In a battle of two teams that national media believes will battle it out for worst in the West, the Phoenix Suns open their preseason schedule on Wednesday night in Sacramento.
First of all, the good news: it appears that NBATV will carry the Suns/Kings preseason game, at least to fans in the local Phoenix area!
Even if you don't have NBATV or if you live somewhere it's not shown, you know there's live footage out there somewhere...
Now to the game preview. Let's talk Sacramento Kings first.
If you thought the Suns had concerns coming into the season, take a look at the Kings. They have a lot of young talent (DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, Thomas Robinson, Jason Thompson,
Jimmer Fredette, Marcus Thornton, Isaiah Thomas) but very few starting positions locked up. Most of the team returns from last season after showing a great ability to score (6th highest) bettered only by their ability to allow the opponent to score (30th overall, out of 30).
#5 overall pick Thomas Robinson is trying beat out incumbent Jason Thompson at power forward, who some Suns fans have coveted for years. Robinson is slightly undersized - in the way that Markieff Morris is undersized, which is to say only slightly and only against a handful of opponents - but is still learning the game and may not be trustworthy in a starting position on day one for a team with aspirations to win more than 30 games.
Jason Thompson is a tall, skilled big man who just hasn't been able to turn it on consistently yet. Per Hollinger, he is too small to defend the 5, too slow to defend the 4, and has a very limited offensive game. With all the opportunity in the world to play big minutes for a struggling Sacramento team, he has played 26 and 31 minutes per game the last two years and averaged 12 and 8 with 4 fouls per contest.
James Johnson (formerly of Chicago via Toronto) is still trying to turn his excellent physical skills into a starting small forward job ahead of journeyman Travis Outlaw (formerly of Portland via the Clippers and Nets). Neither has shown the recent ability to start for a winning NBA team, but neither have either of the Suns' small forwards Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson.
At shooting guard, the Kings return a pair of undersized shooters (Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette) and an immensely talented bulldog in Tyreke Evans. Evans may start this season at small forward - you've already seen the competition - or may move high-scoring, defensive sieve Marcus Thornton to a bench role at shooting guard. It appears his days as the starting point guard are over.
Speaking of point guard, little Isaiah Thomas returns to electrify the crowd with scoring and shooting but little else, while being pushed for starting minutes by former Sun Aaron Brooks. Brooks has not gotten a lot of press in the preseason, but I'm sure we will see a lot of the "big" guy (compared to Isaiah Thomas) on Wednesday night.
Of course, at center there's DeMarcus Cousins, the main reason for optimism in Sacramento. He is a force of nature who just needs to keep his head on straight and could be one of the best in the game. But can he lead his team to victory on a regular basis? Who knows. Backing him up are Chuck Hayes and Jason Thompson.
Now, let's talk about the Phoenix Suns.
Or, as Tom Ziller of SacTownRoyalty.com puts it: "This is the new Pacific Division foe: Nashless, rolling in the cellar with us."
Things I will be watching for:
"They work extremely hard," coach Alvin Gentry said after practice on Tuesday. "I will say that. It's been very competitive. I think everyone looks around and realizes the guy behind me is going to be pushing me, and I'm going to have to execute and play well.""Just applying it to a different team finally for the first time in six or seven weeks is great for us," forward Michael Beasley said. "We get to really see how we act under pressure."
Hey there Suns fans!
Look for my game preview coming soon, and a gamethread (or two or three) during the game tomorrow night!
On Friday, there's no TV coverage but our own Jim Coughenour will be on hand to take notes and give you first-hand observations from the game.
Of the Suns' remaining preseason games, only one is on TV (home against Golden State on ESPN, Oct 26), but I'll be covering the other home game at the arena. Three more blacked-out roadies will the schedule.
We got coverage, folks!
The Suns already have eight perimeter players under contract -- three point guards and five wings --so on the surface it doesn't look like there is any room for on more. The maximum roster limit is 15, but the Suns have not decided to fill the 14th and 15th roster spots in recent years. However, if one of these two play well enough and impress the coaching staff, they could earn a spot.
