PHOENIX — With the lockout expected to wipe out all communication between players and coaches for quite some time starting Friday, the Suns took advantage of the hours remaining before July 1 by staging a two-day mini-camp for Markieff Morris and various undrafted rookies and journeymen.
Although head coach Alvin Gentry said it was good to get another look at these free agents — after all, some could be candidates for training camp or Summer League invitations down the road — the obvious benefit came from being able to coach Morris for a few days.
The Kansas product’s schedule has been hectic the last few weeks, with Gentry estimating he may have traveled over 25,000 miles jetting around the country for workouts, then traveling to New York for the draft and Phoenix for a press conference before going back home and then back to Phoenix for the mini-camp.
Gentry lauded Morris for being “a big-time competitor” who understands the game after just the two days of working with him.
“I’m ecstatic,” Gentry said of Morris. “You can see the skill level that he has and you can see the desire that he has to be good, and as I said he’s a real cerebral player and real smart player so I see nothing but good things for him because I think he’s a hard-working kid and he wants to be really good, and to me that’s three-fourths of the battle.”
At the same time Gentry cautioned not to expect Markieff to ride in on a white horse as the savior of the franchise, although in time with development he should turn into “a very, very good piece” for the Suns as he improves his strength and gets used to competing against the bigger, stronger and quicker big men that define the NBA.
“He’s going to be a really good player,” Gentry said.
The Suns better hopes he’s as hard of a worker as Gentry thinks he is because the lockout will be tougher on rookies than established veterans who generally know what they need to do to prepare for the season (not that they necessarily did it last time players were locked out).
Players often work out together, but you know for a fact that Markieff will be pushed daily by a fairly similar player in his twin Marcus.
If the lockout is lengthy and training camp abbreviated the Suns’ coaching staff may not have as much time to focus on Markieff as they would like, so that’s why this mini-camp and what Morris can take from it into the summer was so important.
A Dream for Gortat and Siler
When Gentry sat down with Marcin Gortat during his exit interview he lauded him for how well he played before expressing that he absolutely needs to develop some more post-up moves so he can create double teams or pound single coverage.
That was not the case last season as according to Synergy Sports Technology, Gortat posted up on just 14.3 percent of his plays compared to 38.8 percent as a roll man. He scored a mere 0.77 points per play and converted 39.4 percent of the time in post-up situations compared to 1.23 ppp as a roll man when he converted 63.7 percent of the time.
Clearly Gortat thrived in the pick-and-roll game with Nash but never consistently generated offense from the low block.
So the Suns sent Gortat and Garret Siler to Houston to learn from one of the greatest post players of all time, Hakeem Olajuwon, during five days of intensive training that often lasted at least three hours a day. The Suns’ centers learned Dream’s workouts and were free to pick his brain with questions.
“They thought that Hakeem is an unbelievable teacher,” Gentry said. “They felt like they learned a lot down there … so nothing but positives really. They feel like it was one of the best things that’s ever happened to them in basketball.
“It’s just a real positive thing I think.”
It would be unfair to think Gortat will all of a sudden pick up the Dream Shake from his week in Houston but this week should give Marcin plenty of moves to practice all summer.
This also shows the Suns’ belief in Siler, who does not even have a guaranteed contract for 2011-12 at this time. But they wouldn’t send him to Houston if they didn’t believe he had a future with the team.
Howard, Williams make impression at mini-camp
When Gentry was asked about guys who stood out at the mini-camp, he immediately named a player every college basketball fan is plenty familiar with.
“I think Matt Howard is just one of those smart, smart players that I think eventually somewhere along the line he will probably find his way into the league,” Gentry said of the former Butler star who hit game-winning buckets in the first two rounds of this past NCAA Tournament and led the Bulldogs to consecutive national title games.
“He’s just so smart about what he does and he’s a good shooter and a real cerebral player, so I thought he stood out some.
“Then there’s other guys that you just don’t know. They’re close. It’ll be one of those things where they’ll spend a year or so in the D-League or playing overseas and you’ll see how they progress and what happens there.”
The Suns clearly have some semblance of interest in Howard having invited him to pre- and post-draft workouts, so as I wrote yesterday I would love to see Phoenix give Howard a chance to lock down a final roster spot.
The athletic shot blocker Sean Williams also bears watching, as Paul Coro writes.
Williams, a former first-round pick by the Nets in 2007, has gotten into a whole mess of legal trouble in the past that he attributes to immaturity.
This past season he impressed for the D-League’s Texas Legends, going for 14.4 points, 9.4 boards and 2.9 blocks a game for Nancy Lieberman’s squad.
“I think athletically he’s really good,” Gentry said. “He played for Nancy Lieberman, and Nancy has been a friend of mine for probably 35 years. She speaks highly of him. I think he’s real athletic and does some good things as far as shot blocking and things like that.
“She said he was easy for her to coach. That’s all I could judge it by, and he seems to be working hard out here and seems to be focused on what he’s trying to do as far as getting back in the league.”
Williams has always possessed NBA athleticism, so if he really has matured at the age of 24 his upside could be worth taking a chance on.
Defensive coordinator to be hired soon
Although Gentry originally wanted to have a defensive coordinator in place by the lockout, at this point he expects that hire to be made by the middle of next week.
That’s obviously far from ideal since the new coach won’t be able to familiarize players with his schemes for quite some time if the lockout lasts for months.
According to Coro the top candidates include former Rockets assistant Elston Turner, Bucks assistant Jim Boylan, Spurs assistant Don Newman and Bulls scout Pete Myers.