Ish Smith and Markieff Morris ignite the present

PHOENIX — The Suns didn’t play too poorly during a hectic first 12 minutes against the San Antonio Spurs, but they still looked unsteady and trailed 23-19 after the first quarter. Phoenix was down Leandro Barbosa, who was out with a sprained toe, and so Jeff Hornacek turned to Ish Smith as a sub nine minutes into the game.

San Antonio scored the first bucket of the second period before the Suns rattled off 19 straight points, and Smith had a lot to do with the sudden ignition. San Antonio was short in depth without Tony Parker, and the Spurs certainly looked as if they’d played the last nine games away from home.

So imagine how winded the Spurs were when the blazing Smith found himself huffing and puffing.

“I got really, really tired,” he said afterward. “We heard so much about their bench — Patty, Manu, the whole bench, that’s just to name a few. The Bench Mob, we call each other. We just felt like we needed to come out as aggressors.

“I’m like Ricky Bobby,” he added. “I want to go fast. The biggest thing with us is we want to play that pace. We want to constantly push the ball. When we get stops and run, we’re pretty good.”

Holding the Spurs to 34.9 percent shooting certainly was the defense the Suns were looking for, and it helped Smith get into the open court. Nevermind that he was crashing the boards so well. Smith finished seven rebounds, a rebound behind Channing Frye for the team lead.

“I think our bigs do such a great job of boxing out, engaging (the opponents) and I come in and come of pick up and take some rebounds,” Smith said. “I don’t know if they were happy about that but it resulted in a win.”

Smith finished with a career-high 15 points, added four assists and blocked two shots to go with two steals. One of the fastest point guards in the league, and certainly one of the best at shedding defenders with a hesitation look-away move, spun around a defensive-minded point guard duo of Cory Joseph and Patty Mills in the Suns’ 106-85 win on Friday.

After the win that took Phoenix to 33-21, both Hornacek and starting point guard Goran Dragic admitted that this is why Smith had beaten out Kendall Marshall as the team’s third point guard — though financial reasons loom as well.

“I think so Kendall couldn’t guard him, he was too slow,” Dragic said. “Ish, he can get inside the paint. And when you get there, you have so many options. You can score, you can pass out. He can push the ball.”

Markieff Morris can throw himself into the fray as a big bench contributor as well.

After a sloppy start where he looked foggy and slow, a yank by Hornacek for brother Marcus Morris shook Markieff awake. He led Phoenix with 21 points while adding five boards, three steals, two blocks and most importantly, five assists.

The ball movement is improving.

The on-court chemistry is catching up to the relationships the close-knit second unit has off the court.

“We did some nice things with that in the second group, moving the ball,” Hornacek said. “On a pick-and-roll, we had one (play) where Markieff did a great job of avoiding the charge and throwing it out to, I think, Marcus for a three. The other one where Marcus cut and he got the dunk. Those are the plays we want to try to do more often. Hit the roller, make that roller make the plays.”

The Suns will never be a high assist team, not with Goran Dragic and soon, Eric Bledsoe, making their own plays off the dribble.

Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic reported Friday that Bledsoe could be weeks away from a return, and that suddenly could threaten the chemistry on the court by altering rotations.

Smith could take the hit in minutes once he’s back in action, as will Archie Goodwin, who gave nine points in 14 minutes as Phoenix ran the ball down the tired Spurs’ throats. Gerald Green will be relegated to the bench once again. Barbosa’s role remains to be seen, especially in how well the offense looked with Smith taking his minutes.

But this is a happy locker room.

“This team is unbelievable. The chemistry on this team, we’re having so much fun,” Smith said. “We’re just kind of flowing and going. It’s funny because we’re just kind of playing and not knowing what’s going on or what’s happening. We’re confident but we’re really, really humble.”

  • EBJM

    I love Dragic’s honesty; “Kendall was too slow!” lol

    There isn’t any reason to point out Tony Parker’s absence without mentioning Bledsoe being out. Patty Mills and Cory Joseph are NBA veterans.

    Wasn’t Joseph hyped as the next Nash or is it only because he is Canadian? Regardless, he is in his third season with the Spurs. If he couldn’t play, Pops would have sent him packing before Nando de Colo.

    Mills is also in his third season with the Spurs, plus two more in Portland.




    As I’ve noted before, Ish can deliver just about everything that Bledsoe can while being happy as a pass-first PG. When Ish is green-lit to score it’s a thing to behold. How he would fare vs. starting PGs is another question but last night he was guaranteeing himself a future in the NBA.

