Raja Bell and Leandro Barbosa: Phoenix Suns Special Preview Series
The Suns' two-guard spot experienced a collective down year last season. After implementing a more traditional offense and stressing defense as never before, it will be imperative for Phoenix to get consistent production and effort from that position this season.
Nine-year veteran Raja Bell has seen his statistics steadily decline since his first season with the team (2005-06). His points-per-game production dropped from 14.7 to 11.9 last year, and his shooting percentage has taken a dip as well—42 percent overall and 40 percent from three-point range last season; down from 45 percent and 44 percent in 2006, respectively.
What is more concerning is that Bell's overall aggressiveness seemed diminished last season compared to years past. Part of that could be attributed to the team's overall ambience last season, with Shawn Marion's early-season grumblings and the adjustment to Shaquille O'Neal later in the campaign.
The Suns desperately need Bell to be at the top of both his offensive and defensive game. Coach Terry Porter plans on running a traditional low-post offense through O'Neal and All-Star Amare Stoudemire. This will command double-teams, which in turn will produce outside shots galore for Bell, who has thrived when he gets his shots in the flow of the game.
Bell's defensive focus, one of his greatest strengths, could set the tone for the team's transition to "respectable" on that end of the floor. If his teammates see him quickly grasp onto and apply Porter's defensive schemes, the respective consciences of his teammates should impel them to do the same.
Former NBA Sixth Man of the Year Leandro Barbosa will be no less important for the Suns. Like the Spurs' Manu Ginobili, Barbosa plays more than his off-the-bench status would imply. His play will play a significant role in each game and the team's overall success.
Barbosa's three-point shooting took a relative nose-dive last season, dropping from 43.4 percent in '06-07 to 38.9 percent last season. Like Bell, he will have to take advantage of the opportunities he'll have as a result of teams doubling down on Stoudemire and O'Neal.
The Brazilian's play can frustrating at times, as he seems to struggle going at any speed but all-out. While his quickness is an invaluable asset to a team that is inclined to run, it has often gotten him into trouble as well. He rushes shots, gets clogged up in the lane, and turns over the ball due to lack of control.
On the defensive end, more restraint would also be in order. Barbosa, due to his athleticism, is inclined to gamble on defense. Even when he doesn't, he bounces around on his feet far too much to be considered a solid defender.
If he can harness his skills, Barbosa could become the two-way player he seems perfectly capable of being.
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