PHOENIX – For those wondering if the Phoenix Suns’ offseason was more of a neat trick than a retreat, Wednesday’s season-opening date with Golden State Warriors was scary at times, but not totally creepy.
At least nobody said “boo.”
“Do I think we’ll get better? Hell, yeah,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said after his team limited the Warriors to 38.4-percent shooting and still managed an 87-85 loss. “I think we’ll get much better.”
In their first official work shift without Steve Nash, the Suns shot a rim-bruising 40 percent from the field, allowed the brick-heaving Warriors to snag 17 offensive rebounds, fell behind by as many as 17 points, rallied, and surrendered an 8-point, fourth-quarter lead.
“There were a lot of good things, a lot of average things and a lot of things we’ve got to get better at,” Gentry said. “We look like a team that has nine new players. But I feel that we’re going to be a good team.”
And now, let’s take a categorical look at how the Suns did (and didn’t) walk our talking points.
FIRST POINT OF CONTENTION
Just like Nash, Goran Dragic began his NBA career as a sub in Phoenix, moved to Texas and returned here to be in charge of handling the rock for the Suns.
Dragic’s reunion tour began with a stat line of a team-high 17 points (on 4-of-12 shooting), 8 assists and 3 turnovers.
Nash, who averaged 14.5 points and 10.8 dimes during his last season as a Dallas Maverick, began his Suns return eight years ago with 12 points, 4 assists and 3 turnovers in a 112-82 home rout of the Atlanta Hawks.
With Nash giving Phoenix 15.5 points and a league-leading 11.5 assists, the Suns and their league Most Valuable Player finished that regular season averaging 110 points and winning 62 games.
We’re not exactly holding our breath for a repeat.
“I thought Goran played well and did some things,” Gentry said. “He didn’t shoot it as well as I think he’s going to.”
For Dragic, rallying wasn’t much of a consolation.
“It’s still a loss,” he said. “We fought, we played good inside. Overall, we didn’t shoot the ball well tonight, but it’s our first game so, hopefully, we are going to improve ourselves.”
Plan A, of course, was signing Eric Gordon to a really lucrative offer sheet and hoping the New Orleans Hornets didn’t have the guts to match it for the honor of keeping a 6-foot-3 shooting guard with potential health issues.
The Hornets gutted it out and kept Gordon, so Michael Beasley checked in (yeah, he was coming here anyway) to Phoenix as a seriously-gifted combo forward with enough silly behavior to his credit to be given up on by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
In his first real game as a Sun, Beasley produced 8 points (on 2-of-9 shooting) and 4 rebounds over only 22 minutes.
During the Suns’ stretch run, Gentry kept Beasley on the bench while 2012 All-German Import Player P.J. Tucker continued making hustle-based plays from his inside linebacker spot.
In 23-plus minutes, the former Texas Longhorn gave Phoenix 10 points and a couple of rebounds.
“P.J. Tucker was going good,” Gentry said. “When guys are going good, they stay on the floor.”
According to the coach, Beasley’s inactivity was all about Tucker and had nothing to do with Beasley squeezing off three unsuccessful perimeter shots in less than a minute late in the third quarter.
“Those are good shots for him,” Gentry said. “We don’t mind those shots.”
It’s true. The coach and player are on record as admitting Gentry wants Beasley to be a bit more selfish.
Looking at this pragmatically, all Beasley did was prove he’s coachable.
That new offensive alignment borrowed from the dry-erase board of T-wolves coach Rick Adelman looked a bit clunky.
Through seven practice games, Dragic and Suns coaches admitted the Corner had yet to be turned due to issues of spacing. Translation: rather than being patient enough to trust that running the offense as intended will lead to scoring opportunities for all, Suns players were making nonchalant cuts (the widely-preferred hard cuts create driving lanes in their wake) or going to the post when strategy called for getting out the way.
Not much seemed to change Wednesday. And without floor-spacer Channing Frye, it was obvious that some tweaks will be needed before Dragic and his cronies have wider driving lanes. Missing 17 of 21 3-point shots will only keep the lane more congested.
For the record, one of those 3s was bagged by newcomer Luis Scola (his second career make from beyond the arc), who produced 15 points, a game-high 11 rebounds and several outstanding defensive plays.
Despite having the hang-time of an anvil dropped from street level, Scola blocked three shots to go with three steals.
It should be noted that the Warriors also ran the Corner offense; I didn’t count, but they probably used it more often.
MARCIN MADNESS, 2012-2013
With Nash no longer employed as his enabler, Gortat began this season by presenting Gentry with 10 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks.
A couple of days ago, Gortat admitted to FOX Sports Arizona that he was feeling a bit left out of the Corner’s fun by working on the weak side of the formation. He said a couple of chats with the Suns’ offensive administrators led to an agreement that Gortat might be better served by spending more time on the strong side.
It might have been wiser to remind The Polish Machine that weak side, two-man activity often generates scoring chances.
But Luis Scola, the Suns’ other post employee, doesn’t mind flipping to the weak side where he often flourished while playing the Corner under Adelman in Houston; he also seems to be the superior passer, a skill that probably offers more of a threat while lined up on the strong side.
On Wednesday, Scola started most of the base Corner possessions on the strong side, but was waved to the other side by Gortat on a couple of occasions.
With Brandon Rush going nuts (14 points), Golden State’s bench held a 24-4 first-half scoring advantage over the Suns’ reserves. With Carl Landry adding 15 of his team-high 17 points in the second, the Warriors finished with a 46-24 bench-points victory.
Tucker, whose play provided a DNP-coach’s decision for first-year Sun Wesley Johnson, had a swell night, but Markieff Morris struggled.
In addition to giving Gentry 4 points and 3 rebounds, the second-year Sun was hit with a technical foul for woofing at Golden State’s David Lee during a dead-ball situation.
Well, holding anyone to 38.4 percent suggests some defending was demonstrated, but – once again – the Suns handcuffed their chance to prevail by allowing Golden State to take 17 offensive rebounds.
“That’s 17 opportunities we don’t get to run,” Gentry said. “We have to complete those possessions with rebounds.”