Winners and Losers from Week 1 of Phoenix Suns' Preseason
There may still be plenty of games to play before the regular season begins, but the Phoenix Suns already have two games under their belt after the first week of preseason action.
Other than Malcolm Lee (who is still recovering from a right knee injury), every player on the roster has logged at least a few minutes in one of the games. The Suns will also have to cut at least three players before the regular season commences, and it is still not entirely clear which three will suffer that fate.
But from the performances so far, it is easy to tell which players are already impressing with their play and which ones are still shaking off the rust.
Here are the winners and losers from Week 1 of the Phoenix Suns preseason.
Winner: The Eric Bledsoe/Goran Dragic Backcourt
A lot of people have questioned whether Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic could coexist in the backcourt, with both players used to playing both positions.
But so far, so good.
In the first game, Dragic and Bledsoe started together at point guard and shooting guard. Dragic finished with 16 points and five assists, while Bledsoe was the player of the game with 22 points, four assists and five steals. The two also shot a combined 16-for-22 from the field.
Against Portland, Bledsoe was placed in the starting lineup, while Dragic came off the bench. Dragic had another fantastic game with 19 points and five assists in only 18 minutes.
Bledsoe struggled from the field in the second game (shooting just 3-for-11) but found a way to contribute in other areas. He finished with nine assists, five rebounds and four steals.
So far, despite the fact that both Dragic and Bledsoe are only playing about 20 minutes per game, they have both had a couple of superb on-court performances.
Through the first two games, Dragic is averaging 17.5 points, five assists and two turnovers in about 18.5 minutes per game. He has also converted on 13-of-16 field-goal attempts (81 percent).
Meanwhile, Bledsoe is averaging 14 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 4.5 steals in 23 minutes per game.
The main concern with regard to Bledsoe so far is his three-point shooting. Bledsoe only shot one three-ppointer per game last season, but he has already taken eight in the first two preseason games (and has only made one).
Hopefully, head coach Jeff Hornacek can make Bledsoe a better long-distance shooter, but for now, fans should hope that he doesn't learn to settle for three-point shots and long jumpers when he could attack the basket.
In order to succeed, the Suns do want Bledsoe to improve his shooting, however, they don't want that to take away from his driving game. They certainly don't want a career 31-percent shooter from deep to suddenly take four threes per game.
But other than that, Dragic and Bledsoe look great so far. Hopefully, they can keep up the good work and allow the franchise to start building around them at the forward positions.
Loser: Alex Len
Alex Len is still only a 20-year-old center who never truly dominated other centers in either of his two seasons at Maryland.
With that being said, the Suns aren't expecting him to be a starting-caliber NBA center right away. They have Marcin Gortat to fill that role for now.
Rather, this season is all about developing Len slowly. He will likely receive about 15-20 minutes per game, and he will have his fair share of ups and downs.
So far, he hasn't been very impressive. Through the first two games, Len is averaging 3.5 points and 4.0 rebounds in 15 minutes per game. He looked especially slow and stiff in the game against Portland, shooting 0-for-2 from the field and contributing two rebounds and four fouls in 14 minutes.
But Len is still just a rookie, and it will take time for this year's No. 5 overall pick to get adjusted to the NBA. Also, perhaps the fact that he is recovering from surgery factors into his weak performance so far.
It definitely isn't time to worry yet. Fans should grow accustomed to seeing Len follow an unimpressive night with a dominant performance. He may have the most tantalizing potential of any rookie in his class.
Winners: The Morris Twins
After backing up Channing Frye and Luis Scola for the past two seasons, Markieff Morris is ready to prove that he is capable of being the starting power forward for the Phoenix Suns.
Does this necessarily mean he is expected to be the power forward of the future? Absolutely not. However, he has had a couple of solid preseason games so far, averaging 9.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in 21 minutes per game, and he is also shooting 9-for-17 from the field.
But the real story is his brother, Marcus. While Markieff is more or less guaranteed the starting power forward spot, Marcus is making a good case for himself as the starting small forward.
