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Phoenix Suns (2-0) vs. Houston Rockets (2-0)

Game information

5PM AZ time, Houston, NBA TV, AZ Sports 98.7 FM


The Suns will be heading into Houston against a thin rotation missing its only two centers on the roster. Dwight Howard is still recovering from a bruised left knee and is not expected to resume play until Tuesday and rookie Clint Capela is going to miss at least another month with a groin injury.

The Rockets went 14 deep in both of their preseason wins with Jeff Adrien getting the start for Howard in the second game. Houston will have a ton of variety off the bench stretching from international forwards like Donatas Motiejunas and Kostas Papanikolaou to former college standouts like forward Tarik Black (10 points and 15 rebounds on Thursday), guard Isaiah Canaan and guard Nick Johnson. The Rockets also have former Suns guard Ish Smith to backup Patrick Beverley and we will likely see new addition Jason Terry back from injury to make his Rockets debut.

For the Suns I'd expect some more starting lineup changes and head coach Jeff Hornacek trying out as many different lineups throughout the game as possible. With no Howard or Capela this could mean less Earl Barron and more T.J. Warren and Marcus Morris. This is an ideal scenario for Hornacek to try out Markieff Morris at the 5 with both centers for Houston out and his brother Marcus or even P.J. Tucker at the 4.

Check back for our gamethread later today for the official lineups.

While Suns fans have already witnessed some flashes of potential from rookie T.J. Warren and some... of Tyler Ennis, don't be surprised if you don't see much of them once the regular season rolls around.

Earning playing time in the NBA is tough.

Unless a player is a high lottery pick and comes into a situation where he is gifted minutes on a bad team it's going to take a relentless assault. It's a very tough battle for a rookie trying to crack a rotation on a team vying for a playoff spot.

In an article I wrote at the beginning of the summer I detailed how only nine rookies in the last six season played at least 1,000 minutes for Western Conference playoff teams. Last season only Steven Adams from the Oklahoma City Thunder managed the feat. He actually played more minutes (1,197) than all three rookies on the Suns combined (Alex Len, Archie Goodwin, Dionte Christmas - 1,093).

Yes, Christmas officially counted as a rookie.

Mike D'Antoni never played rookies.

In 2004-05 Yuta Tabuse and Jackson Vroman combined to play 74 minutes. In 2005-06 Dijon Thompson and Sharrod Ford managed 56. 2006-07 was a donut hole. In 2007-08 D.J. Strawberry and Alando Tucker actually combined to play 318 minutes, a number that is both staggeringly deviant, in comparison, while frustratingly diminutive. Strawberry, with 270 minutes played, not only won the rookie minutes played award in the D'Antoni era... but actually ran a victory lap.

Extra points to anyone who remembers that Dijon Thompson was actually a Sun.

Next season (2008-09) ushered in the hapless Terry Porter experiment, but also marked a shift in the vicissitudes of team draft trends. Some guy named Goran Dragic garnered 732 minutes, an average of 13.2 over 55 games, from the aforementioned defensive coaching wizard and more player friendly Alvin Gentry. Robin Lopez also notched 614 minutes and seven spot starts that season. Sean Singletary, 122 minutes, never factored into the team's plans.

The 2009-10 season saw Dragic and Lopez's roles further expanded, but late lottery pick Earl Clark, 383 minutes, and the inimitable Taylor Griffin, 32, struggled to make an impact. The 2010-11 class provided the motley crew of Zabian Dowdell, Gani Lawal and Garrett Siler. The trio combined for just 395 minutes. Lawal headlined with two minutes played, which ended up being the only of his career.

Gentry's last full season as head coach was the inception of the Markieff Morris era (that's what we're calling this, right?), who was just involved in one of the most bizarre contract negotiations in recent history. Markieff played in 63 of the 66 games in the lockout season (always remember it was a lockout, not a strike - especially when the owners try to screw the players out of a fair share of the new $100 gazillion dollar tv deal), averaging 19.5 per game for a total of 1,227 minutes. This, despite the fact that after a sizzling start Morris just flat out wasn't very good that year.

The next season (2012-13) was marred by a perfidious imbroglio that included the ouster of Gentry and the introduction of the "esteemed" Lindsey Hunter. Feel free to insert a different word for esteemed at your discretion. Out of the misery of that season came the impetus for change, which in retrospect seems an acceptable amount of pain for the prodigious growth since that summer. Still, amid the futility of a lost season lottery pick Kendall Marshall only saw 702 minutes of live action. Fellow rookies Diante Garrett and Luke "one of the best shooters in the world" Zeller combined for just 207 more. It's astounding that Lance Blanks managed to say so many stupid things despite being so conspicuously and habitually absent...

