Taking an in-depth look at Phoenix Suns guards and swingmen wasn’t too treacherous considering that’s where their strengths lie. But Phoenix’s so-called “big men” are a different story.
This is one of the smallest Suns teams in the last decade, so there are certainly a ton of things these bigs need to improve upon to give Phoenix at least a little hope when it comes to rebounding, post defense and interior scoring.
Last season Robin Lopez developed into a player that even former GM Steve Kerr couldn’t have envisioned. He cemented himself as the Suns’ starting center and the closest thing to an interior enforcer Phoenix has seen in a long time.
But Lopez is still only entering his third season, and has really only scratched the surface as far as his potential goes. With that said, here’s Lopez’s to-do list:
Go-to post moves
With Steve Nash on the floor, Lopez should be able to collect at least 10 to 12 points a game solely from being in the right place at the right time. But the Suns have absolutely zero back-to-the-basket scorers, and they are counting on Lopez to possibly fill that void.
The seven-footer flashed some jump hooks against the Lakers in the playoffs last season, but with nowhere near the consistency needed to be an established post player. He needs to be able to develop a right- and left-handed jump hook along with a counter move for each. An up and under or a spin move would do, just something that could give Phoenix a back-to-the-basket threat.
According to Synergy Sports Technology, Lopez scored only 0.71 points per play out of post-up plays (which made up 17.2 percent of his total plays) last season. He shot only 41.8 percent out of such plays, which is quite a contrast from the 58.8 percent he shot from the field overall last season.
Lopez doesn’t necessarily have bad moves, he just hasn’t had enough reps and isn’t comfortable enough yet. For example, here he put a nice spin move on David Lee and got deep.
Once he got here he hesitated a bit, but still got up a decent looking lefty hook that you can see below.
The shot barely grazed the rim, however. Again, you can see below that Lopez gains great position and puts up a fairly decent looking hook against Chris Kaman. But the shot wasn’t close.
His numbers out of the post were far lower than any other offensive play type, further proving how Lopez’s post game truly is non-existent and thus the area that needs the most work. With such a wide body he can get great position down low, he just needs more repetitions and to fine tune his moves once he gets the ball.
Lopez is Phoenix’s 0nly true rebounder, so he’s going to need to post double-digit boards next season. Although he’s so wide and tall, Lopez only averaged 4.8 rebounds per game last season.
He’s going to need to amp up his aggression and control the glass for Phoenix every night. As Jared Dudley said, the Suns need him to play on an All-Star level to have a big season, and improving his tenacity on the boards is a top priority.
There’s no reason he shouldn’t grab double-digit boards on a nightly basis, he just needs to stay healthy and make it happen.
Because he’s a seven-foot center, Lopez doesn’t necessarily need a jump shot, but it will make him a much more complete player. He’ll be counted on in the pick and roll a ton this season, and a great way to keep defenses honest is to prove you can knock down the 15-footer with ease.
He doesn’t need to drill threes like Channing Frye, but a decent 15-foot jump shot would do a lot for expanding Lopez’s game. He’s been a five-feet-and-in kind of guy since he broke into the league, as you can see by the chart below. But a decent mid-range set shot could change that.
Hakim Warrick is a bit of a question mark for the Suns. He’s never gotten a chance to play in this type of system and could have a huge year or be a complete bust. But we do know he’s athletic, long and has a decent jump shot as well.
But what does he need to add to his game? Here’s his offseason to-do list:
Its no secret that at 219 pounds, Warrick gets manhandled a lot down low, which I emphasized in my breakdown of him soon after his acquisition. He’s a below-average defender, but that doesn’t have to be the case with his length and athleticism.
He’s not bad defending on the perimeter, but his post defense is ugly. He allowed 57.5 percent shooting out of post-up situations during his time with the Bucks, proving his weight and lack of strength keep him from being a solid post defender.
He needs to find a way to be serviceable defensively, because most Suns bigs not named Lopez are average or mediocre as well. If Warrick can’t defend, he won’t stay on the floor.
