Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
While the Amare Stoudemire injury has basically ended Phoenix's hope of making a deep run in the Western Conference playoffs, it has opened up an opportunity for three players to excel in his absence.
It's not easy replacing 21.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game and you can't go to the "store" and just pick one up off the shelf. Well, maybe the Suns could have if the injury had happened one day before the NBA trade deadline instead on the day of, but that's another story.
Instead, Phoenix is forced to fix the problem "in house."
With less than 24 hours between the injury and their next game, here is what the Suns have apparently come up with:
They installed super sixth man Leandro Barbosa, who might be the fastest player in the NBA, into the lineup and went with a starting front court of Shaquille O'Neal, Grant Hill and Jason Richardson. That's a pretty small front line, but against a weaker rebounding team like the Oklahoma City Thunder, it worked.
Barbosa went off, posting a career high 41-point, seven rebound, seven assist night as the Suns put a 140-spot on the board for the third straight game. Richardson was also "on", hitting four of five three pointers en route to a 34- point effort. But Hill and Richardson only combined for seven rebounds between them which could be a sign of troubled times against a stronger rebounding team.
The team also increased the minutes of forward Matt Barnes, mainly in place of Hill, and he may ultimately be a decent fantasy player as a result of the Stoudemire injury. In 30 minutes of work, Barnes hauled in six rebounds added nine assists and fit well into the "new" running style of the Suns with 14 points.
As a side note, O'Neal looked great in the Suns' running offense, throwing a couple of half-court outlet passes that reminded me of Wes Unseld. Maybe he CAN play in an up-tempo game.
The net effect of the injury to Stoudemire is that Barbosa and Barnes have become viable fantasy options and Richardson may become an even bigger scoring threat.