The Suns, and more importantly their fans, will get a second look at future Hall of Famer, Archie Goodwin and his sidekicks, the Morris twins, Diante Garrett, P.J. Tucker, and Dwayne Collins. Kendall Marshall will also likely play but as we all know, Summer League isn't his best format. I'm not exactly sure what outside UNC is his best format, but he's still young so that's cool and stuff.
The Timberwolves feature one of my all-time favorite Senegalese
players individuals, Gorgui Dieng. Dieng started at the five in the Wolves first game against the D-league Select team. He played 22 minutes and recorded four points, four rebounds, three turnovers, two blocks and only three fouls! To be fair, he was playing against the likes of Darnell Jackson.
The enigmatic Shabazz Muhammad is also on Monday's docket. The former UCLA Bruin went 3-7 (7 points) in his first 24 minutes as a pro.
Other notable Wolves include: Luke, son of the famous Jack Sikma; D-league stud Othyus Jeffers; journeyman Solomon Jones; and Chris Johnson (an "NBA player" who is easily confused with several other "NBA players"). Oh, and some person is excited about Brandon Paul and Lorenzo Brown.
Questions for the Suns in this game:
- Will Kendall Marshall shoot more than two threes? Will he make more than four buckets? Will he show us anything more than he showed us at the end of last season?
- A consistent theme around these Vegas Summer League parts is young, first-time players who struggle in their first professional game but then quickly find their confidence and show some progress. Others, however, don't do that. Which of those will be Archie Goodwin? The world wants to know.
- Can the Morris bros continue to do what they should be doing in their third summer as NBA pros (but only their second Summer League due to the lockout)? Both looked solid and mature on the court in the first game. It's quite possible that they see their minutes cut as the team shifts focus to other players they want to see. That's common with "veterans" like the Morri.
- P.J. Tucker, see above. I really have no idea why he's even here other than to be a positive example to the young'uns.
- I have to think (and also I read Jim's great interview quotes from GM McRyan) that the Suns will find a roster spot (sorry, Diante) for another big and the three bigs they have here in Vegas qualify as BIG. Onuaku got the most minutes and showed his advanced age (26) compared to the younger and more inexperienced Oriakhi and Collins. Those rotations could change as the week goes on. Or not.
GAME TIME: 3:30pm PT and AZT. The game will stream live on ESPN3 (online) and then should be replayed at some point on NBA TV.
Timberwolves Summer League Game Two - Canis Hoopus
The Wolves take on the Phoenix Suns in Las Vegas this afternoon. Game time is 5:30 CDT, but the game is not televised live. It will be shown on NBA TV tomorrow at 11 am CDT.
A year ago yesterday, the drama between the Phoenix Suns and the New Orleans Hornets (nee Pelicans) over 23 year old shooting guard Eric Gordon came to an end when the Hornets matched the Suns' maximum-salary offer of $58 million over four years.
The uber-talented but often injured Gordon, a restricted free agent, refused contract-extension offers and asked the Big Easy to let him jump ship to the Suns. But the Hornets had no interest in letting Gordon leave after he'd been the centerpiece of the Chris Paul trade, so they matched the max offer despite Gordon's attitude.
Before his injuries and commitment issues in New Orleans, Eric Gordon was a rising star in Los Angeles. In three Clipper seasons, Gordon put up 16.1, 16.9 and 22.3 points per game, supported by 38% three-point shooting on five attempts per game. Gordon also drives hard to the hoop and passes well (3 assists per game), while providing strong defense on the other end of the court.
The teams reportedly did not even engage in trade discussions during the three-day matching period. If the Hornets were ready to rid themselves of Gordon, they could have taken back Robin Lopez (who was traded to NOLA later that summer in a 3-team trade that netted the Suns Wes Johnson and a future #1 pick, who then traded him again a year later for future second round pick).
Truly, the Hornets were not about to let their most talented player walk away no matter how badly he may have wanted to go.
Instead, they decided to pay $14 million per year to a guy who had played only 9 of 66 games in the 2011-12 season, sitting out for unspecified knee pain, after playing 196 of 246 games in his first three years with the LA Clippers.
The Suns were left holding the proverbial bag. Their grand scheme included a potential All-Star talent at shooting guard flanked by the talented Goran Dragic in a two-headed backcourt of driving and dishing to open three-point shooters in Jared Dudley, Channing Frye and free agent signee Michael Beasley.
Those Suns could have been young and exciting, with at least one young player who would earn All-Star buzz every season.
