It might seem counter-intuitive to be talking about the Suns offense when the team just got done giving up 183 points (give or take) to the NBA's 23rd best scoring team, the Philadelphia 76ers. But in Phoenix, that's just how we roll. Offense is the best defense, as the cliche goes. When you are scoring the ball, you have time to get back and when you are putting up points, you don't have to worry quite so much about stopping them other fellers.
The Suns believe that and so do the Arizona Diamondbacks and Arizona Cardinals. Home runs galore for the Snakes and a football team that insisted on trying to pass the ball all the time despite having Manny, Moe and Fred on their quarterbacks depth chart.
Great offense plus mediocre defense equals success in the desert. Unfortunately, the defense has a LONG way to go before it sniffs mediocrity, but that's a topic for another day.
Of course, for that formula to work, it also needs the offense to be great and, for the Suns, that's revolved around Steve Nash and his ability to handle the ball, get into the lane and make shit happen. Pick-and-roll or drive and kick -- that's how the Suns scored so efficiently over the years.
And while Nash is the engine that makes that machine go, the unsung hero has been the tires that carry the load. Or is it the windows that let you see? Or maybe the satellite navigation system that helps you find your way?
And regardless of the cheesy metaphor, we mean the floor spacing.
For the Suns' "Nash System" to work on offense, the floor has to be spaced and that means there can only be one big man in the lane who doesn't have decent range. Four shooters surrounding one big man in the paint is a classic NBA alignment, but for the Suns, that "big man" has been Steve Nash. He's the one who needs the painted area relatively free so he can do his best work.
Last year, Phoenix reached its offensive pinnacle with Amare Stoudemire being able to both space the floor for Robin Lopez and, of course, play in the paint with Steve Nash when Channing Frye was in the game.
This principle even extended to the second unit last season where Lou Amundson was the only big on the floor who couldn't shoot (and boy, could he not shoot). That left the lane open for Dragic to penetrate and find the open man -- either Lou in the paint, where he would occasionally hang on to the pass and finish, or a shooter spotted up at the arc.
It wasn't Nash/Amare, but it worked because Dragic can get into the lane and make shit happen, too.
But when Amare blew out of town like a high-priced tumbleweed, it turned out that it wasn't his pick-and-roll finishing abilities that were most missed. It was his ability to both space the floor for Lopez AND finish on the pick-and-roll that left the big hole big enough to drive Robin Lopez's hair through.
The Suns tried to replace that with two guys who each could do one of those things.
Hakim Warrick can finish the hell out of the pick-and-roll, but can't space his way out of a paper bag. Hedo Turkoglu created more space than a chaperon at a Catholic prep school dance, but couldn't roll down a hill if he was laying on his side and given a big shove. And those two combined to make Amare look like the love child of Kevin Love and Joakim Noah on the defensive and rebounding parts of the game.
Now the Suns have given up on the Hedo as a power forward and gone in a more conventional direction by bringing in another space-eating big man in Marcin Gortat. But that leaves the team with a problem that threatens the entire offensive way of life known as "Steve Nash."
Instead of having two bigs who can spread the floor (Amare and Frye, or Hedo and Frye), the Suns now have three bigs who can't space the floor (Lopez, Gortat and Warrick) and only one who can (Frye).
As we've seen already, Nash can make any of those three bigs look good as long as Frye is on the court camped out at the three point line. But Frye can't play 48 minutes, so what happens when he goes to the bench?
The answer is the second unit sputters and stalls like Hedo Turkoglu rolling down a hill while tied to a chaperon at a Catholic prep school dance.
In response, the Suns in Wednesday's game against the 76ers, for the first time, changed their offensive system from a drive and kick to a more motion-oriented game that relied on guys curling off screens for shots or trying to create from the wings in isolation. Dragic was left hanging out like a dead appendix dangling off a chaperon at a Catholic prep school dance ... and about as useful.
The Suns can probably survive that, assuming the defense improves, but where does that leave things if Channing Frye were to miss a game or more due to injury? It would get ugly and fast.
It would be extremely difficult for the Suns offense as we know it to function with Warrick on the floor for big minutes with either Gortat or Lopez, unless Hakim suddenly developed a reliable 18-foot shot.
Even when Frye is on the court, his ability to hit three-point shots keeps the defense from collapsing into the paint. There have been games the Suns lost when those outside shots were open and simply missed. That's kind of how outside shooting works. Those missed shots allow the opposing defense to pack the paint and keep Nash from going all Nash on them.
And if you are into stats to prove a point, it turns out that when Frye scores over 15 points, the Suns are 6-1. When he scores under 15 points, they are 7-15. So put that in your stat pipe and smoke it.
That, my friends, is why Channing Frye is the key to the entire Suns offense. He's the guy that starts the engine.