For example, against Portland, while Gerald Green fouled out and P.J tucker made just one shot in 16 minutes, Marcus Morris hit three after three, shooting 5-for-10 from the field to go along with 15 points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes of play.
He has already made five three-pointers in two games (on eight attempts), making him an attractive option to start at small forward. Although he doesn't possess the same athleticism as Gerald Green or the defensive abilities of P.J Tucker, his three-point shooting could be crucial in providing proper spacing for the Suns' offense.
Loser: Kendall Marshall
Between Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe sharing point guard duties, there may not be many minutes left in the rotation for the backup guards.
But that was only supposed to affect players fighting for a roster spot like Dionte Christmas or Ish Smith, right? Surely, prospect Kendall Marshall would still be made a priority, right?
Well, maybe not.
Marshall will play this season; there's no doubt about that. He will not be a bench warmer unless he has an absolutely atrocious season that forces coach Jeff Hornacek to give up on him.
However, Marshall may not play as prominent a role off the bench as was originally thought. In the first two preseason games, he has logged just 18 minutes.
And his performance hasn't exactly been impressive either. He shot 1-for-2 from the field and has a combined two points, five assists and three turnovers in those 18 minutes.
On the bright side, those two points came on a possession in which Marshall actually penetrated the defense and created a layup for himself, which is something he rarely did at both UNC and in his rookie NBA season.
But at the same time, those statistics do not bring hope or optimism for the future. Unless he can prove otherwise this season, Marshall will continue to be a bust as the No. 13 overall pick in 2012 in the eyes of Suns fans.
Winner: Miles Plumlee
First, he had a few fantastic performances in the 2013 summer league for the Indiana Pacers, as he averaged 10.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game.
Then, he was traded to the Phoenix Suns at the end of July, along with Gerald Green and a first-round pick. Fans didn't think much of him, as the trade was more about getting rid of Scola and adding more future draft selections.
But now, Miles Plumlee has caught the attention of his coaches, and perhaps, this could be his breakout season.
In the Suns' public scrimmage on Oct. 6th, Plumlee finished with 17 points and nine rebounds on 8-of-11 shooting. He dominated any opposition that came his way, including starting center Marcin Gortat.
And now, through the first two preseason games, he has continued to succeed. Plumlee is averaging eight points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 17 minutes per game, and he has had some great plays, including this great jam on Meyers Leonard.
While Len struggles, Plumlee is flourishing in Phoenix. There will be plenty of minutes available if Gortat is traded this season, but for now, perhaps Plumlee could steal some of Len's minutes and be a serviceable backup power forward/center for the Suns all season long.
Loser: Viacheslav Kravtsov
There is a limited amount of playing time to be had at center. And for every minute that Miles Plumlee gains in the rotation, it means that Ukrainian center Slava Kravtsov is given fewer opportunities to play.
Kravtsov had a nice performance against Maccabi Haifa, shooting a perfect 4-of-4 from the field and putting up 10 points, two rebounds and a block in just 16 minutes.
But in the game against Portland, he didn't play a single minute. Frye, Gortat, Plumlee and Len all played at least 14 minutes, leaving no time for Kravtsov.
Last year, in his first career NBA season with the Detroit Pistons, the 26-year-old 7'0" center logged a total of 224 minutes in 25 games. He shot 72 percent from the field, and his per 36 minute averages were 12.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, via Basketball-Reference.com.
Then, he participated in EuroBasket 2013 over the summer as a member of the Ukrainian team. In that tournament, Kravtsov ranked first among all participating players with 2.0 blocks per game, and his performance is part of what propelled Ukraine to a fifth-place finish in the tournament and a spot in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
But now, Kravtsov has a tough road ahead if he wishes to continue playing in the NBA. First, he has to survive the final cut and make the 15-man roster. And even if that does happen, he then has to fight with Miles Plumlee and Alex Len for minutes.
What makes Slava a loser right now is not his performance, which has been great so far. Unfortunately for him, other players (such as Plumlee) have been even greater, and they may be the ones holding him back.