The Suns, and especially the starters who looked like five fingers on a hand, appeared much more acclimated to their new surroundings than the visitors from Portland. It's only one game, and preseason at that, but I think it portends propitiously that Phoenix's learning curve appears to be well ahead of a team that some believed would be an adversary for positioning in the Western Conference this season. Here are some of my takeaways from the game.
Dragic was devastatingly dynamic. He was making lightning quick, crisp cuts to the basket and setting up his teammates for easy looks while displaying an arsenal of wrap around and behind the back passes. His ball handling was seamless and he gave Lillard a crash course on what to expect in this league. One particular play where Goran drove on the right side, shielded the defender and dished to Solomon Jones for an easy layup was such a quintessential example of orchestrating the offense that Dragic should have gotten an assist AND two points. He was so good at times I almost felt he was showing off.
"I know the offense, I already played that offense when I was here," said Goran after the game. "We have a lot of new players so we have to adjust and we have to give it some time, but I think it is going well."
I would say that's pretty modest based on the play against Portland.
The Suns defense on Aldridge was stifling. The Suns used a mixture of double teams and straight up defense and largely nullified Portland's best player. Aldridge was 4-13 from the field and struggled to get good positioning on the block. He was noticeably frustrated at times and it obviously got to his head when he began complaining to the referees about being
harassed and well defended fouled by the Suns. After holding DeMarcus Cousins to three baskets in the paint on Wednesday, Aldridge managed only two. That's pretty parsimonious considering the level of the competition.
Other areas of the defense were more porous. Transition defense was sluggish at times and led to some easy opportunities. Rotations were slow and the Suns were hurt by Blazer cuts to the basket.
"Offensive rebounding is still a huge concern, as is the dribble penetration," said Gentry. "We're going to have to do a better job at keeping the ball out of the paint."
I'm not overly concerned with the defensive deficiencies at this point. Many of the failings appeared to be the result of poor communication and ignorance of responsibilities. Practice will help that. What does worry me is the rebounding disparity, especially on the offensive glass. The Blazers were +8 in that category, as the Suns were bullied by rookie Meyers Leonard who grabbed seven of his own (in my opinion Leonard was the most impressive player on the floor for Portland). The Suns don't possess great size and length up front so it will be interesting whether they can instill team rebounding techniques or if these woes become pervasive.
I will be using the Beasley/Johnson shot selection tracker to monitor these players until they show that my reason for concern is unfounded. After the first game saw the dynamic duo take 21 of 24 shots from 18 feet or further from the basket, in game two it was 12 of 15. Compare that to the less athletically gifted Dudley who took four of his seven shots in the paint. That's 33 of 39 on the year. 85%. Once again, I'm talking about selection not volume.
When I asked head coach Alvin Gentry about the Beasley/Johnson shot selection against the Kings before the game he told me that he had no problem with the shots they took. "Shoot a shot that's available to you," Gentry remarked. Gentry is actually encouraging Beasley to take more shots.
However, after the game Micheal Beasley remarked, "I do like working on my post game (Beasley was working on low post moves before the game). Right now I'm just trying to learn every play from two or three different positions, but that is something I want to improve on this year is my post game."
My personal thoughts are that I'd like to see Beasley taking more shots and I'd like those shots to come closer to the basket. If he's already taking seven or eight from outside, all he has to do is match that from inside and he will be where Gentry wants him on attempts and he should get to the line more too.
The tracker will continue to monitor this situation.
Luke Zeller, Ike Diogu and Solomon Jones
The players auditioning for roster spots were impressive in the game. Gentry seemed to agree. When asked about what he was seeing from the training camp invites Gentry responded, "I think they've done a good job in practice. The thing that's encouraging, or discouraging (that they were outplaying regulars), is that they dominated practice today (Friday). I wanted to get them some minutes on the floor. They did a good job. They executed pretty well and took advantage of the minutes they got."
Morris followed up a 16 point seven rebound effort in the first preseason game with 14 and five against Portland. His assertiveness from the summer league seems to have carried over into the preseason. On Friday night the fouls did too. Markieff's minutes were limited in the game due to the fact that he picked up four quick fouls in the first 3:47 he was on the court. Morris has shown me enough that I wouldn't be surprised if he led the team in scoring and rebounding off the bench this season. I can envision him as an anchor for that unit, but he won't be able to provide stability if he continues to be plagued by fouls. He needs to be more attentive and know when to initiate or shy away from contact. He was wearing out the referees whistle in his sparse first half minutes.
When asked about what he needs to improve Markieff replied, "Staying consistent, playing hard and being a team player." Those are all good goals, Markieff, but don't forget about staying out of foul trouble. That's important too.
Morris also responded to a question about him attacking the basket during the game by saying, "We have a lot of jump shooters. We need to get to the foul line. We can't bail teams out with jump shots."
So Gentry wants more threes, but Morris wants to attack the basket. Beasley needs to shoot more jump shots, but so far that's all he's taking. Meanwhile he's practicing post moves before the game. The mantra is always take the shot that's available, but 18-22 foot jumpers seem to be available with alarming frequency. The preseason is a felicitous time to iron out all these issues. I can't wait to see what the next game brings.
Michael Beasley's reputation when he signed with Phoenix was that of a black hole, a gunner who didn't move the ball and forced too many shots. Through two preseason games, we have yet to see that version of Beasley. In fact, if you ask Suns head coach Alvin Gentry, Beasley isn't taking enough shots.
