Spurs vs. Suns Positional Breakdown
By Michael De Leon, Jeff Garcia, Jordan Rivas and Shawn Kirsch
Point Guard: This is probably one of the better matchups of this series with two top 5 point guards battling it out. Tony Parker ended the season with Nash-like numbers, including a 32 point, 11 assist outing against Sacramento and 24 points and 12 assists against Utah. In April, after coming back from injury, he averaged just over 20 points and 7 assists per game. It’s no secret that Parker is one of the best at getting to the rim and with his assist numbers rising, look for him to attack the Suns defense and either try to get to the basket or dish the ball out t an open player once he draws the defense in. Steve Nash is arguably the best point in the league, who always looks to pass, but doesn’t look to miss many of his shots. However, I doubt Nash can stay with Parker and I think Parker can adapt to whatever the Suns throw at him. He’s used to working in a half-court offense, which the Suns are adopting a bit, but if they decide to speed up the tempo, look for Parker to attack the basket in fast break situations, often blowing by two to three Suns defenders. Slight edge goes to Parker.
Shooting Guard: After winning his first title with the Spurs last year, Finley will know what it takes to get to the Finals. We know he will bring it mentally but can he bring it on the floor? His shooting touch has been coming and going and he will have to hit the shots to open up the middle for Duncan to do his work. Another problem will be his work on the defensive end. Not know for stellar defense, Finley will have to dig in his "spurs" (pun intended) and at least show an effort. Raja Bell is tough and not afraid to mix it up (ask Kobe's neck when Bell clotheslined him), plays defense and can hit outside shots. But for much of his toughness, he can lose his mind and make stupid fouls. Though he will most likely be there to guard Manu, he does prove a handful for the Spurs, especially when the Spurs are on offense. He will disrupt the Spurs offensive flow. Edge: Suns.
Small Forward: There have been essentially two personnel moves that have defined, and will define, the Phoenix Suns this season, both of which affect their match-up with the Spurs at small forward. The first came in the offseason when Phoenix decided not to retain the services of veteran forward Kurt Thomas. Instead, they went out and spent the cash to acquire Grant Hill, which at the time was a highly touted move that catapulted Phoenix to the top of conference power rankings. Mistake number one. Second, Phoenix decided to trade Shawn Marion to Miami mid-season in exchange for Shaquille O'Neal – once again, a blockbuster move that made headlines and forced every overeager idiot with a keyboard to pull out their crystal ball and project Phoenix where they didn't belong. Mistake deuce.
Bottom line: Kurt Thomas was a tremendous defender and asset against Tim Duncan, which the Suns no longer have. Instead they have Grant Hill who, with respect to his offensive skills and career as a whole, couldn't defend against a really slow moving rock. Typically the Suns would use Shawn Marion to guard a Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker (it should go without saying that Bruce Bowen doesn't come into the equation offensively), now the Suns are without one of the better perimeter defenders in the league. On the flip side Grant Hill will be moderately effective at best being defended by Bowen. Depending on how much time Bowen spends guarding Hill, he may be neutralized all together. Regardless, because of the problems Phoenix is going to have defending San Antonio's wing players, the Spurs win this match-up easily.
Power Forward: Although he hasn’t put up the best numbers over the past month, I think Duncan will be ready to go for the playoffs. He’ll have his work cut out for him in the first round, drawing Amare Stoudamire. Stoudamire is athletic to boot and will put up a lot of points, but he has a tendency to get into early foul trouble and he’s a hot head. Both which can be detrimental to the Suns. On the defensive end, Stoudamire can block and rebound, but he hasn’t shown me much against Duncan. When Shaq isn’t covering him, I can’t see Duncan having any problems scoring. With his improved free throw shooting, Duncan’s only major flaw that I can see being a problem is his tendency to sometime keep the ball in the post too long when he is well defended instead of passing it out and reposting. He’s also had his share of turnovers with layers taking swipes at the ball when he holds it too low, but if Duncan comes out playing the way he can, Spurs have the edge.
Center: Shaq, despite his age and inconsistency, still has beastly potential, which, combined with his motivation to spite the Heat, gives him a definite edge against the Spurs big men. Popovich likes to keep us on edge with his 5 spot. We really don't know who will start against Shaq, though I suspect it will be the more physical Thomas over Oberto. Either way, Pop is likely to use a 3 man rotation on Shaq, none spending a significantly larger number of minutes there than another. Depending on the flow of the game, and who is on the floor, Thomas will be the defensive edge, Oberto will be offensive edge, and Duncan will switch with either of them depending on who is hot, Shaq or Amare. In any one game, I give Shaq the edge, but the longer this series draws out though, the 'Wily Texas Three' will gain a bigger edge, due to more rest and combined knowledge.