Preseason Has Suns Prepared For Opener

Preseason basketball doesn't count for much in the large scheme of things. The stats don’t matter, in terms of season totals or for MVP or All-NBA votes. The records have no impact on the playoff picture and no team wins a trophy for finishing first. In a world based on competition, it’s the C-Span of a sport that usually more closely resembles MTV.

Even a winning 4-3 record in the preseason won’t have any bearing on the Suns’ success in 2012-13. But those seven games were more valuable than a reality show contract to a Kardashian for the franchise in transition. That’s because it gave a team with nine new faces an opportunity to build a unique chemistry and learn a new offensive system (although Goran Dragic and Luis Scola had ran a similar offense in Houston previously).

Despite the challenges of an overhauled roster and an unfamiliar offense, shooting guard Jared Dudley thinks the team did better than could have been anticipated in preparation for the regular season.

“We’ve picked up the offense better than expected,” he said. “Whenever you have nine new guys doing a whole new offense, it’s tough. You see our growth every game, too.”

Dudley is part of the reason for that growth each night. During the preseason he averaged 10.7 points – including a 25-point effort against the Kings – and shot 59 percent from the field. He isn’t caught up in the box scores and statistics, though. He is just ready to do whatever it takes.

“I’ve always tried to improve my scoring every year,” Dudley said. “Some nights I’m going to have to do more, some night’s I’m not. On this team I’m here to be the steady guy, the glue. On a given night, if I’m hot, I’ll get it going and be aggressive. If I don’t, I’ll look for my teammates and play good defense. With this offense you can’t force it. You have to let it come to you. Some nights you’ll have it, and some nights you won’t.”

Dudley won’t be doing it alone. This season’s version of the Suns features a large amount of young, athletic and smart talent. Of that bunch, though, two have really stood out to the Suns’ starting guard.

“I knew how good Scola was beforehand, but to be out here and play with him, he’s a great basketball player and knows how to play the game,” Dudley said. “Wesley Johnson’s shooting ability has impressed me. I didn’t know he could shoot that well.”

Scola, the forward the Suns acquired via the amnesty auction after a stint with Houston, said hard work this preseason is to account for his and his teammates play. He averaged 9.2 points on 54 percent shooting with four rebounds per game this preseason.

“It was good. We worked hard, we got in shape and we got better each day,” Scola said. “Hopefully we’ll be ready to play the first game of the season.”

One guy Scola thinks will be ready for opening night on Wednesday is Michael Beasley. On Friday, the forward had 29 points – 18 of which came in the first half – and 10 rebounds against the Nuggets in the preseason finale. He finished the preseason averaging 12.7 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.

“I knew Michael Beasley was talented but I didn’t realize he was this talented,” Scola said. “He impressed me most [this preseason].”

Another bright spot this preseason was the emergence of aforementioned swingman Wesley Johnson, who was acquired via trade from Minnesota, as an offensive weapon off the bench. He averaged 8.6 points in the preseason and shot 37.5 percent from behind the arc. While he had an offensive impact, Johnson is just excited to bring energy every time he steps on the court.

“I really just see it as a different opportunity,” Johnson said of coming off the bench, with his trademark grin on his face. “I just look at it as me having a different role. It’s me coming in, being my own player and being me. It’s me just being a spark and having fun.

“It’s my job to help keep it going, push the lead up and keep what the starters set from the jump ball.”

It’s that kind of attitude that has helped build chemistry between the guys on the roster faster than political polls change this time of year, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed in the locker room.

“All the guys like each other. There are no bad apples,” said Dudley, one of the team leaders. “Everyone is getting together. Now we have to go gain experience going through the grind of a season, winning, knowing how to lose the right way and learning how to bounce back from that. That only takes experience. For us, it is a wait and see game, but we’re doing the right steps the right way.”

Preseason may not count for much in terms of numbers and wins, but it did mean a lot to the future of the Suns. Not only did a new group of guys learn a new offense and how to play together, but they also built camaraderie. That’s something fans should be excited about.

“Overall, as a Suns fan, you should be happy,” Dudley said. “The team is definitely improving each day. That is the truth.”


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