Time: 7 :00 pm MST
After Wednesday night’s win, it’s clear the Suns are headed for the #1 seed in the Western Conference and a possible Finals matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers. The Suns look very comfortable at the top of the Western Conference standings. But the playoffs are still a long way away. Tonight Phoenix looks to improve to 2-0 for the first time in four seasons as they host the Utah Jazz. Let’s break down three storylines heading into tonight’s game.
Which Restricted Free Agent-To-Be will look the most worth the money?
The Suns failed to reach terms with Eric Bledsoe before the Halloween deadline. Likewise, the Jazz failed to extend Gordon Hayward. Both players will hit Restricted Free Agency next year, meaning they can seek lucrative offers from other teams and force their current franchises to match or let the player walk away for nothing. If both guys play up to their abilities this season, they’ll both get richer contracts than what their teams were likely offering yesterday. But for Phoenix, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In a league stacked with point guards, any offer Bledsoe gets next season will be closer to his actual value and less inflated than if he were a dominant big man like DeMarcus Cousins or potent wing scorer like Paul George. Eric Bledsoe is not as good as John Wall, and no team is going to offer him what Wall got no matter how well he plays this season. So while it may cost the Suns a bit more money to keep Bledsoe next summer, the front office and coaching staff will get a full year to evaluate him and see what he’s actually worth. The risk mitigation in holding off on his extension far outweighs the added cost of his RFA contract extension.
That said, seeing as Hayward and Bledsoe were the two biggest names not to be extended (sorry Jimmer), I could see Bledsoe playing very hard tonight to show the team how wrong they were not to extend him right away.
How will Miles Plumlee fair against Utah’s pair of highly touted young bigs?
Plumlee busted out with a stellar performance against the Trail Blazers, scoring 18 points, grabbing 15 boards, and blocking 3 shots in 40 minutes of play. He outshined the Suns’ top pick Alex Len, and looked definitively like a viable NBA big man. But his frontcourt opponents tonight – Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors – are also young big men trying to prove themselves. Finally out from the shadows of Big Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, Kanter and Favors are supposed to be the future in Utah. Both have looked good in limited minutes over the past two seasons, but it has not yet been clear if they would be able to maintain their level of play in starting roles. One game into the season, they look pretty good. Kanter and Favors combined for 29 points and 19 rebounds in Wednesday’s narrow loss to the Thunder. It will certainly be a good battle in the paint tonight. Phoenix has to have the slight edge however simply because of their depth. Utah has only rookie giant Rudy Gobert and Marvin Williams (who received a DNP-CD Wednesday night) in reserve whereas the Suns have Alex Len, Channing Frye, and both Morris twins. Markieff returns tonight from his one-game suspension.
Can the Suns keep up their pace?
According to ESPN.com, the Suns’ pace factor last season was 95.9 possessions per game. Shame on me for referencing statistics after one game, but Phoenix is currently at 109.2 possessions per game. Now obviously that mark will regress as the season continues. (Oddly enough, the Suns currently rank 27th in the NBA, meaning every team came out of the gate running like crazy.) But it’s not unthinkable for the Suns to average 100 possessions per game if they continue to run the way Coach Hornacek has said he wants them to. Utah was a plodding team when Jefferson and Millsap were there, but now, they have young legs just like the Suns and will look to push the ball. This should be an up and down track meet tonight.