PHOENIX — The 2009-10 Phoenix Suns were a team built around 10 players — two distinctly different units coming together to form one of the NBA’s deepest squads. The bench was scrappy and defensive, the starters electric and offensive, and that combination was a huge reason for the Suns’ trip to the Western Conference Finals.
“We’ll have an entertaining team, that’s really quite deep,” said Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby. “What we do have here is a coach who’s willing to use his bench, nurture his bench and develop it. I think we’ve put him in a situation where he has players and different opportunities to draw from.”
The 2010-11 Suns should legitimately play 10 guys on a nightly basis. And when you add in that Earl Clark and Gani Lawal are the 11th and 12th men, respectively, the depth becomes that much more impressive.
The starting lineup of Steve Nash, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Hedo Turkoglu and Robin Lopez (assuming that is indeed the starting lineup) is quite impressive top to bottom, but the bench unit might be better than a handful of NBA starting lineups.
Goran Dragic will run the show, Josh Childress can shore up the perimeter defense while catching alley-oops and running the floor, Jared Dudley will knock down threes and be the hustle/garbage man he was last season, Hakim Warrick is the athletic pick-and-roll threat and Channing Frye is your bombs away big man who spreads the floor.
Clark is hands down the best 11th man in the league and Lawal would crack the rotation for most other squads. Needless to say, although last year’s bench was one of the best in the NBA, this group is even better.
There is a perfect balance of talent with this unit and I would seriously argue that it could compete with several starting units in the league. In fact, here are a handful of starting lineups that the Suns’ bench unit may be better than top to bottom:
1. Indiana Pacers: Darren Collison-Mike Dunleavy-Danny Granger-Josh McRoberts-Roy Hibbert
2. Minnesota Timberwolves: Jonny Flynn-Wesley Johnson-Corey Brewer-Darko Milicic-Kevin Love
3. Toronto Raptors: Jose Calderon-DeMar DeRozan-Linas Kleiza-Amir Johnson-Andrea Bargnani
4. NJ Nets: Devin Harris-Terrance Williams-Travis Outlaw-Troy Murphy-Brook Lopez
5. NY Knicks: Raymond Felton-Kelenna Azubuike-Danilo Gallinari-Amare Stoudemire-Ronny Turiaf
OK, you get the point, the Phoenix bench is really impressive. And because head coach Alvin Gentry coaches with the “whoever plays well will play” attitude, this depth will be a huge plus for the Suns. We all remember the times when Gentry would ride the bench until the final buzzer even in a nail-biter or a playoff game because it was producing.
Don’t expect that to change this season, especially with so much depth. But I think there will definitely be a different approach to the way Gentry rotates players in comparison to last season.
Last year’s bench wasn’t as talented as this year’s, they just scrapped hard and played with great chemistry, so it made the most sense to play them together for the most part. But with so much talent and a handful of multi-positional players, I would expect a greater mix of starters and bench players next season.
Because of this depth and the personnel on the Phoenix roster, there is an endless list of lineups from Gentry to choose from. Here are a few different types of lineups that offer different matchups and styles of play:
The starting lineup: Nash-Richardson-Hill-Turkoglu-Lopez
This is what we expect will be the starting lineup, at least to begin the season. The only real question mark is how Hedo will fare at the power forward position, which I’ve looked at fairly in depth both offensively and defensively. But other than that you have four returning starters including one who is only improving in Lopez. This is a veteran group with a ton of experience to go along with that talent.
The conventional lineup: Nash-Richardson-Turkoglu-Warrick-Lopez
The starting lineup is a bit of an experiment, so this is the more standard, positionally correct group. Turkoglu slides to his natural position at small forward, and Warrick jumps in as the power forward. This group would pack it in the paint a bit more, but because Warrick is a capable mid-range shooter, they wouldn’t struggle with spacing
The three-point shooters: Nash-Richardson-Dudley-Turkoglu-Frye
This may be the most impressive lineup of them all. Every one of these players are above-average three-point shooters — all over 40 percent last year except for J-Rich and Hedo, who were very close — and would make for the most spread floor in NBA history. In fact, this may be the best three-point shooting lineup from top to bottom in NBA history. They’re all shooters, but yet could all realistically play the position they’re slotted at. Frye would run the pick and pop, Turkoglu or Nash could play spot up or run the point and Dudley and J-Rich are your spot up shooters.
The defensive lineup: Dragic-Childress-Dudley-Clark-Lopez
The best thing about this depth and versatility is that the Suns finally have the personnel to play a little bit of defense, at least on the perimeter anyway. Dragic, Childress and Dudley are all above-average defenders and, although he may struggle guarding power forwards, Clark is as well. Then with Lopez as the anchor, this team would shut down opposing offenses unlike any group the Suns have had in recent history.
The BIG lineup: Nash-Childress-Turkoglu-Frye-Lopez
While the Suns do lack some size up front, they have a ton of ways they can offer size on the perimeter. At 6-foot-8 Childress is considered a big shooting guard, and at 6-foot-10 Turkoglu is also an oversized small forward. Although he isn’t a banger, Frye is 6-foot-11 and Lopez a seven-footer. If the Suns need size, this is the lineup they can offer. If Clark ends up cracking the rotation they could even move Turkoglu to shooting guard and substitute Clark for Childress and have an even bigger lineup.
The athletic lineup: Dragic-Richardson-Childress-Clark-Warrick
All of these guys, even Dragic, can jump out of the gym and run the floor. While that doesn’t always translate to good basketball, it is still a nice look to be able to offer.
The small-ball lineup: Nash-Dragic-Richardson-Childress-Turkoglu
This is as unconventional as it gets and is probably a bit of a stretch, but Dragic is capable as a shooting guard and Gentry even mentioned that Turkoglu will play some five at times.