Plumlee, Green Stand Out in Suns Scrimmage

In front of a couple thousand fans at Northern Arizona University’s Walkup Skydome, the Suns showed glimpses of what to expect this season in their intrasquad scrimmage.

The Black Team edged the White Team 74-71, though an 11-player trade between the third and fourth quarters blurred the meaning of that score. More significant were the individual and certain group performances on the floor, which gave Suns coaching staff and management more food for thought as the team closed camp and prepares for the preseason.

With that in mind, here’s a look at how the generic position groups performed, as well as some overall game notes.

BIG MEN

Miles Plumlee stole the show from veteran Marcin Gortat and lottery pick Alex Len, going off for 17 points, nine rebounds and a block in 24 minutes of playing time. The former Duke standout caught the crowd’s attention more than once, exploding to the rim for four dunks while showing an improved post-up and midrange game.

Plumlee was particularly effective setting screens and then rolling to the rim, usually getting rewarded with a bounce pass or lob, which he then finished with a jam. He also posted up Gortat on one play, faked to his left, went right and sank the one-handed hook while earning the foul call. Later he banked in a mid-range jumper from the right angle.

“When Ryan got him in the trade, that was our thought of if we’re in that open-court game, pick-and-roll where he’s diving to the basket, his athleticism, it could be really helpful for us,” Suns Head Coach Hornacek said of Plumlee after the scrimmage. “He showed us tonight that when he does that, he gets things with Goran and Eric and Kendall and these guys throwing him that roll pass. He’s such a guy with that energy that cuts to the basket, that he brings guys with him. If he’s not open, he’s going to open up somebody else.”

Gortat was solid with 10 points and seven rebounds, hitting a handful of midrange jumpers and securing the defensive boards. Len finished with six rebounds and three points, including a face-up jumper from the top of the key.

Channing Frye continued his comeback from heart complications with an 11-point, five-rebound outing, making a pair of three-pointers in the process. Markieff Morris had a rough shooting day (2-for-12), ending up with six points and four boards. Slava Kravtsov added six points and two rebounds.

SWINGMEN

If anything, the competition at the wing spots grew even more heated. Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker and Marcus Morris all performed well, creating a pleasant dilemma when it comes to deciding the pecking order at small forward.

Green was on fire throughout the entire scrimmage, finishing with 21 points and six three-pointers on nine attempts. An improved jumper could make the former Slam Dunk Contest champion an intriguing dual threat in the open floor, capable of streaking to the rim or setting up beyond the arc depending on what the defense gives him.

Tucker turned in an efficient 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting, but added seven rebounds, three assists and two steals while mixing things up inside on both sides of the floor.

Meanwhile Morris continued to show his midrange game, finishing with 13 points and a pair of three-pointers to go along with five rebounds.

“All those guys give you different things,” Hornacek said. “Depending on the night, who we play, how they’re playing, we can go with any of them.”

Tucker said on Friday that the three-man competition will benefit the team in the long run.

“We’re all teammates at the end of the day. We’re all competitive,” he said. “I think the openness of it, how the team’s set up, makes it competitive and brings out the best in everybody. As teammates, regardless of who starts or comes off the bench, it’s just like handing off the baton if everybody’s working for each other, trying to win and do it collectively.”

GUARDDS

Eric Bledsoe quietly dominated the scrimmage, alternating between scoring and passing while making his mark on the defensive end. The Suns’ marquee offseason acquisition finished with 13 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, three steals and a block. Two of his steals came from anticipating an incoming pass and darting in to intercept it, while the other was a blind-side strip. Bledsoe hit 2-of-5 from three-point range and 5-of-10 from the field overall.

Goran Dragic played just five minutes of the final period alongside Bledsoe, but the duo found each other in transition twice. The Slovenian guard had a poor shooting night (2-for-10) while battling an ailing toe and overall fatigue left over from the EuroBasket competition and subsequent travel.

Kendall Marshall showed a growing chemistry with some of the Suns newcomers, including Plumlee. He hit the big man twice on pick-and-rolls, once on a bounce pass, the other a one-handed lob that ended with a two-handed flush.

“I’ve played with him over the summers and stuff,” Plumlee said of Marshall. “I always liked the way he plays, and I think he likes the way I play. We just look for each other. We have a little bit of a connection even though people wouldn’t expect that [between a Duke and North Carolina guy].”

Ish Smith ran the offense well in his 17 minutes of game action, coming up with six assists while adding a three-pointer. Archie Goodwin struggled on 1-of-7 shooting, as did Dionte Christmas (0-for-5). Shannon Brown hit an efficient 5-of-8 from the field for 11 points, throwing in five rebounds and two assists in the process.

TEAM OFFENSE

Both squads came out firing in the first quarter, running the half-court and transition sets well. The black team was particularly effective, putting up 33 points in the opening frame behind Plumlee’s hot start. The white team kept pace behind Green’s hot shooting in transition.

“I thought guys tried to execute the offense,” Hornacek said. “They pushed it. I want to push it maybe a little bit more, but for the most part they played well together. We’ll watch it again on tape and show them some of the highlights. I think guys had fun today playing in a little bit of a game [setting].”

TEAM DEFENSE

It took both sides a quarter’s worth of play before defense was emphasized. The difference was noticeable. After scoring 33 points in the opening period, the black team put up just 41 the rest of the way. The perimeter players were markedly improved as the game went along, with Dragic and Bledsoe hounding each other particularly well in the third quarter.

“They’re thinking about what they’re supposed to do,” Hornacek said. “It’ll become a natural reaction for them in a while. They just need to play more physical and more aggressive on the ball and not be afraid of being burned, really sliding their feet and getting after it. It takes desire and a big effort level to play defense and we’ve got to get to that point.”

ATMOSPHERE

The court was situated near one side of the SkyDome’s interior, and that side was full of at least 2,000 fans. They rewarded the Suns with cheers when the team executed well on offense or hustled on defense. They were especially appreciative of a sequence that saw P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Eric Bledsoe crash over each other for a loose ball, as well as a strip and dive by Goodwin to secure a steal.

The Suns stayed for 30 minutes immediately after the scrimmage to sign autographs.

“It was a great turnout,” Hornacek said. “I think that’s what guys wanted. They didn’t’ know what to expect in terms of how many people would come to watch them today. I think everyone’s happy with the turnout. We’re excited to get out in front of some fans every day.”