Where does Phoenix turn without Grant Hill?


On a roster that requires every point, rebound — every contribution really — because of its lack of star power, the loss of Phoenix Suns forward Grant Hill to a knee injury is painful for Alvin Gentry’s team as it eyes the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff race.

For you fantasy basketball players, here’s one analogy to statistically compare the loss of Hill to: I won my fantasy basketball league regular season (impressive, I know) partially because of guys like Dwight Howard and Josh Smith, who can make up for my mid-level players’ bad nights and then some with two or three combined explosions per week.

Without those statistical stars, mid-level statistical contributions become much more magnified. Such is the case with this real-life Suns team.

With no explosive scorer on the team and with the PER ratings taking a steep drop-off after Steve Nash and Marcin Gortat, Hill’s averages of 10.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game in 29.2 minutes played are that much more important. Instead of icing on the cake those numbers would’ve been when Amar’e Stoudemire or even Jason Richardson were still around, they’re an absolute necessity for this year’s team.

Now, for at least a couple weeks if not the entire season, those numbers are gone.

Add in Hill’s leadership capabilities, and his knee injury might be the final blow to Phoenix’s playoff hopes.

“Obviously Grant is not going to be able to play for a couple of weeks at least,” Gentry said. “At the end of the day somebody’s going to have to step in and pick up where he left off. We’re still trying to battle and stay in this playoff race. Somebody is obviously going to have to elevate their game.”

How will Gentry and the Suns make up for the loss of their co-captain?

Shannon Brown slides into a starting spot

The first and most obvious difference in Hill’s absence is the induction of Shannon Brown into the Suns’ starting lineup. Averaging 21.6 minutes on the year, his minutes have shot up to 42 and 38 in the two games where Hill has been out. That’s taken about 20 minutes of Hill’s 30 minutes, and Brown has not looked all that bad playing with the starting unit. He’s appeared less apt to force shots and when the ball has gone through him, he hasn’t disrupted the flow of the offense as one might have expected.

But while Brown has proven he can easily make up the 10 points per game and fit into the offense better than expected, the change-up still puts Phoenix in a defensive bind, purely from the standpoint that Brown is playing two guard and effectively shifting Jared Dudley to the small forward slot.

“In the San Antonio game, I thought Shannon did a great job,” Gentry said Friday. “What (moving Brown to the starting lineup) does is, it takes away some of the flexibility we have from a defensive standpoint.”

Josh Childress could again have a role

The Josh Childress project is really turning into a real-life trilogy of Jurassic Park. Time and time again, the Suns keep resurrecting the gritty small forward from the bench with a sense of promise, only for them to eventually realize it’s not going to work out (I think that comparison fits for both the storyline of the series and also the cinematic worth of the films, but I digress).

This time, they have little choice.

Essentially, the loss of Hill hurts because where Brown could be used, like Hill, to defend point guards that Nash couldn’t handle, Phoenix still doesn’t have a great option to stop lengthy small forwards like Kevin Durant or Rudy Gay, or any perimeter power forwards. If the Suns need two defensive stoppers on the floor at the same time, the duo of the 6-foot-8 Childress and Dudley becomes the only option.

Ronnie Price by default

Sebastian Telfair has a firm grasp on the backup point guard role, but Ronnie Price still has some value on the roster. Brown’s move to the starting lineup exhausts Phoenix’s backup two guard rotation, making Price the immediate candidate to fill in his slot in the second unit so long as the opposition doesn’t have too much size at the position.

Price played 10 and 12 minutes in the past two games after being almost an afterthought in the rotation, and Gentry backed up Price’s role by throwing out his name on Friday as someone who will receive more minutes.

Where does Michael Redd fit in?

Michael Redd was regularly coming into the game with the second unit as the small forward, but Gentry made no mention of increasing his minutes following the injury to Hill. His minutes didn’t take a bump in the two most recent games either, and with the Suns appearing more concerned with their defensive deficiencies after taking the bad news, Redd probably won’t see more than his usual 13 to 14 minutes per game.

Then again, if Childress is too much of an offensive liability and defenses let him float on the perimeter so they can sink into the paint, there’s always the possibility Gentry roles the dice with the veteran scorer — especially if the Suns fall completely out of the playoff race.