Despite missing two-time MVP, team captain, spiritual advisor, and auteur Steve Nash, the Phoenix Suns rallied to beat the streaking Oklahoma City Thunder last night. Goran Dragic had 16 points and 10 assists (albeit with six turnovers) in his second ever start, as he continues to convert his critics into true believers.
Dragic stands to benefit greatly from performances like these, which essentially act as a test-run for his future gig as a starting point guard with Phoenix or otherwise. But the man who benefits most from Nash’s absence is not Dragic, despite the opportunity to showcase his skills. It’s not Alvin Gentry, who could prove that the system is not totally dependent on Steve Nash. It’s Amar’e Stoudemire, free agent in the class of 2010 and still questioned All-Star.
Stoudemire has been with Phoenix for his entire career, but his greatest successes have come in fast breaking offenses with a Hall-of-Fame point guard at the helm. As any big man in the NBA will tell you that’s quite the set up, and though Amar’e’s talent isn’t at all questionable, one can’t help but wonder just how effective he’ll be when taken out of his more or less ideal circumstances in Phoenix.
Nights like last night go a long way toward not only earning Stoudemire respect, but likely earning him a few extra dollars on the free agent market this summer as well. Stoudemire totaled 30 points and nine rebounds on 60% shooting against a top five defense, all while playing with a decent point guard who, while effective, is decidedly not Steve Nash. Amar’e won’t have any opportunities to prove what he can do in a slower system, but big performances like Stoudemire’s showing last night will go a long way towards emphatically proving his versatility and offensive independence.