Jan 18, 2012; New York, NY, USA; Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry during the first quarter against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

Evaluating Coach Alvin Gentry


I get why Alvin Gentry is a popular guy. After a short, tumultuous era of the Suns being forced into slow half-court sets, Gentry brought back the  Suns of old — fast-paced, exciting Suns. And then, the next season he helped Steve Nash take the roster to the Western Conference Finals.

But that was one Amar’e and Leandro Barbosa ago. Ever since Stoudemire left for New York (thank you, Lon), the Suns haven’t been close to the same. They got some replacements, the most notable being Marcin Gortat. Since then, Gentry’s image has been swinging from excellent to absolutely pathetic a lot. Granted, I’m pretty biased with my Marcin Gortat love and Robin Lopez hate, and I will keep maintaining that the Suns may have made the playoffs had Alvin inserted Marcin into the starting lineup sooner. This is not exactly an infallible statement, since former Sun-n-Gun Editor and current Valley of the Suns Writer Andrew Lynch believes that this strategy was key in a few wins, allowing Robin Lopez and Vince Carter catch fire early. However, limiting one of the best pick and roll finishers time with the best pick and roll passer… Just shouldn’t work, ever.

Now that I made my hyperbolic statement of the day, comes the time to honour a bet. Yes, I’m absolutely unprofessional, but considering this bet did trigger this article and has a place in it, I’ll allow myself this rather weird practice. The bet forced me to write 500+ words on why Alvin Gentry is a good coach. And I will do so, starting… Now.

The truth is, that as much as I criticize him, Alvin has a lot of good sides, sides that are often lost due to his teams lack of talent. His strong suite, of course, is offence. Whatever you say about the execution, the plays he draws up are excellent. The ball movement, the spacing, it’s all there. All of this allows Channing Frye and Jared Dudley to find open looks, looks they brick the living hell out of. This ability to call plays shows in the scoring leaders for the Suns last year — 6 players in double figures is nothing to scoff at. (This also makes me oddly miss Vince Carter. Say what you will about him, but Vince can score). This year, however, Channing Frye and Grant Hill miraculously lost their touch from deep, killing a lot of Alvin’s schemes.

Another advantage of Gentry’s is definitely his crunch time execution. The plays he draws up are very, very, very good. Remember the two Channing Frye back-to-back game-winners he made against Indiana and New Jersey last year should be credited to Gentry’s ability to use the screening of his bigs and Grant Hill to get his man open. The two looks Jared Dudley had against Golden State (which he missed, prompting the lost bet) were also excellent.

But, enough about plays. If that was Gentry’s only positive side, he’d be an offensive coordinator. No, Gentry knows his players. He knows Channing Frye needs to catch fire early, he knows Markieff Morris cools down rather fast when on the bench, he knows that Marcin Gortat is usually a sure thing all game, and that he can avoid giving him the ball for 8 minutes, and then give him the ball every trip down in the next 4. He knows that when Robin Lopez gets hot, he suddenly becomes invincible, he just knows what do to with his guys, what buttons to press. The fact that Channing Frye rarely gets hot, Robin Lopez rarely gets hot and Markieff Morris rarely has anything to cool down from is not on his shoulders.

Finally, Gentry knows how to keep Grant Hill and Steve Nash relatively fresh, even if it means blowing a game against the Nuggets. While I don’t like it, it probably means the Suns have a better shot against Atlanta, and I guess that a win would absolve Gentry of the crimes I often accuse him. He knows when Nash needs a break, he knows when the team needs him back. He also sees Grant’s defensive superiority and is not afraid to put him on anyone, from Dirk Nowitzki to Chris Paul. He also seems to be respecting his players, having a rather good understanding with them. Do you see anyone whining about their minutes? Do you see anyone blaming Gentry? That means that the players respect him back. Granted, respecting the coach might be a part of the influence of Nash’s and Hill’s leadership, but regardless of that, Gentry seems in control. Oh, and he also has a fun game motivating Marcin Gortat to grab rebounds, I like that kind of motivation. Still waiting for Marcin to grab 20 rebounds, though.

Now that the 500 words of praise are done, poor Alvin will get a little negativity, actually a lot. I still think he tries to force Robin Lopez to be a legitimate post presence, while not giving Gortat any practice in an area that Gortat will need soon. Gortat’s development should be the Suns’ primary target, and yet Alvin seems to think he’ll always have people running the pick and roll. Sure, Gortat has been weak in the post (4-13) against Denver, but when a game seems lost, it might be a good idea to let him have at it. And since we’re on the subject of Gortat, let me note that he also seems to went away from giving Gortat mid-range jumpers, which effectively shortened Gortat’s offensive game of late. It just seems puzzling.

Another problem is his rotation. While doing a great job managing Nash’s minutes, his rotations are pretty primitive. Except for Markieff Morris/Channing Frye (similar skillsets in a few ways) switches and early entries for Michael Redd (who, once again, has a similar skill set to Jared Dudley), he seems hell bent on not mixing players between units that much, and even if he does, he tries making Ronnie Price/Bassy Telfair run pick and rolls with Gortat as if Nash was there, etc. It’s predictable, and it lacks adjustment, except for matching Grant Hill’s minutes with a dominant scorer’s minutes sometimes. He doesn’t look for mismatches, just sticks to a plan, which can be frustrating.

Finally, I don’t think Alvin can exist without Steve Nash. He’s great in drawing plays, but only when having Steve Nash running the offence. The bench looks lost, and when an entire unit can’t execute, you must wonder… Is Alvin the right coach for the future? Can he manage the post-Nash wasteland? Or is it, perhaps, time for a change? It wouldn’t be a bad idea to start looking for a talent-developing coach right now, now would it?

The future looks bleak for the Suns, and Alvin doesn’t seem to be doing much but maintaining — if not aiding — the mediocre status quo. With time, he might prove me right or wrong, but until then, I suggest you chime in in the comment section and the poll below:
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