PHOENIX — The biggest question regarding Hedo Turkoglu’s fit with the Phoenix Suns is clear-cut: Can he play the power forward position effectively?
Yes that is a valid worry considering Turkoglu’s perimeter-oriented game and the Suns’ slew of swingmen. But the never-ending options the 6-foot-10 forward gives the Suns offensively far outweigh the negatives from his lack of big man skills.
No, he isn’t going to grab 10 boards a game or shut down Pau Gasol and Tim Duncan, but he will create mismatches all over the floor and leave head coach Alvin Gentry with more offensive sets and variations those sets than you can imagine.
When Gentry described Turkoglu on Wednesday he couldn’t stay away from the word versatility, which is exactly what Turkoglu will bring to the Phoenix Suns’ offensive attack.
“He’s a multiple-position player. I think he’ll play two, three, four and maybe even in certain situations five,” Gentry said. “That’s the great thing about having him as a player. Whatever you need at that particular time, you can plug him in and I think that’s what he’ll be able to get done for you.”
Here are a few ways Gentry and the Suns can utilize Turkoglu offensively:
1. Running the show
Gentry must have used the word “facilitator” over 10 times when talking about Turkoglu, and there’s a reason why. Turkoglu has spent the majority of his career with the ball in his hands and the Suns seemed extremely excited about Hedo taking some pressure off Steve Nash and taking over playmaking duties.
This is a guy who’s averaged near five assists per game the last couple of years and can really create for others. Here’s a shot of Hedo driving left and finding a cutting Sonny Weems for a dunk:
If Turkoglu is in fact slotted at the power forward position, imagine opposing big men trying to defend him off of the dribble. He’s very good at setting up his teammates off the dribble, but he can also score for himself as a point guard thanks to his ability to create space and get his jump shot off.
He only shot 37.4 percent from the field out of isolation plays last season, according to Synergy Sports Technology, but scored 42.6 percent of the time for 0.88 points per possession.
However the biggest benefit that comes from Turkoglu playing the point isn’t only the plays that he creates, but also that it turns Nash into a spot-up shooter.
“It will allow us to play Steve off the ball some and it will allow him to be sort of a spot-up shooter or a catch-and-shoot guy,” Gentry said, “because I think Hedo’s very good at creating situations for other players.”
Gentry talked at length about playing Nash off of the ball as a spot-up shooter, and pointed out that people forget he’s the only player ever to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the line in five different seasons.
With Turkoglu as a ball handler the Suns add one of the NBA’s best shooters as a spot-up threat and benefit from the mismatch Turkoglu creates with a power forward guarding him, whether it’s by way of a bucket or an assist.
2. Pick-and-roll ball handler
The pick and roll is the focal point of the Suns’ offense, so it certainly doesn’t hurt to add another guy who is effective running the pick and roll. Turkoglu was the ball handler in the pick and roll in 27.7 percent of the plays he was involved in last season.
Although he only scored 0.77 points per possession as the pick and roll ball handler, Turkoglu has proven throughout his career that he can produce out of the pick and roll, which should only continue in Phoenix.
Here he uses his ball-handling ability and craftiness to split the double team and get all the way to the hoop for a layup:
His speed is deceptive and big men hedging screens don’t expect a player that big to drive hard to the hoop, so he often surprises people.
Turkoglu also uses the pick and roll to get off threes easily. Because forwards are used to going under screens rather than fighting over the top, Turkoglu oftentimes pulls back for a triple when he sees daylight. Here’s an example:
Gentry was discussing a variation that he ran when he coached the Pistons in the mid-90s. He was describing when Grant Hill would run the pick and roll and Joe Dumars would be the screener.
This works similarly to the conventional pick-and-roll in that the point guard will most likely have a wing, or in Turkoglu’s case, a power forward switched out onto him. I doubt we’ll see Nash setting a lot of picks next season, but it’s certainly another variation that wouldn’t otherwise work if Hedo wasn’t a capable ball handler.
3. Screener, spot-up shooter
The one area that Turkoglu doesn’t excel at is as a screener. In fact he completed one play as the screener in a pick-and-roll situation last season, and it resulted in a blocked dunk. But if Robin Lopez is down low, Turkoglu could be extremely effective as a pick and pop player.
“I just think in this case we’ve got another guy who can stretch the floor,” Gentry said. “He’s a really good three-point shooter.”
He has the size to set a solid screen and the stroke to fade to beyond the arc and do some damage, like what Channing Frye does with the bench unit. He is clearly a different player than Frye, but has the size and stroke to pick and pop with some success.
But where he will flaunt his three-point prowess most is in spot-up situations. Turkoglu scored an impressive 1.12 points per play in spot-up scenarios last season, while shooting 38.7 percent from three in those situations.
He took a spot-up jumper 22.8 percent of the time and shot more threes and field goals out of the spot-up position than any other play type, which bodes well when you have Nash probing through the lane and creating.
“When you have Steve Nash handling the ball, and in my opinion he’s the best guard in the league at making plays at the end of the game, it just gives (Nash) another three-point shooter and another guy he can throw to that can then create a play for somebody,” Gentry explained.
4. High post
As he’s been used as a primary ball handler for most of his career, Turkoglu hasn’t been used in the post much. But one place his skills could be used effectively is in the high post. He’s not a very good mid-range shooter — 38.3 percent from 10-15 feet and 32 percent from 16-23 feet last season according to Hoopdata.com — but his court vision could be great out of the high post.
“He’s got an unbelievable feel for the game,” Gentry said. “His basketball IQ is very high.”
Because of his playmaking ability he could also attack the hoop out of the high post and play a lot like Boris Diaw did when he was with the Suns. Rather than dumping it down to a power forward on the block like a lot of teams do, Phoenix can run its offense out of the high post, which still gives Turkoglu a chance to create for himself or others, while occupying the paint and keeping the floor balanced.
5. On the block
No, Turkoglu doesn’t have a jump hook or an up and under, but he will most likely have smaller players defending him from time to time to combat his playmaking on the perimeter. If this is the case you can throw him on the block where he can use his 6-foot-10 height advantage to fire barely-contested turn-around jump shots.
He has a nice fadeaway when he pivots on his right foot and turns over his right shoulder. Here are a few examples:
This certainly won’t be one of Turkoglu’s main duties with the Suns, but it is one of the many offensive options that Turkoglu creates on the floor. So while he may not be the prototypical power forward, his versatility and ability to play any position gives the Suns endless options offensively.