It should be etched somewhere in the Suns’ facility: “The ball finds energy.”
Those hallowed words of Suns’ coaching great Mike D’Antoni serve as the foundation of his simple, revolutionary offensive ideology, and have gone on to change the NBA. Those words are to Suns’ fans what a favorite bible verse is to a churchgoer. Not radical, but so important.
D’Antoni is gone, and so is the guy, Steve Nash, who infused the ball with so much of the energy it picked up pinging around the court in the mid-2000s. But there’s a reason that idea holds so much weight still today, in Phoenix and around the league. It’s an easy way to measure the intangible stuff we know holds weight on a basketball court but struggle to measure.
Energy can be the difference between effective and lousy. It’s certainly what separates boring and exciting basketball. And for a young team like the Suns, it could dictate who gets to play, and when. So much is up in the air for this Suns squad, with a lot of talented individuals but not a lot of clarity when it comes to style or chemistry.
Point guard minutes could be directly correlated with how much energy each guy plays with. Still young and not fully developed as players, the Suns’ point guards have a lot to prove. Coach Igor Kokoskov will demand the young guards play the right way and do their job to get opportunities.
“We’re going to use all the tools, play everybody that we have,” Kokoskov said in reference to the preseason. “Play shorter stretches maybe, and they’re going to play harder. … They can kind of pace themselves.”
On Saturday at the Suns’ open practice, those short bursts of playing time benefitted Shaquille Harrison, at this point probably the favorite to start. Harrison was pesky on the ball defensively, muscling through screens and jabbing at loose dribbles. Harrison’s game is entirely made up of energy. It’s what set him apart in 23 games last season and makes him so intriguing moving forward in Phoenix.
“I’m making huge strides,” Harrison told Bright Side’s Evan Sidery at media day. “That takes me working on the court, off the court with film, picking some vets brains and watching other film on elite point guards in this league.”
The calculus of projecting an unproven young basketball player’s future is tough. It’s a matter of trusting their ability to work hard and turn weaknesses into strengths. We haven’t seen much on offense from Harrison, but his tenacity is cause for optimism.
In Game No. 1, Monday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena, we can expect things to devolve into mano-a-mano chaos here and there, despite the best wishes of Kokoskov and the Suns’ staff. It’s two of the youngest teams in the league playing for the first time.
That benefits two Suns in particular, whom we saw connect for two monster alley-oops Saturday afternoon. Deandre Ayton and Josh Jackson were two of the most fun characters at Summer League, and they figure to pick up where they left off in preseason.
“Josh is big on his big man rolling to the rim as fast as possible,” Ayton said. Even the team’s stars know they need to play harder than we saw from them last year or in college.
The Suns have a long road forward on both ends of the floor, starting with tonight. It’s incredible to think that something as simple as playing aggressively could change so much.