For this rising young team, a journeyman banger will be pivotal
By L. Jon Wertheim
Team Page | Conference ranking: 6 | Overall ranking: 8
Say this about Jake Voskuhl: The Phoenix center picked a hell of a time to take a star turn. During the Suns' first-round playoff series against the Spurs last spring, Voskuhl channeled his inner Bill Russell. In addition to playing assertive defense against league MVP Tim Duncan, he hit the first game-winning shot of his career (not of his pro career, mind you; the first since he began playing organized basketball as a six-year-old) in Game 4. Sure, San Antonio won the series four games to two and went on to take the title, but Voskuhl's postseason dramatics changed the trajectory of his career.
A second-round draft pick by the Bulls in 2000, Voskuhl toiled perilously close to the line separating serviceable journeyman from waiver-wire fodder. Two months after his heroics against the Spurs, however, Phoenix re-signed him to a three-year, $5.1 million deal. Then on Sept. 30 the Suns traded Jake Tsakalidis, who started at center last season when he was healthy, and another big man, Bo Outlaw, to the Grizzlies. Even before Phoenix's other inside banger, Scott Williams, injured his left thumb in training camp, it was clear that the 6'11", 245-pound Voskuhl had earned a significant role on a promising team. "Things just sort of fell into place for me," says Voskuhl, the starting center on Connecticut's 1999 NCAA title team. "I've worked hard, but I definitely feel lucky, too."
By his own admission Voskuhl has plenty of rough edges in need of sanding. While he relishes contact and competes energetically, his offensive repertoire is not expansive. (That is, he is often left unguarded because he lacks a semblance of a reliable jumper.) "I'm not where I want to be yet," Voskuhl says, "but I'm getting after it." That's a sentiment that also applies to the rest of the Suns.
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Suns
"They've always been considered a soft team with finesse players, but they have an opportunity to change that image with their three young stars -- Stephon Marbury, Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, who has packed on a dozen pounds of extra muscle.... They say they want to run, but I'm not convinced they'll stick with it. Last year they tried to spread the floor by playing a form of the triangle, but they scrapped that at midseason to run more pick-and-rolls for Marbury, who felt he wasn't getting enough touches at his favorite spots. I don't think he was being selfish; he showed last year that he's ready to win by sharing the ball, trusting his teammates, playing better defense and playing hurt.... They dealt Jake Tsakalidis because he didn't fit their athletic style. Until they find the right guy to help against the Shaqs and Duncans, they're going to continue having trouble defending in the low post. So they pressure the ball and deny the pass inside.... Jake Voskuhl tries to overcome his lack of strength by making you pay for everything you get. I warn my big guys not to get frustrated by Voskuhl, because that's what he wants.... Marion is the kind of guy that you fear because he can beat you in every way. If he isn't crashing the boards, then he's getting out in transition. He has quick hands, quick feet, he can score from the three-point line or from 15 feet, and he's their best defender.... All players are predictable to some degree, but the difference with the good ones is this: Even though you know what they're going to do, you still can't stop them. Last season Stoudemire was stoppable, a two-dribble guy who almost always went to the middle or to his right. They've been working with him to go to his left so he'll be harder to guard."
Issue date: October 27, 2003