Commentary

PER Diem: March 17, 2009

The Suns may or may not make the playoffs, but their offense sure is tearing it up again

Originally Published: March 17, 2009
By John Hollinger | ESPN.com

Alvin GentryFernando Medina/NBAE/Getty ImagesSince Alvin Gentry took over, the Suns have been clicking on offense like never before.

Whether they make the playoffs or not, there is one thing we all can agree on: The Seven-Seconds-Or-Shaq version of the Suns under Alvin Gentry has been incredibly fun to watch.

Gentry's tenure began with three straight 140-point outings, and the Suns have never looked back. In 16 games with him at the helm, Phoenix is averaging just more than 120 points a game, shooting 53.3 percent from the field and 39.7 percent on 3-pointers.

Ready for the punch line? The Suns are 8-8 in that stretch.

OK, so defense isn't exactly the top item on their to-do list. Still, it's hard to ignore what they have been accomplishing at the offensive end. It's not just that they're replicating the production of the Mike D'Antoni era -- they've actually been better.

The Suns' offensive efficiency mark since Gentry took over is an absurd 117.7, a mark that would make them far and away the best offensive team in history if they kept it up for a full season. In that time, the Suns have moved into a tie with Portland for second place in offensive efficiency (110.4) for the season. (They were sixth in offensive efficiency under Terry Porter.) And they are pretty close to reeling in the Lakers (110.8) for the top spot and leading the league for a fifth consecutive season.

They're doing it while playing at a breakneck pace, even with Shaquille O'Neal. Their 102.2 pace factor under Gentry would lead the league for a full season, after they were in the middle of the pack in Porter's more structured system.

And the flowering of players' individual games has been obvious:

Leandro Barbosa, whose role shriveled under Porter, is playing nearly nine minutes more a game under Gentry and has upped his scoring average from 12.8 to 19.1.

Matt Barnes, thrust into a starting role when Amare Stoudemire went out, has thrived as a small-ball power forward. He's launching nearly five 3s a game while averaging 14.1 points and 4.5 assists under the new boss.

Steve Nash is averaging six more points per game since Gentry took over, jumping from 13.6 to 19.8. Also, his shooting percentage is up from 46.8 to 55.3 percent, and his turnover average is down from 3.8 to 3.2.

• And the player with the most improvement? Surprisingly, it's Shaq. The Big Cactus is shooting an incredible 68.4 percent from the field since Gentry took over and has upped his scoring average by nearly three points a game in fewer minutes.

As a result, we can credit the Suns for this amazing fact: NBA teams had scored 140 points or more in regulation just eight times in the past 10 seasons; Phoenix did it four times in 16 games, including Sunday's nationally televised 154-point explosion at Golden State.

On top of that, this all might be just a prelude to what's to come. Phoenix's schedule gets significantly easier from here on out, so the Suns could put up even better numbers over their final 15 games.

The Suns get to face the league's 30th-ranked defense (Sacramento), 29th-ranked defense (Washington) and 27th-ranked defense (Minnesota). They also play the 20th-ranked defense (Memphis) twice and have only one game left against a team ranked in the top six in defensive efficiency.

That 16-game stretch I recounted above included seven games against the league's top six defenses, so Phoenix put up its mind-boggling numbers despite facing high-quality opposition. (This also, incidentally, helps account for the 8-8 record in that span.)

We still don't know whether this offensive explosion will end in a playoff berth -- Tuesday's Playoff Odds put the Suns' chances at only 1-in-3. But keep an eye on Phoenix over these final few weeks, because the Seven-Seconds-Or-Shaq attack has become a historically great offensive juggernaut.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.