Defensive learning curve: Suns drop first preseason game to Denver Nuggets, 127-110

At a first glance, the Phoenix Suns’ 127-110 loss on Tuesday to the Denver Nuggets doesn’t suggest that much has changed from last season on the defensive side of the ball.

The Suns’ defense ranged from porous-to-downright poor in Denver, and considering they were looking to improve behind the leadership of defensive coordinator Elston Turner, Tuesday’s loss was troubling. Then again, it should be realized that these things take time.

However, from an offensive perspective, there might be room for optimism. The Suns’ big men showed well as Marcin Gortat and Hakim Warrick led Phoenix with 14 points apiece. But per usual, it was Steve Nash who got the ball rolling.

Nash scored six points and had two assists in the first six minutes of the game, and he finished with 11 points and five assists in 20 minutes.

Early on, the Suns kept even with the Nuggets, who led 34-28 by the end of the first quarter. But to begin the second, the Suns offense sputtered with Nash on the bench, and they were outscored 29-21 by the end of the quarter as Denver put up a 14-point, 63-49 lead by halftime.

Phoenix wouldn’t break the double-digit deficit until 2:54 remained in the game, as a Warrick jumper brought the score to 116-108. The run came despite Nash’s exit from the game with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

The Suns would come no closer than eight, but here are a couple notes and observations from the game:

Defensive learning curve

There were some things for head coach Alvin Gentry to cringe at on defense but also some signs of progress.

There were a number of blown pick-and-rolls coverages that resulted in dunks for Denver, but at the same time, Phoenix created some pass break-ups against Denver’s pick-and-rolls. Rookie Kenneth Faried took advantage of such, and he debuted with 14 points and six boards in 15 second-half minutes for the Nuggets.

For the Suns, two passes were broken up by center Robin Lopez, who scooted over from a help position on separate occasions to force Denver turnovers.

As a whole, many of the defensive woes came because of the Suns giving up 17 offensive rebounds and by turnovers that led to transition buckets.

Big men flex muscles

Lopez backed up his claims that he’s ready to go this season. In 23 minutes, the 7-footer scored 10 points, grabbed five rebounds and had a block. He showed an energetic second jump that was reminiscent of his play two years ago, when he made a difference in the playoffs against the Lakers and their large frontline.

Meanwhile, Gortat continued his solid play, notching 14 points and grabbing eight boards. Rookie Markieff Morris fouled out, but not before scoring 10 points and grabbing eight boards himself.

The most notable performance, however, came from Warrick. With the previously-mentioned big men eating up minutes at power forward and center, Warrick saw time playing small forward, where he scored 14 to go with six rebounds and three assists. Showing off an improved jumper, he knocked down two consecutive 20-plus foot shots that brought the Suns within eight points late in the game.

Backing up Nash

The muddled backup point guard situation became no clearer on Tuesday, with Ronnie Price and Sebastian Telfair getting equal run. Price scored nine points, dropped four dimes and had two steals, while Telfair scored six and recorded five assists.

That said, the duo combined to turn the ball over seven times.

Even more concerning as a whole, the Suns point guards — including Nash — gave up 21 points to Ty Lawson in just 25 minutes while Andre Miller, who often played alongside Lawson, had 12 assists on the night.

Green light for Brown

Shooting guard Shannon Brown is relishing his opportunity in the Suns’ system. He took 13 shots but only hit four, and could probably use a little better shot selection. Nonetheless, he scored 12 points, had four assists and picked up three steals, and there’s little doubt he’ll have a significant role this season in a number of different ways.

And 1

Gortat suffered a hairline fracture in his right thumb, according to The Arizona Republic, and will be re-examined Wednesday. He is not expected to miss much time, if any.

“Hell, no,” Gortat told The Republic. “I’ve still got my left (thumb). I’m not going to give up my spot.”

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    I hope that people don’t come in posting about doom and gloom over this game. It’s just an evaluation of the talent and nothing more.

    I don’t care about the guards. I care about the 3 – 5 right now and the numbers were good enough.

  • shazam

    warrick at sf just might work :)

  • shazam

    does anyone remember when al mcoy used to say… “he stops he pops, good like a-1 beer” when a jumper was made?

