PHOENIX — Although the bench logged more minutes than might be expected, Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry treated Monday’s exhibition game against the Sacramento Kings as an opportunity to test out the rotation he plans to trot out when the games count.
Thereby we learned that Kendall Marshall — who did not play by coach’s decision for the second time in three games — is currently outside of the rotation, and that the team will likely utilize a 10-man rotation that could swell to 11 when P.J. Tucker replaces Wes Johnson for energy as he did in the first half.
After a rough start to the game featuring seven turnovers in the first four minutes alone (three from Luis Scola and one each from the rest of the starters), the regular Suns easily dispatched the Kings, 103-88, behind 25 points in 24 minutes from Jared Dudley and 14 and 10 off the bench from Markieff Morris to improve to 3-2 in preseason play.
“We didn’t come out with the mindset we need to start the game,” Dudley said. “A little lax. We’ve got to play a lot more aggressive, a lot more focused. For us to be successful this year we definitely have to come out with a lot more energy. We can’t play too cool. It’s not a ‘too cool’ team. We did that, and some of it was their defense and some of it was us. The bench came in and did what it’s supposed to do: get the energy and guys back. Second half starters played real well.”
With no starter playing even 30 minutes, clearly Gentry gave his bench more run than he usually would yet it was relatively good facsimile of what the regular season rotation will look like. Sebastian Telfair looked very confident running the second unit while racking up five points and five assists, and thus for the time being the Suns’ first-round pick will be a spectator when the games begin to count.
I’ve always expected Bassy to start the season as the backup point guard and for Marshall to eventually win the job. It’s good to see Gentry opting to play the better current player rather than the lottery pick (although Suns fans must hope that Marshall soon becomes the better player).
Gentry also won’t hesitate to mix and match if he feels a particular reserve gives the team a better look as he did in the first half when he desired Tucker’s energy and defense.
The Kings took advantage of those early Phoenix turnovers to race out to a 14-2 lead. Gentry has often talked about how fatal the live ball turnover can be in this league with such incredible athletes around the NBA, as even DeMarcus Cousins (who thrashed the Suns for eight points and five boards in a mere 8:32) took a steal coast to coast for a hoop.
“If you give them that opportunity to run at you most of the time they’re going to find a way to score,” Gentry said. “When you turn it over, a live turnover … most of the time it’s going to get you in a lot of trouble.”
The Suns salted away the win when Dudley caught fire late, draining three treys to score 11 points in the final 3:07 on a night he tallied a game-high 25 on 9-for-12 shooting, including four three-pointers.
Dudley looked so confident catching and shooting those late long balls in rhythm that it made me think back to how much his game has changed since arriving from Charlotte as a trade throw-in who was closer to being a power forward than a shooting guard.
As a rookie in 2007-08 Dudley shot an ugly 22 percent from distance (9-for-41), and if you popped in tape of that rookie season in Charlotte you might confuse the dread-locked Dudley with a completely different player.
“You’ve got to evolve to stay in this league,” Dudley said. “I remember before the draft a guy from Cleveland when LeBron was there saying, ‘Guys who shoot threes make a lot of money.’ I came to Phoenix and was like, ‘Hey, that’s what I’ve got to do.’ I knew for me to play I had to play good defense and shoot threes, and now it evolved when we lost J-Rich in the trade I knew I had to get in better condition, work on my ballhandling, work on pindowns, and this year coming off ball screens and cutting off the ball and just being more aggressive.
“You’ve got to show people what you can do. The NBA is a show league, and if you show you can shoot threes they’ll let you shoot threes. Before Channing got here in Portland he didn’t shoot one three, and now he got here he’s one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA, so you’ve got to keep working.”
That’s what Dudley has done, and that’s why he appears primed to take the next step as a solid starting shooting guard this season for a Suns team devoid of a go-to scorer. He’s not capable of taking on that role, but there will be many nights like this where he leads the team in scoring, especially if he continues to shoot the three as well as he has this preseason when he’s led all NBA players by shooting it at a 65.8 percent clip (25-for-38).
Marcin Gortat, on the other hand, never found that offensive rhythm as he played three more minutes than JD yet managed to score a mere three points on 1-for-6 shooting. He did make up for that by corralling a game-best 12 boards, but the Suns will need him to start scoring come the regular season.
“Definitely not the best one,” Gortat said of his offensive performance. “I’m still trying to find my spot and trying to fit in.”
One reason Gortat has averaged a mere 7.6 points this preseason (aside from sporadic playing time) is due to the lack of pick-and-rolls, a former staple of the offense. That could just be a function of Gentry trying to institute new aspects of the team’s post-Nash offense, but in any case Gortat said he feels he and Dragic should speak to Gentry about calling that play more often.
Despite the early rebounding issues, the Suns still managed to outboard the Kings 58-46 despite yielding 18 offensive caroms after the Kings won the battle of the boards 51-47 in the preseason opener between those two squads.
The Suns had very few offensive wrinkles integrated for that first meeting, but tonight showed Sacramento a good representation of what opponents can expect from the Suns this season.
“We have to try to eliminate the slow starts,” Gentry said. “We’ve done a really good job. We have to continue to move forward. We don’t want to take steps back. We don’t want to go three steps forward and two back because then we’re behind where we were, and that’s the one thing we want to try to eliminate. We want to keep moving forward and keep getting a little bit better and keep improving on the rebounding and execution, things like that.
“If we do that then we have a chance.”
- The league’s annual GM survey came out Monday without much Phoenix representation. Nash to the Lakers was voted most surprising move of the offseason with 39.3 percent of the vote. Dragic tied a number players for fourth in the category of international player most likely to break out this season, and Gentry tied for fourth with Scott Brooks for head coach that runs the best offense. In addition, JD garnered votes for player who makes the most of limited natural ability, Gortat for toughest player, and Elston Turner for best assistant.
- After utilizing the regular rotation tonight, the Suns plan on emptying their bench for Tuesday’s tilt in Golden State.
- Gortat and Jermaine O’Neal both blocked four shots. O’Neal was a force inside with seven points, nine boards and eight foul attempts to go with the blocks. Tonight at least he looked far from done.
- Tyreke Evans was called for an offensive foul “leg kick,” as the ref put it. The NBA plans to make enforcing the Reggie Miller rule a point of emphasis this season.