Starting with the obvious, neither the Phoenix Suns nor the Oklahoma City Thunder cared less about winning the preseason game than getting chance to look at some players before cut down day to a max of 15 per roster.
This game was more about getting a look at some guys on each roster. The game was sloppy as a result: 38% shooting for the Suns (23% on 26 three-point attempts) and 38% for the Thunder (10% on 19 three point attempts). The energy vacillated between high and low, and once again Hornacek went deep into the bench by playing 13 of 16 available players.
Even the players who didn't see court time will get their chance tomorrow night, on a back-to-back in the high altitude of Denver. Dionte Christmas, James Nunnally and Kendall Marshall were healthy scratches while Archie Goodwin and Ish Smith got some good run in the second half.
Since the focus of the game was on players, let's review them:
If he could just fix that jumper - he doesn't even get rotation on it - he could potentially be an All-Star type player. Even while going 0-4 on open threes and 1-4 on early midrange shots, Bledsoe still put up 15 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds and 2 steals in just 28 minutes of play. His defense on his young counterpart - Reggie Jackson - was good enough to basically shut Jackson down. Jackson got most of his 18 points against diminutive Ish Smith. This was clearly Bledsoe's best game of the preseason.
If he could fix that basketball IQ - being in the right place at the right time on defense and off the ball - he could be a really good player. Hella athlete put down a couple of monster, super-max dunks we haven't seen since the apostrophe left town and made 3 three-pointers in the first half to help the Suns to a big lead. Overall, Green had 15 points in 18 minutes and, while not a great defender, didn't let Jeremy Lamb find his missing confidence.
If he could move that body faster in driving situations - seriously, I could have cooked some eggs in the time it took for him to drive to the basket a couple of times - you might call this one of Channing's best games since coming back from the year and a half out of basketball. He scored, somehow, on those drives, poured in 12 points overall, made a 3 and pulled down 9 rebounds and blocked a shot to help the Suns win the game.
If he could make a corner 3 on a regular basis, he'd be a regular on any team in the NBA. The guy just hustles and so far this year it's contagious. Jeff Hornacek is the third coach in 12 months to find it impossible to sit P.J. down. Tucker played 30 minutes and scored 13 points, had 4 rebounds and 3 steals and a block. A typical Tucker game.
If Archie could make his shots and/or start faster, he'd be a rookie of the year candidate. Unfortunately, his shot is really bad - he twists in the air as he rises off the ground - so he's only a threat to drive/dish at this point unless he goes on a hot streak like in summer league. Still, he picked it up and poured in 11 fourth-quarter points on a steal/FB/dunk, drives and putbacks (one monster putback dunk where he rose over everyone - at least 3 other players - to slam home a Suns miss).
If only they could be merged into one, the Suns would be in great shape at center for a decade. Gortat, Plumlee and Len all played well tonight. Gortat had 4 points, 5 rebounds and 5 blocks in only 17 minutes, while Plumlee hustled to 6 and 3 in 22 minutes and Len grabbed 3 rebounds, blocked a shot and had a nice assist in 10 minutes. Plumlee looked every bit as good, to my eyes, as OKC rookie Steven Adams (12th overall this year) right now - both are hustlers who make their gravy on putbacks and hustle. Plumlee had some nice drives in traffic, but missed several shots at the finish. Len plays with an 'athletic stance', meaning he was on the balls of his feet and ready to move all the time. He moves well in every direction, though right now he moves too much (4 fouls in 10 minutes). His arms are so long, he twice grabbed rebounds in traffic just by outreaching everyone. And, he can box out and finish the rebound with TWO HANDS. He got some quality time and showed good flashes of the future as a quality #5 overall pick. His ceiling is higher than Adams, but Adams is more ready to contribute right now.
If he only had size, and a jumper, and ability to score at the rim, and defend... this wasn't Ish's night.
The Morris brothers were hit and miss. While Markieff was good last week against Sacramento, he went 0-5 before getting ejected in the second quarter for a flagrant-2 foul. And while Marcus was terrible last week against Sac, he had 7 points (on 3-8 shooting), 5 rebounds and an assist and steal in 25 minutes. Good but not great.
Hey there Diante! Here's hoping you make the Thunder roster this year, but tonight was not one of your best nights. Garrett had 6 points and 3 assists in 24 minutes, but only shot 2-7 from the field.
That's my recap folks. Read. Digest. Discuss.
On paper these two teams should come together for a competitive game.
Every year there seems to be a rumor of the Suns and the Thunder doing business together from a rumored Steve Nash trade a few years ago, to James Harden discussions, and to Marcin Gortat rumors the past year and a half. These two teams are always in the rumor mill together and yet no triggers have been pulled.
In the mean time the Thunder have knocked around the Suns for 10 straight games.