Enter Jeff Hornacek and the beginning of a new strategy of making multiple first round picks. The first such iteration landed the Suns Alex Len and Archie Goodwin. However, due in part to injuries (Len) and in part to youth neither of the players made any real impact. Archie played just 533 minutes last season and Alex a mere 362. Dionte Christmas also dazzled fans for 198 minutes of holiday joy.

Maybe it wasn't just D'Antoni that didn't play rookies. That's a decade worth of draft picks and only Markieff Morris eked out more than 732 minutes in his first season. That includes six more seasons, of mostly forgettable basketball, after Mike D left for browner pastures. Watch your step, Mike, that's not grass...

Now the Suns roster is replete with precocious players that may perpetuate the proclivity of paltry playing time. Because p.

There was a reason the Suns implemented the draft and stash strategy with their selection of Bogdan Bogdanovic #27 overall in the draft. They know there is already a disproportionate amount of youth to available minutes on the team.

T.J. Warren just turned 21 (9/5/1993) and Tyler Ennis turned 20 just before him (8/24/1994). That means Goodwin, who was born August 17, 1994 is no longer the youngest player on the team, with Tyler edging him out by seven days. The 21 year old Alex Len (6/16/1993) is the elder statesman of the group.

Len doesn't seem to face the crunch (insert bone joke here), though, as he will seemingly be given time unless he plays his way out of it. The Suns are thin up front and are counting on the second year player to pay dividends. Goodwin, on the other hand, isn't in as auspicious of a position. Playing behind Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green makes earning playing time a daunting task.

That's why I basically put Archie in the same uphill battle position as the two newest first round picks.

He knows he's facing a fierce struggle. It was common knowledge that Goodwin was a regular around the Suns facilities this summer, even running sprints with the players that came in for pre-draft workouts.

"It was just being here. Being here is always good to let the coaches see that you're working and that you're dedicated," Goodwin said about his time in Phoenix this summer. "It helped me become a better player. Becoming more of a consistent knock down shooter and making better decisions offensively. Also becoming more solid defensively and getting stronger."

Ennis also reported to Phoenix for early workouts at the beginning of September to get his feet wet and work on his game.

"I've been working on the NBA three, getting my feet set. I think I've made a lot of progress with that," said Ennis. "Also, finishing around the basket. This is a new level, there are bigger stronger guys here. Conditioning wise I think I'm at a level I've never been at before.

"We have a lot of guards that play the one and the two, myself included, so I think I'm fighting everyone for minutes," continued Tyler. "Regardless of whether you're more of a scorer or more of a passer I think as long as you're doing what it takes for the team to win the coach will put you out there. I look at it as a positive. I have three really good point guards on this team that I can learn from and ask questions and get adjusted to the NBA game."

Not only that, but Ennis is most likely fighting for sixth on the guard depth chart with Zoran Dragic (who is actually a rookie in his own right), below second year Goodwin.

The Suns may already face problems finding players consistent minutes before Goodwin, Warren and Ennis are even considered. Dragic, Bledsoe, Thomas, Green, P.J. Tucker, Markieff and Marcus Morris, Anthony Tolliver, Miles Plumlee and Len all figure to be ahead of them on the depth chart as of now in training camp. That's 10 players. The Suns even experimented with Tolliver starting in their last game, a 97-89 win against the Denver Nuggets. The team is looking for a stretch four and Tolliver hit three from long range in 18 minutes.

Still, staying prepared is of paramount importance as a spot in the rotation may just be a trade or injury away.

Could part of that preparation include honing their skills in the developmental league?

Ennis doesn't seem too enamored with the prospect of playing on the Suns D-League affiliate Bakersfield Jam this upcoming season, despite trying to say the right things.

After a long pause... "At this point I'm really just listening to whatever the coaches say," said Ennis. "Whatever the coaching staff thinks is best for me, best for my development, that's what I'm going to do."

As I wrote above, there was a long pause. Read into that what you want, but these guys are obviously competitors.

The always succinct Warren didn't seem as conflicted with the prospect.

"It would be great," responded T.J. to my query. "It's basketball. Anytime there's basketball to play I'm ready to go."

Of course Warren is still concentrating on becoming a forcible presence on the Suns.

"I'm sharpening up the offensive stuff I do. Staying confident. Learning the offensive system and defensive rotations. I'm just trying to work hard and play the underdog role. The way the team wants to score fits my game very well."

T.J. didn't appear to lack aplomb this summer, as he dazzled with his ability to put the ball in the basket.