  • suns68

    It’s always better to not get embarrassed than to get embarrassed, even in preseason.

  • Scott

    In his first NBA (pre-season) game, Morris played for nearly 30 minutes before fouling out. He shot 3 of 7 (of which 0 of 2 were from 3), and 4 of 5 from FT, for a total of 10 pts. (That’s a nice improvement on his college FT%, by the way, if he keeps it up.) He pulled down 1 off / 7 def rebounds. That’s not bad for a guy who had no summer league and roughly a week of conditioning and a week of practice.

    According to, Childress started at SG and Dudley started at SF. I don’t know if it stayed that way.

    Childress was 1 of 3 from 3, and 3 of 6 total, for 7 pts, all in the 2nd half. He didn’t get to the FT line. From the stats, it looks like he was too tentative on offense and probably is not comfortable shooting yet.

    If Childress and Brown split the SG position, as roughly suggested by the minutes, in the SG scoring battle Brown won by volume, shooting 4-13 (1 of 4 from 3), and Brown hit all 3 of his FTs, giving him 12 pts for the game. (If he was dialed in a bit better, he would have scored about 20 pts. on that volume.)

    Warrick appears to have done okay in his new position, playing for nearly 25 min, shooting 7 of 11 (no 3s) for 14 points. He missed both his FTs. He rebounded fairly well, 2 off / 4 def, for a total of 6 – which was only beat by Gortat and Morris, each with 8.

    The old crew also took care of the ball. All but one of the turnovers came from the new guys. Of a whopping 16 TOs, 4 came from Telfair, 1 from Morris, 5 from Brown, and 3 from Price.

    There were a fair number of steals in the game, but I’m reluctant to count them, since they were probably due to sloppy play in what amounts to garbage time. Almost all the steals came from the new guys.

  • Scott

    Oh, and for those curious, neither Landry nor Siler played significant minutes. Landry got 4 min and his only stat was a block. Siler got 1 minute and had no stats.

    Both Hill and Pietrus DNP due to injury.

  • shazam

    scott those are great stats…what are the silver linings and or black clouds that can be gleaned from them?

  • Mel.

    Wow. That’s gotta be one of the most evenly-spread stat sheets that I’ve seen from a team, even in the pre-season; it sounds like everybody pitched in and played their roles effectively (the dimes and rebounds are particularly promising), which… creates an interesting dynamic, really.

    When everybody on the team pitches in ten to eighteen points and scatters the teamwork stats, does it create cohesion and consistency (I mean, aside from being spanked by a team like Denver), or does it just ultimately encourage a culture of disciplined mediocrity…?

  • Scott

    @shazam -

    It’s really too small of a sample to say much about. However, what I would look for is:

    1) Fair confidence in Morris, keeping in mind that he’s a rookie with rookie mistakes and ups-and-downs. It’s early, but it looks like the Suns will get what they thought they were drafting.

    2) Childress ought to stick with his shooting drills till he feels confident, and even practice with someone running at him, or at least someone with a hand to his chest to keep him from bobbing forward. I don’t know how he got so out of balance, but he probably needs sheer repetition of shooting to build better mental and physical shooting habits. Yes, he’s being fairly efficient, but he can’t be allowed to think it’s okay to not score and that it’s okay to avoid getting fouled.

    3) Warrick should get better at SF through practice, and he ought to continue practicing shooting corner 3s because perimeter threats are a necessity. This may take a while. But if Childress simply isn’t scoring, Warrick could find himself with a lot more play time than previously thought. He could wind up as the backup 3 behind Hill, with Dudley as starting SG.

    As Hubie Brown or Cotton Fitzsimmons might sagely say, “Whoever scores the most points wins.” ;)

    4) All the new guys will hopefully get used to the offense and settle in. It will take time, but turnovers should go down. Obviously, if someone is committing a lot of turnovers as we progress into the season, they will get less play time.

    On that note, I’d be most concerned about Brown. Telfair and Price will probably get their TOs down, and Morris only had 1 TO anyway, but Brown has poor court vision – 5 TOs in that first game (yikes!) – and it could turn out that the team has to adapt to his difficulty with passing, which will take time and keep his minutes down, especially at first.

