(Boulder-CO) For our preview of the Phoenix Suns I have teamed up with Ben York of Ben's Suns Blog for a short Q&A. Below are my questions for Ben with his answers, but you will need bang this link to read my answers to Ben's questions. He runs a great Suns blog so give him a "hit" in preparation for the Suns coming to town.
ND: It's of my opinion that Steve Nash is on the downside of his career. His numbers support my opinion, but can you sway me otherwise?
BSB: Here is my best attempt to sway you....
I will admit there are a few stats that are on a "decline", but his value to the Suns certainly isn't. It's actually a common misconception - he is only averaging 2 less points a game and about 2 less assists per game compared to last season. However, it obviously correlates with less playing time and less shot attempts. Perhaps more importantly, the Suns aren't relying on him to do everything - and that's a good thing. They're success isn't solely dependent upon Nash's play anymore.
The Suns have made a commitment not to run Nash into the ground this year. Why? Because the same old formula didn't work in the playoffs time after time. They made a conscious effort to surround Nash with more playmakers and (attempt) to find him a capable back-up point guard; though it hasn't panned out the way we thought it would with Goran Dragic. The Suns got off to a slow start initially because they completely stopped running.
At that point, anyone in the league could've done Nash's job which, essentially, was dumping the ball into Shaq or Amare. When the Suns realized that wasn't working they adjusted (something D'Antoni never was good at). Now, with the addition of J-Rich giving Nash another Joe Johnson-type player, the Suns have won 6/7 and three in a row - and Nash is creating again getting 11 or more assists in 4 of the last 5 games.
ND: Shaq has been playing, shall we say, better as of recent, but can he hold up during the second half of the season or do you see him grinding down again like in years past?
BSB: Well, I think I speak for every Suns fan in the world and say...I sure as hell hope so. In my opinion, Shaq has truly been the MVP of the Suns this year. In fact, when he scores 15 or more points the Suns are an amazing 21-3. Part of this has to do with the Suns also making a conscious effort to rest Shaq more in that he isn't usually playing two games in a row.
One of my colleagues for the site I wrote for stated that our head athletic trainer, Aaron Nelson, is actually our MVP this year. It's hard to argue against that. He and his staff have kept Nash, Shaq, Grant Hill, and knee-surgery-Amare healthy and active in an up-tempo pace.
If Shaq continues at this pace, I guarantee that no team will overlook the Suns in the playoffs.
ND: Stoudemire is playing more minutes this year than in any other year previously in his career. His numbers are also considerably down from last year too. What do you attribute this to?
BSB: Good question. Based on the way he finished last year, Suns fans pegged him to have an MVP type year this season. He certainly started that way, scoring 49 in the Pacers game and having one of the best games I've ever seen a NBA player play. However, I think his decline correlates with Shaq's production. The more Shaq produces, the less need the Suns have for Amare to be dominant.
Amare has, at times, turned into a complimentary player to Shaq and Nash this year - much different than I expected. However, I don't think we'd be having this discussion if Amare made more of an effort on the defensive end and rebounding. Plenty of players have had to sacrifice their play for the betterment of the team (see Grant Hill) - but I'm not sure Amare is ready to do that based on his comments to the media etc. I do give him credit that he is putting more of an emphasis on rebounding and defending than recent years.
All in all, I think it will just take time for Amare to find his niche in the offense. It's clear that he isn't the focal point we thought he'd be, but we do need his energy and determination to go anywhere in the playoffs.
A big thanks to Ben for the interview!