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Suns preseason recap: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Bright Side Staff recaps the Phoenix Suns preseason

NBA: Preseason-Sacramento Kings at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns went 2-3 in the preseason this year, beating a non-NBA team and the BEST NBA team among a couple of bad losses to the Portland Trail Blazers and a close one to Sacramento.

Before we start the season previews, let’s recap what we saw this preseason from our Suns. There were some good parts, some bad parts and of course some ugly parts.

The Bright Side staff weighs in...

The Good

Dave King: Well, Deandre Ayton of course. Before playing short minutes on Wednesday, Ayton led the entire NBA in points, rebounds and blocks per game. And had the most “wins added” as of Monday.

Rod Argent: Deandre Ayton is the obvious answer but I’m going to add Trevor Ariza to that list. He’s never going to be at the top of the statistical charts but I think he’s been and is going to continue to be a solid contributor on both sides of the court. The Suns need a steady vet like him on the court this season as he adds much more to the team than what shows up in the box scores.

Jim Coughenour: Even though it was just the preseason I think coach Igor Kokoskov’s rotations/substitutions showed that he is planning on using a merit based system for playing time. That likely means less Dragan Bender, which would definitely make the team more watchable this season. After years of strategic resting I think we’re all ready to see the team compete for all 82 games (a man can dream).

Tim Tompkins (The Solar Panel): I can’t overstate how impressed I’ve been with T.J. Warren. Not only from an efficiency standpoint, leading the team in FG% (even Ayton) at 61.5%, but his willingness to accept a bench role playing out of position at power forward. As the longest-tenured member of the Suns, he’s showing why he deserved the extension from McD.

Paul Bisceglia (Fanning the Flames): Igor’s offense. Yes, the Suns haven’t been able to convert shots (see below), but the framework of the offense is there, with a lot of motion and opportunities to keep everyone engaged. Ayton seems to be fitting right in and is showing a lot, and once Booker gets back, and the point guard situation is figured out, it will hopefully start to hum. The execution wasn’t great, but the bones are there and look to be something that will be really fun to watch.

Greg Esposito (here, and The Solar Panel): Since we can’t say “no one was fired” the next best thing is the fact that there was no major injuries in the preseason. With Devin Booker’s injury already being a setback to Igor attempting to install his offensive system, it would have been completely devastating if any other major part of this team was out for a significant period of time due to something that happened in a meaningless game. This team’s margin for error is razor thin so any thing like that could have been catastrophic.

Justin Niedzeliak (Fanning the Flames): The three-point shooting of Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, and Isaiah Canaan. Ariza is doing what we expected him to do, shooting 47.4% from deep during the preseason. Anderson, while below his career average, still shot a solid 35.3%. Canaan made his case for a role on this team by hitting 50% of his threes (and also sitting second on the team in assist per game). Combined, this trio shot 21-48 (43.8%) from three this preseason.

The Bad

Dave: I’ll say the bad is that the perimeter defense still looks just as porous as ever. Maybe it’s the weird lineups. Maybe the personnel being played. The Suns projected rotation right now has bad perimeter defenders everywhere but Shaquille Harrison and Trevor Ariza.

Rod: The point guard situation. None of Isaiah Canaan, Shaquille Harrison, Elie Okobo or De’Anthoney Melton should be starting at point guard for ANY team in the NBA. I’d love having any of them coming of the bench with the second unit but any of them in the starting five just creates a weakness for other teams to exploit.

Jim: Josh Jackson followed an unimpressive summer league performance (10.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg and 1.3 apg on 24% shooting in three games) with more uneven play in the preseason. Although the level of competition is obviously harder than the summer league (which we were hoping he would dominate) there are still reasons for concern as he enters his sophomore season. Particularly his 3.6 turnovers per game and 19% (4-21) shooting from three point range. While he did put up 5.0 assists per game, showing glimpses of his ability as a facilitator, the lack of a point guard might shift him into more minutes at the shooting guard spot and expose his poor perimeter shooting and lackadaisical ball control.

Tim: Dare I say Josh Jackson? While I do appreciate the chemistry he’s created with DeAndre Ayton, it’s hard to ignore his team-leading turnovers per game (3.6), ugly shooting (35% FG) and team-leading fouls per game (4.4). It’s worth noting that unless the Suns are going to run Book at PG, JJ is likely playing outside of his natural position and has a far higher usage rate than he will during the regular season. Moving forward, Igor must reign in Jackson and convince him to play within himself.