    5) Last but not least, I hope the new guys really ARE good at getting steals. The Suns used to get a few steals from Marion, Barbosa, Dragic, and even STAT, and a few choice steals can change a game, but at this point it’s unclear to me who – if anyone – on the present roster will turn out to be a reliable thief.

  • Scott

    Oh, and apparently – according to a Tweet on – Gortat broke his thumb in the game. :(

    Assuming he’s not going to play with it, there’s going to be some more roster rotation. Hopefully Warrick will stay at SF, because he needs practice there.

    Probably Lopez will start at C, and Frye and Siler will man the 2nd unit.

    The PF position can be manned by Frye, Morris, and Landry, with the new guys getting the majority of minutes, at least in pre-season.

  • Iceman

    I have a gut feeling that Brown and Childress will be done wearing a Suns uniform after this season. Brown has pretty much made no qualms about this being a season for his stats. So I’m not thinking his terrible shot selection will improve. JChill just doesn’t have anything to offer at the SF or SG position for this team. His defense is pretty lousy and he’s useless on offense. I see an amnesty coming for him.

    I am most excited for Telfair and Morris. It seems to me like Telfair is really hungry this year and wanting to prove himself on the court. I like Price and get that Raja Bell vibe from him. He’s going to find a place on this team because I think this is Nash and Hill’s final season. I think both of those PGs will be very good backups for Nash and possibly make room for themselves in this team’s plan for the future. Morris will be a very good PF in this league. I think the Suns finally drafted the right brother.

  • steve

    I’ll leave the negativity toward Childress alone this time around…

    What I’m worried about is Gortat. Can you give us an update as soon as you get one, VotS?

    • Michael Schwartz

      I’ll have more from tomorrow night’s preseason game (if not sooner), but for now I added The Republic’s update that it’s a hairline fracture that he plans to play through to the end of this report. Regardless, could not have happened at a worse time a la Childress’ fractured finger last preseason that really hampered him to start the year.

  • Scott

    Stats update: despite what said, according to Coro it was Childress who started at SF, and Dudley at SG.

    Gortat update: again, according to Coro, Gortat suffered a hairline fracture of his right thumb. He doesn’t expect to miss any time, but if he gets held out, the time loss is expected to be minimal.

    @Iceman -

    Looking at the game stats, and taking Coro’s observations into account, it looks like Price is winning the backup PG role over Telfair.

  • Brian

    Obviously our defense needs to continue to improve, but what is going to really hurt us most is how badly we get beat up when our second unit is out there. Outside of Frye, I think our first unit can be competitive, and if Frye can just knock down some 3s, we should be able to hang with most teams.

    But a second unit of Telfair, Brown, Childress, Morris and Lopez can be scary. Especially against some deep teams like Denver who feature a second team pg like Andre Miller and many other players who have played significant minutes on teams.

    Some of those players do some things well, but scoring is going to be the major problem with that unit. If Brown is going to hoist up that many shots and only hit 30%, while turning it over 5 times, we won’t win many games. Childress played like he always has..he has never been a high volume shooter…he picks his spots and when he played for Atlanta always was among league leaders for a 2/3 in shooting percentage. At least he is efficient and is good at put backs (which will help if Brown continues to shoot so horribly).

    We might be better served to use a second unit of Price, Childress, Warrick, Morris, Lopez…..that is, if Brown isn’t better.

    I knew Brown was a guy that had some highlights and flair, but ultimately was a sg that couldn’t shoot (he had a pretty bad fg% in the past, esp from 3)…it’s particularly scary that he has that bad of a fg % when he does finish at the rim so often….that means when he isn’t getting dunks/layups, he is REALLY doing a bad job of shooting.

    We know our defense will be avg at best, which means we really can’t afford to let our offense slide at all or we won’t be competing with anyone.

  • sun-arc

    I watched a good portion of the game, and here is what I saw:

    Gortat, Nash, and Dudz looked solid. Good effort, comfort level, and abilities.
    Morris was pretty solid for a rookie offensively and on rebounding. More on him later.
    Lopez looked much better. Good bounce and movement.
    Price does have a bit of that Raja Bell vibe. The bench’s offense and defense looked better with him on the court (over Telfair).
    Hakim’s shooting was really nice, with increased range. His energy and rebounding were pretty darn good.
    A good moment from Landry was that he blocked a huge dunk attempt by Fareed. I was really happy to have him there at that moment. He saved us from a seriously embarrasing highlight against us.

