Suns near long-awaited return to basketball in 1st scrimmage Thursday

Jul 22, 2020, 6:43 PM | Updated: 8:34 pm

Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams, center talks with forward Mikal Bridges, left, during the f...

Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams, center talks with forward Mikal Bridges, left, during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings in Sacramento, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Hector Amezcua)

(AP Photo/Hector Amezcua)

At first, it wasn’t quite clear how we were even going to get here. Then there was a question of if we were even going to be able to get here.

2020 still has a little under 23 hours at the time of writing to screw this up, but as of right now, Phoenix Suns basketball will be back.

The Suns play the first of three scrimmage games at the NBA bubble in Orlando on Thursday ay 5 p.m. against the Utah Jazz.

There’s so much going on for Phoenix that head coach Monty Williams is still working on finalizing a rotation for his team on Wednesday night.

Starting point guard Ricky Rubio just returned to the team and practice on Tuesday after being away due to the coronavirus. Backup center Aron Baynes is still in Phoenix with the coronavirus, while guards Elie Okobo and Jalen Lecque are away from the team too due to personal matters.

Starting small forward Kelly Oubre Jr. is with the team and still rehabbing his way back from meniscus surgery but isn’t doing much contact work at practice, so it’s safe to say he’s not playing Thursday.

Rubio’s status for the scrimmage was still left up in the air by both himself and Williams on Wednesday, so we can include him in this depth chart look.

PG: Ricky Rubio (?), Ty Jerome, Cameron Payne

SG: Devin Booker, Jevon Carter

SF: Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson

PF: Dario Saric, Frank Kaminsky

C: Deandre Ayton, Cheick Diallo

The scrimmages will give us a look at how Williams deploys two things: backup point guard and the hole left on the wing by Oubre.

At backup point guard, Jerome seems like the favorite given his status as a first-round pick and time with the team, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Payne get the nod. Carter will spend time at both spots given his defense and shooting. And with where Carter fell in the pecking order this season, if Rubio doesn’t play, he’d be another bet to start. So who knows, really.

Due to the inconsistent minutes from that spot behind Booker and having a glut on the wing, Williams would often deploy Bridges at two-guard to find his lengthy wing more minutes.

That’s something we could still see, but without Baynes, that likely slides down Kaminsky and Saric to more minutes at the five. Going small with Bridges and Johnson as the forwards is a look to expect and one we’ve seen a good chunk of already that gives Johnson more run. A wrinkle such as Johnson or Kaminsky being the first sub for Saric so Saric can come back in later as the five is a dart throw I’ll huck out there.

Williams said Tuesday this compares similarly to the first game of a preseason schedule in that it’s still four quarters, with the preparation and anticipation that comes before that initial go being there too. The differences are the quarters each being cut down to 10 minutes total and this whole bubble/NBA campus deal of going straight to the gym.

He also mentioned the changes to the court setup itself, which you can see from Wednesday’s scrimmages.

“That’s gonna be different playing in an environment — the fan situation, the spacing,” he said Tuesday.

As far as the basketball itself, from asking those involved, it sounds like we shouldn’t overcomplicate it.

“I’m sure it’ll be a little bit different but I’ve made more shots with people not around than (with) people in the stands,” Booker said Tuesday. “I’ve been in this situation before. I’ve played in empty gyms before and I’ve played in packed-out gyms. Just getting the chance to compete is what I’m looking forward to.”

It won’t be turned up to 100% in a scrimmage necessarily, but Williams says this specific environment with what’s on the line will bring an extra level of juice the Suns haven’t seen.

“My gut is it’s going to take all the team here a minute to get their normal rhythm as it relates to playing but the stakes are so high that I think guys are going to be able to ramp up their intensity right out the gate,” Williams said Tuesday. “We spent a lot of time talking to our guys about that particular aspect: we don’t have time to wait. We don’t have time to get into game shape.

“So our guys have been pretty diligent about playing 1-on-1 after practice, when we’ve had 5-on-5 scrimmages it’s been at a really high level — a lot of trash-talking, high intensity and I’ve tried to impress upon our guys that the level is going to be higher than we’ve seen all year, even with teams not being in great, great shape. The physicality and the intensity of the games is probably going to be at the highest level in my opinion we’ve seen all year because the stakes are higher.”

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