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Preview: Suns host Pacers on Bright Side Night

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Not only is tonight Bright Side Night, but we get to see a battle between two of the best young guards in the league.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns host Indiana Pacers

When: 6:00 pm AZ time

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


Probable Starters:

Suns - Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Dragan Bender, Tyson Chandler

Pacers - Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Domantas Sabonis

Indiana Pacers

OffRtg = 107.8 (8th), DefRtg = 106.4 (17th), NetRtg = 1.5 (10th)

To say the Indiana Pacers are the surprise team in this season’s first half would be a massive understatement. After trading Paul George to Oklahoma City for only Oladipo and Sabonis, many including myself laughed at the value Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard.

He read the market right for a player destined to leave and has benefited to a massive degree. Oladipo has taken the All-Star leap while Sabonis likely slides long-term at the 4 next to Turner once Young’s contract expires.

Sabonis is one of the better passing big men in this league. Pairing him next to Turner is a great fit all-around.

Meanwhile, let's bounce back over to Oladipo. This season, he’s averaging 24.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4 assists per game. The only other shooting guard doing that is Booker, so this will be such a fun matchup to watch.

The former Indiana Hoosier has thrived off returning to where he’s adored and finally being set free of barely being used alongside Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. I’m not surprised Oladipo has taken this leap, though. I had him ranked No. 1 in his draft class because his two-way potential — if tapped into by the correct situation and coaching staff — would be a lot to handle for 48 minutes.

When speaking on Oladipo, Turner, and the rest of the Pacers’ suddenly surprising core, they could be in line to make an all-in type move next month. Compared to most situations, the Kemba Walker trade rumors always land me back in Indiana. Pair him alongside Oladipo/Turner and watch them ascend. I think they would easily fill the No. 4 slot out east behind Boston, Toronto, and Cleveland. Likely even higher if LeBron bolts to Los Angeles this summer.

A realistic trade package could be Collison, Young, Glenn Robinson III, Ike Anigbogu, their 2017 first round pick and maybe a protected first down the line for Walker and Marvin Williams. This sets up Charlotte to tank into a top 5 pick and a boatload of cap space in 2019 while Indiana sets up a promising 18 month run with Walker, maybe longer if all goes well.

The Pacers are definitely an interesting team to watch moving forward because they are set up to make a move for a critical third option alongside Oladipo and Turner.

Phoenix Suns

OffRtg = 103.5 (23rd), DefRtg = 108.1 (26th), NetRtg = -4.7 (27th)

An area that interim head coach Jay Triano seemed to explore last game was running Booker more often as the primary initiator, even with Ulis out there. From my count, Booker should have had 13 assists if Chandler and others had finished rather easy looks. The Houston blowout was not only an outlook into a possible future route taken by this franchise but how far away they are from contending with elite teams.

At this point, we seem destined for the 30 point and 10 assist performance from Booker very soon. In nearly 50-percent of his games played in this season, he has allotted 5 or more assists.

Trying this out with Davon Reed likely in line to make his NBA debut would be a great idea. Run Booker out alongside Troy Daniels, Reed, and Bender. That space for Booker to operate should be even wider and in turn, create cutting lanes for the likes of Reed and Warren.

Speaking of Reed, he averaged 13.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 blocks, and 1.6 steals per 36 minutes for the NAZ Suns. While at Summer League, Reed stood out to me alongside Josh Jackson as the second-best prospect, even ahead of Chriss and Bender. His shooting plus 3-and-D outlook was promising. He also took the bull by the horns in terms of leadership on-court for the Summer Suns, which impressed me for someone who had not played a minute yet.

Reed stands out to me as the prototypical “glue guy” so to say every team needs on a roster. Luckily with his 6’5 frame including a 7’ wingspan, he should be a valuable commodity right off the bat.

One more note to look for in today’s contest is Bender’s assertiveness. On Friday, he attempted the third most shots behind Booker and Warren with 12. Over his last four, he has attempted at least 7 which is progress whether it’s from any spot on the floor.

With Chriss still out with a hip flexor he suffered against the Thunder, watch out for Bender continuing to experiment with more drives off the dribble at the rim. He’s seemingly doing more of this each time out, so over the season’s second half, I’m interested to see if he can become more than just a spot-up three-point shooter.

If Bender, Chriss, and Jackson can take steps forward over these final three months, it would go a long way for the Suns’ future outlook.

Prediction

This is going to a be fun day. With our 3rd annual Bright Side Night tonight, which includes a record-setting 2,100 kids attending it (thank you so much readers!). They get to see Oladipo vs. Booker, too!

I grew up in Indiana, so I’m used to seeing a lot of mediocre basketball. I lived through the end stages of the Reggie Miller era, the Danny Granger era (shoutout Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy), and the Paul George era. It’s nice to finally see the Pacers have a team the city is getting around. Oladipo has really capitalized on returning back to where he attended school, seemingly pushing this Pacers roster to places many thought it wouldn’t go already.

However, I’m going with the upset. It’s Bright Side Night, so the Suns led by a 33-5-11 line from Booker steal a close one over those Pacers.

Suns 109, Pacers 106