Aside from the first public look at an updated roster, Saturday afternoon’s Phoenix Suns scrimmage in Flagstaff turned out to be a mini-referendum on their trade with the Indiana Pacers.
Until about now, the deal that sent Luis Scola to Indy was hailed for its acquisition of another first-round pick for Phoenix.
But the end-of-camp, Suns-against-Suns exhibition provided star turns for Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green, two players previously considered money-balancing trade throw-ins by casual Suns observers.
Plumlee a 7-foot, second-year pro out of Duke, had served notice of bigger contributions than expected during informal summer workouts at US Airways Center.
On Saturday, he showed off an improved basket-area shooting touch that — combined with eye-popping bounce and strength — added up to 15 points and eight rebounds through three quarters of a game that ended 74-71 in favor of his black squad.
Green, an astonishing athlete who bounced from high school and into the first round of the 2005 NBA Draft (as a Boston Celtics selection), had 17 points for the white team in the first three 10-minute periods. He flipped over to the black squad in the final quarter and provided a 3-pointer, ending his day 6 for 9 from the field.
A 35 percent shooter from 3 over his career (31.4 percent last season for the Pacers), Green will need to provide a much larger sample size of accuracy before we pencil him in as a legitimate deep threat for a team seemingly looking for more than one.
Plumlee’s emergence simply enables the Suns to feel even better about their future around the rim after Marcin Gortat moves on and rookie Alex Len takes over. It should be noted that Len, who reportedly was moving well during this week’s camp at Northern Arizona University, finished the first half in an XL lineup that included Gortat.
The veteran and the rookie did square off on opposite sides in the second half, with the first sequence opened by a straightway jumper that Len converted over The Polish Machine. Moments later, Gortat countered with driving, one-handed slam over Len that was set up by a shot fake one step to the left of the lane.
The anticipated backcourt partnership of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe didn’t materialize until the final quarter. Bledsoe did most of the transition push work in this lineup — which was rounded out by rookie Archie Goodwin, Channing Frye and Gortat — but Dragic’s continued shooting struggles (he didn’t show much accuracy at Eurobasket) would have made this combo seem much more intriguing.
While working mostly against Dragic, Bledsoe — showing off the burst and energy that made him a hot property during his apprenticeship with the L.A. Clippers — had nine points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals through three quarters.
Bledsoe was very effective working screen-roll with Plumlee, who converted a one-handed lob from the new Suns playmaker into a one-handed slam to open the second half.
Goodwin, who was replaced by Green midway through the final stanza, didn’t see much of the ball when on the court with two established point guards.
As for general tactics in their first appearance under the direction of head coach Jeff Hornacek, the Suns did look to push at every opportunity. And they created opportunities with quick inbounds-push situations after the opponent’s made field goals.
The offensive maneuvers weren’t too exotic at this juncture; both teams relied heavily upon drag screens as early offense with the other three players widely spaced.
When not going to the ball screen, Suns point guards often hit the trailing big, who had the option of playing side pick-and-roll with an adjacent wing player who could either use the screen or cut backdoor if his defender cheated up early.
The Suns also made use of double-down screens in dead-ball situations, with ball screens following if a player didn’t shake free on the curl.
Defensively, the Suns looked to shrink one side of the floor and help much earlier than we’ve seen in these parts. Noticeable in ball-screen defense was an improvement in angles taken by post players guarding the screener and showing against the ballhandler.