There was a lot to like about this game...

The Point Guardians of the Valley were unleashed tonight and they are here to rule the basketball landscape if they deem fit. When the Phoenix Suns went small the game changed dramatically as the speed, energy, and athleticism of Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and Isaiah Thomas were too much for the short-handed San Antonio Spurs.

In the end the Suns coasted to a 121-90 final winning their last home pre-season game start to build some chemistry.

Early on the Suns were carried by Markiff Morris and Dragic as they combined for 17/24 points and 3/6 assists early on giving the team a slight edge after the first quarter. It was a rough start for Miles Plumlee as he missed his first three shot attempts and got into foul trouble, but turned things around in the second half. Other than a choppy first quarter this game was all Suns from the second quarter to the finish line.

Of course, it should have been as the Spurs only had one of their franchises Big Four in the Valley as Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Greg Popovich all did not make the trip along with Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills.

Tony Parker played 22 minutes with 9 points and 4 assists with Ettore Messina coaching the team.

A 19-9 run to close the half and then an 18-7 run to start the third quarter sealed the deal for the Suns in this game. This game was another opportunity, no matter how depleted the Spurs roster was by design, to go out there and build some more chemistry with the new players and their roles. There is no denying the fact that the first three pre-season games were sloppy and not what the coach had ordered, despite the results.

This was a display of how the Suns can throw waves-and-waves of athletic scorers on the court to bring the energy, but more importantly they were doing it on the defensive end.

Overall the team finished with 17 steals led by Dragic's 3 that all seemed to lead to points in some way, shape, or form. The defense turns into offense philosophy was on full display. Not the, "run and score and the other team will eventually top out so we will win" strategy, an actual defense based gameplan that when clicking on all cylinders like tonight, can be daunting. The Point Guardians of the Valley were unleashed.

The steals turned into fast break points, 33 of them, and opened up the offense for so many things.

Everyone was hitting threes, Goran (1/2), Bledsoe (2/3), Thomas (4/5), Markieff (1/1), and even Archie Goodwin knocked down one. The 33 points from downtown and 29 fast-break points set a bench mark for how this team wants to play. Create havoc on defense, score in transition, and then when the opponents are on their heels knock down threes at a high rate.

For the game Dragic led the way with 20 points and 6 assists (23 minutes), Markieff right behind him with 17 points 7 rebounds (23), Bledsoe 16 points 6 assists (27), and Thomas with 15 points 5 assists (20).

Look, this was the rudderless version of the Spurs of course, for lack of a better description, they were the Austin Spurs tonight. In the end the Suns used this as a tune-up for the Point Guardians and gave the league a taste of what these three can do together.

Next Game: @ Los Angeles Lakers (1-3) Tuesday night at 7pm AZ Time

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Oh, I see what you are doing here, Champs...

What: Phoenix Suns vs. San Antonio Spurs

Where: Unnamed Arena in Phoenix - Phoenix, AZ

When: 7:00 p.m. (AZ Time)

Watch: Suns.com (Rise Network with Greg Esposito & Jon Bloom on the call)

Listen: AZ Sports 98.7 FM

Let's not over think this, but it is still the Spurs, right? Well, yes and no:

No Tim Duncan. No Manu Ginobili. No Tony Parker. No Kawhi Leonard. No Patty Mills. No Tiago Splitter. No Coach Greg Popovich.

Looks like this will be (finally) the time for Cory Joseph, Danny Green, and Matt Bonner to step out of the shadows of the Big Three and become their own version of that. Throw in Boris Diaw for a Big Four. They will be The Big 2.0 and carry the Spurs franchise for years and years to come. I can see it now.

So when Jim Boylen grabs that clipboard and looks across the bench at Ettore Messina, Becky Hammond, and former Blazer Ime Udoka with a barrage of bench players it will not quite feel the same.

For the Suns this needs to be a business endeavor. As of this moment the team is averaging 20.3 turnovers per game in the pre-season which would lead the entire league (in a bad way) if this was still the 2013-2014 season. Last year they averaged 14.8 turnovers per game and right now they look like a team that does not have the cohesion or chemistry to start a regular season right now. There is a lot of work to be done here.

Since the pre-season has very little merit for overall season success lets look at this game as an opportunity for improvement for certain players on the Suns roster:

  • Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and Isaiah Thomas: Focus on hitting the roller and the corner man on the weak side to start getting more of a flow on offense.
  • Continued: Less one-on-one stuff. There is plenty of time for that in the regular season, let's focus on running some offense here to get the role players some confidence and a rhythm.
  • Miles Plumlee: Rebound the ball.
  • Isaiah Thomas, Gerald Green, and Anthony Tolliver: Play them together. That unit needs to develop chemistry to be the weapon we are all expecting them to be in the regular season.

That is all. Let's play some basketball tonight.

Here's a look at the Suns' power forward position this season, and what you can expect these players to bring to the team.

It's no surprise that the Phoenix Suns embrace their identity of being an undersized, fast-paced team, who are primarily driven by the play of their guards.

It's also no surprise that the Suns are banking their success this season on what they have purposely created to be the deepest back court in the NBA.

