The Phoenix Suns are one evening practice away from the end of their training camp and with the Wednesday night scrimmage in the books we are starting to get a better sense of what head coach Alvin Gentry wants to accomplish this season.
Improvement on defense is a well-known and chronicled focus area. Supporting that is the need to rebound on the defensive end and not turn that ball over. On offense, however, we got a glimpse of one possible change -- more post play from the bigs. Then again, we've heard that in training camp before as well.
This time, however, the Suns centers each spent time in Houston with Hakeem Olajuwon, who Gentry said had the best footwork of anyone who's played the game.
"You can see some of it out here, especially with Robin (Lopez). I think he's done a good job," Gentry said when asked if he's seen any benefits the time with Hakeem. "Those guys seem a lot more comfortable catching in that mid-post area now and being able to make moves."
Gentry went on to explain his thinking about low post offense this season:
"I think we have to do that with all of our bigs. We've got to throw it in to Marcin (Gortat), we've got to throw it in to Channing (Frye), and we've got to throw it in to Robin (Lopez). That is one of the ways you get into a bonus situation and the only way that we can get our free throw percentage back up is that we get in the bonus a little bit earlier in the quarters."
Steve Nash also praised Lopez for how he's looked in camp, "I thought a lot of guys played well (in the scrimmage), the energy overall was good. I'm really happy with Robin (Lopez). I think Robin's taken a big step from last year. He looks physically great and he looks hungry. He's playing hard. I thought everyone had a pretty decent night."
Hakim Warrick at small forward?
Hakim Warrick could be squeezed out of the rotation at forward with Gortat and Lopez splitting time at center and Frye and possibly Markieff Morris playing the four (power forward). Warrick played quite a bit early in the season last year and proved to be a powerful pick and roll partner for Nash, but his rebounding and defensive issues due to his small frame make it difficult to play him extended minutes at the four.
This year, Gentry might try and use Warrick at small forward where he would have a size advantage and not be so easily pushed around by bigger players. A key to that is Warrick's ability to shoot from the perimeter.
So far in camp, Gentry said Hakim has shot the ball well. He went 5-7 from the field in Wednesday's scrimmage which he said is the result of being more comfortable with his role and the work he put in this offseason.
"One of the things we talked about is being able to stick him at three (small forward) a little bit so we're a really big team. We'll experiment with that a little bit," Gentry said.
It remains to be seen if Warrick will have the foot speed to defend the small forward position on a consistent basis.
Markieff Morris update
Markieff Morris sat out Thursday's morning practice with a sore knee suffered when he banged into Ronnie Price on Tuesday. He was up shooting around after practice, however, and could go during the evening workout.
Asked if this injury during camp would hurt his development, Gentry said, "We'll have to see the growing pains he goes through and see if he can get back from this quickly or is it just going to be a situation where it's going to be a slow process and we've just got to have the patience to understand that."
Gentry said it's hard to know how much Morris will contribute this season, "I don't think anyone knows. Obviously, that would be great if that would happen but if it didn't happen I don't see him as a failure. He's going to be a good player and it's just a matter of how quickly we can get him to that point."
"He's a Philly guy. I'm not sure if anybody is tough enough to ask him that," Gentry said when asked if Morris was having to carry bags and bring doughnuts as part of his rookie hazing.
Other scrimmage notes
Offensively, Gentry thought the Suns did some good things but there's growing pains defensively around being in the right place and "doing what we're supposed to do". The offense flowed well with good shots and unselfish play.
"I thought the effort was there though. Good effort and it's just a matter it becoming instinctive to us defensively. I love the effort, and like I said, as long as we play with that kind of effort we can correct all the other things," Gentry said.
The key takeaways for improvement will sound very familiar to Suns fans: Better defensive rebounding and limiting what Gentry calls "live turnovers" that lead to easy transition points.
"We've got to make sure we're not turning the ball over. That becomes really important because when we do, obviously it makes the field goal percentage go up dramatically when you're (giving up) layups," he said.
Right now, those turnovers can be explained by guys not having played together but some were just careless and unforced.
Here's a Gentry quote about Wednesday's scrimmage that easily could have been lifted from most any time last season:
"We can't play 24 seconds of really good defense and then all of a sudden not complete the possession by giving the ball back and then have to play another 24 (seconds). That's what will get you in trouble."
Steve Nash skipped Thursday's morning practice with flu symptoms. Knowing Nash, this is not likely to be a case of "training camp flu". Lets just hope he didn't infect anyone else on the team (or media who spoke with him Wednesday night).
Here's a bonus video produced by Bright Side featuring new Suns guard, Sebastian Telfair: