Good day, sirs and ma’ams. I’ve made some mental notes over the past week or so of Phoenix Suns preseason basketball, so here you go.
Starting lineup trying something new
Of course, you see the bottom line, that the starters in two games (22 minutes in game one, 25 minutes in game two) were less than stellar. Each time, they checked out with a deficit in the third quarter.
But when you pull back the layers a bit, you see some of the reasoning. This is the 3rd year of a Chris Paul - Devin Booker - Mikal Bridges - Deandre Ayton quartet and the 4th year of the Booker - Bridges - Ayton - Johnson foursome. They know what they can do, and they’re very good at doing it. They know they can play one of the league’s top 10 offenses and top 10 defenses, and they can do it with their eyes closed. They know their successful roles all too well.
So this preseason is about experimentation. We know what an offense run by Chris Paul and Devin Booker looks like. And we know that Bridges, Ayton and Johnson can step up in scoring when Paul and/or Book are out of the lineup.
But the Suns really need to establish the Bridges/Johnson/Ayton playmaking WHILE Paul and Book are both on the floor (using Book and CP as decoys) because that’s where the offense bogged down in each of the last two playoffs. So this preseason, you’re seeing a lot more of Bridges (and Johnson, before he got injured) initiating plays, and Ayton being given the ball further out from the basket with the chance to make his own play from 15 feet in.
The starters are not trying to win preseason games. I doubt they would care about going 0-4 in the preseason if the ‘win’ was establishing some rhythm on non-Book-non-CP offense.
Once the real games start, you’ll see a Suns team that looks a lot more familiar to you. Just hopefully with the added wrinkle of more playmaking from non-All-Stars.
Who steps up without Payne?
Assuming the Suns have no interest in overworking Chris Paul in the preseason, there’s a real opportunity for someone to show they run the team’s offense effectively without Cam Payne in the lineup.
Payne injured a finger in his first minute on the floor against the Lakers last Wednesday, and the Suns are going to play it safe by keeping Payne out of the remaining two preseason games.
That opens an opportunity for guys like Landry Shamet, who was a point guard in college if you can believe it, and Duane Washington Jr., who is on a two-way contract after spending his rookie year with the Pacers.
We saw both guys handle the ball in that comeback against the Lakers last Wednesday. Shamet had his best game in a long time (21 points and 2 assists in 20 minutes), while Washington led the fourth quarter charge with 2 assists in the final eight minutes. Not world-beating numbers, but both contributed a great deal to the comeback.
Who steps up without Cam Johnson?
Another Suns player who injured a finger against the Lakers was Cam Johnson. So the next two preseason games give other players a bigger shot at earning that backup power forward role.
Just to catch you up, erstwhile starting forward Jae Crowder is holding out of preseason in the hopes of a trade to a team that will keep him in their starting lineup and/or give him a contract extension beyond this coming season.
Now with Crowder AND Cam out of the picture, a much bigger opportunity opens up for backups Torrey Craig and Dario Saric.
Craig started the second half in Johnson’s place on Wednesday night and produced 6 points and 7 rebounds in 15 minutes of play. Four of his rebounds were on the offensive glass, giving the Suns a much-needed secondary rebounder in a lineup next to Ayton or Jock Landale.
Saric played 16 minutes on Wednesday, producing 12 points and 4 rebounds, though some of that time was playing with the deep bench as the center during the fourth quarter comeback.
Both players looked better as the game went along, figuratively ‘shaking off the rust’ as they got more playing time than they’d had in a very long time. Let’s see who emerges as the starter on Monday night against the Denver Nuggets (my guess is Craig), and whether Dario can become comfortable as the second big on the floor next to Ayton or Landale.
Speaking of Jock Landale...
Newcomer Landale has played the bulk of the backup center minutes in the team’s first two preseason games and he’s been quite productive, with 14 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal and a block in less than 15 minutes of play against the Lakers.
Has Landale taken the job as Ayton’s backup? Or is this simply a preseason look-see, because head coach Monty Williams already knows what he’s got in veterans Bismack Biyombo and Dario Saric.
I’m guessing the latter, but I could be wrong. It’s possible that Monty Williams will become so enamored with Landale’s activity and range (made 2 of 4 threes on Wednesday) that he mothballs both Dario and Bis to start the season. Either way, by the end of the season I think all three players will get plenty of chances backing up Ayton.
I had a bit of fun on twitter yesterday.
I’m sure y’all heard about the Warriors’ Draymond Green coldcocking Jordan Poole in the middle of a practice this past week, right?
This news leaked — without video — almost immediately, and the Warriors responded with saying they considered this an internal issue and would give Draymond till Saturday to cool off before rejoining the team.
Then the video came out.
The video of the Draymond Green & Jordan Poole situation pic.twitter.com/eydnhkR6BL— The Pettiest Laker Fan (@ThePettiestLA) October 7, 2022
Watch the whole thing. Green chest bumped Poole, who pushed Draymond off, only to have Green close that space right up with full-weight punch to the face that crumpled Poole. Notice how almost none of the Warriors actually saw the punch. It wasn’t until TMZ got a bootleg copy of the footage and released it for the world that most of those Warriors saw it for the first time too.
Still, the Warriors are mum on making any other punishment besides a preseason break for Draymond Green. He said he hopes to play in their season opener.
The last time a practice punch leaked, even without video, was Bobby Portis laying the hammer on Nikola Mirotic. Portis was immediately suspended eight games by the Bulls, while Mirotic missed 23 games because of fractures to his face. But even Portis wouldn’t associate his incident with Green’s, pointing out that Mirotic had rushed him twice before Portis finally defended himself. And we all thought less of Portis FOR YEARS because that, didn’t we?
Yet, the Warriors appear to be letting Green run the show here. It was Green who first faced the media, not Poole. Sure the Warriors have defended Poole, saying there’s no place for Green’s actions, yet Poole remains silent while Green gets to face the media with his apologies and self-proclamation that he will stay away from the team another week or so while they cool down.
When I saw how they let Green create the message, I took to twitter with my hot take.
Total lack of leadership from the Warriors here. Allowing Draymond to determine his own punishment. Poole better watch out. https://t.co/D7Rgp3SasH— Dave King (@DaveKingNBA) October 8, 2022
I stand by this take. It’s bad management to effectively let Green run the show here. They’ve had five days to decide a punishment, and have simply said they’re still evaluating. By letting Green run the show here, they’re telling Poole it’s okay for practice fights to happen. That’s why I said ‘Poole better watch out’. All the Warriors are doing is further emboldening Green.
Warriors twitter found me pretty quick and spent the rest of the day trying to dunk on me, an easy displacement of their anger away from the real source. I don’t mind. They’re angry and scared. They hope all will be fine, yet they know deep down it probably isn’t. So, they spent the day ratio-ing non-Warriors twitter.
I just find it funny when they say a Suns fan doesn’t know what ‘lack of leadership’ looks like. I’m like Bro, I know what ‘lack of leadership’ looks like BECAUSE I cover the Suns. I’ve seen it for 18 years! I’m an expert at recognizing it when it comes across my timeline.
I’ll absorb some of your anger, Warriors fans. It doesn’t make your team’s mismanagement of this situation any better, though.