    One aspect of the trade deadline: Now that this team has been given the stamp of approval by management, the psychological effect will be profound. These SUNS no longer need to worry about whether a stinking lacker or some other overpaid vet will infiltrate their midst. The playas know they are being given the chance to compete as they stand. Brilliance continues in the new regime.

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  • Jey

    He’s like a mini Socks.

    *insert arrogant but correct analysis*

  • Eric

    Dragic’s kick to Ginobli on the drive was awesome after the flops he pulled last night I was hoping for someone to clock him one.

  • foreveris2long

    You have to love Dragic calling a spade a spade with regards to Marshall. The Suns are building a Ferrari and some parts do not fit. Even though Marshall has done well in LA I have always said I prefer Ish for the Suns. Great move by the Suns not sacrificing Ish just because Marshall was a lottery pick.

    Man Ish and Goodwin played well last night!!! All of these boys are balling and playing with an edge to their game. I will have to order one of the KJ posters when available so I can frame it and put in the office. Then I will only need a poster/picture of Raja decking Kobe in the playoffs and my office will be complete.

  • EBJM

    Is that the long lost Jey Smith? What was the problem?
    Butler didn’t leave enough bread crumbs?

    Forever, you know Austin Daye is going to have a big game for the Spurs soon.

    Robin had to step up against the Jazz and Enes Kanter with Aldridge being out and grabbed a career-high 18 boards and added 12 points.

    I just could not imagine Robin ever grabbing so many boards, he just didn’t seem to want to go after them.

  • DZ

    I always thought that the reason they let Marshall go was mostly because he was too slow to defend opposing point guards and to drive to the basket. He will find a spot for himself in the NBA because he’s a great passer and he’s obviously developed an outside shot but Ish is a better fit for this team.

    Hopefully, when Bledsoe returns they will work him back into the rotation off the bench instead of drastically changing the present rotations just to put him back into the starting lineup. At least for a while, I’d like to see him in the 6th man role. And if Ish continues to play well, he might ultimately be the one to cut into Barbosa’s minutes.

    The Suns will have a potentially “good problem” when Bledsoe returns. Smith is playing well, Green is playing well, Dragic is playing well, Barbosa is playing well and Goodwin looks as though he is deserving more minutes. The problem is finding enough minutes for them all but the good part is the the Suns have a lot of options if someone is having an off night at the 1 or 2.

    Hopefully Plumlee will soon revert to his early season form on offense. The Suns are going to need more points in the paint if they are going to have any chance of being more than a one-and-done playoff team. Kieff has been doing a good job of supplying some of those points but he can’t do it all by himself and neither can our guards (although I love seeing some of Green’s dunks on SportsCenter).

  • DZ

    That was a great game for Lopez but overall he isn’t playing a lot better than Plumlee this season.

    Lopez (season averages) – 10.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 0.8 apg, .535 fg%, 17.14 PER.

    Plumlee (season averages) – 8.9 ppg. 8.4 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 0.6 apg, .504 fg%, 14.62 PER.

    Given Plumlee’s offensive slump lately, I would assume that he outplayed Lopez earlier in the season although I don’t have the stats to prove it.

  • DZ

    There seem to be a lot of players getting buy outs on their contracts this season. The Suns have no open spots on their roster but they could make one fairly easily by waving either Christmas or Kravstov.

    I don’t think that there are any players that have become or may soon become FAs that would be worth the Suns signing for the rest of the season but I’d like to hear other people’s opinions on the subject.

  • EBJM

    DZ I wasn’t comparing the two only amazed that Robin has become a solid rebounder. He used to only grad boards that came to him, he never pursued them outside of his space.

    BUT since you brought it up, while they are statistically equivalent, this is an excellent comparison that shows how stats simply do not present an accurate picture.

    Miles cannot shoot, period. He does not have any tough or feel whatsoever.

    Robin on the other hand has an offensive game. He can drive to the rim, he can square up, he has a hook. I watched him take it right to Roy Hibbert with an array of different shots in their last meeting.

    Robin, like Miles is the last offensive option for their respective teams. Difference is Robin has his teammates confidence and they try and give him his touches and aren’t afraid of doing so.

    Miles poor shooting is now entrenched in his head and he not only doesn’t want the ball, he isn’t looking for it. Opposing centers know that and they can drift off of him and that is why Hornacek has been using Frye and Markieff at center.