Paul: The assist to turnover ratio. Not having a PG is a huge part of this, obviously, but I think you can attribute a lot of this to the Suns inability to convert shots (more on this below), which is why this is only the bad, and not the ugly. Again, I think this will get a lot better once there are some more capable distributors (Booker, starting PG). But making shots will really help with this. So with that, onto the Bad...

Espo: The fact that they had to play the Portland Trailblazers twice. If I had free time on my hands and put immense amount of stock into the preseason, I would have changed the Suns Wikipedia page to say “Owner: Portland Trailblazers”. Terry Stotts crew, no matter who was on the court, simply dismantled the Phoenix in their two matchups winning by 22 and 33 points. Without those two games the preseason would have left fans feeling optimistic with a win over the Warriors, a competitive game against the Kings and dominant performances by Deandre Ayton. Instead we’re left wondering if the ghost of Earl Watson some how incepted this years team.

Justin: Josh Jackson looking like Josh Jackson from the first half of 2017-2018. Jackson’s Summer League shooting struggles carried over into the preseason where he shot just 19% from three-point range and 35.3% overall. I think this is a product of him trying to do too much, and hopefully this will change once Devin Booker returns and the team gets more familiar with Coach Kokoskov’s system. Notwithstanding the shooting woes, it was not all bad for Jackson, as he led the team in assists and is developing chemistry with Deandre Ayton (these factors kept him out of my “ugly” category).

The Ugly

Dave: The ugly has been that we’ve already got TWO games — both against Portland — where the opposing coach has called a disgusted timeout when his lead got under 20. At least 20 times last year, the Suns opposing coach could be seen angrily calling a TO in the middle of the game (late second, early-to-mid third) because the Suns went on a 6-0 or 10-0 run to cut their deficit to under 20.

Rod: Team defense. Phoenix finished preseason second to last in defensive rating with only Minnesota (undergoing a tiny bit of turmoil of their own) being worse. The offense will certainly improve when Devin Booker returns but not the defense. I think the Suns can eventually learn to play better team D but for now it looks like they will have to just try to outscore their opponents to get wins.

Jim: I’ll go with the pathetic offense. The Suns are 32nd in the league in preseason scoring (97.1 ppg) behind all other 29 NBA teams plus Haifa Maccabi Haifa and the Adelaide 36ers. Part of that is due to being 32nd in 3P% (.289). Sure, that’s without Devin Booker, but I also think that the lack of a facilitating point guard is a factor.

Tim: Turnovers. The team is averaging 21.6 assists per game, putting them in the bottom 1/3rd of the league. They’ve racked up a putrid 19 turnovers per game, putting their assist to turnover ratio in the bottom 5. This is all predicated on a new coach who is known for an efficient ball movement style offensive with strong side to weak side movement. Perhaps it’s simply the lack of playmakers, point guard or Devin Booker not playing, but it doesn’t bode well for the near term success of the team.

Paul: The three point shooting. For the preseason, the Suns are only shooting 28.9% from three. This is troubling because 1) one of the goals of the offseason was to get better in that area, and 2) it’s part of what Igor’s offense is built around. The Suns brought in Ariza and Anderson to be snipers at the Forward spots, and outside of the game against Golden State, they have been horrendous from deep. Right now, teams are still respecting these guys as shooters, which has helped Ayton down low, but if this keeps up, teams are going to start sagging off them, which will make it more difficult for Ayton and the guard penetrators.

Espo: Is there any doubt the answer to this is the point guard position? It’s like the hairless dog in the Westminster Dog Show -- or, for you less cultured, Steve Buschemi guest starring on Keeping Up With the Kardashians -- it stuck out like a sore thumb. In an offense predicated on ball movement, pick and rolls and entry passes to Ayton, the position left more than a lot to be desired. Heck, many are arguing it’s why Ryan McDonough is waiting in the unemployment line as we speak.

Justin: The three-point shooting of everyone else. Excluding Ariza, Anderson, and Canaan from the equation, the rest of the Suns roster shot a combined 22-101 from three-point range. That is just a shade below 22%. As Espo would say, #NotGreatBob.

Now it’s YOUR turn, Suns fans!

What were your Good, Bad and Ugly takes from the preseason?




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