Suns notes: Preseason takeaways, rotation questions
Thanks to Wednesday’s triumph in Denver, the Suns now begin detailed preparations for their season opener while holding a preseason mark of 4-2. But feel free to count the rout of Maccabi Haifa and go with 5-2.
Anyway, while winning four practice games against NBA competition doesn’t exactly inspire us to dust off our playoffs shoes, it’s certainly a fine alternative to seeing the Suns unable to prevail in these winnable scrimmages.
For the record, we will include Haifa night in looking at some numbers. And we’ll start with the Suns’ defense, which permitted seven opponents to collectively shoot a tepid 42.6 percent from the field while averaging a measly 92.9 points. Regardless of how many players were playing limited minutes or skipping games entirely, this demonstrates an upgrade in preparation, focus and commitment to defending that we haven’t seen around here in many years.
Assistant coach Mike Longabardi provides a large portion of the defensive marching orders; once a lineup rotation is set -- and the start of the regular season may not guarantee anything there -- we’ll see if the Suns become even more consistent in his system of help and recovery.
The second big emphasis was a restoration of tempo. According to head coach Jeff Hornacek, the Suns still are not pushing the pace to his liking.
“I think we were walking the ball up the court,” he said following Tuesday’s home workout with the Thunder.
That was a familiar claim throughout the exhibition schedule, during which Hornacek often said his team was going at level 7 or 7.5 when he’s looking for something closer to 10.
“We’d like to speed it up and put more pressure on the defense early in the shot clock,” Hornacek said.
That’s a pretty good idea considering that the Suns aren’t exactly blessed with elite players who can create offense or finish plays against locked-in defenses. But, with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic looking like the starting backcourt, Hornacek does have two fast, aggressive push guys on the floor.
With those two -- and possibly a big dose of P.J. Tucker at small forward -- there isn’t much floor-spacing potential. So, to collapse defenses, Dragic and Bledsoe must do so in transition as defenders retreat.
Unfortunately, the Suns averaged more than 19 turnovers per game while not playing as fast as Hornacek had hoped. In Wednesday’s win over the Nuggets, Dragic and Bledsoe combined for 15 dimes but also teamed up for 10 turnovers.
With a 7-for-9 shooting performance during a 19-point outing in Denver, Gerald Green finished the last two preseason games by making 13 of 18 shots while averaging 17 points in roughly 19 minutes.
Green, one of the bouncier players in the league, generally works at small forward but also could find some minutes at shooting guard when Hornacek rests one of his playmakers.
With Tucker and Marcus Morris also lining up at the three, Green -- if he continues to make shots and defend -- should get his chances.
“I’ve always been able to shoot the ball,” Green said. “Just because I didn’t shoot the ball very well last year (36.6 percent in limited minutes for the Pacers) doesn’t mean that I can’t shoot. When my shot isn’t falling, I have to try and do other things to help my team, and I have to figure those things out.”
Shooting guard minutes looked pretty likely for veteran Shannon Brown, but the development of rookie Archie Goodwin will come into play here.
Just how many more (if any) wins than Goodwin is Brown likely to help the Suns produce?
Neither player has made a 3-pointer this preseason (Shannon has only hoisted two in 79 minutes), and both are making a tick under 42 percent of their shots overall. Brown is a notorious ball-stopper, while Goodwin also skews in that direction but -- at age 19 -- seems receptive to change.
Since Goodwin has a ceiling way above those of homes in Brown’s neighborhood, Shannon will have to be very good to keep the rookie seated.
In a recent post on NBA.com, the results of a survey starring league general managers didn’t reflect well on the Suns.
Since the categories were reserved for potential league bests among teams and individuals, it’s not shocking that a team committed to rebuilding didn’t generate much love.
Green did scratch into the rankings, however, ranking third in the category of "most athletic." Even though LeBron James and Russell Westbrook were first and second, respectively, "most athletic" usually is code for "best jumpers." And the first three seem pretty legit.
But athleticism is (or should be) about more than bounce. Agility, balance, strength, stamina, speed and quickness (including lateral) are other factors. This doesn’t suggest those on the list lack the other qualities -- far from it in the cases of LeBron and Westy. There are, however, more things to consider.
The arrival of Bledsoe was found under the "also receiving votes" distinction in the category of "underrated player acquisition."
Even with Goodwin (who was selected with the 29th overall pick) and Alex Len (No. 5) on the roster, the Suns were shut out in two rookie categories -- Rookie of the Year candidates and best among the current crop of first-year players five years from now.
With eight players who were selected after Len mentioned in the category predicting success five years down the road, Suns fans are hoping the league’s GMs aren’t as wise as Ryan McDonough.
With point guard Kendall Marshall posting two DNPs to close the exhibition season, his future -- at least in Phoenix -- looks pretty murky.
Although Dragic and Bledsoe will need some rest periods, Hornacek may not be able to have that happen simultaneously. At least not very often if the Suns want to score.
Camp invitee Ish Smith hasn’t exactly set the practice-game world on fire as a backup point guard option, either, so Marshall may have some life left in Phoenix. But the Suns probably shouldn’t be expected to pick up his option for a third season -- at $2 million -- by Monday’s deadline.
By the way, the list of players chosen after former GM Lance Blanks and the Suns selected Marshall at pick No. 13 in 2012 includes John Henson (Bucks), Mo Harkless (76ers, traded to Magic), Andrew Nicholson (Magic) and Evan Fournier (Nuggets).
That list is not as impressive as one that features Kawhi Leonard (Pacers, traded to Spurs), Nikola Vucevic (Sixers, traded to Magic), Iman Shumpert (Knicks), Tobais Harris (Bucks, traded to Magic), Kenneth Faried (Nuggets), Reggie Jackson (Thunder), Jimmy Butler (Bulls) and Chandler Parsons (Rockets). All of those players were picked after Blanks and the Suns landed Markieff Morris at No. 13 in 2011.
At least Morris looks like the Suns’ starter (for now) at power forward.
The Suns trimmed their roster to 17 by waiving swing man James Nunnally. They must be down to 15 by the start of the season.