Diante Garrett, the 6-foot-5, 190-pound point guard out of Iowa State, is a player the Suns really like. Garrett is a unique player with great size at the point guard spot and an ability to do a little of everything for the team. The Suns' interest goes back a ways as they brought him in for a work out before the 2011 NBA Draft according to Paul Coro. The Suns didn't draft him that year (no one did) but he must have impressed to stay on the team's radar.
After a year playing overseas, Phoenix brought him back to the Valley to suit up for their Summer League squad. Garrett didn't put up huge numbers, but I was impressed with some of the things he was able to do and the way he played the game.
"I learned a lot, playing out there in Vegas," Garrett told SBN Arizona's Kris Habbas at Suns Media Day. "First time doing any NBA stuff besides NBA workouts. Being able to play against the top competitive people that got drafted, and getting an opportunity to go out there and play and showcase my ability was good."
I wasn't the only one he impressed, apparently, as the Suns invited him back to participate in training camp. The feeling must have been mutual, as Garrett accepted the invitation.
"They've been talking with me for a while, talking with my agent and stuff like that for a while ... I felt like this was the best opportunity, the best option I could get," Garrett said.
Garrett got some burn in the scrimmage last week and while he didn't light it up, his stat-line does a good job of capturing who he is as a player right now: two points, 1-4 field goals, 0-3 3-point field goals, two assists, one rebound. Garrett is a utility player who can attack the basket, distribute and crash the glass, but he needs to work on his jumper.
His length at the point also gives him versatility as he can fill in at the two in a pinch. Versatility is a very good thing for a player trying to make a roster.
Coro reported that Garrett has also done well in the practice scrimmages, including leading his team to a win in one of them.
Garrett is still a little raw, and with three point guards already on the roster, even if he made the team it would be solely as a developmental prospect. The question would then be, does he stay with the team and work with the player development staff, or does he head to Bakersfield to get some game action in the D-League?
Garrett mentioned competitiveness and competing a lot in his interview with Habbas, and that competitive spirit is exactly what he needs to make the roster.
The other long-shot fighting for a roster is 6-foot-5 swingman Othyus Jeffers. Jeffers was a stand-out player at Robert Morris before heading overseas to begin his pro career.
He returned to the U.S. to play in the D-League, where he did well and earned Rookie of the Year honors. He played a couple games for the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs, but got his first real action with the Washington Wizards where he played in 16 games. Unfortunately for Jeffers, he tore his ACL last summer and had to sit out the entire year. Now he's back to full health and looking to make a team.
I asked Mike Prada of SB Nation NBA and Bullets Forever about the kind of player Jeffers is, and Mike described his game for me (in 140 characters or less):
@omahasun good hustle player, undersized, cuts well, plays hard, can't shoot— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) October 9, 2012
That sounds quite a bit like somebody else already on the roster, doesn't it? P.J. Tucker is Jeffers' direct competition, and the former Texas Longhorn is sitting in the driver's seat as he already has a contract. The only way Jeffers makes the squad is if he can outperform Tucker and steal his spot.
The good news for Jeffers (and bad news for Tucker) is that Tucker has had to sit out with an eye injury. Meanwhile, Jeffers is putting in work and showing the coaches what he can do, He also got a little bit of playing time in the scrimmage and finished with two points, 1-2 FGs, one rebound and one steal.
Read up on Jeffers' back story a little bit. He's probably not going to make the Suns but I certainly hope the guy can latch on somewhere. He's been through a lot and has worked really hard. He deserves it.
What do you guys think. They are long shots, but do you think either on of these guys can make the roster?
Lowe, like many national pundits, doesn't give the Phoenix Suns much of a chance this season. Even more damning, he puts them in his lowest tier of teams: "In the Lottery, Defined by Uncertainty". Here's what he had to say:
Who are the NBA's top title contenders this season? And who's trailing the pack? - Grantland
There's nothing fatally bad going on here, but aside from snagging an extra first-rounder from the Wolves in the Wesley Johnson–Robin Lopez–Hakim Warrick–Brad Miller trade, it's hard to see a lot of long-term vision. Again: Nothing's fatal. The Suns can work their way to max-level cap space as early as this summer.
Lowe goes on to criticize the Suns for over-paying for Michael Beasley, which is a shift from the long-held national opinion that the Phoenix Suns were too cheap to pay for talent. He also is skeptical about the Suns' ability to be a good defensive team.