The Western Conference is slowly turning into an arms race. The Houston Rockets beat out several other contenders for the rights to Josh Smith (or as Detroit Pistons fans call it, the punishment of Josh Smith), Oklahoma City knocked out a convoluted trade to add Dion Waiters to their bench mob, and the Dallas Mavericks risked interfering with the best offense in basketball to grab Rajon Rondo.
The Phoenix Suns, looking at the distinct possibility of knocking out another 48-win season and missing the playoffs, decided to throw their hats in the ring by acquiring Brandan Wright from the Boston Celtics.
Per the Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro, Wright is with the team and expects to make his debut tonight against the Memphis Grizzles:
The Grizzlies haven’t exactly been idle themselves, as they’ve also taken advantage of Danny Ainge’s apparent desire to own every pick from 20-40 for the next decade by adding Jeff Green. Fortunately for Phoenix, the trade isn’t official yet and Green won’t be in Memphis with his “grit-n-grind” cap just yet.
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That’s not to say there’s no reason for concern here. Since Jeff Hornacek took over last season, Memphis has won the last five games in this series including a heartbreaker in the penultimate game of last season that eliminated the Suns from the playoffs. Here are the keys to Phoenix getting over the hump and earning a statement win in the war room that is the Western Conference in today’s Suns preview.
Starting Off Wright
The general consensus from the NBA twitterverse is that Wright is a perfect fit for the Suns depth deficient front court. Wright himself apparently agreed with the assertion.
At least against Memphis, Wright might have some issues manning the 5-spot. For his career, Marc Gasol is a solid 5-of-7 from the floor when Wright is guarding him. Gasol has 55 pounds on Wright and is too smart of a defender to not bump Wright off his rim runs that the newly acquired Sun will thrive on.
It’ll be fascinating to see if the spacing-conscious Suns are willing to pair Wright with Alex Len manning the center spot. Wright’s career numbers against Zach Randolph project significantly better then a matchup with Gasol (in another case of super small sample sizes, Randolph is 2-for-9 against Wright for his career).
Wright, who’s shooting an absurd 72 percent from the floor this year, is at his best rolling to the rim with a stretch-four on the perimeter putting an unimaginable strain on a defense. It’s a great option down the road but it might not be Phoenix’s best against this particular team.
Setting The Pace
This is a classic matchup of the tortoise vs. the hare, only if the tortoise had a vicious post game and the hares were led by a 6’3’’ Slovenian guy. Phoenix runs at the third fastest pace in the league while Memphis plods along at the 27th fastest pace. So far in the Hornacek era, the Grizz have won the pace battle with the Suns failing to break 100 in any of the five matchups.
Memphis, if not as dominant as in recent years, is still a defensive juggernaut in the half court. Phoenix needs to make good on their preseason promise of pushing off of absolutely everything. Wright is going to have a speed advantage on any big Memphis throws his way, so if the Suns can get him out in the open court early and often, they can absolutely control the tone of this game.
Last time these two teams met, Len was the epitome of a non-factor finishing with two points and four rebounds over 24 minutes. Since then Len has earned the starting job and developed into a strong rim protector and an efficient if not exactly a high-volume scorer. Playing this Memphis team is the equivalent of the Bar Exam for young big men.
Len is the Suns’ only answer to Gasol and Randolph’s combination of size, strength and if you want to go intangible, “grit.” If he can limit Gasol in any meaningful way it’ll do wonders for Len’s confidence and send a message to the rest of the league that he’s not the guy to go after in the Suns starting five. If nothing else Len is sufficiently hyped for tonight’s matchup.