The J-to-the-C makes his triumphant return to the podcast as the pre-season comes to an end and the games now begin to matter. This has been an interesting exhibition season as the Phoenix Suns (5-2) closed out strong showing signs of life and creating more questions that need to be answered.
This week we review the play of Kendall Marshall, the Achilles Heel of the Suns this year, and take inventory over which players options will get picked up this year.
Overall Jim and I decided to run long with the timing of the podcast at the end of the pre-season and with us bringing the show a day later than normal. Enjoy.
Full Podcast Here: Phoenix Suns Podcast Episode 43
Which Suns players should have their team options picked up?
Remember: If the Suns have a home game on Tuesday night there is always the potential of the podcast being delayed by a day. Sorry for any inconvenience.
Hailed as the best passer in the past decade of college basketball, 20 year old Kendall Marshall was drafted by the Phoenix Suns to effectively replace the best passer of the decade in the NBA, Steve Nash.
But, unfortunately, that was Marshall's high point in the NBA.
Early in the draft season of 2012, Kendall Marshall rivaled Damian Lillard as the best point guard prospect in the Draft. While Lillard was a better athlete and scorer, he had cut his teeth on four full years at a small college. Translation of his game to the NBA level was expected, but not automatic.
On the other hand, Kendall Marshall was two years younger and had been second in all of college basketball in assists as a sophomore at North Carolina. Marshall had great floor vision and ran a unit that fast-broke it's way through the regular season and deep into the NCAA tournament until Marshall went down with a wrist injury and UNC failed to advance without him. Marshall was surrounded by NBA talent at UNC, seemingly a harbinger of his ability to lead an NBA team.
Marshall's lack of athleticism or jump shot didn't hurt him at UNC and, thanks to the wrist injury, he didn't hurt himself in predraft workouts because he couldn't compete. Teams had to go on "spec", which was pretty darn good. Still, he was dropped a bit due to concerns about his speed and offensive package beyond passing. On the day of the draft, Marshall had dropped to the 18th best prospect, according to draftexpress.com.
The Phoenix Suns, knowing they were about to cold-shoulder Steve Nash in free agency, needed an heir apparent to replace the former MVP and transition the Suns into a new era. So, at the 13th pick, they tabbed Kendall Marshall on his promise of upside and passing.
As it turns out, even the vaunted draftexpress.com had overrrated Marshall's chances in the NBA.
Despite the best intentions - drafting a 20-year old "best passer in college in a decade" to lead a rebuild project - the Phoenix Suns' subsequent moves negatively impacted Marshall. Or, depending on your point of view, saved them from even further embarrassment.
A week after he was drafted, the Suns had signed a veteran starter to a big, long-term deal. Rumor has it that former GM Lance Blanks preferred Raymond Felton on a short-term deal while Marshall developed, but that the team's managing partner, Robert Sarver, hammered out the deal for Goran Dragic in the parking lot outside the stadium before Blanks could act on Felton.
In hindsight, Robert Sarver was a better judge of talent than Lance Blanks.
Since then, Marshall has failed to impress three different head coaches. He barely earned playing time under Alvin Gentry, who preferred long-time NBA vet Sebastian Telfair over Marshall. Only after Blanks cleared the decks - firing the head coach, trading Telfair, removing requirements to "win" - did Marshall get his chance to play backup PG.
But even then, the interim HC hand-picked by Blanks - Lindsey Hunter - chose to play Dragic more minutes than ever, leaving Marshall with only scraps to share with Diante Garrett. Marshall even struggled against the same D-League competition that Garrett dominated.
Now, a new head coach enters and Marshall gets another chance. Jeff Hornacek came in with a clean slate, promising everyone a chance to compete. He spent a great deal of time with all the kids after being hired - now including Marcus Morris, Alex Len and Archie Goodwin in addition to Kieff and K-Butter.
He made it clear that Marshall needed to rework his jump shot to be a threat. That Marshall needed the raise the release higher up in the air to require the defender to play him honestly. Marshall didn't.
In Summer League, with Hornacek as coach, Marshall was the Suns starting point guard but was underwhelming. Not only could he still not score or defend with regularity, Marshall didn't even wow anyone with his playmaking - his lone NBA skill coming out of college - by collecting just 4 assists per game.
And now in preseason, the still-21 Marshall has logged just 52 minutes in 7 preseason games, including DNP-CD's in the last two preseason games. This after being the PG as they went on a 19-4 to cut a big deficit to 1 against the Clippers in their fourth preseason game.
Marshall's NBA career is on life support, just 16 months after being drafted 13th overall (and being ranked 18th overall).
Marshall has a guaranteed contract for this season already in his back pocket. Rookies get two guaranteed years to start their career. His roster spot is likely safe while the Suns try to entice someone, anyone to take him on potential in a trade.
The Suns have until Monday to decide whether to guarantee his third NBA season - next year's 2014-15 season - at more than $2 million dollars.
After watching Marshall get the minutes equivalent to a "camp invite" this preseason despite being just 21 years old, I have a hard time believing the Suns will pick up that option. He's played the same minutes as Ish Smith, and barely more than Dionte Christmas.
