Last season, the Phoenix Suns got a solid 20 points and 10 rebounds a game out of the center position. They had a tag team of Robin Lopez — who could defend other true centers plus defend the rim — and three-point specialist Channing Frye.
They shot 56 percent combined and held opposing centers to 50 percent shooting. The production wasn’t All-Star level, but it wasn’t bad. It gave them what they needed, scoring and a defensive presence in the paint.
This season Lopez and Frye are back and… well, um, we’re pretty sure they’re the same guys. The look the same, talk the same. But the production is nowhere near the same, as Paul Coro explains at the Arizona Republic.
Combined, Lopes and Frye:
– have shot 34 percent, worse than any NBA center tandem entering Tuesday except for Minnesota’s Darko Milicic and Anthony Tolliver.
– have taken more shots than two-thirds of the NBA’s center duos.
– are in the bottom 10 for scoring and rebounding – and neither grabs as many rebounds as forward Grant Hill (6.9).
Lopez is now playing less than 20 minutes a game because of his performance. Heck, coach Alvin Gentry rolled out a lineup with Hakim Warrick at center for a while the other night. He’s desperate for anything.
What he needs is the defensive presence in the paint — the Suns are 28th in the league in defensive efficiency. The main problem is rebounding — only one other team in the league gives up a higher percentage of offensive rebounds. The fear of entering the paint against the Suns is not there, and once you’re there help yourself to an offensive rebound or two.
Lopez had back issues last season and they seem to be lingering, if not physically then mentally. He does not look like the same player.
The Suns have a few issues, but right now most of them are on the defensive end. They are issues Lopez in particular but also Frye could help solve. And they had better, or this is going to be a long, dry season in the Valley of the Sun.