The Washington Wizards wrap up their Detroit-plus-four-Western-Conference-teams road trip in Phoenix tonight. Having a 2-2 record against the Pistons, Blazers, Clippers and Jazz thus far is a nice accomplishment for this team. Losses in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City were far from abject, but each did display the same ills that have plagued the Wizards all season. Against a 13-19 Suns squad coming off a tough win over the Lakers in Phoenix on Sunday, the 7-24 Wizards have a fair chance to prove progression. The Suns are favored by six points. Today’s 3-on-3 features Michael Schwartz (@ValleyoftheSuns) of the ESPN TrueHoop Network blog Valley of the Suns, along with TAI’s Adam McGinnis (@AdamMcGinnis) and Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It). Three questions, three answers… Leggo.
#1) Is Steve Nash not asking for a trade actually a very smart move, in that he’s not hurting his value by mere words, and the Suns will ultimately deal him before the deadline? Or will he really play out his contract and then leave Phoenix (or stay)? Where does he go in either case?
ADAM McGINNIS: The Suns should trade Nash from a basketball personnel standpoint, but ownership appears set on retaining him for remainder of season. If teams are low-balling for Nash’s services, there is an argument for letting him play his contract out. Fans will come to see Nash play his last games in Phoenix and that financial gain could be worth more than taking on salary or a few second round draft picks. Even though the Free Steve Nash movement has sprouted up online, Nash has taken the classy route of not creating drama with trade demands. My prediction is he plays out his contract and then signs with a title contender like Bulls, Heat, Thunder or Lakers.
MICHAEL SCHWARTZ: Steve Nash not asking for a trade has nothing to do with leverage, he’s just legitimately a loyal guy who wants to try to build something in Phoenix even if it seems crazy to the rest of the world (and some Suns fans). I’ve always felt that if the Suns were well out of the playoff race in March that he might change his tune, but there are many complicating factors such as the fact that his contract is not extendable so he’d be a two-month rental, his age, and the lack of teams that need a starting point guard. If I had to put money on it I’d say he’s going to play out his contract and potentially even re-sign, with the presence of his kids in Phoenix and the Suns’ vaunted training staff no small issues. If he does go, Portland would be my guess since they’ve been after him for years, desperately need a point guard and have the kind of assets that could make a deal work.
KYLE WEIDIE: Part of being a nice guy is knowing that you are not helping anything by asking to be traded. And now we know the difference between Steve Nash and Dwight Howard or Carmelo Anthony. So he plays out his contract and Phoenix is content with getting it off the books, perhaps maneuvering a sign-and-trade in the summer, and say Deron Williams stays in New Jersey (assuming Lopez for Howard ultimately happens), and say New York is no longer an option via Jeremy Lin, I see it coming down to signing in Miami or Dallas. The Lakers could be next, but for some reason I don’t see Nash being as interested in their situation.
#2) In two games against Nash last season, John Wall showed up in the stat book — averages: 11.5 points, 4.5 FT attempts, 13 assists, 4.5 turnovers, 3.0 rebounds — but Nash one upped him with two wins and statistics of purpose — averages: 18.5 points, 15.5 assists, 3.5 turnovers and 3.5 rebounds. Nash also shot 71.4-percent from the field (15-21, 8-8 in the first meeting) to Wall’s 32-percent (11-26). In this meeting, how much, if at all, does Wall close the statistical effectiveness gap between the two point guards?
McGINNIS: Nash leads the NBA in assists (11 per game) and is eighth in the league in field-goal percentage (54-percent), which is unreal for a starting point guard. Over the past 21 games, Wall is averaging 19.4 points, 8.5 assists and five rebounds. During last season’s match-up in Phoenix, the Wizards made a second half rally when Nash was on the bench. He returned and closed out the victory in less than two minutes with an array of dazzling passes. Wall has closed the gap because he is finally knocking down the mid-range jumper with more consistency (40-percent from 10-15 feet as opposed to 28-percent last season, although attempting less per game from that range), He is also locking down better on defense, playing more in control in transition and creating more free-throw attempts on drives.
SCHWARTZ: I think Wall will close the gap if only because of regression to the mean. He’s going to need to close the gap on the defensive end because he’s not matching 18.5 and 15.5 on 71.4 percent shooting. Wall might outscore Nash, but he won’t beat him in assists or field-goal percentage. Nash has dished at least 13 dimes in his last six games and he’s averaging 15.7 a game in his last three. The 38-year-old also ranks eighth in field-goal percentage behind six centers and LeBron James.
WEIDIE: As a team, the Wizards are just as susceptible to having their defense chopped up by Nash, if not more. Plus, their track record in defending the 3-point line is not so great. Washington gives up 6.7 threes per game, sixth most in the NBA. The eFG% they allow from that distance is 54.6-percent, eighth-highest in the league, and 87.6-percent of those opponent 3s are assisted, sixth-highest. Wall has the tools (his own and the skills of his teammates) to run Phoenix ragged, but there are two major roadblocks. One, the aforementioned defense, Washington has to get stops to run; two, teammates apt toward slowing the flow of the offense. Wall closes the gap (his team is coming off two days rest after all), but Nash wins this battle. [stats via HoopData.com]
#3) What non-PG player(s) determine this game… Channing Frye and Jared Dudley’s ability to spread the floor? JaVale McGee and Trevor Booker’s frontline athleticism? Nick Young and/or Jordan Crawford’s gunning ways (if they’re on)? The games of Grant Hill, Shannon Brown or Michael Redd? Marcin Gortat? Who pushes this game to the score you will also predict in this answer? (Note: Suns favored by 5.5 in the early line.)
McGINNIS: The key to this game will be the frontcourt play of both teams. In the Utah loss, the Wizards’ front line was mauled by Al Jefferson. Gortat went for 21 points and 15 boards in a 102-90 Suns victory over the Lakers on Sunday. Channing Frye has struggled from 3-point line on the season (33-percent) but still has ability to get hot, as he went 3-4 versus Los Angeles. JaVale has to use his length and athleticism to score over the bruising style of Gortat, and Booker should take Frye off the dribble to exploit his physical advantage. The Chin-Strap Brothers need huge performances or it could be a long chilly night in the Arizona desert. Wizards over Suns, 105-100.
SCHWARTZ: The biggest question overall to me is whether the Suns have anything left in their tank after an emotional win last night over the hated Lakers in which the starters played heavy minutes. The Suns have been prone to home letdowns this season as well. To me it will be about Frye and Dudley providing the third and fourth scorers the Suns need to be good. You know what you’re going to get from Nash and Gortat every night, but if Frye and Dudley are on as well the Suns are a different team. They will do just enough to lead the Suns to a 103-98 win.
WEIDIE: If Wall is able to penetrate early and find McGee or Booker in the paint (or either could be crashing the offensive boards off Wall’s attempts at the rim), then Young and Crawford will have a much easier time seeing passing lanes for ball movement. Plus, after a lousy game against Al Jefferson, McGee must step up to contain a more physically imposing Gortat, who’s been on a tear lately (16.7 points, 54-percent shooting, 11 rebounds in 12 February games). Maybe the desert air will be good for McGee’s lungs, so I say he and Booker make a go of it, but the Wizards fall short 115-112.