Phoenix Suns starting lineup set, regular rotation ready to go

Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

The rest of the preseason is just a warmup for the October 31 Phoenix Suns season opener against Golden State. Alvin Gentry knows who is going to start, and who is going to rotate in on regular nights.

It's still preseason, so you will see some guys play their last significant minutes (barring injuries) and you'll see compressed minutes on the part of the Phoenix Suns starters.

But as of next week, the rotation is ready to go. To no one's surprise, Alvin Gentry's starting five and even the set of backups behind them have emerged from training camp and preseason the same way they entered it.

Goran Dragic will be the starter at point guard. He's been alternately passive and aggressive in preseason, but his per-minute numbers have been excellent. His backup will be Sebastian Telfair, who provides great on-ball defense and a steady influence on the second unit.

Shooting guard was projected to be a battle, but only by those whose job it is to create competition. There was very little that Shannon Brown could do this fall to knock Jared Dudley off the starting perch. But that doesn't mean Shannon Brown will lose anything more than a call-out in pregame introductions.

"Shannon has played great," Gentry said. "I think JD just has been real consistent in what he has done. To be honest, Shannon has been hurt (left-ankle sprain) and missed a few games here and there. I think both of those guys realize that they're going to play. Just like anything else, there are going to be nights where JD gets the majority of the minutes and there are going to be nights when Shannon gets the majority of the minutes."

At small forward, Michael Beasley will get the nod to start. He's been a model citizen this preseason and is arguably the Suns' most talented player, though his effort has been inconsistent throughout preseason. At least he knows it.

"It's my fault," he said in reference to a stretch in Monday's preseason game where he made several iffy plays in a row. "I've got to stay aggressive throughout the whole game. As opposed to maybe 3 or 4 minutes where I'm not in the groove, so to speak. That's my fault. It's something I need to work on to be consistent."

Backing up Beasley will be some combination of Wesley Johnson and P.J. Tucker. Johnson provides the ability to make jump shots off open looks, which will be available aplenty in this offense. Tucker provides grit and effort, but little in the way of outside shooting.

"All the coaches would tell you and the players would tell you that P.J. is our best perimeter defender," Gentry said.

Unfortunately, neither player provides enough range of skills at this point to earn the job outright.

At power forward, Luis Scola will start the game and Markieff Morris will be his backup. The minutes distribuion among them will be determined by matchups (Scola vs. bigger or quicker forwards) and foul trouble (Morris). Scola is a scrapper who garners more "doesn't he always kill us when we play him?" comments from opposing broadcasters than I've heard in a long time.

Morris is multi-talented with a versatile offensive game and strong rebounding skills. He might just be the Suns' "Sixth Man" with his array stat stuffing skills - points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. But he doesn't finish his shots consistently, and gets called for too many fouls to plan 30+ minutes in any game. He collected 11 fouls in the last two games, covering only the equivalent of 4 full quarters of action.

At center, we've got Marcin Gortat at starting center, who could have earned some All-Star votes if not for a rule change that stops forcing teams to name 2 centers to the team each year. Gortat rebounds and blocks shots and provide good pick-and-roll defense. And he can score in the right situations, with a deft touch around the rim.

Jermaine O'Neal has great skills, and will likely provide the most consistent backup C minutes the Suns have seen in a long time. He can defend, rebound and block shots. Just on Monday, he blocked two shots and secured a rebound all on the same possession. He can hit open jumpers as well. O'Neal's problem is health. He's an old 34 with a history of knee problems. Expecting 15 minutes a night for him is doable. More than that? You're rolling the dice.

Overall, this team has a lot of similarly talented players who could swap minutes throughout the season, depending on who provides the most consistency. Coaches need to know what they're going to get, which is why guys like Dudley, Gortat and Scola are a coach's dream.

"We'll be a good team when guys continue to push each other," Gentry said. "But we'll also be a good team when that's not a factor to who's not playing if somebody is doing a better job than the other guy."

Free Throws

No indication yet who the Suns will keep beyond the top 11 guys mentioned above, plus Kendall Marshall (he of the two-year guaranteed contract).

As Jacob noted, Luke Zeller probably played himself off the team lately by missing too many shots. The uneducated guess here is that the Suns will keep Solomon Jones because he's a known quantity and can play C, where the Suns have more injury concerns than at power forward.

It will come down to whether the Suns want guys to stay with the team all year (then Jones wins, and maybe Diogu too) or guys who can shuttle back and forth to the D-league for further seasoning (Diante Garrett, Luke Zeller). We should find out soon enough.

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