The Phoenix Suns will enter the 2011-12 NBA season with a fairly predictable starting lineup and depth chart. Four out of the five positions should be a given with Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Channing Frye and Marcin Gortat the heavy favorites. The one big question mark comes at shooting guard with Jared Dudley and newly acquired Shannon Brown battling it out for a spot.
As the incumbent with the bigger contract Dudley should have the edge. But as he says, you have to earn your spot on the floor.
"For me, you never want anything given to you. You have to work for it," said Jared after practice.
"How I feel is the best person should always play. Sometimes in the NBA it's not like that. There's a lot of politics, a lot of money. People are overpaid or get favored over you. If he deserves to start, he should start."
Shannon Brown brings a different type of game to the Suns back court than Dudley who at one point was considered a power forward.
Brown is one of the best athletes in the league with a reported 44-inch vertical and a long resume of YouTube dunks to his name. According to Coach Alvin Gentry, he also brings toughness and has the potential to be a good back court defender who should be able to handle both speedy points and bigger shooting guards.
Brown, 25, is coming off three seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers where he won two championship rings. He took a one-year deal to come to the Suns in large part because of the style of play.
"Coach Gentry lets his guys play," Brown said. "He doesn't focus on what you can't do, he tries to let you maximize what you can do out there on the court and that's what I'm here to do, to help the team win."
Shannon started last season shooting extremely well and seemed to show flashes of being a better all-around player. He tailed off after the New Year, however, but he has an explanation for that:
"I just turned into a jump shooter. I guess I was so stuck on proving, trying to prove to everybody that I wasn't just a dunker and just an athlete so when my shot wasn't falling I just stuck with it instead of becoming a basketball player. Nothing happened (injury, etc.), I just turned into a jump shooter instead of a basketball player."
The Suns system and Gentry's coaching style should benefit Brown. He'll be encouraged to be aggressive whether he's playing with Steve Nash and the starting unit or off the bench where he can provide a scoring punch.
Dudley has also played well in both a starting and bench role during his time in Phoenix and whichever direction Gentry goes, he's certainly going do what's asked of him.
But that doesn't mean Jared doesn't want the starting job:
"At the end of the day, I believe I'm the right guy to start but it's not about what I believe, it's about when you go out there and play. Obviously, I played well last year at the starting spot and I played well off the bench. I'm someone who's going to be here for awhile. But for me, just personally as an individual, I feel like unless it's an All-Star type player or someone who deserves a spot like J-Rich (Jason Richardson) who's not an All-Star player but is more deserving then you give it to him."
Should the decision between the former Charlotte Bobcat teammates come down to a dunk contest, Brown would seem to have the edge but Dudley wasn't ready to concede that either.
"I think it's going to be about 25-20, me," Jared said when asked who would have more dunks this year.
- "It was good to get out here and smell the court, run, sweat. That's what everybody wanted to do. Everybody wanted to get back. Now the next step is for us to get back in here, chemistry, get off to a good start and get back to the playoffs." -- Jared Dudley
- "He brings athleticism, he brings a spark. He's obviously someone who can get the fans excited. You've got to have those high-flyers just for fans sake, just to change the momentum sometimes." ---Jared Dudley
- "Chemistry is big coming off a bad season with a lot of question marks. Grant, Steve -- another year's tacked on to their career so for us, chemistry is crucial." -- Jared Dudley
- "I'm loving it so far. All my teammates, fans, great owner, everybody's great, so I'm just ready to get out there and play." -- Shannon Brown
- "I do have two championship rings so I was part of that. Hopefully, I can bring some of that and some of that can rub off on the guys." -- Shanon Brown
- "I worked on my game so I can become a great basketball player so whatever they ask me to do, whatever they need me to do I'm going to step in and do it." -- Shannon Brown
- "You definitely need to keep your eyes open and focus on him (Nash) when he has the ball because it can come to you at any time." -- Shannon Brown
In 15 games as a starter last season, Dudley averaged 16.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists. Brown, playing behind Kobe Bryant, didn't start any games last year. He averaged 8.7 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game in 19 minutes off the bench.