"I knew there was an opportunity for me to be aggressive and help my team. The guards did a great job of finding me in the open floor to get me going," commented T.J. on his performance.

Warren also just went for 10 points and six rebounds in the Suns last preseason game. Will those chances still be there, though, during the regular season when he's fighting for playing time with Marcus, P.J. and the four fingered assassin?

Positional battles abound for the Suns youngsters this season, but they are ready for the challenge.

"I don't fear anyone on our roster," said Goodwin with tangible boldness. "I feel like I can compete with anyone. I feel like I can be a really good player and contribute to this team."

Unfortunately for Archie, on this deep team being a really good player may not necessarily translate into an opportunity to contribute much.

While Suns fans have already witnessed some flashes of potential from rookie T.J. Warren and some... of Tyler Ennis, don't be surprised if you don't see much of them once the regular season rolls around.

Earning playing time in the NBA is tough.

Unless a player is a high lottery pick and comes into a situation where he is gifted minutes on a bad team it's going to take a relentless assault. It's a very tough battle for a rookie trying to crack a rotation on a team vying for a playoff spot.

In an article I wrote at the beginning of the summer I detailed how only nine rookies in the last six season played at least 1,000 minutes for Western Conference playoff teams. Last season only Steven Adams from the Oklahoma City Thunder managed the feat. He actually played more minutes (1,197) than all three rookies on the Suns combined (Alex Len, Archie Goodwin, Dionte Christmas - 1,093).

Yes, Christmas officially counted as a rookie.

Mike D'Antoni never played rookies.

In 2004-05 Yuta Tabuse and Jackson Vroman combined to play 74 minutes. In 2005-06 Dijon Thompson and Sharrod Ford managed 56. 2006-07 was a donut hole. In 2007-08 D.J. Strawberry and Alando Tucker actually combined to play 318 minutes, a number that is both staggeringly deviant, in comparison, while frustratingly diminutive. Strawberry, with 270 minutes played, not only won the rookie minutes played award in the D'Antoni era... but actually ran a victory lap.

Extra points to anyone who remembers that Dijon Thompson was actually a Sun.

Next season (2008-09) ushered in the hapless Terry Porter experiment, but also marked a shift in the vicissitudes of team draft trends. Some guy named Goran Dragic garnered 732 minutes, an average of 13.2 over 55 games, from the aforementioned defensive coaching wizard and more player friendly Alvin Gentry. Robin Lopez also notched 614 minutes and seven spot starts that season. Sean Singletary, 122 minutes, never factored into the team's plans.

The 2009-10 season saw Dragic and Lopez's roles further expanded, but late lottery pick Earl Clark, 383 minutes, and the inimitable Taylor Griffin, 32, struggled to make an impact. The 2010-11 class provided the motley crew of Zabian Dowdell, Gani Lawal and Garrett Siler. The trio combined for just 395 minutes. Lawal headlined with two minutes played, which ended up being the only of his career.

Gentry's last full season as head coach was the inception of the Markieff Morris era (that's what we're calling this, right?), who was just involved in one of the most bizarre contract negotiations in recent history. Markieff played in 63 of the 66 games in the lockout season (always remember it was a lockout, not a strike - especially when the owners try to screw the players out of a fair share of the new $100 gazillion dollar tv deal), averaging 19.5 per game for a total of 1,227 minutes. This, despite the fact that after a sizzling start Morris just flat out wasn't very good that year.

The next season (2012-13) was marred by a perfidious imbroglio that included the ouster of Gentry and the introduction of the "esteemed" Lindsey Hunter. Feel free to insert a different word for esteemed at your discretion. Out of the misery of that season came the impetus for change, which in retrospect seems an acceptable amount of pain for the prodigious growth since that summer. Still, amid the futility of a lost season lottery pick Kendall Marshall only saw 702 minutes of live action. Fellow rookies Diante Garrett and Luke "one of the best shooters in the world" Zeller combined for just 207 more. It's astounding that Lance Blanks managed to say so many stupid things despite being so conspicuously and habitually absent...

Enter Jeff Hornacek and the beginning of a new strategy of making multiple first round picks. The first such iteration landed the Suns Alex Len and Archie Goodwin. However, due in part to injuries (Len) and in part to youth neither of the players made any real impact. Archie played just 533 minutes last season and Alex a mere 362. Dionte Christmas also dazzled fans for 198 minutes of holiday joy.

Maybe it wasn't just D'Antoni that didn't play rookies. That's a decade worth of draft picks and only Markieff Morris eked out more than 732 minutes in his first season. That includes six more seasons, of mostly forgettable basketball, after Mike D left for browner pastures. Watch your step, Mike, that's not grass...

