Decision 2012: The power forward position

In the coming months, debate will continue to swirl around the city of Phoenix as to who is the right man for the job. There has been an obvious decline at the position in recent years and each of the potential candidates believe they have the skill set to fix the glaring deficiency.

No, I am not talking about politics or the upcoming election season, as the title pretty much gave away. We will leave talk about the economy, education and foreign affairs to the political blogs.

I’m of course referring to the starting power forward competition and the logjam already taking shape before the Suns begin their own campaign in 2012-13.

For an organization that used to be built around the position and men named Hawkins, Chambers, Barkley and Stoudemire, Alvin Gentry and Co. enter training camp with plenty of options at the four but to this point there’s not a clear-cut favorite to grab the reigns.

Too much depth is never a bad thing though, so for now let’s take a look at each of the candidates.

The frontrunner: Luis Scola

When the Suns won the amnesty auction claim on Scola back on July 15, it seemed like an absolute steal. The Rockets and Daryl Morey went into the offseason looking to go younger in the post (Jon Brockman, Terrence Jones and Omer Asik), and because of it the purple and orange had what’s Bill Simmons called the “best amnesty guy ever” fall right into their proverbial lap.

And at $13.5 million over the next three years, it’s easy to see why the arrival of Scola has been met with high praise.

At 32, Scola may come with plenty of miles on the body from his international career, as well as his days in the Spanish professional ranks. But there may not be a player in the NBA who does more at his position with less than the six-year veteran (14.5 points, 7.7 rebounds and 74-percent from the free throw line).

At 6-foot-9, his undersized stature and lack of pure athleticism would seem to put him behind the eight ball against the likes of Blake Griffin, Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Alderidge and Serge Ibaka, but he is incredibly skilled and crafty on the low block. He has a bevy of post moves, can pass and dribble with either hand and is a threat to hit jump shots from 10-to-15 feet (a career 51 percent shooter).

No one will ever mistake him for a stout defender, but as he displayed throughout the 2012 Olympics, Scola is a pest and a dirt worker in the trenches. He’s the player you hate to go up against, but love when he’s on your team. Put him together in a starting lineup that features an athletic forward in Michael Beasley and an aggressive big in Marcin Gortat, and Scola will absolutely thrive at both ends of the floor.

It’s hard to anoint the Argentine as the team’s starter without ever seeing him play a game in Gentry’s system. But the proof is in the pudding in terms of his durability and efficiency as a starter. Since taking over as the Rockets’ starting power forward midway through his rookie season in 2008, Scola has started in each of the last 343 games he’s played in. In three of the last four seasons, he has played in every game.

Scola may be new to the Valley of the Sun, but he is very familiar with point guard Goran Dragic. When Dragic took over for an injured Kyle Lowry last March in Houston, Scola put together his best statistical month of the season (17.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game).

If he’s not a fan favorite already, he will be in no time. He’s the ultimate substance before flash type of guy, something this team could use a little bit more of moving forward.

The challenger: Markieff Morris

Since the selection of Amar’e Stoudemire back in 2002, the Suns have been notorious for their unwillingness to not only pay for first-round draft picks but to develop the few they have in fact kept.

If there is a time and a place to buck that trend, it might be right now with their 2011 selection, Markieff Morris (13th overall pick).

Regardless of the lockout, there is no question Morris hit a rookie wall in February (scored four points or less in 11 of the first 12 games of the month), and his place in Phoenix’s rotation was in doubt during the team’s late-season playoff push.

During his rookie season, Morris struggled to create for himself in the post and preferred to shoot threes or comfortable mid-range jump shots. But where he has an edge over Scola is his knack for finishing above the rim and headiness on the boards. At 6-foot-10, he has the type of frame that makes you believe that with improved low post footwork — which he worked on this off-season with assistant coach Elston Turner — and better touch around the basket, he could be a consistent 12 points and eight rebounds per game kind of contributor.

Look, Morris’ game is still raw at times. He struggles with double teams,  has a tendency to get infatuated with his three-point shot (shot 22 and 30 percent, respectively, from distance in March and April) and can go games where he looks nothing but disinterested.

But if this truly is a transition period for the franchise, now is as good a time as any to see what you have in Morris, not just in Vegas (he averaged 19.8 points and 9.8 rebounds in the 2012 NBA Summer League)  but in Phoenix as well. I’d play him and play him a lot. As I mentioned earlier, having a logjam is not a bad issue for a coach to have. But rotations at this point should be based on development, not on financial obligations. If playing Morris more at power forward forces a guy like Michael Beasley to stay at the three, then so be it.

The incumbent: Channing Frye

First and foremost, any discussion about Frye and his on-court role with this team in 2012-13 is secondary. When dealing with health issues, especially something as serious as dilated cardiomyopathy, making a full recovery is really the only topic worthy of being discussed.

There is no official timetable for his return, and while Frye and the front office believe his season has ended before it even begins, everyone will have a better idea of his progress when he has more tests run in December.

When completely healthy, there are traits to Frye’s game that makes him more of an asset at the position than Scola, Morris or Michael Beasley. His rare combination of length, range and the ability to catch-and-shoot are second to none in the organization. But as was the case for the better part of last season, when Frye’s offense is off, he can at times be a liability.

If he is able to make a full recovery, the ideal role for Frye would seem to be the one he thrived in during his breakout season of 2009-10: an instant scorer off the bench at either the power forward or center position.

The write-in vote: Michael Beasley

Beasley is the ultimate wild card on this team. While it has been discussed ad nauseum on this blog that the former No. 2 overall pick is a better fit at power forward, he landed on a team that has plenty of depth even with the recent news on Frye.

At the time Beasley inked his three-year deal with the Suns, Scola was still with the Rockets and no one knew how long Frye’s shoulder rehabilitation would take. While the latter is still up in the air, the reality is Beasley provides versatility across the front line wherever Gentry decides to put him. If the Suns choose to go small or for a more offensive lineup, then he would seem to be an ideal fit to play at power forward alongside a Scola. But in the mean time, the notion that he will get the majority of his minutes at the four doesn’t seem plausible given the team’s personnel.

While none of these guys will be mistaken for those that now have their names etched in the Ring of Honor, if there is excitement around this new era of Suns basketball, a lot of it should stem from the power forward depth. The position, even after the news of Frye’s heart diagnosis, looks to be a point of strength, something that cannot necessarily be said across the board.


Tags: Channing Frye Luis Scola Markieff Morris Michael Beasley

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