When: 6:00 PM AZ Time
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
When looking at the current NBA landscape, there are prime targets of teams that will likely be competing alongside the Suns for a pristine draft spot throughout the year. Alongside Dallas, Atlanta, and Sacramento, Chicago seems destined to finish near the top after gutting their roster this past summer to prepare for the full-on tank.
Gone is Jimmy Butler and in is Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and rookie Lauri Markkanen to try and give the Bulls some sort of hope as they try to land the likes of Luka Doncic or Marvin Bagley in the meantime.
For Suns fans, Chicago’s current roster gives you hope.
Outside of Markkanen, are there really any solid building blocks for them at the moment? Phoenix has their face in place, Devin Booker, with an abundance of young talent around him still all under 21-years-old (Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, and Marquese Chriss), so I think there are some teams definitely worse off at the moment.
Despite Kemba Walker dropping 47 points, the Bulls pulled off the upset in their last outing in a 123-120 victory over Charlotte to snap a 5-game losing streak. On the season, Chicago is tied for last in the Eastern Conference alongside the Hawks for the least amount of wins at three total.
For Chicago, in their losses, they have barely eclipsed 90 points averaging only 91.3 over their 10 already. They have only scored over 100 points in five games, so if Phoenix gets out on them early they should be able to keep them down if all goes to plan.
Led by Justin Holiday and Jerian Grant in the backcourt, Devin Booker should also continue his hot start with a favorable matchup. So far, he’s scored seven 30-point games, and I think there is a high possibility we see another one added today.
There won’t be many win opportunities that come along for the Bulls this season, so Phoenix can’t afford a slow start and become only their second road victory.
Probable Bulls starters: Jerian Grant, Justin Holiday, Denzel Valentine, Lauri Markkanen, Robin Lopez
After the inclusion of Greg Monroe into the starting lineup against Houston on Thursday, it was a nice change to see a big down in the post attract some attention. In his first start and game in a Suns’ uniform, Monroe dropped 20 points and 11 rebounds and was carrying the load alongside Troy Daniels in the second quarter when they were keying in on Booker playing point guard.
The same consistency didn’t happen the next night against Los Angeles, but having an actual interior threat should create some more spacing (the question is how much?) for Booker and Warren to operate in the short-term. If general manager Ryan McDonough’s true card in this is to build up Monroe’s value then flip him for some sort of asset in return, it’s a good play to make, too.
Following a double-double Thursday, Monroe should gain interest from playoff contenders but the price might not be as high as some in Phoenix predict it will be for an expiring contract. I wouldn’t expect more than a second rounder or him being a part of something bigger around February’s trade deadline.
Also, along with Monroe in the frontcourt, I hope to see more consistent flashes out of both Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. We have started to see them much more consistently which is a start, so following the developments of these two 20-year-olds will be one of the main things I look at this season, and I expect it will be much of the same for the Suns’ front office as they decide what kind of ceiling these two prospects will end up having.
With Booker and Warren’s hot starts, someone needs to establish themselves as the third option on offense to help take the load off, but so far we haven’t seen it. Whether it’s Monroe, Jackson, Chriss or Bender, one of those will need to produce more often if the Suns want to surprise some teams in the win column this year.
Probable Suns starters: Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss, Greg Monroe
Matchup to watch for
Keeping with the theme of the frontcourt, how will Chriss and Bender handle guarding Markkanen? We saw another stretch-big with fewer moves, Ryan Anderson, torch Phoenix on Thursday, so if Chicago’s first-round pick catches fire he could be in line for one of those career games.
Markannen has that potential that he flashed at the University of Arizona, and it’s translating well to the pros.
Luckily for Phoenix, they have two young, athletic bigs that have the lateral quickness to stay in front of him. And for me, this is a game where Chriss will need to stay out of foul trouble.
Going against Markkanen, Chriss should be able to utilize his new repertoire of post moves he’s been working on this offseason and they should try to bully-ball him inside in that sense. Then, when Chriss gets in foul trouble — which seems to be a regular occurrence in every game now — send Bender in to lock him up and see if he can score over his length.
Overall, this should be a favorable matchup for one of Chriss or Bender, maybe both, to have breakout performances. Outside of Booker and Warren on offense, feeding their two top-8 draft picks from 2016 should be in the cards if they want to improve to 7-11 on the year.