    Robin has gotten progressively better this season while Miles hit his sophomore slump.

  • vtsunrise

    Good news about Bledsoe.

    Coach Horny will figure it out. Plenty of chemistry on this team. I think these guys just want to play and win. Run & gun & have fun.

  • Anonymous

    I’m hearing that bledsoe can return as early as next week?

  • foreveris2long

    Anonymous unless I am mistaken McD said Bledsoe will start playing a little one on one next week and if no set backs he could start practicing with the team the following week. I would be stunned if he returns next week.

    EBJM 18 boards for Lopez is huge. Lopez is a better offensive player than Miles and IMO he alters more shots. He also hits the offensive glass hard. I continue to think RoLo has a much higher ceiling than Miles. In fact I think by the start of 2015/2016 season Len will be the Suns starting center.

  • Al

    @EBJM Let’s not underestimate Miles ability right off the bat. I was criticizing his FT shooting at the beginning of the season, but he seems to have worked hard to improve it during practices. Bottom line, give Plumlee until the end of next season to see if he improves his offense. I believe he will be able to up his game, he has good foot work and great elevation. He just needs to improve his dribbling skills and mid-range shot.
    On another note, who thinks Phoenix could be a dark horse destination for Lebron James if he chooses to opt out this off season? Bledsoe and Lebron James with Gogi. The ‘King’ with the ‘DragonBlade’. Phoenix will most likely covet a Small Forward during Free Agency, and there will be good SF’s to go after: Ariza, Gay, Melo, Deng, Lebron, Granger? My dream scenario for Phoenix would be to convince Lebron to sign in the offseason. Then use all the picks possible after the draft to trade for Love (May need to get another team involved to help make money work). Just imagine:
    PG-Bledsoe, Smith, Barbosa
    SG-Dragic, Green, Archie
    SF-Lebron, Mook
    PF-Love, Kieff, Frye, Mook
    C-Plumlee, Frye, Len

    How FREAKING scary would that team be? Horny would have a field day coaching that team. McD would enter the GM Hall of Fame…lol, maybe I am going overboard, but it’s good to dream…The only downside would be losing PJ to some other team unless he’d be willing to sign for low mid-level exception to stick around…Need to sober up now…

  • EBJM

    Al, I wasn’t dumping on Miles, only making an observation. I gave Miles way too much credit early on until I was able to watch a significant number of his games and drew the conclusion he is way behind the curve offensively.

    Look at Miles from the fan’s point of view on Robin when he was still with Phoenix. Robin will turn 26 soon and Miles not until September. Both come from basketball families. In the Plumlee family Miles is the eldest who takes the place of Alex Lopez in Robin’s family.

    Alex was a college center who didn’t make it to the NBA. But both families played ball their whole lives. Suns fans generally didn’t like “Slowpez” and ran him out of town. Plumlee’s younger brothers are vastly more talented than Miles. Duke center Marshall is probably going to be a lottery pick in ’16.

    I started playing ball at age 10. By 14 I was fundamentally sound and had developed the basic skills that my game would be based around. By 26 I was literally unstoppable on offense. Miles is almost 26 with four years at Duke.

    Sure, I hope he can develop a shot but history tells me that he is destined to become Alex Len’s back-up which isn’t a bad thing. I do not see his ceiling being much higher. My jump-hook was money in the bank. When I saw him air-ball a hook on TV I was shocked. It is incomprehensible to me that an NBA center at age 25 could air-ball a hook-shot.

    You mention his fantastic footwork and we all agree he is a phenomenal athlete. Hakeem Olajuwon possessed both. Olajuwon didn’t pick up a basketball until age 15. He wasn’t even recruited by colleges.
    when he arrived in Houston the University didn’t even pick him up at the airport.

    After his freshman year he spent his summer playing against then Rocket’s center Moses Malone in pick-up games. Olajuwon left Uof H after three seasons and was drafted by Houston. He was dominate as a rookie and was runner-up to Michael Jordan for ROY.

    My point is Olajuwon had the same body as Plumlee, one built for basketball and in seven short years went from being a soccer goalie to “The Dream”.

    Dwight Howard has been working on his free-throws for ten years now. To what avail? he currently shoots 54%.

