Inside Look: Phoenix, #1 Overall Pick Visit Memphis

On Saturday, we will witness the 2018 NBA draft’s #1 overall pick in Deandre Ayton play his first professional game in Memphis. There are several key players from both sides that are questionable due to recent injuries. For Memphis, Marc Gasol (neck), is questionable, while bucket getter Devin Booker (hamstring) is an unknown for the Suns. Dillon Brooks and Garrett Temple are also banged up for the Grizzlies and even though they played on Wednesday in Sacramento, neither of them has much to show for it.

I reached out to @GinaMizell, beat reporter for @theathleticaz, to get her take on some questions regarding the Suns and their season so far.

Do you see Devin Booker as more of a PG or SG? I know he has fluctuated between on and off ball over the past few years out of necessity. At which position is he more dangerous?

Well, the first question about Booker is his availability for Saturday’s game after he left Wednesday’s home loss to the Lakers with a strained hamstring. But, as you said, he’s toggled between shooting guard and point guard during his career and at the beginning of this season. In the Suns’ opening-night win against Dallas, the move to point guard as part of the crunch-time lineup worked brilliantly, as he exploded for 19 fourth-quarter points to push Phoenix to a win. But it has not yielded the same level of success in three blowout losses to Denver, Golden State and the Lakers since then. He’s averaging 5.5 turnovers per game, and before the Lakers contest, coach Igor Kokoskov said he felt Booker has gotten fatigued at times. But that just further illuminates the Suns’ problem of not having an established point guard on the roster. They traded away Brandon Knight late in the offseason. They released Shaq Harrison just before the regular season began. And rookies Elie Okobo and De’Anthony Melton were both inactive Wednesday, leaving Phoenix with Isaiah Canaan, Booker and the recently signed Jamal Crawford as the primary ballhandlers.

How do you feel about the draft additions from this summer? Specifically Bridges and Okobo.

Any discussion about this summer’s draft additions needs to start with No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton, who has been terrific on the offensive end but exposed a bit on the defensive end. He’s averaging 16.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game while mixing battling inside with soft shooting touch from the midrange and playmaking ability. But defensively, he’s allowed guys to get behind him for lobs or easy buckets too often in the early season. Bridges was slowed by an elbow injury in the preseason, which is why is rotation role has been inconsistent thus far. But he’s provided a nice spark at times in those spot minutes and possesses intriguing length that could eventually help on the defensive end. Okobo has only played in two games thus far. It’s clear that he and Melton still have a ways to go in earning Kokoskov’s trust to properly run the offense.

MORE: Season Preview of the 2018-19 Tennessee Men’s Basketball Team

MORE: Grizz Fall To Kings 97-92, Gasol Leaves Game With Injury

What does a realistically successful season look like for Phoenix? Is the atmosphere this season similar to past years where a draft pick was the goal, or is striving for the playoffs the ultimate and immediate target?

The goal is to start pulling out of this significant rebuild, which is why Phoenix brought in guys like Crawford, Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson to complement its young core. And though some players have publicly expressed lofty expectations such as doubling last season’s win total (21), pushing for a playoff berth is not a realistic goal this season. The last three games — all against postseason contenders — have been a massive reality check in that regard.

Against Memphis, which matchup(s) do you think will be the key to the game?

I’ll be really interested to see how Ayton handles Marc Gasol, who often draws comparisons to Denver’s Nikola Jokic (well, the other way around, since Jokic is younger) because of their skill at that position. Ayton got absolutely worked by Jokic, who went a perfect 11-of-11 from the field for one of the most efficient triple-doubles you’ll ever see in the NBA with 35 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. Ayton said he learned a lot from that game about how to defend the post — and how to draw fouls down low on the offensive end. We’ll see if he can apply that against Gasol.


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[Feature Image: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports]

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