Instead, the Phoenix Suns lost the potential All-Star and soon after that lost one of those good three-point shooters in Channing Frye (heart ailment).
Neither team "won" the Eric Gordon derby in the 2012-13 season.
The Hornets paid Gordon $13.668 million to pout and sit out another 40 of 82 games over that same mysterious knee pain. Again, the Hornets doctors could not pinpoint the issue and Gordon had no surgery*. He eventually returned to the Hornets lineup, scoring 17.2 points per game. The Hornets were 16-26 with Gordon in the lineup vs. 11-29 without.
*Gordon did have surgery in May, after the season, to clean up debris in an ankle and should be fine for training camp.
The Hornets reportedly tried to shop Gordon all season but, just like the Phoenix Suns the summer before, no one wanted to pay Gordon all that money AND give up a lot of talent in trade.
Due to the matching rules in the CBA, the Hornets had trade restrictions on Gordon the entire season. They couldn't trade Gordon to Phoenix at all, and couldn't trade him to anyone else without his permission.
The Suns, as you all know, executed Plan B which was a lay low and ride out the season with an incomplete roster. They talked a big game, hoping for playoffs and such, but you can't make the playoffs without talent.
As of yesterday, New Orleans is allowed to trade Gordon anywhere they want, without his permission. They could even trade him to Phoenix if they wanted to. But Gordon is still an injury risk and, coupled with his big salary, cannot demand too much in trade value.
But does New Orleans (now named the Pelicans) even want to trade Gordon anymore?
The Pelicans want to make the playoffs next season, and they are now making every effort to load the team with more talent. In a matter of weeks, they have brought in two of Gordon's former AAU mates in All-Star PG Jrue Holiday and mercurial, position-less Tyreke Evans for the tidy sum of $20 million per year.
Gordon now says he is "all in" with the Pelicans, and his new teammates can't stop gushing about the possibilities. But can they all play together in a real, effective NBA lineup?
Holiday is truly a PG, and Gordon is truly a SG. The 6'6" Evans can play PG, SG and SF but really doesn't like playing small forward. He wants the ball in his hands, as do Holiday and Gordon.
To put Evans in the starting lineup moves three-point shooting Ryan Anderson from SF to PF, and second-year whisper-thin Anthony Davis from PF to C in their most talented lineup. This lineup would have real trouble holding the opponent under 100 points per game, but at the least the offense would be prolific.
While Gordon is now excited about playing for the Pelicans, it's quite possible that the acquisitions of Evans and Holiday were simply to put the Pelicans in position to trade Gordon without taking a major hit in talent. Plus it would allow the Pelicans to finally turn the tables on Gordon after being held hostage by his pouting for the last two seasons.
But do the Phoenix Suns still need Gordon?
In a word, yes. The least-talented team in the West still needs any top-end talent they can get. But it's not as simple as that.
The Suns just acquired former Gordon teammate Eric Bledsoe to play the two-headed ball handling game with Goran Dragic they'd envisioned Gordon to play. To add Gordon, the Suns would be committing to the same kind of match-game lineup problems as New Orleans faces, yet with even more trouble because none of these guys can shift to SF due to size problems (none over 6'3").
But the Suns don't have any All-Stars. They still need to acquire more and more talent any way they can, and a young (still just 24) two-way playing shooting guard with All-Star talent cannot be ignored.
What the Suns have to decide is whether they want to trade $14+ million in salaries (likely expiring) plus potentially a young asset to acquire an expensive, injury-prone player who forces one of Bledsoe/Dragic to the bench?
Plus, acquiring the long-term contract of Gordon would take the Suns out of the free agent market until at least 2015 and could possibly take them out of the top 5 draft picks next spring - a draft loaded with potential franchise players.
Acquiring someone like Gordon would be tempting for a quick turnaround, but is it worth the cost?
Place In Standings: Third
Points Per Game: 83.9
Points Against: 85.8
This season has been much like a game of basketball. It has had runs that go both ways as the Phoenix Mercury are struggling with consistency, hence their near .500 record. They started the season 0-3 before rattling off eight wins in nine games that has led into this current three game losing streak.
Injuries have played a part in the teams inconsistency as rookie Brittney Griner has been on-and-off the mend with minute restrictions, missed games, and struggling to stay on the court.
Add to that Penny Taylor coming back from injury and Candice Dupree having one game where she was suspended and this team has yet to get everyone on the court at the same time.
