Like a warning before any Jackass movie, let’s begin with a notice regarding all Las Vegas Summer League games. The performances witnessed in the NBA summer leagues do not accurately represent the outlook for the Phoenix Suns’ season, nor should they be taken as gospel.
Now that’s out of the way, the Suns’ first summer league game Saturday in Las Vegas went well. Phoenix blew out the Portland Trail Blazers 82-69 after awaking to overcome an eight-point deficit. Leading by as many as 20, the Suns used a surging Markieff Morris to come away with the win. The older of the twins overcame eight personal fouls and a terrible start – including a 3-for-11 start from the field – to finish 7-for-15. Brother Marcus Morris added 14 more on a more efficient 4-for-9 outing.
The Suns shot 43 percent but the second-half output of 50 points in 20 minutes was impressive.
And for all the clammering about the Suns passing on Sacramento’s Ben McLemore to take Alex Len with the fifth overall pick, it was Portland’s 10th overall pick, C.J. McCollum, who was making Phoenix’s decision more questionable. McLemore had an awful outing earlier in the day, shooting 4-for-23 and missing 10-of-11 three-point attempts. Later Saturday, McCollum scored 15 first-half points but finished with just 22.
Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey, speaking to NBATV, summed up McCollum’s performance well. He joked that it took 3.5 games into the season for opposing teams to blitz last season’s Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard on pick-and-rolls. It took 3.5 quarters for Phoenix to send the heat McCollum’s way.
After the rookie guard abused Kendall Marshall and Archie Goodwin, the Suns put P.J. Tucker on him and blitzed him off screens, forcing shotclock violations and throwaways. Meanwhile, the offense began to click as the Suns pulled away.
Marshall’s so-so outing
Was it good that P.J. Tucker can get up on McCollum and stay in front of him? Or bad news Kendall Marshall can’t?
Finishing with the Suns’ second-best plus-minus of plus-14, Marshall controlled the game well. He did that last season toward the end of the year. But Marshall took just four shots and scored four points to go with four assists in 18 minutes. No, it wasn’t bad per se, but Marshall still hasn’t shown aggressiveness that will open up passing lanes and help him score. Two of the points came with a game clock winding down – point is, he can be effective, but he rarely puts himself in attack position to do so.
So who is Arinze Onuaku
In the D-League last season, the 26-year-old and former Syracuse big man averaged 12.6 points and 9.5 rebounds in just 24 minutes per game. On Saturday, he put up seven points, 11 rebounds and had a team-leading plus-minus of plus-16. He was a big part of the Suns blitzing McCollum on pick-and-rolls and hedged well with pressure with his mobile 6-foot-9, 276 pound frame.
The scary part is this. In 17 minutes, Onuaku grabbed more rebounds than the Morris twins, who combined to play 40 minutes (the twins started in the frontcourt with Tucker, and Goodwin and Marshall started in the backcourt).
Upside for Archie
Goodwin’s length showed on defense. He got a hand on the ball against McCollum’s dribble, then nearly stole the ball in a passing lane during the first half. But both times, McCollum recovered. After losing the ball in the first half, he got Goodwin on his back and found himself into the lane for a floater. After nearly having the ball stolen atop the key, he splashed a three-pointer over Goodwin’s reach.
Goodwin also got beat off the dribble by Will Barton but recovered to block it from behind. A foul was called on Goodwin, which was annoying enough for Markieff Morris to draw a technical foul.
Overall, there’s much promise but a long learning curve. If anything, Goodwin looked engaged throughout and showed little signs – offball rotations! – that he is a smart basketball player.
On offense, Goodwin’s jumper was effective. He scored 13 points and hit a three and a long two-pointer coming off a high screen. He struggled to even get the ball on the rim when fouled, but at least he got fouled. Goodwin saw a good deal of time at point guard along with Diante Garrett and Marshall, but he is still far from looking like a point guard – the Russell Westbrook comparisons need to rest.
What does Hornacek’s coaching look like?
In general Hornacek appeared calm on the bench. His coaching changes at the half, especially against McCollum, were simple but smart.
By scoring 82 points on 43 percent shooting, Phoenix really did push the tempo – remember, there are only 40 minutes in summer league games. The Suns had 16 turnovers, not bad for their first game. Organizationally, all looked well. Most impressively, the Suns were balanced. They shot 6-for-16 from three-point range but also got to the foul stripe 27 times.
The Suns have added Dwayne Collins, their No. 60 overall draft pick from 2010, to the Summer League roster.