Alvin Gentry mixing and matching to 'see how players fit together'

Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Gentry has 17 players in camp, but only 5 return from last season. He needs to find the right fit by the time the regular season starts.

The Phoenix Suns played their first preseason game on Wednesday, Oct 10, to mixed results. That they won or lost the game was immaterial.

Preseason is all about evaluating players, and Alvin Gentry has to choose three to five guys from a pool of 12 to supplement the Suns returning rotation. From last season, only Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley, Markieff Morris, Shannon Brown and Sebastian Telfair return. Each will get a rotation spot, at least at the beginning of the season. Alvin Gentry needs some kind of continuity while the new guys learn the system.

Certainly, if any or all of them get beaten out by new guys, that's the way it goes. But Gentry won't be able to see that and make that decision if the new guys are just languishing on the bench all preseason.

So he has to play the new guys as much as possible while also getting everyone into game shape.

"We're just going to take a look at see how players fit together," said Gentry to arizonasports.com. "We had a pretty good gauge in the past about who played well with who and the matchups and the rotations. But, with this group right here it's practically brand new."

I was not surprised when Shannon Brown and Sebastian Telfair were held out of last night's game. Sure they had minor injuries (Brown got stitches on his forehead, Telfair had a sore wrist). But it was also convenient to rest them for the same reasons that Luke Zeller and Ike Diogu didn't play.

"I want guys out there long enough so they can get a feel," he said in that same interview. "We'll give guys some extended minutes. Most of the guys that go in are going to play seven or eight minutes straight so they can at least get a feel of the game."

By not playing Telfair, Gentry had a chance to see more of Kendall Marshall and Diante Garrett.

By not playing Zeller and Diogu, Gentry got to see more of Solomon Jones and Jermaine O'Neal.

By not playing Brown, Gentry got to see more of Othyus Jeffers, Wesley Johnson and P.J. Tucker.

So, what did Gentry glean from these guys last night? To be honest, I have no idea. I only had a tiny stream on my computer running while listening to the out-of-synch radio call by McCoy and keeping up on twitter and game stats, not to mention writing the recap and popping into the game thread.

And even if I did have all the video and time in the world, I'm not a basketball coach. I rarely notice the little things beyond the basketball. I don't even know what offensive plays they were running each time, unless it was a pick-and-roll.

I can guess that Gentry can see Johnson in a "shooter" role, and Beasley in a jack-of-all-trades role on the wing. And I can guess that Gentry didn't like the flow of the offense when Marshall or Garrett were running the team.

But those suppositions can change from game to game. Expect Gentry to keep playing roulette all the way through the preseason (and even into the season for a month or two). There's no all-star on this team, no sure-fire winning lineup. It's all about mixing and matching guys who have never played together as a group before. And then figuring out which "good" and "bad" is repeatable to the point of consistency.

Not only does he need to figure out if these guys can play NBA-level basketball, he needs to see who plays best with whom.

And that's a tall order.

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