"If you are not healthy you are not winning any Championships," Diana Taurasi on the teams recent injuries. "We have to get healthy and go from there"
Getting the entire band back together has been a struggle the past few seasons with injuries and other short-comings. That will be the key to the team finding consistency because depending on the day of the week there is a different line-up, minute restrictions, or miscellaneous issues that limit the team as a whole. So far Taurasi and DeWanna Bonner have been the only constants this season, but that is not enough with the great teams around the league.
Those injuries have played a major part in the teams defense this season as they are a more secure fortress with Griner inside and have become an open flood guide without her. Teams are attacking the rim and scoring with ease inside that has become a reoccurring theme game-in-and-game-out.
The team is giving up 44.5% shooting on two point shots and 37.5% shooting on three-point shooting. Teams are attacking the Mercury at the heart of the defense.
"You can say you want to work harder, but when someone is 6-5 it doesn't matter how hard you work," Taurasi on missing team height and size. "We have to find a way to cover that up and we haven't done a good job of that."
So far this season the Mercury have given up 59.3% of their points inside the three-point arc either at the rim or extended to the mid-range. Compare that to the amount of points scored from three (20.2%) and from the free-throw line (20.3%) and it is clear where the issues lie for the team defense. Inside and at the heart. They are not defending the rim.
What is the team missing?
"Obviously BG's (Griner) size, she is 6-8 and is able to come over and help," said Dupree after the loss to the Sparks. "She is hard for opponents to just drive around and she takes up a lot of space, in a good way, and right now that is what we are missing. In the past we have been without that and won games so we just have to get get back to that."
This season the Mercury are the last defensive points per game, a basement they are used to being in, and at the same time they are the second highest scoring team in the league. Those two facts were similar if not the same in 2007 and 2009 for Championships. There is a different feeling with this team though as they used to out score opponents in the past while this year the team is trying to score more that their opponents.
Over the past five years defense has ruled the WNBA Finals. In 2012 the Indiana Fever (72.3 points allowed, 2nd in the league) won the Championship behind great defense. The same thing happened in 2011 with the Minnesota Lynx (73.6, 2nd), in 2010 the Seattle Storm (73.8, 2nd), and in 2008 the Detroit Shock (74.1, 4th) all won the title behind defense.
Only the one team won a Championship without a Top 4 defense -- the 2009 Mercury with the worst defense in the league.
Wednesday @ Los Angeles Sparks at 7pm AZ Time
Sunday vs. Minnesota Lynx at 3:00pm AZ Time
New Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough and head coach Jeff Hornacek have their first official (unofficial) game under their belts. The Suns 82-69 paddling of the Portland Trail Blazers has the tandem sporting an undefeated career record.
Obviously these games on the UNLV campus don't propitiate similar regular season success. The results may not even translate from one game to the next. Last night's game, though, did seem to be indicative of a fresh approach to the game and positive aura projecting from the team from the top to the bottom.
After the game Suns owner Robert Sarver stood with McDonough and Hornacek outside the locker room exchanging quick smiles. Precocious rookie Archie Goodwin was the topic of whispered discussion. It was a cacophony of whispers over a rookie with unique talents that can't be taught. For one game, the attention was deserving.
This didn't feel like the funereal atmosphere that blanketed US Airways Center much of last season. First of all, McDonough took time to talk one-on-one with media members in a tunnel under the bleachers. Second, Hornacek was amiable and easy-going. Third, Sarver was smiling and looked excited.
The result of the game didn't hurt. After struggling in the first half, the Suns used a 28 point third quarter to seize the momentum in the game and coast to a win.
"We want to push the ball," said Hornacek. "We want our point guards to get the ball on the outlet pass and take off with it. Put some pressure on the defense and get everybody back in the lane and if we have shooters kick it back out."
The Suns were able to implement that strategy successfully in the second half thanks to defensive adjustments and increased intensity. One player's performance which was very reflective of the overall flow of the game was Archie Goodwin, who scored 13 points in his professional debut.
"As an 18 year old rookie I think the game was moving a little fast for him in the first half. I thought it slowed down as the game went on," critiqued McDonough. "He played pretty effectively in the second half. Our coaches did a good job with the halftime adjustments because McCollum was killing us in the first half."
C.J. McCollum had in fact scored 15 points for Portland in the first half and was the main reason the Blazers led by three going into halftime against a Suns team that was having difficulty scraping together buckets. Things weren't quite as easy for McCollum after the intermission.