    The mediocre:
    Frye’s shot wasn’t there. But it’ll come, and will help space opposing team’s D.
    Brown needs to settle down. But overall, good effort.

    The Awful:
    Team Defense was abysmal. I mean, really bad. They were confused, slow, and flat-footed all night. No chemistry, cohesion, or awareness. Hopefully this will improve by leaps and bounds, otherwise its going to be a long season.
    Telfair was awful on both ends of the court, but particularly defense. He was constantly torched by Miller and Lawson. It was ugly. And he had 5 of the backup duo’s turnovers. Price outplayed him completely.
    There was a serious lack of energy from several players.
    Childress was not good at all- no slashing, little defense, etc. There wasn’t much point to having him on the court, and he shouldn’t start again. I’d put Hak in for him.
    Having said that, Hak’s defense as a SF was also awful. People just getting right by him, or shooting over him. So, he needs to improve a LOT, otherwise, we’ll have two lame-ducks in Chilly and Hak. I have hopes for both of them, but right now either one looks like a bit of a liability. Hak has a better chance to do well, as it looks right now.

    If the suns don’t find an identity and pull things together, it’ll be an ugly year. I still have hope.

  • shazam

    what are the suns going to do w/ brooks after he is freed from china?..reports are that he is playing well over there

  • Tony

    Well, last night’s blowout against the Suns will certainly not be the last and in fact, will most likely become a frequent occasion. I know the Suns homers thought the Suns would play better than other teams simply because of their supposed on-court chemistry, but those same people ignore the fact that this team has several new players in the second unit who have no chemistry whatsoever.

    There were very few positives last night, but some of them included Nash of course and Dudley. While Gortat played well in the first half, I expected more offensive-development from him overall. It was only the first pre-season game so hopefully he can really show what he learned from Haqeem. Lopez looked much quicker and more mobile than last season. I think that’s the biggest plus for the team, not just because of what he brings when healthy, but also because he could potentially be a valuable trade chip to acquire a legitimate starting pf.

    Morris had nice stats for the game, but watching him play defense, he looked like a deer in headlights. He was utterly lost on several possessions and allowed his man to catch wide open alleyhoops. But again this was only his first game.

    Shannon Brown has me very concerned because as he is only playing for next year’s contract, it’s likely he will continue to shoot too much and force the action trying to prove he’s more valuable than a role player. However, at this point, he’s not any better than a role player. I have a feeling Gentry will bench him sooner rather than later to remind him of that fact.
    This Suns team has such little talent as it is, they cannot win unless they play as a team. If Brown is just out there to light up his stats, he may become more of a detriment on the court, similar to Peitrus.

  • Scott

    @shazam -

    We’ll have to see where the Suns are at when that time comes. Who knows … with Telfair appearing wonky, maybe the Suns will need Brooks in March.

    @sun-arc -

    I’m not at all surprised that Hakim needs more work on defending at SF. It sounds like it requires a whole new body language / skill set. But his body is well-suited to that position, so he should get acclimated and get better over time.

    The Suns may have retained a lot of players from last year, but it’s clear they could have used a longer pre-season to work on defense and fine-tune the offense.

  • shazam

    thanks scott..totally agree about warrick as well but must see to believe… @ tony.. shannon does seem to have some peitrus in him..scares me..i like the way morris is coming along…sad to hear that gortat will be sitting on his thumb for a bit..we sooooo need him

  • sun-arc

    @ Scott- yes agreed about Hak. But the question is- can he learn/play defense at all? I think he was fine offensively and rebounding. But if he doesn’t play a lick of defense, we can’t have him on the court.

    And- yeah, they could have used more time, but the Nuggets have lots of new players and ran circles around us. Why is that? A coaching issue or talent issue? Frankly, I think its coaching. I’m not sure Gentry can create a team. He ran D’Antoni’s offense well after him with many of the same parts. But can he work in new territory with different personel?

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    The WCF team from a couple years ago was all Gentry. Really, Gentry runs a ship nothing like Mike D.

    I mean Gentry likes to go 10 deep as long as the personnel allows him to do it. Mike D only ever went 7 deep and really does believe that he can outscore any team.

