With no superstars but many options, Hornacek still mulling Suns' rotation as regular season nears.
By RANDY HILLFS Arizona
PHOENIX -- Checking in at 2-2 against NBA competition, the
Suns haven’t exactly provided many preseason clues to help us determine just how competitive they’ll be.
And we’re pretty certain the final two practice games won’t convince us Phoenix will turn into a powerhouse during Jeff Hornacek’s first season as head coach. But we’re also still waiting to find out how position and roster showdowns will go before next week’s opener against the Trail Blazers.
“You would think that after three or four exhibition games, guys would start to separate themselves,” Hornacek said. “But then you look at our stats; every guy that gets in there with another group, they all play well.
“We haven’t had anybody that’s gone out there and laid an egg or anything.”
And the Suns haven’t had anybody who’s gone out there and resembled an elite player, either. That’s been the obvious issue around here for a while now.
So with most of the roster settling into the middle class, Hornacek has attempted to find out which groups of players might provide the most gusto.
“We’re getting there,” he said when asked about settling on rotations. “We want to give everyone an opportunity to play with some of the main players.
“We have a lot of guys who can play.”
The Suns simply have a lot of guys. Their current roster count is 18, although Malcolm Lee has been unable to participate in games. With a 15-player roster limit, Lee is expected to be one of three cuts.
Kendall Marshall, entering his third season after the Suns drafted him with the 13th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, has been battling Ish Smith for point guard work behind Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.
Current general manager Ryan McDonough wasn’t around when Marshall was selected, so the status of the former North Carolina standout isn't clear. But his greatest asset -- knowing when and how to kick the ball ahead in transition -- fits Hornacek’s desire to play at a faster tempo.
Smith has played in two fewer games (averaging about the same minutes as Marshall) but hasn’t done a lot to gain any advantage. He’ll have two games this week to get that accomplished.
If Lee and a point guard are bounced, the Suns may decide between two-guard Dionte Christmas and small forward James Nunnally for the final roster spot. Both players have averaged about 10 minutes per exhibition game, but Christmas -- thanks to a 14-point salvo at San Antonio -- has demonstrated a bigger instant-offense capacity thus far.
The Suns also could cut their center stockpile down to three by dropping Slava Kravtsov, but if they’re as interested in moving Marcin Gortat as national watchdogs are of contemplating a trade, having another big around may be the plan.
As for the guys actually playing, the Suns look set -- for starters, at least -- in the backcourt and at center.
Dragic and Bledsoe figure to open games as the guards; any limiting of their minutes together in preseason has been a function of Hornacek wanting to find out how they play with everyone else.
Veteran two-guard Shannon Brown could be the first off the bench when one of the playmakers takes a break, but he’s hardly a lock for big minutes. Rookie Archie Goodwin will be given as much of an opportunity as his development dictates.
With rookie Alex Len not expected to rise up and claim considerable playing time right away, Gortat looks ready to open the season at center. If he’s not producing, newcomer Miles Plumlee -- referred to be Hornacek as the most pleasant surprises of October -- can work the middle.
Plumlee also figures to get time at power forward, where third-year big Markieff Morris looks like the starter until Channing Frye is able to play extended minutes, providing Hornacek with a legitimate floor-spacing threat.
With a commitment to defense, P.J. Tucker should have first dibs on the small forward spot, with Marcus Morris and Gerald Green offering offensive upgrades as perimeter shooting threats. The Suns are hoping they’re not more threatened by this shooting than the opposition is.
Please note that starting jobs and rotational claims could be a fluid process the entire season.