Aside from a typical Alvin Gentry quote about how Wednesday’s victory at Dallas was a “typical preseason game,” more clues regarding this season’s version of the Suns have emerged.
But, with the Suns out of town and off televised air, we need to borrow a fresh bird’s-eye perspective. Our witness is an advance scout employed by another Western Conference team who — either in person or through video — has seen each of Phoenix’s three practice games.
“Well, they seem to be who we thought they were,” the scout — taking the opportunity for a fairly weak Dennis Green reference lobbed at readers in the Arizona market — said of the 2-1 Suns. “They did beat Dallas in Dallas, but without (Dirk) Nowitzki.
“They look OK. … Maybe good enough to stay in the battle for a playoff spot deep into the season. Offensively, they weren’t as efficient, even with Nash, last season. I think it’s smart that they’ve changed some things up offensively to fit the new personnel.”
The scout was referring to the “Corner” offense that was broken down here last week, a system popularized by Rick Adelman, who has a former assistant coach (Elston Turner) and four ex-players now working in Phoenix.
“(Point guard Goran) Dragic is familiar with Alvin’s offensive system,” the scout said, “but he also ran the ‘Corner’ for half a season or so in Houston, and it fits him. It allows him to make plays but also allows teammates to read how the defense plays and react with a basket cut or something. Not every play is dependent on him, much like it was with Nash, and that’s important for anyone stepping in after a superstar leaves.”
Gentry is mixing in his new sets with some of the previously existing tactics, generating an efficient three-game sample size … from his starters.
The lineup of Dragic, center Marcin Gortat, shooting guard Jared Dudley, new four-man Luis Scola and new small forward Michael Beasley has combined to make 42-of-75 shots from the field. After bagging 20-of-38 in each of their first two dress rehearsals, the Suns made 22-of-37 against the Mavericks. They’ve turned in assist totals of 24, 30 and 25.
“They aren’t crisp at making reads in the new offense yet,” the scout said, “but they’re doing a good job getting early offense … you know, quick hitters off screen-roll or dives in their secondary offense.’’
While the first couple of exhibition dates have inspired local onlookers to wonder about Gortat’s role moving forward, the scout doesn’t think fans of the Polish Machine should worry.
“Well, he may not improve in the fantasy rankings,” the scout said, “simply because Phoenix has added guys who can score, like Scola and Beasley. I’m not sure if Gortat will get more post-up opportunities that he probably desires, but the new sets along with the old stuff will continue giving him the best chance at playing to his strengths … and that’s screening, finding creases in the defenses and flowing to the basket for easy finishes.
“In the ‘Corner’ sets, he’ll mostly play on the weak side and, after they swing the ball to his side, be able to operate in screen-roll with less defensive help than he often ran into last year, when they went middle screen and camped out shooters on both sides of the floor.”
Anything else regarding the starters?
“As far as the guys now starting,” the scout said, “I like how Beasley (four assists in Dallas) seems to be looking for teammates.”
Our insider also had an interesting take on second-year power forward Markieff Morris.
“He was far from shy as a rookie,” the scout said. “He took quite a few 3’s early and made quite a few of ’em, too. This year, he looks really confident out there, like someone who spent a great deal of time working on clearing moves to the basket and shooting off the dribble.
“But he has to balance how far he’s progressed in his skill level with what he actually attempts in games. He seems to be grabbing the leadership of their second unit, even though guys like (Shannon) Brown and (Wes) Johnson can be volume shooters, too. Morris was pretty good in their home game last week, but he’s something like 7-of-28 in the two road games.”
Morris is exactly 7-of-28.
“To be fair,” the scout said, “I’ve seen him not convert some relatively easy chances after making a couple of really nice moves in the lane. You don’t want to discourage him from expanding his game … but if you’re the Suns, you don’t want experimentation to hurt their plus-minus when he’s in the game.”