    Seriously, it was the first pre-season game. They jumped on the second unit, because we have 2 point guards who are not used to the system and a 2 guard who went like 4 for 400. Who cares really.

    As long as they get enough run for Gentry to get the starting / bench rotation set in stone by January 1 I’m fine with it.

    From the looks of the first game, it appears as if Gentry is going to multi-slot a bunch of the wings this year depending on who the opposing team has out there, especially with the bench players.

    A lineup of Nash, Childress, Warrick, Morris, and Frye at some point in a game actually seems possible by looking at what Gentry had out there against Denver.

  • shazam

    sun – arc i question gentry as well..this is a tough season to draw any real conclusion on tho…i will say that i think gentry may have been better than mike d because he goes deeper on the bench..basically im saying if gentry had mike d talent from a few years back we may have won it all..mike burned our players out

  • shazam

    oops i should have read richs post before commenting..we sort of said the same thing except he said it better..sorry rich

  • sun-arc

    @ Rich and Shazam:
    I agree with the coaching on playing more players, and developing a bench. During Mike D’s time, that was my biggest lament about him.

    But, still, what I wonder is whether Gentry can motivate players under a different system. They don’t have the SSOL players anymore, and their identity seems to be changing. But they played last year without a clear identity, and this one game (small sample size, I know) reminded me a lot of last year.

    But when they switched from Porter to Gentry, the offense was freed (back to Mike D’s) and they played hard for the rest of that year. Then, the next year, same players minus Shaq, and they go to the WCF. Since then, massive player movement and bad energy, performance, with no chemistry or apparent gameplan on the court. So- I am speculating what the cause is. Coaches or players?

    I’ll give it time. And I’m not down on Gentry just yet. I was just posing the question.

  • shazam

    totally get it sun – arc…the suns have an identity but since we are fans we sort of dont like to bring it up..the suns are a collection of middling talent…my guess is that nash and hill will average about 24 minutes a game due to this years sched….and they will play very well those minutes but because they cant average 28 to 32 minutes over all they are middling as well..and thats the 800 pound gorilla..not to be confused with the fancy dunking one at home games

  • Scott

    I’m still looking forward to the first regular season game, but with considerably dampened expectations due to the runaway loss.

    Hopefully the Suns keep this next game a bit closer, and hopefully they do it without playing the starters all the way through.

  • steve

    @shazam – I don’t see what makes you think Nash is only going to get 24mpg. He averaged 33 the last two years, 34 the two before that, then 35 the two before that. Just because the games aren’t spaced as much doesn’t mean Nash is going to HAVE to rest. His body hasn’t shown aging in the same way we have come to expect. Btw, Hill has averaged 30mpg the past 3 seasons. I don’t see any reason to believe he’s going to be much under that (unless Gentry decides to give Childress a legitimate chance to prove himself this season).

    Neither one of those guys has given us any indication that their years have caught up with them. Maybe this could be the season that happens for both of them, but I think it’s far more likely that it isn’t.

    To the crazy amount of haters we have on this site right now, if the Suns win their preseason game tonight, they’re going to win the NBA championship. Clearly. If one preseason loss puts them in the cellar… then a win must have the opposite effect, no?

  • Zak

    @ steve

    You’ve made it clear that you have little respect for my opinions at times and I’ve sometimes made some nasty comments about your opinions here in return. Regardless of what you think of me or my opinions, what you write is usually well thought out and I agree with you more often than not.


    I would like to be be able to discuss things with you without you thinking that I am attacking you or vice-versa when we disagree.

  • steve

    Peace. I noticed you making some more comments recently, and I was thinking to myself, “Why did we have our scrums in the past? This guy seems perfectly reasonable.”

    I’m trying to be much less fanatical about this myself and just keep an even keel.

  • Zak

    @ steve – Sports opinions sometimes become heated when they differ. Your opinions seem perfectly reasonable to me too. We had one disagreement earlier and I admit that I took things too far in my comments/replies. Too bad we can’t just sit together at a bar, have a beer together and laugh about it all while watching the Suns play on TV… or even better sit together in the stands and watch them play. I promise that if I can ever make it to a game in Phoenix, I’ll buy you a beer and we can cheer the Suns on together.