Defense and rebounding are extremely similar, so it’s no wonder Warrick struggles at both. Despite his leaping ability, he hasn’t averaged more than 5.1 boards per game during his five-year career.
The Suns figure to get demolished on the glass next season, as they have no true big man outside of Lopez. But there’s no reason Warrick couldn’t emerge as a savior of sorts on the glass. He’s extremely long and athletic, and if Alvin Gentry can light a fire under him, he has the ability to patrol the boards for Phoenix.
For Earl Clark, all of the tools are there for him to be a terrific player. He’s big, strong, athletic and multi-skilled, but it just hasn’t come together for the Louisville product. He has more to improve upon than any other Suns player, if he hopes to fulfill that enormous potential. Here’s his offseason to-do list:
How many times have you been left scratching your head after Clark makes a questionable play? Far too many times. He is too robotic at times, basically deciding what he’s going to do and then making a move rather than taking what the defense gives him.
Basketball is a game of read and react, and Clark is missing both of those elements. Whether he’s nervous or over-thinking, I don’t know, but he has to nail down the mental aspect of the game before he can make any strides in other areas.
As for the actual basketball improvements, Clark is going to need to add a post game this season. He’s the definition of a tweener. He has the skills of a guard, but the frame of a big man at 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan.
The Suns have an excess of perimeter players, so Clark is going to need to play bigger if he hopes to get some burn. After a full season I haven’t seen Clark do anything out of the post.
He was a porous 3-for-15 out of the post last season, and as you can see from the chart below, he lived on the perimeter far too often last season.
With his size and length he could easily develop a nice turnaround jumper. He’s never going to be Tim Duncan or Pau Gasol, but he could develop a decent post game.
This may sound contradictory to the last improvement, as I said Clark needs to be a factor in the post. But he does have a speed advantage over most of the players who will be guarding him. He isn’t bad at getting to the rim, but could be a whole lot better.
Clark shot 33.3 percent out of isolations last season, scoring only 0.6 points per play. He also turned the ball over 14 percent of the time.
He’s one of those players that you can tell what he’s going to do depending on the way he drives. If he goes left, he’s taking it all the way to the bucket, and if he goes right, expect a pull-up jumper. He’s too set in his ways and doesn’t react to the defense.
A way to fix this is, one with a better basketball IQ, and two by adding more moves. If he has more moves to choose from it will be easier to react to the defense and say, ‘If he cuts me off when I drive left, I have the ability to go behind the back to my right,’ and things of that nature.
No, Clark doesn’t need to be able to spin into a fadeaway or add an Allen Iverson crossover, but he does need more creative ways to get to the hoop and use that speed advantage.
Channing Frye is going to do what he does best next season — drill three-pointers. But with the depth up front, he’s going to have to play more of a traditional big man role at times. And he was able to add a long ball to his game in one summer, so who’s to say he can’t make other improvements? Here’s Frye’s offseason to-do list:
Channing definitely made some strides defensively as the season progressed, but he still fouls too often and doesn’t play with much ferocity on the defensive end. In total Frye allowed 1.07 points per play last season. He wasn’t too bad as a post defender, allowing 0.8 ppp, but that was in a very small sample size (65 plays).
The Suns are counting on him to be able to be a serviceable defender in the paint, and if he can do that he’ll be much more than a streaky three-point shooter.
If Frye’s first improvement wasn’t obvious to Suns fans, this one should be. Channing is known as a soft big man, having never averaged more than 5.7 boards per game in his career.
He showed flashes at times against the Lakers in the playoffs, but the Suns will need more than just an occasional big game on the glass from Frye. If he can rebound and defend, he could very well play 30 minutes a game in this system, without being a liability.
Face-up post game
This isn’t exactly a necessity, but it’s something Frye has the skill-set to accomplish. He has great touch shooting the ball and a high release to go along with it. He isn’t a banger but doesn’t have to be. As long as he can face up and nail a Duncan-esque bank shot, it would do wonders for the Suns’ offense.