Ultimately, the Suns are disappointed to come away from their first road trip of the year with only one win. Their defeat in OKC could be chalked up to Russell Westbrook’s unexpected return. They looked very strong and resilient in last night’s win over the Pelicans. And tonight, they executed for 47 minutes before falling apart on their final two offensive possessions and falling to San Antonio. In the big picture, they lost on the road to two of the best teams in the Western Conference by a combined 10 points, and did so without Goran Dragic, who has been hobbled since the third quarter of the Thunder game with an ankle sprain.
So what do the Suns take away from these games and their first trip together? This team is still young and still has many lessons to learn. One lesson is that Eric Bledsoe is fantastic. His fourth quarter against the Spurs not withstanding, Bledsoe finished this three game swing averaging nearly 22 points and eight assists per game on better than 50% shooting. Though he was beaten soundly by Tony Parker in San Antonio, Bledsoe was efficient from the field and had his first zero turnover game. This being his first year as a full time starter, he is gonna have quarters, games, and maybe even weeks where he is totally exhausted and not nearly this effective, but he’s capable of producing at somewhere near this level over the course of the year, the Suns have definitely found their franchise cornerstone.
But Bledsoe aside, the other big takeaway for Phoenix has to be the play of Markieff Morris. Morris was nothing short of spectacular in the first half against the Spurs. Over the first two frames, he scored 18 points in just 16 minutes. He went 9-of-10 from the field over that time, and his only miss was a three point attempt. He knocked down jumpers, drove to the hole, and had several really impressive scoring moves in the post. At various points in the game, every single Spurs’ reserve tried their hand at guarding Kieff. And with each new defender, he adjusted his approach and was effective. Against smaller guys like Kawhi Leonard, he moved into paint and got to the rim. When he was guarded by Boris Diaw or Tiago Splitter, he caught the ball away from the hoop and used his superior athleticism to get by. He ended the game with an impressive double-double, 23 points and 12 rebounds. His second half production was a bit limited, but the Spurs’ focus on him allowed his teammates a little bit more freedom offensively.
This was Markieff’s best game as a pro hands down. All of his flaws – falling in the love with the outside shot, poor shot selection, etc – seemed to have vanished. While this awakening may not last, it was his second good game in a row, a rarity when looking back over his box scores from the past two seasons.
At the outset of this year, it was thought Morris might start at the power forward spot. But now it appears his best role is as a sixth man/first big off the bench. Markieff’s combo of size and athleticism is going to make him a tough matchup for many opponents’ second units. It seems Coach Hornacek has found a way to deploy Markieff, and his brother Marcus, that will finally get the most out of both of them. The twins have both scored in double figures in consecutive games for the first time in their short tenure as teammates. With the second unit being conducted by the human speed machine Ish Smith, the Morris brothers can run up and down the floor and find ways to contribute outside of the halfcourt where they’ve been at best uncomfortable and at worst totally useless in their short careers. Though their size might seem to indicate otherwise, the Morris twins seem very at home playing up tempo, and it’s no surprise their recent success has coincided with Ish Smith taking ownership of the second unit in the wake of Dragic’s injury and Gerald Green’s promotion to starter.
What will happen to Phoenix’s rotation and new found chemistry when the Dragon returns? There’s no way to know. But what is clear is that Hornacek seems to have found something in bringing the Morris twins off the bench as a tandem, and just like the 2009-10 Suns, Phoenix once again has a loveable and effective second unit that will win them some games as the season goes along.