The Phoenix Suns in the past two months have completed an immensely difficult task; transitioning from the old guard to the new guard without a hitch. For the past five seasons Steve Nash was clearly the best player on the Suns, but over the past two months Amar’e Stoudemire has ascended to the captain chair and the two time MVP has taken a back seat.
For teams to truly be successful everyone needs to know who the best player on the team is. This is why the Lakers did not win more championships with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, the Boston Celtics are having issues identifying the #1 dog between Garnett, Pierce and Rondo, and the best current example of this is the Denver Nuggets.
I watched the entire Nuggets-Knicks game Tuesday night and the dynamic between Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony is a big reason Denver will not win a NBA Championship unless it is resolved. With Carmelo exploding in the 3rd quarter against NY there are still possessions when “Mr. Big Shot” comes down and fires up a contested three pointer with 18 seconds left on the shot clock (there is not one player in the league who gets more passes on shots like this than Billups). This is inexcusable – when Melo is going off he needs to touch the ball every single time down the court because he is the best player on the team.
The Phoenix Suns do not have this problem. Steve Nash, a player whose pedigree in the NBA is matched by few, has no issue taking a ride on the STAT Express.
“Well I think it’s a long time coming I’m thankful to have somebody to go to,” said Nash after practice Wednesday. “I think it improves our team. A big guy should be, in the game of basketball, should be a number one option. I think it’s great that we can go to him down the stretch and I think it gives us more options and obviously his abilities are fantastic.”
Most players who have accomplished what Nash has and are still playing at a high level would object to being moved to second fiddle. Just as important as Amar’e bringing it every night for the past two month is Nash accepting his role as facilitator down the stretch of games while the offense runs through Stoudemire in the post.
Coach Alvin Gentry, doing his best politician impression, still won’t admit the Suns have become Stoudemire’s team.
“Steve is still the leader of our team from the standpoint of running our team and putting all the guys in situations to be successful,” Gentry added. “We’ve been able to go to Amar’e at the end of games the last four/five games and he comes through for us.”
Let’s pick apart what Gentry actually meant. Nash’s role on the team is still important, he is the smartest player on the team who directs the offense and gets everyone where they are supposed to be. When it is winning time, however, the ball goes to Stoudemire. No more pick and rolls, Amar’e gets the ball on the block and we let him go to work.
With Stoudemire’s transformation from talented player who could be better to being the second most dominant player (Anyone who says he is the best pipe down, a half human/half robot named LeBron James is levels above the rest of the league) in the NBA over the past month and a half, expectations on Planet Orange have been raised. No longer is a playoff berth with a first round exit acceptable.
The Suns need to win their first round series and be competitive (my definition of competitive is a six or seven game series) in their second round match up with the Lakers/Nuggets/Mavericks. Phoenix should take a back seat to no one, those are all beatable teams. The Lakers have the opposite problem of the Nuggets; a star player who, as much as he tries, deep down does not truly trust his teammates and can still fall victim to bad habits. The Nuggets are missing their best defensive player in Kenyon Martin and have alpha dog problems. As much as I love the Mavericks, you have to remember they are still learning how to play with each other. There is no reason for the Suns to concede a series to any of these teams; they should play with confidence and believe they can win.
By the way one of my editors (Adam Green) has informed me “The Jump” is a title for a segment on NBA.com, so I have switched the title to my NBA articles to “Center Court” (wow I am pathetically uncreative).
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