Depth, versatility not an issue for the Phoenix Suns

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.

Well, after adding Hakim Warrick, Hedo Turkoglu and Josh Childress this offseason, the depth is back, and this time to an even greater degree.

“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.

  • Auggie

    Hey the Knicks have Randolph and the Raptors have Barbosa. Its been a hectic summer but you can't forget LB.

    Good article though. Got me excited to see these guys play!

  • Bob

    Don't think our bench is better than the Pacers starting five.

    Dragic is bigger than Nash why isn't he on the "big" lineup? If you really want a big lineup you'd put Turk at the point and Hill at the SF.

    Do you have something against Hill? He isn't on any of these alternative lineups.

    Why do people keep insisting Clark should be the 11th man? Lawal should get to play before Clark. I really doubt Clark's work ethic. And Clark is probably not the best 11th man in the league anyway.

  • carlos

    they should trade warrick and hill for Andrea Bargnani. he is a 7-footer, hecan play the 4, spread the floor, and block some shots. hour front line will be as big as the lakers.



    you could also try to trade clark for another 7footer

  • HankS

    Nice review, Mike, but IMHO rather starry-eyed… I'm still afraid teams with average-sized and -skilled 4-5 tandems will carve the Suns' paint. But these Suns are probably one of the most unconventional teams in recent history, so it'll be fun to watch. If they mesh well, they'll give a lot of teams fits, but to go deep in the postseason, they'll have to trade for size at some point before the trade deadline.

  • S

    Our bench isn't better than Knicks' or Nets' starting lineups, but it's better than Cavs'.

  • JC

    I think Lawal has a lot more potential at PF than Clark. If we really struggle with "skilled 4-5 tandems," I think we could always do a 3 man rotation like the Lakers did last year with Gasol, Bynum and Odom. Ours would feature Lopez and Frye in the starting lineup and potentially Lawal, Warrick, Turkoglu, Hill or Clark as the third with Turkoglu more likely to play backup center for a short stretch vs the opposing team's worst lineup. I personally like the idea of Hill mentoring Lawal as the third guy because you know Hill, although obviously limited, would be a crafty PF and Lawal would learn a lot that could help him become a starting or at least 2nd option PF in a hurry. Hill is not a good option at PF so I think it would create an interesting dynamic if basically Lawal knew that if he didn't get it done the alternative is Hill so if he can't play he is letting his whole team down (it would be good if he really can play and is the team player I think he is).

  • Kyle Fleeger

    I think the Suns represent one of, if not the deepest bench in the league. The line-up of Dragic, Childress, Dudley, (Our future starting back-court will be tall, athletic, and defensively very talented. Then you add Warrick into a style he is perfect for offensively, and he will fit great into our Zone principles because he learned it from the ZONE MASTER Jim Boheim at Syrachuse… and Frye… Well, Last year I ripped on Frye a lot for not taking himself to the basket on offense or on defense. If he is going to play Center and prevent us from getting destroyed on the glass whenever he is in at PF… (not likely on our second unit) he needs to be aggressive on defense and offense. Driving sets up the 3 Channing, ask Dirk.

    As far as Lawal and Clark go, I think you are only going to be seeing them in garbage minutes or foul trouble, and at that point, I really like the versatility in having two 6'9+ guys with diverse skills sets and opposite personalities. It's encouraging to see if one of them can play themselves into more minutes, or who comes up big at the first sign of injury.

    With the Suns high powered offense, and their additions of Warrick and Childress who will add defensive knowledge with athleticism, something that we haven't seen in a Suns uniform since Shawn Marion. Now, I don't think either of these guys will pull down 10 rebounds, but I only want them to pull that many down combined. Everything else would be bonus. The Suns will only play 2 players who shoot worse than 35% from three-point range, and in our system… that's likely to increase.

    Keep your eyes on Goran and the Slovenians, they are officially my squad at FIBA after USA… ZORAN AND GORAN TAKE OVER THE WORLD IN 8 DAYS!

  • JasonK

    Yea, I'm not fond of any Nash-Dragic lineup, it sometimes worked great but was more consistently clunky.

    And I'd also avoid putting Clark in lineups until his show of effort improves.

  • Al

    I am most excited for the Three point shooting line up and the BIG lineup (Phoenix has size now). I just don't want to be like the Magic where, "you live by the 3 you lose by the 3". I also think that the Defensive lineup should only be used to maintain a big lead and rest starters.

  • Kyle

    EC is not “hands down” the best 11th man in the league. He has potential but right now that’s all. Gani mayeven be better as our 12th.

