PHOENIX — Imagine that, at the start of the season, the Phoenix Suns wanted to play without a traditional center.
How a coaching change and 19 games will change the outlook of a team.
Beginning Wednesday when the Suns welcome back former point guard Eric Bledsoe and the Milwaukee Bucks, they’ll be figuring out how to utilize the three centers they have on the roster.
Tyson Chandler practiced once again Tuesday and will join Greg Monroe and Alex Len as options in the middle for coach Jay Triano.
“I’m going to look at it like a luxury,” the interim coach said Tuesday, adding he didn’t know how he’ll manage the rotation. “A large part of that will be based on what I think we need; whether we need a defensive player, whether I think we need to have movement offensively or somebody we can throw the ball into the post.”
Len, who has backed up both Chandler and Monroe, is two games removed from a 17-point, 18-rebound performance against Los Angeles, but he and Chandler are somewhat redundant. Both are top-20 rebounders by rate, but neither has exceptionally aided the defense outside of altering shots at the rim.
Len scores close to 18 points per 36 minutes to Chandler’s 13, but his inability to create gravity, forcing defenses to collapse, makes the older Chandler a comparable offensive option off pick-and-rolls. Chandler is still the better finisher around the rim, though it’s arguable Len has proven more capable of getting open in more ways than catching lobs.
Monroe is the wild card in all this.
Since being traded from the Bucks and then recovering from a calf injury that kept him out of action a week into his Suns tenure, he started the last three games.
Monroe gave the Suns a new dimension on offense, averaging 12 points per game while posing a unique threat in the post. His ability to face the basket and pass out of the high post has already created problems for opponents covering cutters like T.J. Warren and Marquese Chriss early on.
“I know I’m a willing passer,” Monroe said. “It’s just about learning these guys, and how they move, what reads they make, when they cut and just making sure if it’s my time to move the ball, get it to them on time, on target. If I’m screening and rolling, just making sure I present myself; if they’re driving, get into the right position.”
Monroe can also spot up, or use one dribble and his wide shoulders to get off hook shots in traffic despite his below-the-rim style.
“He’s a wide body, he sets good screens, a good DHO (dribble hand-off option),” Triano said.
Has it been coincidence that Monroe’s presence has led to the Suns tallying impressive assist totals of 28, 28 and 32 in their last three games, respectively?
He and the improved play of point guards Tyler Ulis and Mike James are certainly a part of it.
Phoenix’s current starting lineup has put together an even net rating through 35 minutes played together, not to mention an offense that has posted assists on 72 percent of its made field goals.
Regarding the center rotation moving forward, how Triano manages the pros and cons of his options remains to be seen.
But the longer Monroe gets accustomed to Phoenix’s offense, and the longer the Suns hold off on any trades involving their big men, the more interesting the center position gets.
GIANNIS ON DECK
Eric Bledsoe’s return will be the thing to watch for Suns fans opinionated over his time in Phoenix and departure from the Suns.
But basketball fans conscious of the NBA world outside the Valley will surely have their eyes on the 6-foot-11 Giannis Antetokounmpo, an MVP candidate who is averaging 29.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.9 blocks and 4.4 assists per game.
“He’s chasing greatness,” said Monroe, who played the last season-plus with the 22-year-old. “He attacks everything he does. If I could describe the mentality he has, as you see when he’s on the court in games, he attacks with that same tenacity, that same force.
“Everything is crazy when it comes to him, honestly,” Monroe added. “It’s funny because it kind of becomes normal. Crazy just becomes the norm, and it’s just like, yup, that’s just Giannis.”
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