PHOENIX — For the Phoenix Suns’ offense to work effectively, spacing has to be near perfect.
Over the past six years, the Suns’ pick-and-roll offense created that spacing as Amare Stoudemire sucked in the defense with his ferocious dives, which in turn led to a barrage of three-pointers.
If STAT wasn’t making posters, Channing Frye, Jared Dudley or Jason Richardson were drilling threes.
But without that consistent pick-and-roll threat this season, the Suns’ offense is a shell of its former self.
Before the ugly Cavaliers win they went four straight games without cracking the century mark — for the first time since December 2005 — and Steve Nash had little room to operate as the Suns jacked up contested jump shots.
That lack of spacing and success offensively led Alvin Gentry back to the film room to see how the Suns were successful offensively in the first quarter of the season. He came up with one answer: Hakim Warrick.
“I went back and looked at all the games when we’ve been successful and played pretty good and he’s had pretty good numbers,” Gentry said of Warrick. “I think we’ve got to get him back in the rotation and as I said play some consistent minutes with people and not have it go up and down and fluctuate.”
Early in the season Warrick appeared to be the answer to Phoenix’s pick-and-roll problems. He tore down the rim a la Amare and proved to possess a true knack for knifing into the lane and punishing defenders. He scored 18 points and grabbed 11 boards in his second game as a Sun, posterizing Paul Millsap along the way.
Warrick went on to average 13.4 points per game on 55.0 percent shooting in 26.4 minutes in November, including games with 25, 23, 21, 19, 18, 15 and 16. The 6-foot-9 forward was playing so well that he earned a start against the Nuggets on Nov. 28. The Suns lost 138-133, however, and Warrick found his way to the bench due to concerns with energy, defense and rebounding.
Since his one and only start of the season, he’s averaging only 15.3 minutes per game (12.7 in January) including two DNP-CDs. When Robin Lopez was out with a knee injury, the Suns needed defense and rebounding, not a one-dimensional pick-and-roll specialist.
“I think just at times we probably needed a little more defense, rebounding, hustle at that position, and we find a way to score we just need a little bit more of a presence at times,” Nash said of why Warrick fell out of the rotation.
But now that the Suns have Lopez healthy, and a defense and rebounding specialist behind him in Marcin Gortat, Warrick should see more time at the power forward spot. As he showed early in the season, he’s clearly capable of thriving out of the pick and roll while opening avenues for Nash and triples for spot-up shooters.
“I just think that, that presence of being able to suck the weak side in, that leaves our shooters open and just to have somebody that can finish at the basket,” Gentry said after he inserted Warrick into the lineup with 3:38 left in the Cavs game and the Suns up 95-94 in hopes of doing just that.
Warrick scored four points as the Suns went on a 13-6 run to close out the game. Although he’s bad defensively and an incapable rebounder, Warrick needs to be on the floor more often to give the Suns’ offense a threat inside.
“Well we don’t have any fours, so if Hakim plays well it gives us a four and it gives our team balance,” Nash said. “When he comes and plays with energy, he makes up for his lack of size and can really be a huge factor.”
In wins, Warrick averages 12.8 points per game in 22.1 minutes, while in losses he scores only 9.1 points per game in 20.5 minutes. He brings that ability to finish that Gentry talked about as he ranks sixth in the NBA in field goal percentage at the rim (76.0 percent) for players who attempt two or more shots at the rim per game.
To put that in perspective, the numbers say he’s a better finisher than Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Carlos Boozer, Lamar Odom, Paul Milsap and other notable big men. He also ranks No. 1 in the NBA in points per possession out of the pick and roll, with 1.38 PPP and a 72.5 field goal percentage.
Warrick said Sunday night that it’s been tough for him over the past few months moving in and out of the rotation, but he remains confident in what he can bring to the table. He admitted that it was a lack of consistency, energy and defense and rebounding that kept him out of the lineup for so long.
But Gentry vowed to find him more minutes, and if he can stay energized and at least be decent defensively, the Suns can return to form offensively.
A Warrick/Stoudemire comparison from earlier in the season