The Phoenix Suns finished their preseason with two disappointing blowout losses to the Denver Nuggets. There was plenty to be concerned about from the Suns as coach Alvin Gentry expressed after Thursday's loss when he repeated a phrase we hard frequently last season.
"We've got to get everyone playing at a real high level," Gentry said Thursday. "Our margin for error is not great."
There were also several bright spots from the preseason. In this slim margin for error environment, we'll have to hang our hats on these positives to avoid spiraling down into a pit of despair or even worse, fall into the apathy trap that comes from extended periods of mediocrity with no hope for improvement.
In the first preseason game on the road, things fell apart in the first half as the Suns turnovers and poor defensive rebounding led to an insurmountable 63-49 deficit by the intermission.
In the second game, the Nuggets didn't play three of their key guys (Nene, Ty Lawson and Al Harrington) and were still able to put the Suns away with a 16-3 run to open the fourth quarter.
The preseason really isn't too much about team play for a veteran group like Phoenix. Player rotations are much different than we'll see in the regular season and plays aren't even always called late in games.
What matters more from preseason and the entire training camp is individual evaluations. Here's ours for the Suns.
Breaking the Bank
These guys stood out in the preseason by playing above expectations or at least proving they could meet them.
Markieff Morris: The Suns 13th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft was said to be a well-rounded player who could do a little of everything on the basketball court. He had a reputation for being a tough kid with a great motor to go along with those skills. All of that was on display which is very encouraging.
Morris finished the two preseason games with 11 points, 7.5 rebounds, and two blocks per game. He also fouled out of both contests playing less than 30 minutes.
The rookie showed a bit of everything offensively and certainly wasn't bashful about getting his shot off. He also made rookie mistakes, especially on defense, and has a lot to learn about the NBA game and officiating. One thing he's not shown us yet is if he can be an effective finisher working with Steve Nash on the pick and roll.
Overall, it seems very likely that Morris will be a positive contributor to the team this season perhaps playing about 17 minutes per game and on occasion having big scoring nights. His rebounding and defensive effort should be a constant and he'll likely show good progress throughout the season.
With Marcin Gortat dealing with a broken thumb, we could see more Morris early in the season than planned.
Robin Lopez: Robin came back from the break with a refreshed and healthy body and has returned to his old level of athleticism from before the 2010 back injury. On the very first day of the season, he demonstrated a new positive attitude and he's been a bright spot all through camp.
While Lopez is probably several seasons away from become a consistent scoring threat and his rebounding numbers will likely still lag behind expectations, his mobility and defensive presence will be important for the Suns. Despite having an off shooting night (1-6 from the field), Lopez finished Thursday's game with the best plus/minus differential of any Suns player.
Hakim Warrick: Warrick came into the season as the guy most likely to get edged out of the front court rotation. His defense and rebounding last season made it difficult to play him at power forward and he's struggled in the past defending wing players.
Warrick's best chance for playing time is to provide a scoring punch off the bench and he did that with 14.5 points in the two preseason games which led the Suns. Hakim was consistently effective from mid-range and showed off his abilities in the post and on the pick and roll. If Warrick continues to play at this level, it will be hard to keep him on the bench despite his defensive challenges.
Jared Dudley: Jared Dudley didn't do anything in the preseason we hadn't seen before but it was great to see him back and looking very comfortable in a starting roll. As a starting two guard, Dudley will have a size advantage in the post and has shown he still has the ability to play with his back to the basket (he was a power forward in college).
Dudley is still one of the smartest players in the league and always seems to be in the right place defensively. He can struggle guarding quicker guys in isolation but makes up for that in other ways.
Making the Grade
These are the guys who are who we thought they were.
Steve Nash: Nash is still Nash and there's no reason to think he won't start the season very strong and finish at or near the top of the assists category in the league. His shot was on in Denver for the first game (5-7) and off on Thursday (2-9). His ability to shoot consistently this season will be huge for the Suns and in the past it's his outside shot that's suffered when his body isn't right.
As you expect with a vet like Nash, the preseason didn't tell us anything we didn't already know.
Grant Hill: Hill didn't play in the first preseason game due to a sore knee and didn't put up big numbers in 25 minutes of the second game. Gentry has hinted that he will try and keep Grant at about 20 minutes per game but as we know, when the bullets start flying it's very difficult to keep this guy on the bench. He could start the season slow and there will certainly be nights where the schedule gets to his 39-year-old body, but overall, Grant is still Grant.
Marcin Gortat: Gortat looked good in the first preseason game but missed the second with a broken thumb that's going to hamper him, especially shooting, for the first month or so of the season. It's too soon to say how much improvement Gortat will show over last year but even if he's "only" the same guy, the Suns will need his rebounding and scoring.
Ronnie Price: Price is living up to his reputation as a gritty defensive player who's athletic but not particularly skilled as a point guard. He seemingly has jumped over Sebastian Telfair as the primary back up to Nash. With Price in the game Thursday, the Suns ran pick and roll with Shannon Brown handling the ball or went into the post. While Price will likely not be the guy running the offensive show, his defense should keep him on the floor. His tough mentality has impressed the coaching staff and will win the hearts of many fans.
Shannon Brown: Shannon Brown is still adjusting to the Suns system. Some guys come to Phoenix and aren't used to shooting so they are too timid. Other guys come to Phoenix and hear the "green light" and shoot too much. So far, Brown has fallen into that later category. He is skilled and can get his shot off at times, but we're looking for him to play more in the flow of the offense. There's no reason to think he won't do that once the regular season starts.
These are the guys who didn't make the grade.
Josh Childress: Childress is going to be asked to play a bigger role this season backing up Grant Hill. So far in preseason he still doesn't look like he's in sync.
Gentry was very candid talking about what Childress needs to do, "He's got to be a little more active, I think with what his approach is, and I think he's got to create some situations with offensive rebounds and things like that and then he's got to get out and run."
If Childress isn't getting it done, the Suns could push him back to the bench and play Dudley and Brown together more.
Sebastian Telfair: Bassy was brought in to be more of a pure point playing behind Nash off the bench. His four turnovers in the first preseason game moved him behind Price and he only saw six minutes of garbage time action in the second game. Telfair might need more time to adjust before figuring it out with the Suns, but his preseason campaign has not been encouraging.
Channing Frye: Frye is 1-14 in two preseason games with a total of eight rebounds. That's not going to get it done and he knows it. But we're not too worried about Frye. He's been consistent in his two years with the Suns and proven how important he is to the team. The effort is there and we expect Channing will be fine once things get going, but his preseason left a lot to be desired. Frye said Thursday night he's been playing with too much emotion and just needs to dial in the right level so he's not putting so much pressure on himself with each shot.
Garret Siler: Garret Siler really didn't show anything more than we saw last season. He's fairly skilled around the rim and a big body but still not all that mobile. He's a good guy to have on the roster but is not likely to contribute much this season.
Marcus Landry: Marcus Landry is a solid practice player with upside. Like his brother Carl, he's very tough and works extremely hard. He's a more perimeter-oriented version of Gani Lawal and could make the team to provide depth and be a solid guy on the practice floor.