In Thursday’s second round of the Las Vegas Summer League, we learned something very important about the Phoenix Suns.
And here’s the lesson: During the upcoming NBA season, they may do very well against the Portland Trail Blazers in the second quarter.
Based on summer lineups and winter projections, the first units that collided during the tournament phase of the Vegas league will spend a great deal of time as second stringers in the next regular season.
If you’re following the Suns, you seriously hope so.
The third-seeded Suns’ 92-84 triumph included a 24-0 second-quarter run we couldn’t witness on NBA TV because that stretch was preempted by a press conference. In this press conference, outgoing commissioner David Stern and incoming commish Adam Silver gleefully reported that the league’s board of governors had unanimously approved Charlotte dumping the nickname Bobcats for the old Hornets tag.
Since Michael Jordan owns the Charlotte franchise, he probably threw in several first-round draft picks to get the deal done.
So we missed the Suns’ blitzkrieg, but can report that the Morris twins and rookie guard Archie Goodwin were pretty effective during this game-seizing salvo. It should be noted that the Blazers were being bushwhacked with most of their regular-season bench on the floor.
What we were permitted to see before and after the exciting news about Charlotte is reflected in the following observations:
Goodwin’s shot: Archie went 1 for 6 from the field and 7 for 11 on free throws en route to 10 points.
As the most interesting Suns player (well, to most of us) in Vegas, the 18-year-old from the University of Kentucky really needs someone to convince him that finishing his shot with the shooting elbow extended above the level of his eyebrows is an easy, arc-generating fix (yeah, the same thing was written in this space three days ago).
It also should be taken into consideration that Goodwin’s ability to beat the first defender and elevate over most reasonably appointed humans may get him into trouble against first-team NBA defenses. Being able to rise and bend the rim is great, but when those “ups” inspire Archie to automatically leave his feet off of one leg and hope or assume the best — without consideration of the consequences — contested shots and turnovers are sure to follow.
He needs to learn how to keep his dribble alive when lane traffic is busy and use his bang-out gifts to incite the crowd when the rim is relatively unprotected.
His last-minute train wreck against a Trail Blazers double-team on a Suns pick-and-roll Thursday also reminded us of Goodwin’s ugly point-guard work as a UK freshman. Then again, with his team holding a late-game lead, why call for a ball screen and bring two defenders to the ball when the Blazers already in scrambling, trapping mode?
Hornacek’s style: It’s one thing to say you’re going to play up-tempo and another to work on the details that make it possible.
Watching the Suns inbound the ball after an opponent’s score tells us coach Jeff Hornacek and his staff actually have practiced moving on (at a fast pace) to the next play. In dead-ball, half-court sets, Hornacek also likes to use the old Jerry Sloan, Utah Jazz wing entry by the point guard into a UCLA cut and eventual staggered double on the opposite side. When Hornacek played for Sloan, he often was the guy catching the entry pass and playing strong-side, two-man basketball with the post player who screened for the UCLA cut.
This is vintage stuff and hardly clever, but execution always is more important than presumed sophistication.
On defense, the Suns were aggressive against ball screens, with post players guarding the screeners actually taking sharp angles to misdirect the dribbler and staying low in their stances to make sure this misdirection had a chance to succeed.
Sure, the Suns have attempted to blitz or show hard against pick-and-roll before, but if proper technique isn’t taught (and technique seemed obviously lacking the last couple of seasons), bringing a second defender to the ball improperly results in rotations that don’t have a chance of getting to shooters in time after ball reversal.
The summer Suns are much better at putting pressure on the ballhandler, and the other three defenders not directly involved seem to be rotating early and focusing one play ahead as they zone up the back side.
Something good from Marshall: Second-year point guard Kendall Marshall — reportedly a “must take” in any deal the Suns are asked to consider — did demonstrate a nice hesitation dribble move to get into the lane, draw a help defender and drop a successful dime.
Marshall, whose lack of explosiveness also would be mitigated at least a small bit if he played with better leverage (drop your hips and bend your knees when attacking), missed all three of his shots against Portland.
A few words from the GM: Ryan McDonough was a broadcast-table guest during Thursday’s triumph, and he spent the early moments of his interview lobbing the C-word. Right: culture. I think the Suns had to buy that word back from Lindsey Hunter.
Here’s McDonough’s most interesting quote: “The process will, hopefully, be more important than the results.”
McDonough was referring to the coming season, specifically, and not the next few years.