Kendall Marshall is certainly wondering what the hell happened to his NBA career, and is most likely wondering how much the Suns had to do with it - that they haven't given him the chance to shine by playing him so few minutes.
He certainly believes he's an NBA player, and now wonders when he will get that chance. Maybe he wants the Suns to decline the third year contract so he can start fresh. Definitely, he hopes for a trade to a better situation if he's not going to get playing time in Phoenix.
And with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic sharing the PG duties, Marshall almost certainly won't get the chance in Phoenix.
The Suns started off another slopfest with eight first quarter turnovers. Ty Lawson and Javale McGee each scored five points in the early going to help Denver build a 12-7 lead which they nursed for the remainder of a fairly uninspired quarter of preseason basketball. Goran Dragic looked discombobulated on his way to four first quarter turnovers, which is disconcerting considering ball control has plagued him all preseason. Nuggets 24, Suns 18.
After racing out to 12 turnovers in the second quarter while they were still stuck on 18 points, the Suns were more precautious the rest of the way... though not necessarily better. Denver threatened to gain separation and pushed their lead to nine twice, but Phoenix (aided by Denver's offensive ineptitude) kept within striking distance. Eric Bledsoe led the charge with nine points in the period. Nuggets 44, Suns 39.
The Nuggets shot 21 free throws in the first half to the Suns nine.
The previous game against the Thunder the Suns managed to win shooting below 40/25/65 (FG%/3P%/FT%). The first half of this game they were a paltry 37/18/56.
Bledsoe finished with nine points, five rebounds and three assists
The Suns finished the first half with 14 turnovers.
The Nuggets shooting was even more atrocious than Phoenix's, as they hit just 29.5% (13-44) from the field.
McGee led the Nuggets with nine points and Lawson chipped in eight.
Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris each pulled down seven rebounds.
Markieff asserted himself early in the third quarter by scoring eight straight points for the Suns as they clawed to stay close, twice cutting the Nuggets lead to a single point. Gortat was also busy on the boards, collecting six of his game high 13 in the period. Anthony Randolph was an irritant, however, as he poured in eight for the Nuggets to keep his team ahead. The Suns were still lurking, though, hanging around within striking range. Nuggets 65, Suns 60.
The Suns took their first lead of the game, 67-65, on a driving layup by Eric Bledsoe. A lineup of Bledsoe, Goodwin, Green, Frye and Plumlee was clicking with EB shredding through the defense for easy layups and kickouts to teammates for open looks. The Suns traded buckets with Denver for the next few minutes, leading 78-75 with 5:42 remaining before closing the game on a 20-4 run. After scoring just 39 points in the first half, the Suns unleashed a deluge of 38 in the fourth quarter alone as they outscored the Nuggets by 24. Five different Suns scored during the pivotal stretch where the Suns extended from a three point lead to double digits.
Final score: Suns 98, Denver 79
Player of the Game:
Eric Bledsoe. Player of the preseason, too. He has given fans reason for optimism heading into the season. His 21 points, seven rebounds and seven assists made it pretty easy to overlook his five turnovers.
Comments of the Game:
So what happened to that seven-seconds-or-less offense?
Is our new game plan now to take shots in the last seven second of the shot clock?
I take it boxing out is illegal in preseason?
The guy (Marshall) should take up knitting on the sideline
Probably could make complete outfits for the entire team by the end of the season
Al McCoy, "The Suns had a brief lead... couldn't stand the prosperity."
*On the radio - had to put it in here.
Great drive and kick combo
I think the Frye/Plumlee duo is going to be great off the bench
What a dish by Goran
And what a slam.
The fourth quarter. What a paradigm shift from the early going. It was every bit the dismantling that the 38-14 disparity would suggest. Easily the best quarter of the preseason. Everyone was clicking. What an outstanding way to enter the regular season.
Three Suns reached double digits in rebounds - Gortat (13), Markieff (10) and Miles Plumlee (10). Sure, Denver could have changed their name from Nuggets to Masons, but that is still impressive glass cleaning nonetheless.
Gerald Green. He has quietly (or maybe not so quietly) had a very nice preseason. While Marcus Morris had been very vanilla, the Green Machine appears to be very interested in garnering the available small forward minutes. 19 points in 19 minutes on 7-9 shooting (3-3 3P) only helps his cause.
6:47. That's the amount of game time given to Dionte Christmas. Considering nobody else on the bubble received any playing time that may bode well for Dionte.
21 turnovers. After magnanimously delving out 14 in the first half, the Suns fumbled five more away in the third before settling down. This could have very well been the team's undoing if not for the about face in the fourth quarter. As usual, Bledsoe and Dragic were the most serious offenders with five apiece.
The game wasn't exactly a prize fight through three quarters, but the Suns pulled it out of the fire at the end.
It was great to see the Suns hitting on all cylinders at the end of this game. The guys that finished this one out will be the guys getting minutes in the regular season. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see the minute distribution at the beginning of the season be very similar to tonight. This year will be all about progression, development and growth, and I think those were evident tonight.