The Phoenix Suns played this final preseason game without their top NINE rotation players, due to rest, injury or personal reasons.
Suns OUT: Chris Paul (rest), Devin Booker (rest), Deandre Ayton (rest), Mikal Bridges (rest), Cam Johnson (thumb), Cam Payne (finger), Landry Shamet (hip), Dario Saric (personal/family) and Jae Crowder (personal/personal).
The Kings played all but two of their best players.
Kings OUT: Richaun Holmes (non-COVID illness), Keegan Murray (non-COVID illness)
The Suns started this game with a 15-minute-per-game journeyman, three veteran minimum contract guys and a two-way player as the starting lineup. I got some serious Post Traumatic Tank Disorder (PTTD) vibes before tipoff, imagining these guys competing against a Sacramento Kings starting unit high on playoff aspirations.
The whole point of this game, for the Suns, is to suss out the final roster spots behind those regular rotation players and veteran Bismack Biyombo.
Just who are going to be the 11th-17th men on the Suns roster next week?
See the bottom of the post for final results, or read along if you dare...
Let’s break it down:
Damion Lee, Josh Okogie and Torrey Craig are all on guaranteed contracts. Only Craig’s is for more than the league minimum (at $5 million), but with the Suns in luxury tax territory every dollar costs the team two or three in actual money. So, don’t expect the Suns release any of the three outright, just to replace their roster spots with new contracts (and more money).
That takes us to roster spots 14 and 15, plus a pair of two-ways that count as 16th and 17th. None of the others are on guaranteed money, so they’re basically on equal ground to make the team.
Duane Washington Jr. and Ish Wainright are on two-way contracts, while Jock Landale, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and the newly signed Adonis Arms and Saben Lee are on non-guaranteed contracts. Only three, maybe four, of these six will make the Suns opening night roster in some form.
The preseason minutes rankings of these six players, heading into game four tonight: Landale (8th most on team, 3 games), TLC (9th, 2 games), Washington Jr. (14th, 2 games), Wainright (15th, 3 games), S. Lee (0), Arms (0).
Now, how did they do tonight, with their whole Suns future on the line?
- Suns starters: Duane Washington Jr., Josh Okogie, Torrey Craig, Damion Lee and Jock Landale. Only one guy makes more than $2 million per year.
- Kings starters: De’Aaron Fox, Kevin Huerter, Trey Lyles, Harrison Barnes and Domantas Sabonis. Four of those guys make at least $14.5 million per year.
The mishmash Suns starting unit actually played really well, taking an early 16-11 against the Kings starters and leading almost the entire first quarter on the way to a 32-24 lead after one quarter.
“End of bench” leaders:
- Landale — 9 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist
- Duane Washington Jr. — 8 points, 2 assists
- TLC — 4 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist
- Ish Wainright — goose eggs
- Saben Lee — Did not play (DNP)
- Adonis Arms — DNP
I gotta say that DWJ looks like a real point guard out there, looking to set up pick and rolls, creating space for his shooters with craftiness, and overall keeping his head up the whole time. He’s definitely made a great impression on that two-way contract.
The other revelation is Jock Landale, who’s not the beefiest 6’11” guy out there but is productive and fundamentally sound. He well outplayed the Kings’ Alex Len, for example. Depending on what happens with Dario, Landale might become a rotation fixture.
The Suns scrappy backups kept up the pressure on the Kings, and held onto the lead throughout the second quarter. The Kings were playing like they thought this game would be easy, I guess. It’s hard to get up on the road against a team sitting its top nine rotation players, I guess.
And the Suns were playing with passion — everyone getting into passing lanes for steals, getting out on the break whenever possible. Again DWJ is fun to watch out there, running the show.
The Kings starting lineup got on a run at the end of the half, led by Fox driving into the paint relentlessly and the Suns missing shots on the other end. A 14-point lead (55-41) fell to just a 57-54 Suns lead at halftime.
“End of bench” leaders at halftime:
- Duane Washington Jr. — 17 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals (and 5 turnovers) in 21 minutes
- Jock Landale — 13 points, 4 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 steals, 2 assists in 17 minutes
- TLC — 4 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist in 13 minutes
- Ish Wainright — 0 points, 2 rebounds in 17 minutes
- Saben Lee — DNP
- Adonis Arms — DNP
Yeah, I think Duane and Jock have made the Suns roster, even before the second half starts...
Now let’s see some Saben Lee and Adonis Arms, and more production from Ish Wainright or his job might be in jeopardy.
The Suns biggest problems in this game are inability to make threes (3-for-18) and giving up second-chance points to the bigger Kings (11-to-0 edge for Kings). The Kings starters finally took the lead, 67-65, on free throws from Harrison Barnes and then stretched it to three on a Fox free throw. 68-65. That was their first lead since 8-6 early in the first quarter.
Note: the Kings decided to take this game seriously, and got a lot more aggressive in the second half with blitzing the point guard... a good plan, considering the Suns had no point guards playing in the game.
Suddenly, everyone in the Suns lineup was afraid to shoot. They had multiple possessions of getting stuck in the mud, overpassing, and not creating easy shots. These guys are probably running on fumes, after carrying such a big first half load.
Washington got a breather halfway through the third after clearly running short on gas, but he’s already up to 23 points (8-14 shooting, 6-7 free throws) and 4 assists, but now has 8 turnovers.
The Suns are now at 3-for-21 on threes, down 77-71, while the Kings are up to 10-for-26 on threes.
Saben Lee finally took the court with 2:24 left in the third quarter. He’s been with the team less than a day, but did make his first shot and then later made a three — only the 4th for the Suns ALL NIGHT.
After three, Suns are down 83-76. Kings have made 11-of-28 threes (39%) while the Suns are only at 4-of-23 (17%), and that basically makes up the entire difference in the score. (Suns field goals + free throws = 46; Kings field goals + free throws = 45).
“End of bench” leaders at end of third quarter:
- Duane Washington Jr. — 23 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 8 turnovers in 28 minutes
- Jock Landale — 13 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 steals, 2 assists in 22 minutes
- TLC — 6 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist in 20 minutes
- Ish Wainright — 2 points, 2 rebounds in 17 minutes
- Saben Lee — 5 points in 2 minutes
- Adonis Arms — DNP
Both teams will go deep into their bench for this final quarter. Err, the Kings will join the Suns in that regard.
The Suns took the lead back, 90-88, with just under 8 minutes left in the game.
Washington and Landale are back in the game, this time with Landale as the four next to Biz at center. Landale didn’t get the scoring opportunities in this formation that he was getting earlier as the only big, but it’s an important lineup for Landale to make work. They want Saric in the same hybrid role, knowing Ayton and Biz are strictly centers in that sense.
The Suns just ran out of gas, while the Kings had plenty of energy at the end. The Suns went only 9 deep in this one, while the Kings went 15 deep.
Kings win, 105-104
Biggest culprit: Suns couldn’t hit threes (until two at the end made the final result close), while the Kings did.
“End of bench” leaders through end of game:
- Duane Washington Jr. — 31 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 11(!) turnovers in 39(!) minutes
- Jock Landale — 17 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 steals, 3 assists in 32 minutes
- Ish Wainright — 9 points, 5 rebounds in 34 minutes
- TLC — 6 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist in 24 minutes
- Saben Lee — 9 points, 3 assists, 1 steal in 15 minutes
- Adonis Arms — DNP
The Suns made a pair of late threes to pull within 105-104, then got the steal and the star of the game, Duane Washington Jr., almost made a baseline jumper at the buzzer to win it.
Was a great ending to a fun game, no matter who won.