"Every day gets easier," Beasley said to the Arizona Republic's Paul Coro. "They’re telling me to shoot, shoot, shoot. I pass up far more shots than I should. Coach (Alvin Gentry) really encourages me to shoot. Everybody does, even the team. The more I get comfortable, the more old habits will leave."
A newcomer getting yelled at for not shooting enough has become an annual tradition for the Suns under Gentry. However, who would have thought Beasley would be the one to need it?
"This is the first time I’ve really been encouraged to shoot even more than I already do, and we all know that I shoot a lot," Beasley said. "My last two teams, I’ve been asked to try to be a passer/playmaker."
Per 36 minutes, Beasley has taken just under 14 shots per game in his first two games as a Sun. That is down from his career average of 17.3 per 36. His assists, on the other hand, are up to 5.7 per 36 from his career average of 1.8.
Bright Siders have been surprised by Beasley's playmaking ability and willingness to pass the ball, but Gentry said he's doing it too much.
"He plays so unselfishly, almost to a fault sometimes where he can hurt the team by not taking that shot that’s available to him," Gentry said. "We try to tell him that it’s not a selfish play to take that shot. Not taking that shot hurts us more than a bad shot."
Gentry would like to see Beasley take more three-pointers in particular, and also wants to get him more shots off the dribble rather than while spotting up.
We know Gentry has no problems giving the green light to players he feel can score the ball. I just hope Beasley takes it the right way, and Gentry puts him in position to take more good shots rather than just more shots. I like the Beasley that I've seen play in Phoenix much more than the one I watched in Minnesota. Hopefully he can find the balance between continuing to play as he has and finding a way to get more looks in the flow of the offense.
Another interesting tidbit from the Coro article is that the Suns do intend to get Beasley some minutes at the power forward spot. However, with all the big men fighting to make the team, we may have to wait before seeing that.
Not a bad game, huh? The Phoenix Suns starters looks pretty much in synch already in Friday's preseason home win over the Portland Trail Blazers. As Jim said in his recap, Goran Dragic looked really sharp, super confident and in word, he Killed It.
His lack of "game shape" might have shown up in the second half when he seemed a step slower, but no worries there at this point in the calendar. Of course, Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris made up for poor first half efforts to carry the second.
Here's my snap impressions of the team overall based on this game:
Rebounding is going to be an issue all year long unless Jermaine O'Neal is able to play a lot better than the last few years of his career would indicate or Gentry is will to sacrifice offense can play some of his bench bangers more.
Offensively, this team has a lot of weapons and with Dragic looking like a legit NBA point guard to run the show, they should score well and actually have a few new ways to put the ball in the hoop. Most notably, they can go to Luis Scola in the post (or even J.O.) which they didn't do much in this game; they can run pick and roll; they've got a few iso guys in Michael Beasley and Shannon Brown; and Jared Dudley and Wesley Johnson add floor spacing. You can see how it might be a very nice, diversified mix once we get to the regular season rotations.
Beasley really stood out for his willingness to move the ball (at least in the first half) and you could see a clear pattern emerge where he would get the shot late in the clock when plays broke down. Gentry's been wanting a player like that for the last few years.
Defensively, the jury is still out. The Blazers have a lot of work to do so while the Suns did well against them, I'm not sold yet that they are ready to stop better competition. We'll see.
The bench didn't play well in this game, but that doesn't bother me. We know Kendall Marshall isn't ready for the show so Sebastian Telfair should do a much better job at point and the rotations will be tighter.
That was a lot more words than I planned on writing as an intro to these other recap links. Suck it up.
From our cousins at SB Nation Arizona:
That was evident as Dragic created unique offense for his teammates with 5 assists in his first 15 minutes of action. Very Nash-like, but done in a very Dragic-like manner. "I think Goran is in a really good place," Coach Gentry after the game. "His idea is not to replace Steve, but to try to be the best player we want him to be. We just want him to be the best Goran he can be."
Suns vs. Blazers: Just 'a typical preseason game' - SB Nation Arizona
Finding five players, "guys that can play together," is one of the priorities that Gentry has in the preseason, and it looks like that the current starting lineup could be what we see on Opening Night. 58 points in two first quarters is what Gentry describes as "hard to do when you just throw a bunch of players together."
And from the Portland side of the fence:
You may recall that we've been saying for a while that there will be two sides to the Blazers' run-and-spread offense this season. When they catch opposing teams unprepared or unmotivated they're going to look pretty. When defenses remember to work and/or when the Blazers fail to execute properly those same players will look like they're walking through a collective nightmare.
And from our other local friends:
the point guard who had one practice before preseason, got in foul trouble Wednesday night at Sacramento and supposedly would have to play himself into shape, was the one point guard to watch at US Airways Center. Handed the impossible task of following Steve Nash,Goran Dragic is comfortable in his own skin, is in a Suns system he knows and has Nash’s old locker.
"The offensive rebounding is still a huge concern," Gentry said of giving up 17 offensive boards to the Blazers. "Then, I think the dribble penetration. We’re going to have to do a better job of keeping the ball out of the paint."
"He’s a good player," Gentry said. "I think with him the whole thing was just confidence. He needed confidence, and that’s not unusual for a young player, so hopefully we’re going to try to instill that in him. His overall game is better than we anticipated. He puts the ball down, he’s a long guy, pretty good defender, gets out and runs. We’ll just continue to try to work with him to get him to the point where he’s a very consistent and very confident player."
The Suns have the next 4 days off as they don’t play the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas until Wednesday.
And finally, the game book.