With the departure of Amare Stoudemire to the New York Knicks, the Phoenix Suns not only lost an explosive power forward, but also the source of the majority of their offense.
I’m not just talking about the 21.4 points per game he averaged over eight years with the Suns, but rather the actual plays that came as a result of Stoudemire. He quickly solidified himself as one of the best pick-and-roll big men in the league, and he and Steve Nash developed a Stockton and Malone-like rapport.
From the Mike D’Antoni days to the current Alvin Gentry clubs, the pick and roll has always been the bread and butter for the Suns. There aren’t many offensive sets in Phoenix — just give it to Nash, send STAT to the perimeter and enjoy a Stoudemire slam, a Nash pull-up jumper or an uncontested three-pointer.
But without Amare, who can the Suns turn to as their roll guy? Who will be the big man to space the floor and keep that balance that allows Nash to do what he does?
With no real conventional power forward on the roster, it’s slim pickings for the Suns. The four players that will play at the four and five spots are Robin Lopez, Hedo Turkoglu, Hakim Warrick and Channing Frye.
Here’s how that quartet, as well as Stoudemire, fared out of the pick-and-roll-man during the 2009-10 season, courtesy of Synergy Sports Technology.
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As you can see above, Turkoglu is out of the equation completely. He could be used in pick-and-pop situations, but will operate with the ball out of the pick and roll instead of working as the screener.
Frye is also a notorious pick-and-pop guy, but he could be of some service as he wasn’t awful shooting two-pointers out of the pick-and-roll, as he connected on 19-of-42 inside the arc.
However, it’s easy to see that the two guys that are going to carry the roll-man duties are Lopez and Warrick. I’ve never thought of Lopez as a huge pick-and-roll threat, but his numbers say otherwise.
Although the sample size is smaller, Lopez was actually more effective out of the pick and roll than Stoudemire. He shot a ridiculous 67.6 percent out of the play and was able to score 67.8 percent of the time.
He’s certainly a load barreling down the paint, and if he can catch in traffic he should be the catalyst for the Suns’ pick and roll. Lopez will need to show a ton of activity as the primary screener, as Turkoglu is going to be on the perimeter more often than not.
After watching him out of the screen and roll it was easy to see how great of a screener he is. Few guards can fight through his picks because of his wide base, but one concern I saw was that he actually rolled the wrong way more often than not.
The idea is to pivot off the foot closest to the basket, but Lopez would do the opposite and kind of get turned around before sprinting toward the cup. But with his long strides and athleticism along with a great point guard in Nash, Lopez was able to find holes in the defense and take advantage.
Here are a few shots of Lopez pick and rolls:
Below Lopez makes Ron Artest look small after a punishing screen. He then gets down the lane before help can slide over and grabs a pass from Jason Richardson that he gives a home with the left hand.
The majority of Lopez’s points out of the pick and roll were a lot like this, with the defense not sliding over in time and Nash or a teammate finding the big target for a dunk or easy layup. But even when the defense puts a body on Lopez, he’s such a load that it still is hard to stop.
Below you can see Lopez sets the screen and simply seals off the smaller defender and takes him right into the middle of the paint where they could do nothing but foul the seven-footer.
There’s no doubt he’s a strong finisher, as he shot 68.2 percent at the rim last season according to Hoopdata.com. Lopez does however lack the jump shot necessary for a lot of good pick and roll guys, but with four other shooters on the floor it isn’t an issue.
He does still need to polish off his post moves, because if he is met far out in the paint he needs a go-to move he can count on, which he lacks at this stage of his career. But all in all Lopez could at least partially fill the void STAT left.
Warrick will likely play a similar role for the bench unit. Frye will be like Turkoglu, living on the perimeter as Warrick works as the main pick and roll guy. As I wrote a little less than a month ago, Warrick is a very good screen and roll player because of his ability to finish at the rim along with his athleticism (he shot a ridiculous 73 percent at the rim with the Grizzlies in 2008).
He also has an above-average mid-range jump shot for a big man, which gives the Suns another element out of the pick and roll that Lopez doesn’t offer. But without a real traditional big man outside of Lopez, the Suns don’t exactly need shooters, they are hurting for someone to keep the floor spaced while knifing down the lane.
Lopez has the tools and will get the chance, but the fact of the matter is, none of these guys are Amare Stoudemire, and the Suns’ bread and butter is taking a significant hit. Lopez isn’t exactly comfortable as the lead screen and roll guy, and Warrick most likely won’t play enough minutes to emerge as the go-to roll man.
With that said, I would expect to see some different sets and variations from head coach Alvin Gentry to utilize the talent that he has. More back cuts, flare screens, pick and pops, dribble hand-offs and things of that nature to keep the flow of the offense.
Lopez and Warrick may do a nice job patching up the hole Stoudemire leaves in the pick and roll game, but the offense certainly won’t be the same because of it. Nash won’t have as much freedom to operate and the Suns will be forced onto the perimeter more than ever.
If you think they settled for jump shots too much last year, just wait. But if I’ve learned anything from watching the Suns the last couple of years, it’s this: With Nash as your point guard, you’re going to thrive offensively. The Nash Effect will certainly run its course, but the fact of the matter is, the Suns are missing a consistent roll man and it should show from time to time next season.