Thoughts on the Suns' two-headed center of the future, the Detroit collapse, J.J. Hickson and more

Marcin Gortat is providing the Suns with a legitimate presence in the middle. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Marcin Gortat is providing the Suns with a legitimate presence in the middle. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Marcin Gortat has long been known as the best backup center in the NBA, and he’s finally starting to show that he would not be a bad option as a starting center either.

Yet although his situation has completely changed from his time in Orlando, in actuality it would still be accurate to refer to Gortat as the best backup center in the league.

Despite rebounding everything in sight the last three games, averaging 13.0 boards per game during that stretch and putting up a double-double in each, head coach Alvin Gentry continues to start Robin Lopez. The Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro recently reported no immediate changes are in store even if Gortat’s production leaves Lopez playing the Jarron Collins role of just the first six or so minutes of each half.

To me, and as Gortat has said himself, it doesn’t really matter who starts so long as the better guy is getting the majority of the minutes and playing during crunch time. That has been the case of late with Gortat playing heavy minutes over Lopez, who has not outrebounded Steve Nash since 2010 (a span of 11 games in which he has averaged 16.1 minutes per contest).

Gortat really seems to be finally getting it, snatching up every rebound in his path, playing solid post defense and adding an offensive element as well.

It was debated in the comments section of a recent preview whether he can be the Suns’ center of the future, and I don’t think there’s any question that he is.

But that doesn’t mean I’m forgetting about Robin. He’s still so young (only 22) and has flashed enough potential at times that there’s a place for him at the table as well.

Perhaps at some point the Suns will need to part with one of them to make a run at a stud, but the center position is one of the best parts of this team’s future as things currently stand.

That doesn’t even count Channing Frye, who logged the most minutes at the center position last season and is doing a solid job offensively (aside from Saturday) with some improved rebounding to boot.

If Lopez can find a way to produce the way he did during the second half of last season before his injury and Gortat can continue to provide a voracious presence on the boards, center will for once be a position of strength the rest of the season for a Suns franchise that may have two true centers of the future (and present) on their roster.

Revisiting the Detroit collapse

The Suns’ fourth-quarter meltdown last night against Detroit was sickening to watch, but no more sickening than the collapses against the Kings, Bulls and Grizzlies earlier this season.

You just have to wonder if the Suns will look back on these games in which they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory as the reason they miss out on the postseason.

It’s disgusting to think the Suns lost for the first time IN FRANCHISE HISTORY when holding an opponent to fewer than 80 points — spanning 62 previous games over 43 years of being a franchise. To make matter worse, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, three starters shot under 30 percent (Frye, Grant Hill and Vince Carter) for the first time for this franchise since KJ, Michael Finley and Rex Chapman did so in 1996.

With the Suns trailing by two with eight seconds left you have to wonder about going to Channing Frye, who had missed 10 of his 12 shots at the time. The Suns didn’t need a three at that point and we know Frye is immeasurably better catching the ball in rhythm rather than trying to make something happen on his own in a desperation situation like that.

The Pistons were doubling the pick-and-roll hard all quarter so you knew they wouldn’t get something off that, but there had to be a better option.

Speaking of Frye, he’s trying to prove the academics wrong who say the hot hand theory doesn’t exist. One night he’s unconscious and drills seven threes and the next night he misses 11 shots. When he’s shooting in rhythm and with confidence he’s a huge asset who can change a game on his own like he did in Washington, but when he doesn’t have it he can shoot you out of one like he did in Detroit.

To do one more bit of second guessing, you have to wonder why Goran Dragic wasn’t playing alongside Nash in crunch time to give the Suns a little bit more of a ball-handling threat when Nash was pressured so hard by Bynum, especially since Carter wasn’t doing much of anything productive anyway.

Gentry summed up the night by saying, “We have to finish games, that’s the bottom line. We have to play for 48 minutes, even though it may be the oldest cliché in the book, you can see what happens when you don’t. We had complete control of the game and we just let it slip away.”

A 4-1 road trip would still be fantastic if the Suns can win in Philly, but you just have to wonder how many gut-punch losses the Suns can take where they “just let it slip away.”

No regrets with Hickson

In Marc Stein’s Weekend Dime, he quoted NBA advanced scouts on a variety of issues, including the rapid demise of the Cleveland Cavaliers. I was intrigued by one point in particular:

My biggest concern would be J.J. Hickson. He doesn’t fit into Byron’s scheme. If it’s true that they could have traded him for Amare Stoudemire, that’s one they may regret forever, because I don’t think he’s a starter on a good team. On a team as bad as that, [Hickson] should be 20 and 10 every night. He should be David West. But he doesn’t seem to be a self-disciplined player. He’s not in good shape. He’s [a] once-every-five-games guy, to me.”

I have rehashed the Amare Stoudemire situation many times, including last weekend before the Suns visited Amare’s Knicks, and I feel more and more confident that the Suns did the right thing not pursuing that deal to completion last year at this time.

J-Rich’s heralded ‘D’

I watched the end of the Boston-Orlando game last Monday and found it funny the way the Celtics continually went at Jason Richardson. Be it Paul Pierce taking him one on one for an And 1, Ray Allen running him off a screen before draining a three, or Kevin Garnett drawing a foul when Richardson ran him over on a screen, his lack of defensive prowess really hurt the Magic.

J-Rich and Turkoglu have obviously sparked the Magic and that trade has turned out great for them thus far, but I do wonder if teams like the Celtics will continue to go at J-Rich when these squads meet up in the playoffs.

And 1

I found it interesting that the Suns took a team visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., during this road trip. My own grandparents survived the Holocaust and are still living today and thus I hope the Suns found meaning from what’s always a tough visit. … Watching the UA-Washington basketball game Thursday night, I couldn’t help but notice the startling difference in the level of play from the NBA. Perhaps that’s an obvious observation, but quite the difference nonetheless.

Tags: Channing Frye J.J. Hickson Jason Richardson Marcin Gortat Robin Lopez

  • Dj327

    Interesting and 1. Currently reading mans search for meaning for a second time; Michael if your grandparents were holocaust survivors and you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend it.

    As for the suns, they certainly reminded us last night how they are going to measure up against higher caliber teams (if they play like that against the atrocious pistons. I am really starting to doubt a playoff push.

  • Mel.

    Great tell, Schwartzy. The reason why I still love being a Suns fan; like Marcin Gortat, you’ve got the right tools to endure the slumps and still perform as necessary.

    But more to the point, the Gortat trade is really starting to cast a mean glare on the fact that RoLo is roughly 72% of the player he was last year (Using my own Hollinger-style metric of raw data and random observation). It takes a lot to make a player like Marcin suddenly look like Andrew Bynum, but Lopez’s play is doing exactly that; he comes out flat-footed, commits illogical stopgap fouls, then practically hands the floor over to Gortat for the next twenty minutes.

    I think Gortat is good–and has the potential to be really good, in this system–but RoLo is making him look like a superhero with his lackluster production. I don’t know if it’s just reality, a mental thing or the injuries he had to contend with, but he’s not making a strong argument for an extension/resigning.

  • Derek

    what’s hurting the suns is Channing Fryes terrible shot selection and rolos fouls

  • Adam

    great article, true about Gortat. This guy have potential to be very good center (with 15 points per game and 10 rebounds per game). Third double-double in a row playing 25-30 min from bench. Very solid games in defence.
    Dragic and Warrick should play more minutes. We need more points from bench when s5 have poor percentage of shots (via last game – Frye, Carter, Hill)

  • Mike L

    As I’ve said many times before on this site, there is a huge inherent problem with chucking up J’s and hoping they go to get you back into a game, or push out a slim lead. It will work RARELY against a bad team (Detroit, case in point) and almost never is a sustainable strategy.

    As soon as this team figures out that the jumpers are a product of slashing to the rim, then they’ll win consistently. Stop taking the stupid jumpers, drive to the hole and either score or THEN kick it to a jumper.

  • Steve

    I agree with Mike L wholeheartedly. Good teams will MAKE you stop them from dunks and layups, then settle for uncontested jumpers if the layup isn’t there. The Suns are exactly the opposite. They look for the uncontested J first, then drive to the hoop if someone is in their face.