    I love Miles. I’ve always rooted for ANY Suns seven-foot project; Nick Vanos, Bayard Forrest, Jake Tsakilidis, even Jake Voskhul. I hope he can develop some semblance of an offensive game. BUT IMO, even with such a small sample size, Miles is just keeping the starting job warm for Alex Len.

    There isn’t any shame in that.

  • EBJM

    Al I had previously mentioned signing Lebron James. He and Eric Bledsoe are very close friends. Why wouldn’t James want to join run-n-gun having fun-in-the-sun, Suns?

    Maybe that is the reason McD didn’t make any moves? He is maintaining maximum cap flexibility for a run at Lebron? Forget about Love. King James added to this mix equals titles.


    12th and 13th spots filled by two 1st rd rookies.

    I find that scenario very plausible, especially if the Heat do not three-peat. If they do, Riley still might dismantle the team, leading to James opt-out this summer.

  • CART Jeff

    Just flat wrong. Miles is poorly coached but some of it falls on his shoulders. A mini hook shot is a low percentage shot outside 3′. It is a shot for players with short arms. Miles fell in love with the shot early on, I warned against it and took some heat from EBJM. The form on his shot looks great, he just needs confidence, have him square up and shoot from 15′ out. Establish the jumper and then punish defenses with 1 dribble drives. He is athletic, great instincts and good BBIQ for a big man. Comparing Len to him is ridiculous. Green and Miles are the key. With their talent they can always get a good look at the basket no matter how good the defense is during playoff basketball.

  • CART Jeff

    Most 7 footers in college have short arms. Len is a 7 footer with long arms, that makes him valuable, like Lopez. However, Miles is a 7 footer with long arms and a fast twitch fiber athlete. Those 3 variables in one player is special. If the Suns are using analytics, it was not by accident they identified Mile’s potential. Hornaceck and his staff need to step up and coach him up. Go Suns!

  • EBJM

    CART Jeff why do you want to argue about the specifics of a shot with a guy who actually used it?

    With all due respect, you argument is hilarious to say the least. “Short arms” ROLMAO! Come-on, you are better than that.

    I could literally hit 100% of my hook shots from the outside of the lane between the baseline and elbow which is 7′ feet, not three. If a seven-foot player is only three feet from the basket and they usually have a wingspan a bit longer than seven-feet, they DUNK the ball.

    Let me explain a little history of the hook shot for you. It is an old-school traditional shot for back to the basket centers. It allowed the center to keep the ball away from the defender on his back and high and away from guards reaching in.

    The original back to the basket shot that had been used for decades until EVERY young kid wanted to be jump-shooters regardless of their size, see Channing Frye.

    There isn’t any shot called the “mini-hook” shot.

    You have the original “sky-hook”.
    You have the “baby sky-hook”.
    You have the “jump-hook”.

    The leading scorer in the history of the NBA, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, is 7′-2″ with a wingspan of 7′-5″.

    I have no idea where you came up with your pure nonsense stat that most seven-footers have short arms. Absurd comment.

    Basketball isn’t money ball. Playing a running style fits an athletic player without skills is ALWAYS the best system for them to succeed. If I have to explain to you why, then please stop responding to my posts.

    So you have been in Miles whole life? You coached him at Duke for four years? How about last year at Indiana? Did Mark West and Kenny Gatison allow you to attend a workout with Miles? When exactly did you warn Miles against using the “hook-shot”?

    You are wrong for challenging me with pure unadulterated B.S. and nonsense. Lets just agree to disagree because trying to understand where you come up with such nonsense gives me a headache.

    BTW since you are relying on analytical statistics could you please post me that link on why today’s seven-foot males have evolved with short arms?


    Here is a link to who we consider the FINAL authority on player measurements:

    HUNDREDS of players starting with center from the past twenty years and literally EVERY player has a longer wingspan than their heights.

    Thanks for the rebuttal though, it had gave me a great laugh!

  • CART Jeff

    I said college 7 footers, College. That is why they don’t make the NBA. A player needs length, if they don’t have it all they can do is shoot “baby sky hooks” or they can’t get their shot off.
    I said Miles needs to stop using the baby sky hook. Then u call me an idiot. Then 2 weeks later u start ranting about Miles poor offense. Eesshhh!

  • CART Jeff

    Look up , SI story, the case for wingspan

  • SJose

    I think Miles can be our center of the future, not an all-star but definitely 10-12 pts, 11 boards a game. The real mess is Len. Didn’t like the pick on draft night and haven’t seen anything to change my mind