The Suns’ offense should be elite again


Whenever the Suns have struggled offensively this preseason, head coach Alvin Gentry has had just one thing to say, “Don’t worry about it.”

Feel free to worry about interior depth, rebounding or anything to do with defense, but once they become the best-conditioned team in the NBA as Gentry expects them to be, offense should not be anywhere near that list of concerns.

Not with the man whose teams have led the NBA in offensive efficiency for seemingly the last decade at point guard, not with a seemingly healthy Amare Stoudemire in a contract year and not with a slew of high-level scorers such as J-Rich, LB, Grant Hill and Channing Frye lining the roster.

It’s amazing to think that the second half Suns without arguably their most potent offensive player in Amare averaged about 120 points per 100 possessions last year, scoring at a blistering pace even as they had to slow down the tempo for the Big Witness, as he wants to be called now.

Without Shaq, “It’s going to make us play faster, it’s going to make us shoot more from long range,” said David Griffin, the Suns’ senior VP of basketball operations. “This team is better suited to do that than any team we’ve had in a really long time. I don’t know how you would guard us right now. It’s not going to be easy.”

The Suns now plan to push, push and push the tempo some more, as we saw Saturday against Golden State when Grant Hill looked like Shawn Marion getting ahead of the pack for four fastbreak layups.

Especially now without Robin Lopez, it’s fascinating the kind of lineups the Suns can roll out (fascinating offensively at least). The Suns will always be surrounding Amare with shooters, making them dangerous whenever a team doubles STAT in the post or helps on the Nash-Amare pick-and-roll.

Then there’s the small lineup of Nash-LB-Richardson, and if opponents always struggled with Nash-LB-Bell, how will they handle this trio in a completely up-tempo game?

That is, if J-Rich becomes the player the Suns expected to acquire when they pulled the trigger on that deal with the Bobcats in December.

Steve Kerr defended the trade originally by saying basically he’d rather overpay a major contributor like Richardson than a guy sitting on the bench in Diaw. The reasoning made sense at the time, but then J-Rich went out and played like a fourth option instead of the elite scorer he was acquired to be.

This is a guy who three times has averaged over 21 ppg yet averaged just 16.4 ppg in Phoenix. His league-leading three-point field goal percentage numbers went down quickly upon his arrival in the desert, and all in all he was known more for defensive blunders in the final seconds and dunks blocked by LeBron James than for being a force on the offensive end. That’s not to mention a pair of driving-related arrests.

“It was tough last year,” Richardson said. “For the first time in my career I wasn’t the man. I wasn’t the guy getting the ball, I wasn’t the guy taking 20 shots a game. It was hard because I had to adjust to that situation, and sometimes I kind of was timid about my situation, but this year coming in I know that they need me to be that slasher, that scorer, going out there and just being my normal self.

“It was a mental thing. You knew Shaq was getting his touches, you knew Amare was getting his touches and then you have Steve and then you have Grant, so it was kind of, you know I didn’t want to come in, be that new guy, ‘Oh, I’m going to take all the shots.’ I didn’t want to step on nobody’s toes, but those guys, we’re all just worried about winning now, so it’s just going out there and playing ball.”

Now J-Rich won’t have to adjust on the fly. He had three-quarters of a season to get acclimated to his new teammates, plus all the summer workouts this team put in. He knows what’s expected of him, and God willing he’ll even play a bit of defense this season up to the capabilities of his vast athletic gifts.

He could be a nice fit defensively as well as offensively in the three-guard lineup, as ESPN’s John Hollinger thinks he’s better off at the three on D anyway. Most importantly, J-Rich more than anyone will benefit from the team’s commitment to doing what it did during the D’Antoni years.

The reason I loved the J-Rich trade in the first place so much is because Phoenix Suns basketball is what he does. He’s made for this system as much as any wing in the league is made for playing with Steve Nash.

“I love that style,” J-Rich said. “That fits my game. I’m a guy that gets to the basket, up and down, the fastbreak dunks, early transition threes, so it definitely fits my style. Everybody on our team just fits that style and that system.”

Indeed, it does fit everybody’s game, unlike last year.

Say what you will about the Suns’ deficiencies — and frankly, there’s plenty to say — but this team knew what it would be a month and a half before training camp started, whereas we’re still awaiting the autopsy results to determine what exactly the 2008-09 Suns were.

“It’s very exciting knowing that we’re going to run like we used to run,” Barbosa said. “That’s how the Suns play, and I’m very happy that Alvin is the coach. He knows what we like, he knows that kind of style of game, so I think it’s going to be good.

“We have so many guns on the team that we don’t have to worry about the offense.”

Now about that defense …..

Check out some exclusive ValleyoftheSuns player interviews from Media Day: