What is the identity of the 2010-11 Phoenix Suns?

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PHOENIX — With one of the NBA’s best pick-and-roll duos now extinct and an abundance of small forwards on the roster, it’s hard to tell what type of team the 2010-11 Phoenix Suns team is.

Steve Nash even said it himself on media day: “We have to go out and find out who we are and we have to prove how good we can be.”

Alvin Gentry told The Arizona Republic that the Suns are still very much a pick-and-roll team, saying, “We’re still going to run pick-and-roll. Amar’e was obviously the best in the league about it, but Steve is also the best in the league at delivering it.”

But although this is mostly true, the fact that the Suns lack a legitimate roll man makes it tough to realistically believe this team can take on that identity for 82 games. So what other option is there?

Run, run, and run some more.

There is no reason not to play to this team’s strengths, and their strengths are in numbers and athleticism. The Suns have 10-plus athletic, versatile bodies they can throw out there on a given night, and that depth will allow them to play as fast, if not faster, than the Mike D’Antoni Seven Seconds or Less Suns.

As Gentry said on media day, there’s no better point guard fit for running an up-tempo offense than Nash, and the two-time MVP has the perfect crop of players to run with him.

Stats
YRTMGGSMINFG%3P%FT%STLBLKTOREBASTPTS
05-06MIA805.6.313.000.7500.00.00.61.30.01.6
06-07MIA2807.3.289.000.9440.20.10.41.50.22.3
07-08MIA461519.3.404.077.7010.40.21.04.30.67.1
09-10NYK7633.1.441.000.7590.60.61.611.01.111.7
Career892115.4.387.071.7460.30.20.83.70.55.5

As you can see above, Grant Hill, Jason Richardson, Jared Dudley and Hakim Warrick are all great on the break. J-Rich and Dudley also find a ton of success behind the arc in transition, knocking down 51 and 40 threes, respectively, last season.

And that table doesn’t even include Josh Childress, who may very well be Phoenix’s best transition player. He has great speed and length to get down court and is one of the team’s best finishers with the ability to lay it in equally well with either hand.

Channing Frye also isn’t a bad option spotting up behind the line as a trailer and Robin Lopez moves well for a seven-footer. The only Sun that doesn’t exactly strike me as a speed demon is the “laid back” Hedo Turkoglu, but after a training camp that emphasized running more than ever, that could quickly change.

With all of that said, this should be a fast break team first and could very well emulate the D’Antoni Suns. Of course the pace is going to slow down eventually and the Suns will have to prove themselves in the halfcourt, but the mantra should be run first in Phoenix.

It’s easy to mask halfcourt weaknesses by making something happen on the break. The D’Antoni Suns did exactly that, hiding the fact that they lacked a true center — or even power forward when Amare was hurt — by pushing the ball at every opportunity.

Sound familiar?

This season’s Suns can hide their halfcourt deficiencies by using their strength in numbers and athleticism to become an even more fast paced team than last season.

There are too many fresh bodies available to not run teams to the ground, and with Nash at the helm it makes the most sense. Here are some clips from the last preseason game against Toronto that prove Phoenix’s dedication to run:

Jared Dudley runout

Here Nash simply grabs a board and hits a streaking Dudley, who couldn’t convert on the layup, but if you’re Phoenix you’ll take that every time.

Jason Richardson off a made basket

This play is fairly similar with J-Rich streaking down court for a layup attempt. But the most impressive part about this was that it came off of a made basket, proving the emphasis on getting the ball out quick.

Josh Childress secondary break

This play is the most impressive of them all and reminds me of the D’Antoni days. After a Jarrett Jack bucket Goran Dragic sends it up to Dudley who swings it to Frye, who swings it to Childress for a driving layup.

The ball movement was crisp and efficient as the Suns made four passes, one dribble and a layup in only six seconds — off a made basket nonetheless.

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