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Without Channing Frye, Phoenix Suns need 'collective effort' to space floor
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Without Channing Frye, Phoenix Suns need ‘collective effort’ to space floor

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — For as many point guards as the Phoenix Suns have on the roster -— they have four, by the way — it will matter little if they are unable to do their job.

That is finding the open shooter through passing lanes and dribble penetration — all of which requires good spacing.

How the Suns spread the floor this season in the absence of Channing Frye is one of the bigger questions here in training camp.

“I think it’s going to be a collective (effort), all of us coming together and picking up that slack,” forward P.J. Tucker said.

“We have options,” added head coach Jeff Hornacek.

The No. 1 option is Markieff Morris, who finished fourth in NBA Sixth Man of the Year voting last season.

When Frye signed a four-year, $32 million dollar free agent contract with the Orlando Magic, Morris immediately became the top frontline choice to fill that starting void: A big that could post-up and hit the outside shot, bringing his defender out of the paint.

“The biggest thing,” Hornacek said, “is we don’t want him to come in here thinking, ‘okay, I’m going to try to replace Channing and just shoot threes.’ We like what he does inside with post-ups. He’s very good inside. He’s a very good passer, so if we can hit him on the roll more and let him make a play, we can do that. He’s still going to shoot some threes, but he won’t fall in love with them. He knows his strengths now.”

Morris shot a career-low 31.5 percent from three-point range last season. But then again, that was not what he was asked to do and thus attempted only 108 shots from beyond the arc, seventh-fewest on the team.

Without Frye, Morris expects the three-ball to be in his arsenal more and worked on the shot in the offseason.

“I’ve just got to know when my spots,” said Morris, coming off a year in which he averaged career-highs in points (13.8), rebounds (6.0) and assists (1.8) while shooting 48.6 percent. “With those guys, Goran (Dragic) and E-Bled (Eric Bledsoe), trying to bring the defense down with the dribble I need to spread the floor to give them more space. And if I’m running the fast break and I get down there early, just post-up. It’s real simple, really.”

He’s also expected to slide over to center — another Frye role — on occasion “in case we need to speed it up” according to Morris, who believes his quickness gives him an advantage against some of those bigger bodies in the low post.

At 6-foot-8, Anthony Tolliver’s size does not make him an ideal fit at power forward, but his length gives the Suns another candidate at that position.

Tolliver was signed over the summer as an unrestricted free agent following a season where he shot a career-best 41.3 percent from three with the Charlotte Bobcats.

“He gets an open shot, it’s money,” Hornacek said.

Tolliver, a six-year veteran, instantly impressed his new teammates during voluntary workouts and now in camp.

“I’ve always known he could shoot. I just didn’t know he could shoot that well,” shooting guard Gerald Green said. “When he comes into the game, the floor is really going to be spaced out with him because he’s just a knock-down three-point shooter like C-Frye was.”

Tolliver said he’s always liked the Suns’ offensive system “from afar and really admired and knew that I felt like I could really excel in this environment. The instant I saw that (Frye) left I called my agent and said, ‘let’s get this thing done’ because I knew that would be a really good fit.”

Playing the four, he said, comes naturally, hearkening back to his earlier days with Golden State and Minnesota.

Tolliver is not just a spot-up shooter, but has the ability to drive and create his own shot either off the dribble or moving without the ball.

“Coming off the screen and (the point guards) being able to make that pass, whatever that pass may be,” he said. “It’s definitely boding well for me and I think that’s a big reason why I am shooting it so well is because I’m getting a lot of open shots.”

A third option to help spread the floor is Marcus Morris.

Like Tolliver, Morris’ size (6-foot-9) makes him better suited to play small forward, but could see some playing time at power forward.

“I’ve always been a good three-point shooter anyways,” he said, alluding to his career-mark of 36.7 percent. “I’m just trying to become more consistent with my shot. There have been times I go through slumps. I’m trying to get out of that.”

Of course, shooting threes is not the be-all and end-all.

The Suns shot the fourth-most among teams last season, trailing playoff teams Houston, Atlanta and Portland.

“We can’t fall in love with threes,” Hornacek said. “We still want to shoot them and get them, but if we’re better doing something different (spacing), we’ll do something different.”