As the preseason officially comes to a close, we’ve actually learned a lot about the 2019-20 Suns. One main difference? The effort, especially on defense, has been emphasized by head coach Monty Williams and it’s paying early dividends (we’ll get into that more later with one specific player).
Even though Phoenix trailed by double-digits most of the game against an elite team, an early favorite to finish near the top of the conference again, there was no rolling over and accepting defeat. That’s a great sign for this roster as the regular season arrives next week.
Thanks to Elie Okobo’s late fourth quarter surge scoring 9 points in a few minutes, Phoenix ended up keeping this closer in the end than originally expected.
As I did throughout last season here on Bright Side Of The Sun, my recaps consist of giving ‘Thumbs Up’ and ‘Thumbs Down’ to certain players or numbers. Without further ado, let’s dive into what stood out most from the Suns’ preseason finale versus Denver.
Thumbs Up: Ricky Rubio
I might end up placing Rubio in this category on most nights, because the upgrade from year’s past is so big. Rubio’s basketball IQ is very advanced, and it’s a treat to watch in-person him manipulating defenses.
On the first five possessions of the game, Rubio spoon-fed Deandre Ayton, Kelly Oubre Jr., and Mikal Bridges for easy shot opportunities. Ayton was set up on the elbow multiple times for his signature mid-range jumper, while Oubre and Bridges saw wide-open looks from each corner.
Rubio finished his first half with 7 points and 6 assists. Honestly, it should’ve been closer to 8 or 9 with some easy misses occurring. In the end, Rubio tallied 7 points, 9 assists, and 3 steals in 25 minutes.
There’s no debate: Rubio is the Suns’ best point guard since Steve Nash. If we’re talking about patrolling the court as a savvy pass-first ball handler, Rubio is one of the best in the league.
Thumbs Up: Devin Booker’s Defense
Surprise, surprise! I certainly am while I write this out, because Booker’s attention to detail on the defensive end seems to be happening before our eyes. Throughout preseason action, Booker has shown more willingness to do the dirty work than ever before.
Tonight, Booker showed he can play defense when it’s needed. For this team to eventually take the leap to respectability, Booker will need to prove this is real on a nightly basis.
The Suns’ $158 million man was fighting through screens all game while holding his own against Gary Harris and Torrey Craig.
When the games count in the record books, these types of outings from Booker need to maintain. Tonight was certainly a promising sign.
Thumbs Down: Inconsistent Deandre Ayton
Ayton had a hot start to the Suns’ preseason finale, but cooled off significantly a few minutes afterwards. In the first six minutes, Ayton had eight points thanks to Rubio’s dimes plus a putback dunk off an Oubre miss.
Afterwards, Ayton had two points the rest of the first half while committing multiple turnovers and fouls. For some reason, the game seemed to moving too fast for the 7-footer at times.
Overall, the former Arizona Wildcat finished tonight with 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 block but also 4 turnovers and 5 fouls in only 17 minutes.
It was an up-and-down preseason for the former No. 1 overall pick. His outing during the final tune up before the regular season opener on Oct. 23 lands him in the ‘Thumbs Down’ category.
Thumbs Up: Frank Kaminsky
We’ve talked plenty about the point guard upgrade involving Rubio, but how about the backup power forward position? Dragan Bender was a big net-negative throughout his career in Phoenix. Kaminsky will take his spot in the rotation playing in the second unit, but his confidence on offense is a big difference between the two.
How often would Bender have a wide-open shot and hesitate? How about clanking wide-open threes, simultaneously losing his confidence in the process? That won’t be an issue with Kaminsky, who lets it fly whenever he has the chance.
Kaminsky has been one of the most surprising developments to me throughout preseason, because I didn’t expect him to score the basketball with so much confidence. The former Wisconsin Badger finished with 22 points on 6-of-10 field goal attempts.
If this continues, Kaminsky will be another upgrade on the margins for this overhauled Suns roster.
Thumbs Down: Cold Shooting From Deep
After going absolutely bananas in Portland on three-pointers, which ended in a franchise record, we saw the opposite against Denver on Monday night.
It definitely seems like this team will live or die by the three-pointer. However, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Many teams nowadays chuck up perimeter shots in the spread out modern NBA.
Phoenix ended up shooting 9-of-32 from deep, including zero made by any starters.
We’re now only nine days away from the Suns’ season opener at Talking Stick Resort Arena, though, so get ready!