Now the Suns roster is replete with precocious players that may perpetuate the proclivity of paltry playing time. Because p.

There was a reason the Suns implemented the draft and stash strategy with their selection of Bogdan Bogdanovic #27 overall in the draft. They know there is already a disproportionate amount of youth to available minutes on the team.

T.J. Warren just turned 21 (9/5/1993) and Tyler Ennis turned 20 just before him (8/24/1994). That means Goodwin, who was born August 17, 1994 is no longer the youngest player on the team, with Tyler edging him out by seven days. The 21 year old Alex Len (6/16/1993) is the elder statesman of the group.

Len doesn't seem to face the crunch (insert bone joke here), though, as he will seemingly be given time unless he plays his way out of it. The Suns are thin up front and are counting on the second year player to pay dividends. Goodwin, on the other hand, isn't in as auspicious of a position. Playing behind Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green makes earning playing time a daunting task.

That's why I basically put Archie in the same uphill battle position as the two newest first round picks.

He knows he's facing a fierce struggle. It was common knowledge that Goodwin was a regular around the Suns facilities this summer, even running sprints with the players that came in for pre-draft workouts.

"It was just being here. Being here is always good to let the coaches see that you're working and that you're dedicated," Goodwin said about his time in Phoenix this summer. "It helped me become a better player. Becoming more of a consistent knock down shooter and making better decisions offensively. Also becoming more solid defensively and getting stronger."

Ennis also reported to Phoenix for early workouts at the beginning of September to get his feet wet and work on his game.

"I've been working on the NBA three, getting my feet set. I think I've made a lot of progress with that," said Ennis. "Also, finishing around the basket. This is a new level, there are bigger stronger guys here. Conditioning wise I think I'm at a level I've never been at before.

"We have a lot of guards that play the one and the two, myself included, so I think I'm fighting everyone for minutes," continued Tyler. "Regardless of whether you're more of a scorer or more of a passer I think as long as you're doing what it takes for the team to win the coach will put you out there. I look at it as a positive. I have three really good point guards on this team that I can learn from and ask questions and get adjusted to the NBA game."

Not only that, but Ennis is most likely fighting for sixth on the guard depth chart with Zoran Dragic (who is actually a rookie in his own right), below second year Goodwin.

The Suns may already face problems finding players consistent minutes before Goodwin, Warren and Ennis are even considered. Dragic, Bledsoe, Thomas, Green, P.J. Tucker, Markieff and Marcus Morris, Anthony Tolliver, Miles Plumlee and Len all figure to be ahead of them on the depth chart as of now in training camp. That's 10 players. The Suns even experimented with Tolliver starting in their last game, a 97-89 win against the Denver Nuggets. The team is looking for a stretch four and Tolliver hit three from long range in 18 minutes.

Still, staying prepared is of paramount importance as a spot in the rotation may just be a trade or injury away.

Could part of that preparation include honing their skills in the developmental league?

Ennis doesn't seem too enamored with the prospect of playing on the Suns D-League affiliate Bakersfield Jam this upcoming season, despite trying to say the right things.

After a long pause... "At this point I'm really just listening to whatever the coaches say," said Ennis. "Whatever the coaching staff thinks is best for me, best for my development, that's what I'm going to do."

As I wrote above, there was a long pause. Read into that what you want, but these guys are obviously competitors.

The always succinct Warren didn't seem as conflicted with the prospect.

"It would be great," responded T.J. to my query. "It's basketball. Anytime there's basketball to play I'm ready to go."

Of course Warren is still concentrating on becoming a forcible presence on the Suns.

"I'm sharpening up the offensive stuff I do. Staying confident. Learning the offensive system and defensive rotations. I'm just trying to work hard and play the underdog role. The way the team wants to score fits my game very well."

T.J. didn't appear to lack aplomb this summer, as he dazzled with his ability to put the ball in the basket.

"I knew there was an opportunity for me to be aggressive and help my team. The guards did a great job of finding me in the open floor to get me going," commented T.J. on his performance.

Warren also just went for 10 points and six rebounds in the Suns last preseason game. Will those chances still be there, though, during the regular season when he's fighting for playing time with Marcus, P.J. and the four fingered assassin?

Positional battles abound for the Suns youngsters this season, but they are ready for the challenge.

"I don't fear anyone on our roster," said Goodwin with tangible boldness. "I feel like I can compete with anyone. I feel like I can be a really good player and contribute to this team."

Unfortunately for Archie, on this deep team being a really good player may not necessarily translate into an opportunity to contribute much.

The Phoenix Suns have attempted to double down on their primary scoring options this season by upgrading their drive-and-kick game. Those upgrades should improve the offensive efficiency but not necessarily the assist totals.