  • Jason

    I can’t believe I see so much “hype” for Gani Lawal. I mean just because he looked good in summer league? Summer league just doesnt translate to regular season production. But the thing you can’t forget is that he was probably drafted so low for a reason… I’m just guessinggg, but I assume most nba talent scouts/gms know more about players potential than message board nerds (No offense as I am one too)

    Earl will get any of the available minutes soley because his potential is light years higher than lawals, I agree Lawal looks like a decent pick and prospect but you have to be realistic about his future, thats its questionable at best. Clark may have some work ethic issues as of now, but you have to go with where the future is and thats clark, not lawal.

  • Mel.

    “But the thing you can’t forget is that he was probably drafted so low for a reason… I’m just guessinggg, but I assume most nba talent scouts/gms know more about players potential than message board nerds (No offense as I am one too)”

    Jason, Adam Morrison called. He wants to talk to you.

  • Eagle Sun

    Lawal will be very good. It comes down to motivation. Lawal will learn the pick and roll, hustle like Lou, and will pound other team’s PF’s and C’s and have them get themselves in foul trouble.
    This will be very important for us to have a player that can wear down other team’s big men, preparing the way for Turk, Warrick, and Rolo to pile up points in the paint.

    He will improve his free throw shooting and develop and respectable mid-range jumper. He is also a very good rebounder. And he also has the weight to guard the larger PF’s well, if they present challenges for Turk and Warrick

    Don’t count Lawal out, STAT didn’t have much of a jumper until he worked to get one after he was injured.

    Lawal is a diamond in the rough, and our coaching staff is good at developing new players.

  • Drew

    Although Jason has a few good points (like EC’s ceiling), I’m throwing in my excitement, as well, for Lawal. I imagine him playing maybe 7 minutes a game, but as a floater and not tied to either rotation. If by some strange occurrence Lopez is in foul trouble, or if Frye is getting killed on D and the glass, or if Odem is posting up too much… I’d like to see him interjected here and there. Think DeJuan Blair assets!

    And our BIG lineup should be Turk, Hill, Dudley, Frye and Lopez. (Switch Warrick for Duds if you want). Lots of options. I’m excited for the season! Good article Mike.

  • HankS

    Just a note: BIG isn’t exactly the same thing as TALL. Fry may be tall enough, but he’ll get manhandled in the paint by guys like the Spurs’ DeJuan Blair, nowhere near as TALL, but a lot BIGGER. The only real BIG on the current Suns’ roster is Lopez, with Lawal possibly coming in second, or Warrick. That’s why teams featuring two capable bigs (think the Bulls) will give the Suns trouble.

  • Gphxsan

    This is where we will find out if Gentry is set to move from good coach to elite. Good coaches win games due to the players on the court executing. Elite coaches can read which players can do better on certain nights vs certain teams. I have faith that he will be able to move to "elite" status. Just like a kid a x-mas, he has all these "new toys" to play with! Let's see what magical combination s he uses night in and night out! I like our total team much better than the Heat!

  • Lloyd

    I actually like Warrick starting at the four and Hill coming off of the Bench as the sixth man.

    Since the Suns have some very attractive contracts in place, you never know, the new G.M. Blanks may swing some kind of a deal for a power foreward. He has a lot of attractive pieces to deal with.

    The Suns had the best record in the west the second half of the season last year. I know that a lot of it was Amare–but don't forget that Lopez was out for some of it, and he was the glue on defense that enabled Amare to play his game.

    I think that the Suns will surprise all and challenge for the best record in the west. In looking at the Lakers, Bynum is always out at some point in the season and many Lakers fans would love to deal him while he still has value. Kobe is not getting any younger, and coming off of his third knee surgery on his right knee, he will certainly be slowing down.

  • Lloyd

    One last thing; Frye really improved his rebounding in the playoffs last year. Against the Lakers, he out rebounded and played better defense than Amare did.

    You will see him improve his inside game this year.

  • suns68

    I don’t see the logic in thinking that replacing Amare and Ahmunson with Hedo and Warrick isn’t a downgrade at the four spot.
    Amare was the best big man the Suns had since Connie Hawkins. And yes, I’m counting Barkley, who gave us a great season but broke down from age/injuries after that.
    The key is to develop a new system that exploits the strengths the Suns still possess (shooting and speed) and working to overcome the weaknesses (defense and rebounding).
    I do have fairly high hopes for this team, but based more on its exceptional depth and young players who have been deep in the playoffs and have learned what it takes to compete at that level.
    PS. I’m not sure Clark is the best 11th man on this team, much less in the league.

  • Eagle Sun

    If we just got another Center (like Earl Barron or resigned Dwayne Jones [EB is preferred]) it would solve our size questions, patch any weaknesses of Warrick and Turk at the 4, and make the Suns win more than 60 games.

    How is our search going for another Center?

    I think that we should get a center and learn how to produce versatile combonations to exploit the opponent’s weaknesses.

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