Will the Suns’ bench be a source of strength?


PHOENIX — For years Suns fans have gotten used to the following routine: the starters build up a big lead, the bench gives it back, the starters try to hang on for the win.

Those were in the days when Mike D’Antoni wanted eight guys who could play and five guys who would be happy not to play, and we all know how thin that strategy left this team.

Although the starters have done the heavy lifting offensively to lead the Suns to their 3-0 start, the bench has been quietly solid at the same time.

If you just looked at the scoring column of the box score you might think otherwise because all five starters have scored in double figures in every game and no bench player has yet to hit that mark.

But if you look a column over at the plus-minus metric you would see that the bench actually outplayed the starters in two of the first three games, and even in the Golden State blowout that the starters dominated, the bench played well also.

Granted Phoenix’s second unit found success against the opposing teams’ second units, but isn’t that what they’re supposed to do?

“Our second unit’s really matching up well against other team’s second units, and that’s a big thing for us,” said Suns guard Steve Nash. “It’s important, especially as we’re trying to figure ourselves out here, they’re playing with energy, athleticism, and a youthfulness that I think adds to any team. It’s exciting to see them go out there and hustle and play well.”

And that’s exactly it. While the Suns’ starting unit is made up of a quintet of 20-point scorers waiting to happen; except for glitzy scorer Leandro Barbosa the bench consists of dirt workers who will rarely score you 20 points but will always dive on the floor for that loose ball and hustle to corral a rebound.

There’s Lou Amundson soaring for blocks from the weak side and rebounding like a maniac, Jared Dudley being in the right place at the right time and Goran Dragic looking much more comfortable leading the charge. There’s also Earl Clark being an athletic defender and eventually Robin Lopez patrolling the paint.

“I just think they’re good players,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “We have a lot of faith in those guys, and … I think all of those guys understand their role and I think they’re very accepting of their role. They know sometimes their minutes might be limited, and we ask them to do a lot of things. We ask them to be our best defensive unit, we ask them to find a way to score, we ask them, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get us back in the game,’ and they’ve kind of responded to all of that.’”

Nash on Dragic

The biggest reason the Suns’ benches have struggled in recent years, and one of the biggest reasons they call Nash “Two Time,” is because of the dropoff in play from Nash to his backup.

Nobody will ever confuse Dragic with Nash, especially with the Suns’ star throwing up a ridiculous 18.7 and 14.0 through three games, but Dragic has at least run the team with confidence when Nash has rested.

While he has only averaged 5.7 and 3.0 in 12.3 minutes per game, the Suns are plus 11 when Dragic plays while Nash rests.

“I think Goran’s improving,” Nash said. “Goran’s got the tools, he just needs the confidence and comfort. I think this year he’s going to struggle at times, but I think you’re going to see big improvement from him, and you’ve got to be patient.

“As he gets more and more patient he’s going to thrive and do some really good things for us. Just a little bit of patience, and as he gets confident he’s making more shots this year and as he just gets a little more confidence with the ball I think he’ll be a real asset for our team.”

This and that from Sunday’s win

  • The Suns became just the sixth team in franchise history to open a season with three straight wins. Besides 2004-05 (there’s that year again!), this was last done in the mid-80s. No Suns team has won more than five games to start a campaign.
  • Phoenix has won its first three conference games for the first time since 1996-97.
  • The Suns have won 11 in a row at US Airways Center, going undefeated since March 12. They are averaging 120.8 points per game during that stretch and have scored at least 100 points in 28 straight home games. The NBA record is 40, set by Golden State from Dec. 2007-08.
  • Channing Frye had only hit multiple three-pointers in a game twice in his first 279 career NBA games, yet he drilled six three balls in each of the Suns’ first two home games. He aims to become the first Phoenix Sun to ever nail six triples in three consecutive games Tuesday in Miami. His transformation into a trey-draining big is truly a sight to behold.

A Nash video breakdown

TrueHoop’s Kevin Arnovitz breaks down Steve Nash’s torrid fourth quarter Wednesday against the Clippers: