What: Sacramento Kings at Phoenix Suns, Preseason Game #4
When: Wednesday night, 7:00 PM AZ Time
Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix
Watch: Bally Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
It’s all about the vibes, isn’t it? As I look around my twitter timeline — THE place to go for NBA news, notes and random hot takes — I see a lot of the typical preseason crowing about ‘immaculate vibes’ around non-Suns teams. Hogwash, of course, but it’s still fun to have that bubble of optimism before your team starts losing games.
The world-champ Warriors had immaculate vibes during their preseason trip to Japan, only to see Draymond Green punch a hole right through it. And now we find out last night he won’t even be suspended because, as head coach Steve Kerr puts it, (paraphrased) “he’s earned our trust over the years... even though he broke it with that punch... but he’s earned the benefit of the doubt”. You cannot convince me their vibes are anywhere near immaculate anymore.
For most teams, though, the great preseason vibes come back to reality once the games start to matter. And that’s really not until Christmas, if we’re being honest.
By then, you’ll see which teams really do have the staying power to remain a contender all season long.
The Sacramento Kings, for example, have some good vibes around them during this preseason. They like the team they have, everyone gets along, they have yet another fun-looking rookie (Keegan Murray) and a number of vets who think they can fight for a playoff spot.
Yes they’re still the Kings, holders of the longest-running playoff drought (15 years) across all major sports today. They have good players, but none of them are Top-20 level — which we all know is imperative to win a lot of games in the NBA.
Still, they’re excited right now. Keegan Murray, rookie power forward, will probably be one of the best rookies in the league. Murray leads the Kings during preseason scoring 16.5 points in 21.6 minutes per game. He also pulls down 4.5 rebounds and grabs 2 steals per preseason game too.
Don’t pay attention to the fact that he plays the same position as their best player, power forward Domantas Sabonis. I’m sure the Kings will find a way to play them side by side... in minutes their starting center, Richaun Holmes, gets a breather. Sabonis has only played 18 minutes per game during preseason, posting 8.5 points per game.
Sure, the Kings still have De’Aaron Fox, Damion Mitchell, Harrison Barnes and Holmes, but on Wednesday we will probably see more of Murray, new signee Malik Monk, Terence Davis, former Suns center Alex Len and former Altanta Hawks guard Kevin Heurter, plus a whole bunch of roster hopefuls.
Looking forward to the regular season, the Kings are expected to finish no higher than 10th in the West, with an 11th or 12th place finish most likely. The West is just too strong for them to sneak any higher without better top-end talent.
If you read stories by the national guys, the Suns bad vibes are making them pick the ‘under’ on the Vegas betting line of 52.5 wins.
Despite the Suns coming off 64 wins and keeping their roster mostly intact, they’re quite spooked by the Suns embarrassing playoff loss, weird contract negotiations with Ayton, failure to make any upgrades, holdout by ‘glue guy’ Jae Crowder, gloomy media day, ongoing friction between Ayton and coach Monty Williams, and the embarrassing preseason loss to the Adelaide 36ers.
But hey, at least that Monty/DA friction is over now.
"Yeah, most def. I mean, we talk, man. At the end of the day, it’s like we’re trying to contribute to a win. Everything is back to normal. Nothing has changed."— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) October 10, 2022
Deandre Ayton when asked if he and Monty Williams have talked
"Monty and I are talking“ #Suns https://t.co/GajEGtwpv5 pic.twitter.com/jxut8XH6gJ
“Everything is back to normal. Nothing has changed,” Ayton said to the Arizona Republic/azcentral Suns beat writer extraordinaire, Duane Rankin.
This jibes with Monty and other Suns players saying multiple times over the past two weeks that coach and DA are interacting normally, and that any intimations to the contrary are overblown.
Through three preseason games, Ayton is posting 16 points (2nd on team) on 12.7 shots (2nd) with 60.5% shooting (1st), 8.3 rebounds (1st), 0.7 blocks (1st - tied) and 1.7 steals (1st - tied) in 24.9 minutes (3rd). He’s fine, folks. Probably better than fine. As he put it to Duane, he got the max (“M-A-X”, he said) and he’s happy to be back with his best friends and the only team he’s ever played for. It worked out perfectly for him, I’d say.
Ayton’s backup this season, if you believe in preseason playing time projecting regular season playing time, looks to be Jock Landale, who is posting 12.7 points (5th on team), 6.3 rebounds (2nd), 0.7 blocks (1st - tied) in only 19 minutes per game (8th).
The Suns other backup centers, returnees Dario Saric and Bismack Biyombo, have barely played this preseason — probably because head coach Monty Williams knows exactly what he’s getting from them.
Let’s wait till about a month into the regular season to see who really is Ayton’s backup (10-15 minutes per game, tops) most of the season. Landale’s contract doesn’t fully guarantee until January 10, 2023, but he’s earned a roster spot I believe.
What’s with the new guys?
During the offseason, an NBA team can have up to 20 players under some kind of contract including the two-ways. Once the regular season starts, however, teams must cut down to no more than 15 regular contracts plus up to a pair of two-way contracts.
After signing guards Adonis Arms and Saben Lee on Tuesday to non-guaranteed contracts, the Suns now have 19 players on their roster. At least two or even three those players will be released in the next week.
What’s weird about signing Lee and Arms is the timing. They won’t even have time to participate in a full practice before the Suns final preseason game on Wednesday night, and then there’s only five days before final cutdown day. How will that be enough time to evaluate their worth over players under guaranteed deals or two-ways? Will they even get on the court for the final preseason game tonight?
I can’t imagine they were signed with a real chance to make the Suns final roster, which currently stands at 14 guaranteed contracts (of 15 possible) plus both two-way contracts. That final guaranteed spot has to be reserved for a proven NBA big man, I’d think, rather than yet another guard.
Lee and Arms are definitely not as proven as the other minimum salary guys already on the roster, Damion Lee and Josh Okogie, though none of the four is better than 10th man in a rotation. Lee has proven himself as an NBA rotation player and played solid minutes during the preseason, while Okogie has defensive-menace upside the Suns like.
Signing a pair of guys just seven days before cutdown day is not normal. In the past five days, about 40 players on these same non-guaranteed preseason deals around the NBA have been released (including them). Almost no new players have been signed to teams.
For most of these late-camp cuts, the ‘carrot’ is getting an automatic assignment to that team’s G-League affiliate, saving them the headache of having to beat out the hundreds of similarly talented players wanting G-League roster spots.
Saben Lee, for example, made All-G-League Second Team last year, so you can assume he’d go back to the G-League this year if an NBA roster spot can’t be found. Why then would he sign with the Suns, who don’t really have an NBA roster spot available (they need to save that 15th spot for a big man) and don’t even have a G-League team to assign him to?
Remember, the Suns are one of only two teams (along with Portland) without a G-League team of their own or at least a hybrid affiliate team. So they can’t even send Saben Lee and Adonis Arms to their G-League team with a chance for later call-up to the NBA.
Same goes for Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who is on the same kind of non-guaranteed contract. If and when Saben Lee, Adonis Arms and TLC don’t make the Suns roster, they will have to start from scratch to find their next job.
Unless, of course, they’re all fighting for the Suns’ two-way contracts, currently occupied by Ish Wainright and Duane Washington Jr. While Ish has not had a great preseason (15th in minutes, ahead of only the released Frank Jackson and veteran Bismack Biyombo), Washington has played well, averaging 6 points and 4 assists in 13 minutes per game. Still, Washington has only gotten the 14th most minutes this preseason. So, maybe the Suns really are auditioning their two-way contracts with Saben Lee and Adonis Arms.
Let’s hope the Suns give them all a good run in this final preseason game tonight.
The Suns ‘big four’ of Chris Paul (25.8 minutes per game), Devin Booker (25.2), Ayton (24.9 minutes) and Mikal Bridges (23.2) have been healthy and led the team in minutes played this preseason. Part of that is because of the injuries to the most important role players, I’d guess, and part is just to get them in shape for the regular season.
In fact, injury/absence of the ‘next four’ of Cameron Johnson (thumb), Cameron Payne (finger), Dario Saric (personal) and Jae Crowder (personal) has lasted almost the whole preseason, not to mention the ‘next two’ after that in Landry Shamet (hip) and Josh Okogie (hammy) could put the Suns in a weird place in this final game.
That’s your most likely top-10 rotation right there, and 6 of them have been largely absent this whole preseason. Heck, I haven’t even mentioned Bismack Biyombo, who might end up inside that top-10 but has only played 3 minutes this preseason.
Will that clear up by opening night? I guess we have to wait to find out. The Suns training staff is notoriously conservative on bringing guys back early (unless it’s the playoffs), and we have no idea what’s the plan on with Crowder, Saric and even Biyombo.
Given the gaping hole in the middle of the rotation, you’re likely to see some token first-half time from at least two of the top four, followed by 35 minutes of mop-up duty by the deep bench.
Prediction: uhhh, it’s preseason. Records don’t matter. Just keep an eye on the roster bubble guys to see who you like the best.