Suns Face Jazz Youth Movement
Like the Suns, the Jazz’s season opener was marked by a big push in the fourth quarter. Unlike Phoenix, however, Utah’s made their run to come from behind rather than push further ahead, and it wasn’t enough to secure a win against Oklahoma City.
Other similarities exist between the two Western Conference franchises. Both have opted for youth movements, with the Jazz leaning on a bevy of recent lottery picks.
Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter both went third overall in their respective draft years, and are now the starting power forward and center, respectively. They are already flourishing as a duo, having combined for 29 points, 19 rebounds, six assists and three blocks in Wednesday’s loss.
JAZZ at SUNS
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: US Airways Center
TV: Fox Sports Arizona
Radio: Arizona Sports 620
Gordon Hayward, another former lottery pick, is Utah’s key perimeter threat. The 6-8 swingman had his usual all-around impact against the Thunder, finishing with 12 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals.
Former No. 12 overall pick Alec Burks erupted off the bench for 24 points, six assists and six rebounds. All four young players should continue to see significant playing time after seeing mostly reserve minutes behind more established veterans the past few seasons.
More size? After overcoming the Blazers’ post combo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez, the Suns face yet another tall forward-center tandem in Favors and Kanter.
Markieff Morris will be back in action for the Suns. His return is a much-needed boost for the front line while Channing Frye rounds into game shape and Alex Len gets more seasoning.
Yet even the taller Morris will be tested against Favors, a 6-10, 268-pound enforcer who excels at making hustle plays in the paint. Phoenix’s frontcourt will need to do their work early and know where he is every time a shot goes up.
“You can’t let [Favors or Kanter] get the ball down low,” Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek said. “They’ve got excellent moves down there and they’re both strong as oxes. If you think you’re going to stop them from driving or making a quick move to the basket with your arm, you can forget it. These guys will go right through that.”
Ball security and execution becomes even more important with young teams. The Jazz learned that lesson the hard way in their opener, committing 22 turnovers that produced whopping 44 points for the Thunder.
Utah’s guard situation had plenty to do with that. Prized rookie Trey Burke is out with a broken finger, leaving the majority of point guard duties to journeyman John Lucas III and Jamaal Tinsley.
Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic will likely apply plenty of defensive pressure on Utah’s backcourt. How well they handle that could determine the course of the game early, when both Suns point guards are on the floor.
Friday night marks Jeff Hornacek’s first meeting with the Jazz since serving as an assistant coach on their staff. While the former Jazz player remembers his time in Utah fondly, he admitted that tonight’s game will take full precedence over any nostalgia.
“I guess I’m old-school a little bit,” Hornacek said. “If I see them in the hallway I’ll say hello, probably wave to them, maybe talk to them after the game, after the battle. They’re all friends of mine, but just like when we were all playing, you compete against the guys and then after the game you say hello or whatever.”