In a battle of two teams that national media believes will battle it out for worst in the West, the Phoenix Suns open their preseason schedule on Wednesday night in Sacramento.
First of all, the good news: it appears that NBATV will carry the Suns/Kings preseason game, at least to fans in the local Phoenix area!
Even if you don't have NBATV or if you live somewhere it's not shown, you know there's live footage out there somewhere...
Now to the game preview. Let's talk Sacramento Kings first.
If you thought the Suns had concerns coming into the season, take a look at the Kings. They have a lot of young talent (DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, Thomas Robinson, Jason Thompson,
Jimmer Fredette, Marcus Thornton, Isaiah Thomas) but very few starting positions locked up. Most of the team returns from last season after showing a great ability to score (6th highest) bettered only by their ability to allow the opponent to score (30th overall, out of 30).
#5 overall pick Thomas Robinson is trying beat out incumbent Jason Thompson at power forward, who some Suns fans have coveted for years. Robinson is slightly undersized - in the way that Markieff Morris is undersized, which is to say only slightly and only against a handful of opponents - but is still learning the game and may not be trustworthy in a starting position on day one for a team with aspirations to win more than 30 games.
Jason Thompson is a tall, skilled big man who just hasn't been able to turn it on consistently yet. Per Hollinger, he is too small to defend the 5, too slow to defend the 4, and has a very limited offensive game. With all the opportunity in the world to play big minutes for a struggling Sacramento team, he has played 26 and 31 minutes per game the last two years and averaged 12 and 8 with 4 fouls per contest.
James Johnson (formerly of Chicago via Toronto) is still trying to turn his excellent physical skills into a starting small forward job ahead of journeyman Travis Outlaw (formerly of Portland via the Clippers and Nets). Neither has shown the recent ability to start for a winning NBA team, but neither have either of the Suns' small forwards Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson.
At shooting guard, the Kings return a pair of undersized shooters (Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette) and an immensely talented bulldog in Tyreke Evans. Evans may start this season at small forward - you've already seen the competition - or may move high-scoring, defensive sieve Marcus Thornton to a bench role at shooting guard. It appears his days as the starting point guard are over.
Speaking of point guard, little Isaiah Thomas returns to electrify the crowd with scoring and shooting but little else, while being pushed for starting minutes by former Sun Aaron Brooks. Brooks has not gotten a lot of press in the preseason, but I'm sure we will see a lot of the "big" guy (compared to Isaiah Thomas) on Wednesday night.
Of course, at center there's DeMarcus Cousins, the main reason for optimism in Sacramento. He is a force of nature who just needs to keep his head on straight and could be one of the best in the game. But can he lead his team to victory on a regular basis? Who knows. Backing him up are Chuck Hayes and Jason Thompson.
Now, let's talk about the Phoenix Suns.
Or, as Tom Ziller of SacTownRoyalty.com puts it: "This is the new Pacific Division foe: Nashless, rolling in the cellar with us."
Things I will be watching for:
- Will the Suns fight hard as a team, or just go through the motions? The sense I got from these guys is that they are fighters, especially since there's no alpha male leading the way anymore. Everyone wants to earn minutes.
- Do the Suns crash the offensive boards like they say they want to? Sacramento is a really long team (though not thick) and good at rebounding, and they added rebound-extraordinaire Thomas Robinson in the draft. Can the Suns fight it out for equal rebounds?
- How does Wesley Johnson fit into this offense? Will he just take contested jumpers, or will he be active?
- Ditto for Michael Beasley.
- How will Markieff Morris look against similar competition in Jason Thompson and Thomas Robinson? There won't be a size issue here - all three guys are lighter than Zach Randolph, for example.
- How will Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and Jared Dudley play? Inspired? Or just waiting for the season to get closer?
- How about you guys and gals? What are you looking for?
"They work extremely hard," coach Alvin Gentry said after practice on Tuesday. "I will say that. It's been very competitive. I think everyone looks around and realizes the guy behind me is going to be pushing me, and I'm going to have to execute and play well.""Just applying it to a different team finally for the first time in six or seven weeks is great for us," forward Michael Beasley said. "We get to really see how we act under pressure."