Max Mandel's Blog

Max Mandel

Dec 17

Getting to know the opponent: Q&A with Suns.com

By Max Mandel Posted in: Suns
Before this season started, many fans around the NBA figured that the window for the Phoenix Suns to compete for an NBA Championship was closed. Amar'e Stoudemire seemed to be battling injury and there was even the thought that Steve Nash might finally be slowing down. In reality, those thoughts couldn't have been farther from the truth. Since the start of the season, the Suns have looked like the high-scoring team of years past, and it's clear that this will not be a team anyone wants to face come playoff time. In order to get a better sense for why this team has been so successful, we decided to check in with Stefan Swiat of Suns.com.

I am a Trail Blazers fan: One of the big surprises, especially from the view point of Trail Blazers fans, has been the play of Channing Frye so far this season. What were the expectations that most Suns fans had for Frye when he was signed, and does it seem like he can keep this type of performance up the entire season?

Stefan Swiat: Fans had zero expectations for Channing Frye when he signed here. Most casual fans didn't even know who he was. And unfortunately, since Channing is a U of A grad, the true fans who did know he was couldn't stand him because 80 percent of the city went to his rival school: ASU. Luckily, you guys, in your infinite wisdom, felt the need to keep a 6-11 guy who shoots 45 percent from the 3-point arc on your bench and let him become a free agent. We kind of like guys who can spread the floor so Amar'e Stoudemire can operate, so we love the fact he traded rain for sun. Since he's come in here he's won those ASU fans over with his stellar shooting from downtown, 12-point, six-board a night average and great attitude. Not only should he get better all year with his familiarity with Steve Nash, but he could be in the running for Most Improved Player and First-Team All-Interview. Dude is hilarious.

I am a Trail Blazers fan: Outside of Phoenix, it seemed like most people assumed the Suns might be able to compete for a playoff berth in the Western Conference. However, very few people assumed that the Suns would be able to return to their elite level of previous years. During the preseason and first couple weeks of the regular season, did you get the sense that this group had the pieces to be a Top 4 seed in the West?

Stefan Swiat: I wish we could say they were a Top 4 team and look like geniuses, but myself and our beat writer, Paul Coro, had them as sixth in the West. At that time, we had them higher than everybody so we felt pretty smart after the first 20 games, but really, we didn't know that they'd be this good. The reason we thought that they were undervalued was that their style has been so successful over the last five years and because they were returning to that with great pieces to fill those slots. Chemistry is becoming the knew "buzz" in the league thanks to the Rockets, and we have a bunch of guys that like playing with each other.

They came in earlier than I've ever seen this preseason to get used to each others tendencies, and I think that helped them get ahead of the curve. Equipped with an enormous chip on their shoulder from missing the playoffs, a clear pecking order in the locker room and a style of play that suits every player, it makes sense that they're achieving more than the "experts" predicted.

I am a Trail Blazers fan: After missing the first month of the season with an injury, Robin Lopez seems to have grown frustrated with his play and limited minutes. Why do you think Lopez has struggled so much since his return from injury?

Stefan Swiat: Robin Lopez has never really received meaningful and consistent minutes and I think most young players need minutes to get a rhythm developed and confidence flowing. Especially with a guy like Robin, who is prone to thinking too much. He needs to be relaxed and comfortable on the court and that only comes with repetition.

I am a Trail Blazers fan: Despite being 35 years old, Steve Nash continues to play like the best point guard in the NBA. Since you get to see Nash play so often, what aspects of his game impress you, that some casual fans might not notice?

Stefan Swiat: What people don't understand about Steve Nash is that he's the hardest worker on our team. He only takes off about three days a year. That's right. Three days a year. He's always doing something to fine-tune his body and stay in shape. He has a stricter diet than European models and the most self-discipline of any athlete I've ever met in that area. On top of that, fans don't realize that he's probably the best shooter in the NBA. I think Boston's Ray Allen is great off screen and as a spot-up guy, but off the dribble, Steve is unstoppable. He's the only guy in NBA history to shoot over 50 percent from the floor, over 40 percent from three and over 90 percent from the line in three consecutive seasons. Only Larry Bird and he had done that in two straight seasons before he eclipsed that.

I am a Trail Blazers fan: Another area of this team that might not get enough credit is the bench. Who is one guy off the bench that you think Trail Blazers fans should keep their eyes on when these teams play on Thursday night.

Stefan Swiat: Well, everybody knows that Leandro Barbosa is usually our go-to guy, but since he's injured, Jared Dudley has been huge for us. Dudley was great last year as a pesky defender and a glue guy that always seems to be at the right place at the right time, but now he's shooting threes out of his mind. He's averaging nearly 10 a game off the bench and has posted double fiures in three of his last four games. He's also fourth in the league in three-point percentage.

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