PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns’ offseason makeover brought about two questions: How will Hedo Turkoglu possibly play power forward and how will head coach Alvin Gentry handle the glut of swingmen?
But after all of these basketball breakdowns the answer to these questions became clear — positional labels don’t apply to the Phoenix Suns.
Grant Hill explained it best when he said, “You know it’s funny, I think people get it wrong. They want to put labels and titles on players and, obviously Steve’s not a small forward, Steve’s a point guard. But with the exception of him and maybe Robin [Lopez], I think everyone else is interchangeable.”
People need positions to cling to in the game of basketball, but they don’t exist in Phoenix’s offense. The pace is fast, threes come in excess and players are on the floor based on the skill set they offer, rather than their height, weight and the G, F or C next to their name on the team roster.
“We’ve never put labels on guys. Really is Channing Frye a five or a four or a three or whatever? We have guards, we have wing players and we have big guys and sometimes I don’t know if you can classify them as big guys,” Gentry said. “We’re just going to play guys that play well and put them in a position to succeed. We’re not going to call a guy a one-guard, a two-guard, a three-guard.”
Frye is the perfect example. You take a look at the 172 threes he hit last season and he doesn’t exactly scream back-to-the basket big man who can rebound and defend. But because of his 6-foot-11 frame, people consider Frye a “big man.”
The Suns disregard these labels and put together lineups and combinations on how players’ skill sets mesh together – which isn’t all that difficult when you have tremendous versatility. All of those aforementioned swingmen can play two or three “positions.”
“What I see is you have a lot of options and a lot of versatility. One of our strengths last year was our depth and the many options and our versatility,” Hill said. “I’ve played one, I’ve played a little four, I’ve played a little five, I’ve played a little two so I’ve played it all it seems last season and there’s been multiple guys who’ve done that and I’m sure there will be multiple guys who do that again this year.”
This lack of defined positions has been a theme since the Mike D’Antoni days. Was Shawn Marion really a three, four or a five? Was Boris Diaw really a three, four or a five? There are no true positions in Phoenix, just players with different talents playing off Nash.
If you sport the purple and orange you’re either a shooter, a creator, a screener, or a finisher. The offense is free-flowing and unlike some NBA sets, certain people aren’t stationed in certain spots because of their positions.
So why is Turkoglu going to be the starting power forward for the Suns? He isn’t, his height and weight just put him in that category. Turkoglu is really in the Suns’ starting five because he gives them another shooter for Nash to find other than Jason Richardson, as well as a secondary ball-handler that was missing.
Turkoglu isn’t going to be backing down defenders and rolling to the hoop for an Amare-like slam, it just so happens that the open spot in the starting lineup is at power forward and Turkoglu’s 6-foot-10 frame allows him to be considered in that group.
The question isn’t if Turkoglu can play the power forward position for the Suns, it’s can his talents mesh with the starting unit properly?
There is also no worry about how Gentry will juggle all of these “small forwards.” Josh Childress is a slasher, finisher and rebounder. Jared Dudley is a shooter and hustle player. Grant Hill is a creator and finisher in transition. They can all play together and complement each others’ skills, regardless of the label attached to them.
In Phoenix, what a player can do on the court decides whether or not he plays in a certain situation, rather than the positional parameter that has become so standard in the NBA.