Work in Sports
High-flying rookie adds missing dimension to Phoenix
Posted: Saturday May 06, 2000 02:45 AM
PHOENIX (AP) -- It happens at least once a game. Jason Kidd or Penny Hardaway lofts a lob pass somewhere above the rim.
Out of nowhere, Shawn Marion soars to get it, often with one hand, then with a powerful swoop slams the ball through the net as the Phoenix Suns' fans go wild.
The 6-foot-7 rookie out of UNLV provides the spectacular moments that the Suns had sorely lacked.
"I just try to bring athleticism," Marion said, "some easy layups, some weak-side blocks. I just try to do what I can do."
It's the kind of pure athletic, above-the-rim ability that nobody else on the team has had since Antonio McDyess departed for Denver two seasons ago.
"He has a world of athleticism," coach Scott Skiles said, "and you certainly can't teach that."
That's why Phoenix general manager Bryan Colangelo made Marion the No. 9 pick overall in last June's draft.
"Almost individually he's addressed one of team's weaknesses last year," Colangelo said. "We talked about athleticism. We talked about someone who could change the tempo of the game, and he's done that. His athleticism was sorely missed when he was out with a knee injury."
The injury sidelined Marion for 31 games.
"It was hard because I've never really had an injury during the season when I was out and missed games," he said. "It was hard just to watch everybody else have fun."
When Marion came back, he didn't need much time to pick up where he left off. And when Tom Gugliotta went down with a season-ending knee injury, Marion was back in the starting lineup.
In the 21 games after he was back as a starter, Marion averaged 11.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per game while shooting 49 percent from the field. In Phoenix's first-round playoff series against San Antonio, he averaged nine points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots per game.
"He's got a nose for the ball," Skiles said, "and he's really a quick jumper. He can go up for a rebound, hit the ground, and then go up before everybody else and get it. I think he has the ability to be a 10-rebound guy in the regular season."
Marion said he first dunked the ball at age 14 or 15. He did it twice in a game, once with one hand and once with two hands, and he's been doing it since. He developed a diverse array of dunk moves.
"I used to be so scared I'd just throw it in one way," he said. "But after a while, I started working on all kinds of stuff."
Marion's dunking ability was a given, but what has surprised the Suns was Marion's accuracy on the mid-range jumper, and even an occasional 3-pointer.
"This guy can get up and down, but I think everybody's surprised with the way he's shot the ball, too," Kidd said. "With that, he's probably the jewel of the draft. If he could have stayed healthy all season, he would have had a good shot at being rookie of the year."
Marion said he still has a lot to work on, especially on defense.
"My man-to-man defense mainly," he said. "I'm pretty good on help defense."
He has been a willing student.
"All the things we talk to him about, he picks them up and you see him trying to do them," Skiles said, "so there's no reason to believe he isn't going to just continue to get better and better at everything."
The Suns believe that Marion has barely scratched the surface of what he can do.
"The sky's the limit for Shawn," Kidd said. "He has a lot to learn about the game, and he wants to learn. If he puts in the time and effort, he can be a star in this league."