Before I start talking about the Suns, a little news about my favorite NBA team, the Cavaliers. One of the benefits of Thanksgiving break was some free time to watch the Cleveland Cavaliers, especially the Cavs-Warriors game. Mo Williams and Delonte West are making a huge difference to the Cavs. Having extra ball-handlers and shooters frees up Lebron in ways that Eric Snow and Larry Hughes never could. I was also impressed by their unselfishness. When reputed gunners like Wally and Mo are willing to give up nearly open 3's just to pass to Lebron and Danny, respectively, for completely open 3's, something different is going on!
Your random photo accompaniment for today: Shaq figurines/cut-outs and the people who pose with them. Yes, there's a joke about Shaq looking a little stiff nowadays in there somewhere...and yes, even Shaq's cut-out gets more ladies than sports bloggers do, ha.
But I doubt you came here to be drenched with my Cavs-centric drool. In the last five games, the Warriors have scored 100, 111, 97, 125, and 129 points. Those numbers resemble the glory days of the Phoenix Suns, and sound great...except that the Warriors have gone 0-5 during that time span. It was a little sad to see the Warriors players against the Cavs. It was one dribble and shoot, one dribble and shoot, over and over again. Their running game was completely shut down, and so they were unable to execute in the half-court.
Watching the game convinced me that Terry Porter is doing the right thing to go away from the running game in Phoenix. Steve Nash and Amare Stoudamire have been complaining and sighing in the press about the demise of the 7 seconds or less offense. But they are wrong, and Terry Porter is right.
The Suns lack the athletes to run the 7-second-or-less offense anymore. They used to have clear athletic advantages at most positions (Amare Stoudamire, Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson, even Steve Nash is more athletic than you think) over the average NBA team. Those players could run and play major minutes without getting tired. But now, Steve Nash, Grant Hill, and Shaq are old, and the bench is young. The running game isn't a good fit for what this team does best. The team instead has to rely on its new advantage: the big-man pairing of Shaq and Amare.
Shaq has had a disturbing tendency to drift early in the season. But with Terry Porter making him more of a focus offensively, Shaq has been forced to get in shape quickly. He's even doing yoga, of all things. An unhappy Shaq can be a destructive force on any team--just ask the Lakers and Heat. By getting Shaq on board early, Terry Porter is giving himself a better chance at success.
Plus, the Suns will need Shaq's post-up game in the playoffs. The running game is less successful in the playoffs, when no team is coming to Phoenix on the second night of a back-to-back, and teams can focus their preparation on Phoenix. Oh, the Suns should still run when they can. But as I said above, their athletes no longer have the advantage over other teams as they once did.
I believe that Coach Porter will return to the running game more in the coming months. This will satisfy Steve and Amare and make it seem like he's an open-minded coach. But by forcing the Suns to include Shaq in the offense early, he's also made sure that he'll have a motivated, alert Shaq for the whole season. And come play-off time, when the Suns need to get baskets in the half-court, they can go to Shaq in the post. Or, if the Suns are really lucky, Robin Lopez will rapidly improve, leading to the Suns being able to run when Robin is in the game and then going more to a half-court offense when Shaq is in the game. That would be a difficult team to stop. Although I have no idea if Robin will become a decent NBA player, the pairing of Amare and Robin, with Robin playing the hard-working Robin to Amare's high-scoring Batman (sorry, couldn't resist), has a lot of potential.
However, I have to wonder if Terry Porter will have enough time to work his excellent plan of getting the young guys decent playing time and establishing Shaq. Come play-off time, those moves will pay off. But right now, Phoenix is coming off home losses to Miami and New Jersey. The perimeter players and Amare will complain. Shaq's passing will continue to need improvement, and Amare will struggle in the high post. I'm concerned that Terry Porter will be fired before he gets a chance to make his plan work. Is Steve Kerr willing to stand behind his choice? We'll see in the next two months.
By the way, the Suns are merely my team of choice to follow in the 2008-2009 season. For regular Suns content, see the following:
Bright Side of the Sun
Ben's Suns Blog
The Shaq figure pictures that didn't quite make the post.