With the Suns making official the end of DJ's time with Phoenix, I thought I would share a few reasons why I was so down on the kid after seeing him in Vegas a few weeks ago.
A lot of Suns fans were taken by his great attitude and enthusiasm along with some freakish athletic skills. DJ was known in Phoenix as a hard working hustle player who could play defense and just needed more minutes. He did well in Albuquerque during his D-league stints and there were reasons to hope he could develop into a solid role player. There was a time I agreed with that.
But as the last season wore down and DJ got some minutes he struck me as a guy that really didn't seem to instinctively understand the game at this level. He took ill advised shots and at times just seemed lost. That's to be expected though for a rookie that saw so little burn in D'Antoni's "rotation".
It also made his time in the Vegas Summer League this July so much more important.
It was DJ's opportunity to shine as a sophomore. He was expected to both lead the team and play well if not feast on the lesser competition.
Unfortunately, that's not what happened. DJ didn't look great in the first two games against the Spurs and Knicks where he showed great speed and the ability to put defenders back on their heals but he was also unable to use his size and hops to finish in traffic. Time and again he blew by his man only to either draw the foul or miss at the rim. He also seemed to have given up on his in-your-face defensive pressure that earned him so much love in Phoenix.
His points totals were padded by free throws when what you wanted to see from DJ was either a drive and kick or him finish after taking a bit of contact. He did neither. And of course his outside shot hadn't improved.
I think this all could have been acceptable to a Suns team looking for hustle, energy and defense from its rotation players. Then the end came.
DJ took a beating on both ends of the floor and showed a startling lack of mental toughness in his 4th game against Portland. That lead me to write this sitting court side just a few minutes after the game ended: Jarryd Bayless Ends DJ Strawberry's Career
What I saw and clearly so did the Suns, was a player that lacked the poise to play through difficulties and for whatever reason had lost his ability to play lock down D. Giving up 17 points to Bayless in fourth, combined with two key end of the game turnovers hurt. What I think sealed his fate was how he handled the situation. He got down on himself and crumbled. One poor play lead to another and his head sank lower and lower.
I hope for the best for DJ and perhaps in a few years his confidence will grow and he will find a way to make it in the NBA but I think it's going to be an uphill battle. He plays the not overly valuable combo guard position without the height to guard three positions like a Bruce Bowen or Tayshaun Prince and without the mental toughness and grit of a Raja Bell.
There's too many talented players fighting for too few roster spots and DJ is going to really have to kick it up a notch to make it.