal this team will be with him – especially without Shaq slowing down the tempo.

For those who are still hanging on to the D’Antoni days, the Mike D’Antoni Suns never averaged more than 110.8 points per game over any half of a season, never averaged more than 23.5 assists per game, and certainly never scored 1.2 points per possession.

The Gentry Suns are certainly not the same three-point-chucking, anything goes team that the D’Antoni Suns were, but the statistics prove Gentry’s scheme is just as effective.

As for the players’ individual statistics under Gentry, the post All-Star stats should have Suns fans excited for next season. Some very telling split-stats are as follows:

Steve Nash

Situation

G

Min

FG Pct

3P Pct

FT Pct

Rebs

Ast

TO

Stl

PPG

Pre All-Star

46

33:47

46.8

41.8

93.9

3.2

9.8

3.8

0.7

13.8

Post All-Star

28

33:12

54.8

47.3

92.3

2.6

9.6

2.6

0.8

18.7

Leandro Barbosa

Situation

G

Min

FG Pct

3P Pct

FT Pct

Rebs

Ast

TO

Stl

PPG

Pre All-Star

46

22:48

47.2

36.4

89.2

2.4

2.0

1.2

1.0

12.8

Post All-Star

24

27:23

49.7

39.3

86.5

3.0

3.0

1.6

1.6

16.8

Grant Hill

Situation

G

Min

FG Pct

3P Pct

FT Pct

Rebs

Ast

TO

Stl

PPG

Pre All-Star

51

28:53

52.5

33.3

81.8

4.8

1.8

1.5

1.0

11.1

Post All-Star

31

31:23

52.2

26.3

79.6

5.2

3.0

1.7

1.2

13.6

Jason Richardson

Situation

G

Min

FG Pct

3P Pct

FT Pct

Rebs

Ast

TO

Stl

PPG

Pre All-Star

42

34:47

45.7

41.1

76.3

4.3

2.2

1.5

1.1

16.7

Post All-Star

30

31:36

50.8

37.9

77.8

4.6

1.7

1.1

1.0

17.1

Goran Dragic

Situation

G

Min

FG Pct

3P Pct

FT Pct

Tot

Ast

TO

Stl

PPG

Pre All-Star

26

12:00

31.3

14.3

84.6

1.9

1.7

1.3

0.5

2.9

Post All-Star

29

14:24

44.0

45.0

71.8

1.9

2.3

1.3

0.6

5.9

Jared Dudley

Situation

G

Min

FG Pct

3P Pct

FT Pct

Tot

Ast

TO

Stl

PPG

Pre All-Star

38

14:24

47.0

40.0

63.9

2.2

0.6

0.3

0.7

3.6

Post All-Star

30

20:18

48.2

39.1

69.6

4.1

1.1

1.1

1.0

7.8

Other players showed improved statistics as well, but these were the most notable:

  • Nash’s second-half 54.8% from the field, 47.3% from three, and 18.7 points per game are all career bests. And people say his skills are diminishing.
  • Hill’s 52.4% full-season field goal percentage was tops in the NBA amongst guards and small forwards.
  • Barbosa’s 16.8 second half average is his second-best career scoring output when extrapolated out to a full season. His second half 1.6 steals per game is a career high as well for the Brazilian Blur.
  • Richardson’s second-half 50.8 FG% is drastically better than his career 43.9 FG%.
  • Although the stats don’t show much, Dragic’s improvement may have been the most notable under Gentry. For the most part he just went out and played basketball, and as a result of his confidence his skills were evident.
  • Jared Dudley also saw an increased role with Gentry last season, more than doubling his pre-ASB scoring average in the second half of the season.

Needless to say, the Suns under Gentry are a much better team than their 46-win total suggests. With Gentry as the Suns’ head coach, Nash is at his best, Barbosa is out and running, and Hill is extremely efficient.

The question is, if the second-half Suns were the best offense in NBA history (as the points per 100 possessions data suggests), why were they only 16-13?

Yes, the Suns’ offense was one of the best in NBA history, but their defense also ranked amongst the worst in NBA history.  The Suns gave up the most points per possession in the NBA, 117.5 points per 100 possessions.  In fact, since the points per possession statistic has been tracked, no team other than the 11-71 Dallas Mavericks of 1992-93 vintage have given up more points per 100 possessions than last year’s Suns.

The defense was atrocious, but think about the Suns’ personnel last season compared to next season. Without Amare in the middle, Shaq was the only serviceable “big” man on the roster.

I love Lou Amundson but he is not really a big man and his limited offense kept him from seeing huge minutes. Robin Lopez was barely able to stay on the floor and Stromile Swift is, well, Stromile Swift.  Teams exposed the Suns’ lack of a big man by running constant pick and rolls at the defensively challenged Steve Nash and Shaquille O’Neal.

But looking on to next season, the Suns add Amare, Channing Frye, and Earl Clark to the mix – all active 6-10+ big men that can get out and guard the pick and roll.  If J-Rich, Hill, and Barbosa can at least be average perimeter defenders and the Suns’ new active bigs can defend the pick and roll, the Suns’ defense should improve next season.

Considering the Suns’ current personnel, they will obviously not be a defensive team, but if you have one of the best offenses in NBA history, average defense should suffice.

As I mentioned before, all of those record-setting offensive statistics are coming without the Suns’ best offensive player and arguably the best offensive power forward in basketball, Amare Stoudemire. Stoudemire, who is basically in a contract year, should tear up opposing defenses under Gentry next season. In fact, in his two games playing for Alvin last season, Amare averaged 32.5 points per game.

I feel like I am beating a dead horse, but the numbers don’t lie; a full season under Gentry next year with a healthy Amare Stoudemire will result in some exciting basketball.

The Nash-STAT pick and roll is arguably the best in the NBA, the Suns’ offense under Gentry, as the second-half stats show, is clearly the best in the NBA, and Earl Clark and Channing Frye add youth and talent up front. The Suns’ expectations are certainly not high, but maybe that is what they need, like in 2004-2005, to shock the NBA world.

After looking deeper into the stats, looks were definitely deceiving last year and the Suns were head and shoulders better than their 46-win total suggests. I’m not saying to go ahead and pencil in an NBA Finals appearance, but the defense has nowhere to go but up, and the offense should improve with STAT, Frye, and Clark in the mix.

If the Suns can manage to get the stops necessary to win games, be aware of the potential that this Gentry-coached Suns team possesses.

Tags: Amar'e Stoudemire Leandro Barbosa

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