The back court trio, and 1-2-3-4 punch of Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Isaiah Thomas, and Gerald Green may very well comprise not only the deepest, but also the fastest, most aggressive, and highest scoring back-court in the league when it's all said and done this season...time will tell.

However, one position does not a team make.

This season, the Suns will be depending on their big men to provide the defense and rebounding in the paint on defense, and also to help spread the floor on offense to make their system work.

Here's a look at who the Suns will be using at the power forward position this season, and how they will be depended upon.

Markieff Morris, 6'10" 245 lbs, PF/C

2013/14 Per-Game Averages:  26.6 min, 13.8 pts, 6.1 rbs, 1.8 ast, 48.6 FG%, 31.5 3FG%

Markieff Morris was one of the most pleasant surprises for the Suns last season.  After a somewhat disappointing start overall to his NBA career in Phoenix, after being drafted with the 13th pick in 2011, Markieff finally became the player the Suns had always envisioned.

Phoenix made a trade with the Houston Rockets before the trade deadline in the 2012-13 season, in order to bring Keef's twin Marcus to the Suns.  This was a low-risk gamble (a 2nd round draft pick) that the Suns were hoping would pay off by increasing the productivity of both players.  It did.

Markieff emerged as a completely different player last season, stringing together consecutive games with efficient play on both ends of the court.  Keef transformed his game from the ineffective stretch four he had become, to a highly-skilled power forward who could bang inside, and score at a very efficient rate from mid-range.  Not only that, his defense improved, as did his rebounding.  He suddenly became a complete player that the Suns could depend on, and played almost as many minutes off the bench as Channing Frye did as the starter.

This season, I expect more of the same from Markieff.  With the Suns committing to him and Marcus long term, Keef has all of the reasons to continue his success.  Although the loss of Channing Frye has left the Suns searching for the player to help fill that role, I am hoping that Keef continues to play as a traditional power forward, or even filling in as a center this season...but not as a stretch four.  Markieff has shown he is able to shoot the long ball effectively when he is selective in doing so, but not as the main focus of his game.

Anthony Tolliver 6'9" 240 lbs, PF

2013/14 Per-Game Averages:  20.3 min, 6.1 pts, 2.6 rbs, 42.0 FG%, 41.3 3FG%

Tolliver was signed by the Suns this off-season once Phoenix decided to let Channing Frye go to the Orlando Magic, as a hopeful replacement for the stretch-four position that the Suns depend on to help spread the floor and give the guards room to operate.

Anthony Tolliver is a career journeyman who is entering his seventh year in the NBA, after playing on the same amount of teams.  However, like Gerald Green proved last season, that doesn't preclude him from becoming a major contributor on the Suns this season, and perhaps even finding a home in here in Phoenix.

What Tolliver brings to the Suns is accurate and efficient shooting from beyond the arc.  But more importantly than that, his ability to shoot the ball opens up lanes for the guards to drive in and penetrate the defense, where they can either attack the rim themselves, or find the open man to pass it to.

Anthony certainly understands his role on the Suns, and strikes me as an intelligent player who knows how to use his skills and his veteran presence to benefit the team.  He seems genuinely excited for an opportunity to play in a fast-tempo, high-scoring offense like the Suns utilize, and appears ready to step right in and begin contributing immediately.

I expect that Tolliver will end up in the starting unit once the regular season begins, because of his unique skill-set as a stretch-four that is a necessity for the Suns' offense to operate effectively.  Although Markieff may be the better overall player, I think Tolliver's ability to spread the floor and be ready to catch-and-shoot the pass behind the arc will best complement Dragic and Bledsoe.  Not only that, I think this also helps bolster the second unit even more, allowing both of the Morris twins to play together and help provide additional scoring and defense while the starters are resting.

Marcus Morris, 6'9" 235 lbs, SF/PF

2013/14 Per-Game Averages:  22.0 min, 9.7 pts, 3.9 rbs, 1.1 ast, 44.2 FG%, 38.1 3FG%

Marcus has been a different player since coming to the Suns.  Just as with Markieff, Marcus also experienced a resurgence once re-joining his twin brother in Phoenix.  The Suns obviously believe in Marcus enough to keep him around with his brother for the long term, and they will be counting on him to be a big part of the team this season.

One of the big positives about Marcus's game is that he has the skill set to play both the three and the four.  Just as Markieff is better suited as a four where he can use his strength in and around the basket, Marcus is best suited as a three where he can shoot the ball outside and use his ball-handling ability to get open.

However, the Suns already have P.J. Tucker and a promising rookie in T.J. Warren who will also see minutes at small forward, so Marcus will probably see a lot of minutes at the four this season as well.  Not only that, but when the Suns decide to go small, Markieff will switch to the five and Marcus will go to the four, where both of them are more than serviceable options and can take advantage of the bigger, slower players guarding them.

I expect that Marcus will be a major contributor on the Suns team this season.  While I still think he will see the majority of his minutes backing up the small forward position, I do expect that he will see a substantial amount of minutes at the power forward position.  It will be up to Marcus how much or how little he plays at the three or the four, but with his ability to shoot the ball and his versatility as a forward, he gives the Suns another offensive threat at either position.


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