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Game Preview: Suns host Kings in a Kentucky-West matchup

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The fun-n-gun Kentucky-West Suns take on Kentucky West-er Kings tonight in downtown Phoenix. Tune in!

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Sacramento Kings Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

What: Sacramento Kings vs. Phoenix Suns

When: 7:00 PM AZ and CA time

Where: Phoenix AZ (Talking Stick Resort Arena)

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


Both the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings have gone young since the All-Star break, even while each team’s top pick in the 2016 Draft sit out due to injury (#4 pick Dragan Bender, knee) or not-readiness (#13 pick Georgios Papagiannis).

The Suns have fared better with an overall younger team, though the Kings have to be excited about their 2015 and 2016 draft picks as well.

Matchup, since All-Star Break

  • Playing age: Suns 24.4 years old, Kings 27 years old
  • Record: Suns 4-6, Kings 2-8
  • Offensive Efficiency: Suns 15th, Kings 21st
  • Defensive Efficiency: Suns 22nd, Kings 21st
  • Claim to fame: Suns #1 in FB points, Kings #1 in 3P%

Three degrees of Tyler Ulis

Skal Labissiere played with Tyler Ulis last year for Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats. Ulis, a rare 2-year student before jumping to the NBA, also played with the Suns’ Devin Booker and Kings’ Willie Cauley-Stein at Kentucky. Cauley-Stein played all four years at Kentucky, crossing paths with former Suns guard Archie Goodwin and barely missing Suns guard Brandon Knight, who barely missed Suns guard Eric Bledsoe.

All of Booker, Bledsoe, Ulis, WCS and Skal will get a lot of court time tonight. Let’s see if they get chippy or chummy.

The Kings

Since the trading of DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings have rolled out a new full time center in second year player Willie Cauley-Stein, the former #6 pick in 2015. Stein is joined, sometimes, by Skal Labissiere, the #27 pick in 2016. Still not able to earn time is Georgios Pappagiannis, the #13 pick in 2016. I’m highlighting the pick numbers because the Kings ALREADY HAD THE GAME’S BEST CENTER IN BOOGIE yet couldn’t stop clogging their front court with new talent. But then again, now we get to see the future.

In the back court, the Kings have their latest attempt at filling the shooting guard position long term - after selecting and getting rid of or largely benching Tyreke Evans, then Jimmer Fredette, then Ben McLemore, then Nik Stauskas, and now Buddy Hield.

WCS and Hield, both 23 years old, are the here and now if not the future of the next iteration of the Kings, but my money on their future goes to Skal. Skal came into the season as a potential top pick in 2016, but struggled at Kentucky and faded all the way to the end of the first round where the Kings snatched him up with the Celtics pick traded by the Suns for Marquese Chriss. He’s really, really skinny. And needs a lot of development and seasoning. But Skal fits the mold of the modern stretch big - able to block shots at the rim AND shoot from the perimeter.

The Suns

Alex Len, who in his 4th NBA season happens to be only two months older than WCS, hopes to return for the Kings game after missing a pair of games over the weekend (hip) while Derrick Jones Jr. started in a really small Suns lineup.

The Suns will need Len to battle big men like WCS and Kosta Koufos, allowing Marquese Chriss to return to power forward and T.J. Warren to small forward.

We won’t know how the Chriss for Papa/Skal/rights to Bogdan trade will turn out for at least 3-5 years.

The Suns gave Chriss the spotlight this season while the Kings stuck their rookies in cold storage. Skal only recently has gotten some run (15 minutes per game since the break) while Papa has barely seen the floor.

There’s no use comparing per-36 numbers on Skal and Chriss this season, since Chriss goes against much better NBA players as a starter.

We can see that Chriss has improved his overall game each month this season.

Most interesting to me is that his usage rate has gone down each month while his efficiency and overall production have gone up per minute out there, with career best offensive and defensive ratings. He's now taking advantage of his open threes, making 47.8% on 3 attempts in 7 games this month while also blocking almost 2 shots per game.

The 4th youngest player in last year’s draft is coming along nicely.

Prediction

The Suns are really fun to watch these days, so tune in and give them a chance! Their assist rate is up, blocked shots are up, dunks are up and they lead the league by a wide margin on fast break points per game.

The Kings are not quite as equipped to play super-young, but the trio of WCS, Hield and Skal show glimpses of their future.

I predict a Suns win tonight, to the chagrin of tankers out there.