This year both teams will have new dynamics on the court. The Thunder are incorporating their younger players into rotation minutes on the perimeter and the Suns are incorporating a brand new team.
Goran Dragic and Russell Westbrook will not play in the game tonight taking away some of the excitement, but allowing young players like Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, Archie Goodwin, and Kendall Marshall to get some floor time and earn a slot in the rotation.
Head-to-Head: Pre-Season Stats
Suns (3-2): 105.2 PPG 43.8 RPG 9.0 SPG 49.9% FG 36.3% 3PT
Thunder (4-1): 99.4 PPG 49.4 RPG 8.8 SPG 44.8% FG 29.9% 3PT
Hey, the Suns are the better team on paper! Through five games this pre-season the Suns are a better rebounding team, better shooting from the field and three, and causing more turnovers per game. The team has more energy and in this exhibition season have been playing well as a unit, outside of the past two games.
The Thunder are a little more restricted offensively with Russell Westbrook out of the line-up still, leaning more on defense, rebounding, and Kevin Durant.
Athletically the Suns match-up well with the Thunder in this setting. They can match them with athletes on the perimeter and in the paint getting up-and-down the floor scoring and causing havoc. With the pre-season winding down there might be more floor time for the reserves, but the Thunder reserves are young prospects auditioning for trades and free-agency, for teams like the Suns.
Head-to-Head Match-Up (pre-season)
Reggie Jackson: 14.2 PPG 6.2 APG 3.2 RPG 1.4 SPG 52.9 FG% (5 games)
Eric Bledsoe: 11.0 PPG 5.4 APG 2.8 RPG 3.0 SPG 47.1 FG% (5 games)
This pre-season has been a statement and coming out party for Jackson. He has started every game and is stepping his game up to show that he is a potential starting point guard in this league that is more than just athletic. He played well during the playoffs with a little trial by fire, but backing it up sometimes is tougher than proving that you can actually do it initially.
He and Bledsoe are in similar situations with being given the reigns of a team over night, with different circumstance.
Two of the more dynamic, athletic point guards in the league coming off the bench last year go head-to-head as starters. With Westbrook still rehabbing, he practiced with the team for the first time yesterday, Jackson becomes the teams primary play-maker on the perimeter opposite of Durant.
This has the potential to be a fun match-up this game and going forward as both teams will showcase very athletic, play-making back-courts this season with Westbrook-Jackson and Bledsoe-Dragic.
Bledsoe is coming out of Chris Paul (and John Wall's) shadow for the first time in his career. He has the opportunity to cast his own shadow now and see how it measures up with his former mentors and a fair shot at starting minutes. There is no question that "Baby LeBron" has the physical and athletic skills to be a play-maker like Jackson, now both come head-to-head as they try to prove themselves.
(Potential) Starting Line-Ups
SG - Archie Goodwin v. Thabo Sefolosha
SF - P.J. Tucker v. Kevin Durant
PF - Markieff Morris v. Serge Ibaka
C - Marcin Gortat v. Hasheem Thabeet
Potential Suns Inactives: Goran Dragic (Ankle)
Archie Goodwin v. Jeremy Lamb
How do you like your young, athletic wing players? Are you partial to the long, raw, and aggressive type wearing purple and orange? What about the smooth, quality shooting, long type in blue and orange? Either way this match-up of a Suns fan favorite from the 2012 NBA Draft and who might be the steal of the 2013 NBA Draft could be a fun one if they see considerable floor time.
Lamb has not shot the ball well through five games (4-23) and has struggled offensively so far. He could be the teams designated shooter this season from the perimeter playing side-by-side with Durant creating a long wing combination.
Goodwin was taken a year later in the draft and 17 picks later, but has been impressive in his short time with the team. He is the youngest player in the NBA and sometimes plays like it. These two can combine for their share of highlights (or low-lights) with aggressive defensive plays and finishes out on the break.
Interesting Stat: 23.4
Nobody is playing major minutes this pre-season for the Suns. To date there are only three players that have averaged 20+ minutes a game in Gortat (20.0), Markieff (20.4), and the leader, Bledsoe (23.4) with all three being projected starters this season.
In contrast the Thunder have six players averaging at least 21+ minutes per game and have their rotation set going into the season.
Meaningless Stat: 56.25% (9/16)
So far this pre-season the Morrii are shooting 56.25% from three. Markieff is 2/2 and Marcus is 7/17 as the duo is shooting the ball well, sparse, and efficient from the three-point line. Through Markieff's career he has shot the ball in volume from three and it exposed his efficiency (34.1% career), but with this role he is playing more in the mid-range and limiting his three-point shooting. The closer you are to the rim the better the percentages are to make a basket. So far this pre-season, the Morrii are getting that.