"They used doubles to try to get the ball out of his hands and make other guys beat us," said McDonough. "I was really impressed with the defensive effort and energy, not just of Archie, but of Arinze Onuaku and our group as a whole."
Onuaku, who pulled down a game high 11 rebounds to go along with seven points, caught the attention of coach Hornacek as well.
"We saw it in practice (Onuaku's intensity). A couple of the guys said they got hit in the chest by him," said Jeff. "He's a big strong kid and he did a nice job for us getting those boards."
The game wasn't just about the new kids, though. "Veterans" Markieff and Marcus Morris also worked through their first half malaise and joined in the second half resurgence. The Suns new coach felt that it was just a matter of letting the game come to them and playing in rhythm.
"When you try to force something yourself it usually doesn't turn out well. In the second half they did a great job of rolling to the open spot and guys hit them with passes and they knocked down shots," said Hornacek.
Goodwin stole the show, though, with about as impressive of a debut as anyone could have possibly hoped for. At times he looked overmatched against the Blazers C.J. McCollum, but let's not forget that C.J. is three years older than Archie and was just drafted #10 overall in the lottery. Let's also not forget that Goodwin held his own in the second half, showing all of us hints at what McDonough saw in him going into the draft.
"Archie didn't shoot the ball very well (in college), that's an area he absolutely has to improve on, but he really knows how to get in the paint," commented McDonough. "He knows how to break down defenses and get to the basket."
This was clearly evident in the game. Goodwin attempted a game high six free throws, making four, while displaying a mesmerizing combination of quickness and fluidity. Maybe graceful would be a fitting adjective? Coming into this job many had emphasized McDonough's analytical background in his scouting process. His first three major additions, Alex Len, Eric Bledsoe and Goodwin, however, are not guys that analytics really love.
"Analytics are important, but I think also that the projection of upside and potential is important," explained Ryan. "You have to factor in the analytics along with what your eyes and traditional scouting tell you."
The Summer League not only serves as a chance to get roster players game experience, but is also a proving ground for athletes trying to carve out a niche for themselves by making a team. The Suns already have 15 players under contract, but that doesn't necessarily preclude the chance of someone from the Summer League team sticking.
"You can bring up to 20 guys to camp. I don't know that we'll bring that many, but we'll probably bring more than 15," said McDonough. "As Jeff and I told these guys when we got hired here it's an open competition. Whoever the best players are will be the ones that play."
Three guys that I will be keeping an eye on for the remainder of the Summer League slate are Phoenix's second round pick Alex Oriakhi, Arinze Onuaku and... Dwayne Collins, who was selected by the Suns with the 60th pick in the 2010 draft. Collins wasn't even listed on the Suns Summer League roster in their media publication. I didn't even realize it was Collins until after he threw down a put-back dunk. Collins donned the #60 on his jersey.
"Dwayne Collins had a knee injury that was pretty bad and took him a few years to recover from. We got a call from his agent a few months ago who said Dwayne is doing better and would like to come in and work out," said McDonough. "He's been working with our coaches on the floor. He's been working with our strength and conditioning coach and our trainers. He's finally getting to where his body and knee feels good. When he's healthy he's pretty explosive around the basket. He's just getting back into game shape now, but physically there's a lot of stuff to work with."
Oriakhi, Onuaku and Collins could be competing for one roster spot. It would be hard to imagine the Suns keeping more than one of them since they duplicate each other's skill sets. With no assurances that the set of bigs currently on the roster will be intact on opening night it leads me to believe there is at least a possible opening here.
Despite the levity surrounding a Summer League romp, it is just that.. a Summer League romp. These proceedings need to be put in perspective. That being said, it just felt different to me than the last time I was around the team in this type of setting.
Many of us (Jim raises hand) at least somewhat bought into the false hope that the organization was selling heading into last season. Maybe this season the team will just let the results speak for themselves instead of making lofty, unrealistic propositions. Not to say the results will be lots of wins (because they won't), but a plan to build around a young core looking to the future would be refreshing.
It's been difficult to watch the Suns these past three seasons because there didn't seem to be a clear strategy. There wasn't something concrete to point to as the foundation for a new successful era. Last season was especially painful. It's one thing to watch young kids with potential take their lumps as they grow as players. It's a completely different, and unsavory, scenario to watch veterans who have already hit their ceiling get pummeled on a nightly basis. Last season the savage beatings piled up like circling vultures around a purple and orange carcass.
It didn't feel like I was watching a dying team last night. It felt like I was watching a growing team.