The Phoenix Suns offense was tough to defend last year. They had a scheme different than most other NBA teams, a prerequisite for winning more games than your talent level demands. Amidst an 82-game schedule, opponents don't have much time to prepare for unique teams.

The Suns offensive scheme was built around the strengths of its two best players, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. Both are attacking, score-first point guards. So the Suns decided to play both at the same time, a unique playing style not yet emulated by the rest of the league. The rest of the Suns lineup around the ball handler consisted of spot-up three-point shooters with a single big man (Miles Plumlee or Markieff Morris) in the paint to maximize the spacing for guard penetration.

After winning two-thirds of their games when healthy, there's no reason to change it this year. They even added PG Isaiah Thomas to make sure they wouldn't have to.

"We want to try to stay the same," coach Jeff Hornacek said before the preseason win over Denver on Friday night. "We want to bring it up the court, get into our early offense, swing it from side to side, get quick hitters for our guards so they can break the defense down and then kick out to guys. So that's not going to change."

The Suns were 4th in the league in three-point attempts per possession, 6th in makes and 8th in percentage. Nearly every play call was a pick-and-roll, with the screener popping out to the three-point line while the ball handler drove around the pick headed straight for the basket.

That offense was on full display on Friday night against Denver with Anthony Tolliver and Markieff Morris rotating as the screener. Tolliver was signed to replace the offensive skills that Channing Frye brought to the table - a quick and accurate release and a (semi) unconscious desire to get the shot off as soon as it touches your hand.

"I might lead the league in three-pointers made and attempted this year," Tolliver said after hoisting 8 three pointers in 18 minutes of play on Friday against Denver. "Because I'm going to get a lot of open shots. Any time I'm open I'm going to put it up."

Having Tolliver in the lineup appeared, for one game at least, to put the Suns pick-and-roll offense back into domination mode.

"That's why I came here," Tolliver said. "These guards here are special. They really put a lot of pressure on the defense to get to the basket. My man has to make a decision every time. Sometimes it's a layup for us and sometimes it's an open three."

The Suns also feel more comfortable with Markieff Morris behind the arc.

"We feel confident with Markieff shooting threes," Hornacek said right before Morris went 2-for-3 in the game against Denver. "He's going to find the balance. Two years ago he shot too many. Last year he found the midrange game he's very good at. We want him to mix it up and do it at the right time.

"The only real difference [between Keef and Tolliver] will be when Markieff is in the game we'd go to more post up plays for him, where Anthony is more on the outside."

One downside of that game plan is that the players, outside of the point guards, were not good at setting up other teammates once they got the ball. Nearly every time, the roller, post man or weak side shooter (like Gerald Green) would put the ball up or dribble themselves into their own shot.

The Suns were 29th in the league in assists per game, assisting on less than half of their field goals.

"Our two highest scorers were our point guards," Hornacek explained. "You don't get a lot of assists when you come off a pick and you go lay it in the basket or make a shot. I don't get that concerned about the assists. We see it enough if a guy doesn't make extra passes and misses somebody open that we have to get better at."

The secondary offense consisted of dumping the ball down to Miles Plumlee or Markieff Morris on the post to create a score in the paint, but neither was proficient at making a scoring pass once they got the ball. Plumlee almost never passed the ball. Markieff Morris was 4th on the team in assists with just 1.8 per game, most of those (it appeared) to his brother Marcus on kick-outs.

This year, the Suns do expect to get more passing out of their non point guards.

"Our assist totals will probably go up," Hornacek said. "Just because I feel that with Markieff or Anthony at the 4, or Marcus [Morris] or P.J. [Tucker], I envision us hitting the roller a lot more and that guy make a play. Those guys aren't just stand still shooters. They should be able to create some assists."

The four players mentioned combined for 1.9 assists per 36 minutes last year, with Markieff far and away the best (2.5 per 36). Yet Hornacek expects to see improvement there.

"We feel with our guards," Hornacek said. "Teams are probably going to jump these guys a little bit more and that will put it in these guys hands and we can play off of that."

Don't hold your breath on the power forwards becoming great playmakers this season. Expect the Suns offense to improve primarily due to better shooting off the primary offense. Isaiah Thomas is a major upgrade from Ish Smith and Anthony Tolliver can make the same percentage of threes that Channing Frye made.

With expected improvement from Markieff Morris (31.5%) and Eric Bledsoe (35.7%) on threes, as long as the others don't see a major decline collectively -- Gerald Green, Marcus Morris, P.J. Tucker, Goran Dragic -- the Suns might shoot into the top 5 of the league in three-point percentage this season.

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