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3 minor observations from the Phoenix Suns' first preseason game

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
October 5, 2021

Look, we get it. The Phoenix Suns just finished playing meaningful basketball less than three months ago, and no one usually gives a damn about preseason anyway. It’s just hard to care when you go from watching Chris Paul and Devin Booker in the NBA Finals to Elfrid Payton and Jalen Smith logging big minutes against the Sacramento Kings.

But since you’re here, we’re assuming you do give a damn, or at least are morbidly curious about what you missed from the Suns’ preseason opener Monday night, which, for some stupid reason, was unavailable to stream for anyone outside of a 75-mile radius from Sacramento.

(How are we still dealing with this problem in 2021? Get your shit together, NBA League Pass!)

In any case, it’s too early for any big takeaways, especially in a game where Book, CP3 and Jae Crowder all sat out and Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges only played the first half. Instead, here are three minor observations from Phoenix’s 117-106 loss to the Kings.

1. Landry Shamet’s increased role as a ball-handler is very real

Landry Shamet only finished his night with 3 assists to go with his 13 points in 22 minutes, but he certainly had the ball in his hands a lot more than your typical spot-up shooter. What we saw Monday night falls right in line with what he and Monty Williams have been saying since Media Day about Shamet getting the chance to show more of his ball-handling and playmaking, much like he did early on in his career.

“My hope for Landry is that we can utilize more of his game,” Williams said after the loss. “I just remember a little bit of what they told me in college where he handled the ball a bit more. And then in Philly when we had him, you could see some of it in his game, but we had other guys that needed the ball, so he didn’t get a chance to do it as much. But we saw him tonight play off the dribble. His passing in the paint was really good.”

Shamet didn’t blow anyone away with advanced reads or flashy passes, but his handle looked tight and he made the right play more often than not. His pick-and-roll find to JaVale McGee provided the best highlight of the night:

Shamet said after the game that he feels like he’s going to have fun playing in this new system once he gets more comfortable, especially as a secondary playmaker who can fit in with any group.

“Whatever is to come, honestly I feel like I can step into a couple of different roles, wear different hats with different units and lineups on the floor,” he said. “I just want to keep learning and soaking it all up and just get acclimated here.”

Williams even mentioned the possibility of plugging in Shamet with the starting backcourt, moving Booker to the 3.

“I just feel like [Shamet] can play with any one of our guys,” Williams said. “He can play with Cam Payne, he can play with Chris, he can play with Book. We were just talking in the back, we may be able to play Chris, Landry and Book at times, because they all know how to play without the ball and they know how to play with the ball.”

2. JaVale McGee can establish chemistry with anybody

As much as we’ve hailed Shamet’s ability to create for his teammates, that JaVale McGee highlight we mentioned earlier? Yeah, that was all him.

“I think you know any guard would want to play with a hard roller like JaVale, just the pressure he puts on the rim,” Shamet said. “Even that lob I threw to him, the big was going back trying to get back to him anyway. It was the wrong read by me, to be honest, but that’s why he’s so good. You can throw it up anywhere around the rim, you can throw a bad pass, he’s gonna find a way with his long arms and his ability to get off the floor quickly to make a play.”

McGee finished his Suns preseason debut with 10 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block in just 11 minutes of action. He shot 5-for-6 from the floor, and his performance was indicative of the exact type of rim-running, athleticism and hyper-productivity he brings to the table even in limited minutes.

“I mean, just his presence,” Williams said. “When he dives, he takes up a lot of space. And he has the ability to go get it and finish around the rim, but he also generates opportunities on the back side. And I think once guys get used to playing with him and understand how he screens and rolls and what that does for our offense, it’s gonna be good for us.”

3. Jalen Smith should be a 5 for the Phoenix Suns, not a 4

The Phoenix Suns made an interesting choice drafting Jalen Smith with the 10th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft — not just because he was something of a reach, but because his optimal position, the 5, was already occupied by Deandre Ayton. Spending a top-10 pick on a backup center usually isn’t advisable.

At the time, James Jones and the Suns envisioned a future where Stix and DA could share the floor together with Smith at the 4, but it seems everyone’s wised up to where he truly belongs. On Monday, Monty deployed Stix at the 5 more, playing him in a dual-big lineup with Frank Kaminsky at the 4.

“Defensively, when he was at the 5, he looked so much more comfortable than at the 4,” Williams said. “At the 4, you have to navigate screens a lot more, getting over screens, knowing when to switch. That’s something that I’m sure he would tell you has been a bit difficult for him. But when he’s at the 5, he’s pretty effective. And so we want him to continue to grow.”

Smith finished his night with 13 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 steal on 5-of-12 shooting, including an impressive rejection of Richaun Holmes at the rim:

Most of his production came in garbage time of a preseason contest, but it was still comforting to hear everyone on the same page about where Smith is best-suited to play in the NBA…even if that means there’s no clear path to minutes for him with Ayton and McGee ahead on the depth chart.

“My whole basketball career, I’ve pretty much been a 5, so I know how 5s move, I know how they roll out, I know what they want out of a pick-and-roll, so I’m able to read that,” Stix said. “At the 4, it’s an adjustment. It’s a different league, a lot of guys being able to dribble and go off the dribble. I just gotta be able to stay in front of them a lot better.”

Most of his opportunities this season will most likely have to come at the 4, but it’s good everyone is aware of his limitations there, as well as the position where he’d be most comfortable.

The Phoenix Suns play their next preseason game on Wednesday at home against the Los Angeles Lakers.

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