The Phoenix Suns round out preseason play without their starting five, allowing the back-half of the roster to receive some valuable game minutes.
Head Coach Monty Williams elected to rest his four healthy starters, resulting in a 105-104 defeat to the Sacramento Kings at Footprint Center. With injuries also affecting the Suns roster, the 19 man team was shaved down to just 10.
The back-half of the roster impressed most Wednesday night, led by unlikely standouts Duane Washington Jr., Bismack Biyombo and Jock Landale.
Two-way player Duane Washington Jr. scored a game-high 31 points on 10-of-19 shooting in 32 minutes. Landale added 17 points, eight rebounds, three steals, and four blocks while Biyombo added a double-double, finishing with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
The Suns positioned themselves to win at the end, but came up short after Washington Jr. missed a jumper and Biyombo failed a tip-in attempt at the buzzer.
After dropping their first preseason matchup to Adelaide 36ers of Australia’s NBL, Phoenix finishes the preseason at 1-3.
On Oct. 19, the Suns open up the regular season at home against the Dallas Mavericks in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference semifinals.
As the season approaches, here are five takeaways from the Phoenix Suns 2022 preseason.
Cameron Johnson, Cameron Payne, Josh Okogie and Landry Shamet were forced to miss the end of preseason after suffering injuries early on. Dario Saric also missed time due to personal matters.
All five players are expected to play an integral part in the rotation. Each player holds aspirations of a bigger role.
Payne (finger) and Johnson (thumb) both suffered hand injuries. With Johnson now being the teams starting four, fans were hoping to see how he adjusts to his new role.
Monty Williams feels that the two are “trending in a good place” and aren’t expected to miss too much time. Their status for the season opener is still up in the air.
After scoring 21 points, hitting 5-of-7 from three, Landry Shamet experienced tightness in the hip and was diagnosed with a left strain.
Along with Payne, Shamet was expected to back-up an All-Star guard. The two back-up guards were looking for a bounce back year after a disappointing 2021-22 campaign.
Okogie suffered a left hamstring strain early in training camp, keeping him out the entire preseason.
Dario Saric, who is coming off an ACL injury, appeared in one preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers, scoring 12 points and grabbing four rebounds.
The Suns were unable to experiment with different lineups due to these injuries.
With depth being a major question for the Suns, the media and fans can only wonder if the team will have enough outside their four core starters.
Emerging Young Talent
It seems like the Suns have hit on multiple players outside the top ten of the rotation. For example, a big man acquired for cash or a two-way signee.
Josh Landale, acquired from San Antonio, and Duane Washington Jr., acquired from Indiana, both made a splash this preseason.
Landale has surprisingly appeared to win over the backup center position, scoring in double figures in all four preseason games.
His ability to crash the glass, stretch the floor, and his mobility as a defender makes Landale a jack of all trades.
Washington Jr. is transitioning from shooting guard to point guard for the first time in his NBA career. The offense now lies on him.
As a two-way player, Washington Jr. showed glimpses of his potential, proven by his ability to make shots and create for others.
Although Washington’s 31-point game came with 11 turnovers, the 22-year-old didn’t look uncomfortable in his new role. His passing, even with the turnovers, has become the most beautiful part of his development.
Washington has the potential of being a rotation-caliber NBA point guard if he is able to cut down turnovers and improve his scoring from two.
According to Bleacher Report, Deandre Ayton finds himself staring from the outside into the top ten, ranking at number 11 in the top 25 big man rankings (PF and C).
Ayton played an average of 25 minutes in three preseason contests, averaging 16 points and 8 rebounds.
After a storyline filled offseason, Deandre Ayton will look to find himself in the news for his outstanding play, rather than his lack of communication with coaches, contract negotiations and interesting media days.
It is easy to be critical of Ayton after all that’s taken place. However, it is clear that the Phoenix Suns haven’t prioritized getting him the ball.
In limited action, Ayton seemed to have taken his biggest leap against the Denver Nuggets, recording a 19-point double-double with three steals.
If the Suns have any hopes of winning a title, Deandre Ayton must be at the focal point of it all.
The Starting Four
Jae Crowder has been absent from the team after he and the Suns “mutually agreed” that the forward wouldn’t attend training camp as the sides look to find a trade.
Jae Crowder started at the four these past two seasons. Cameron Johnson now steps into that role.
Johnson scored four points in 22 minutes of action in the first preseason game against the Adelaide 36ers. In game two of the preseason, Johnson played only four minutes after suffering an injury, leaving him sidelined for the remainder of the preseason.
The Suns hope that Johnson can come out in the first quarter and start the second quarter with players from the second unit, knowing his ability to score the basketball.
The Phoenix Suns are high on Cam Johnson, not just “we’re going to start him in front of Jae Crowder” high. According to Jack Fischer of Yahoo Sports, Johnson was off limits in a Kevin Durant package.
With this being said, expectations are high for Johnson. The media and fans were hoping to see these expectations on full display this preseason. We’ll just have to wait and see if Johnson is the answer.
The Phoenix Suns were top three in defensive rating at 107.3 during the 2021-22 season. The Suns also tied for 5th in steals this past season.
These numbers don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon, even after losing defensive specialists Jae Crowder and Javale McGee.
The Suns have forced an average of 19 turnovers a game during the preseason. Phoenix also averaged 5.25 blocks a game along with 10.75 steals a game.
The Suns have been able to secure defensive rebounds as well, averaging 33.3 rebounds a game during the preseason.