After a few long days in Las Vegas watching the Suns and a couple more recovering from those days, I figured it's time to give some final thoughts on what was seen there. Of course, Summer League is not the be-all end-all measuring stick for these players. Marco Belinelli and Marcus Banks both killed in Summer League only to fade to obscurity or worse in the regular season. Still, I think it's a useful laboratory for gaining some (albeit, limited) insight into what these gentlemen will bring to the table come October.
Goran Dragic - If any of the Summer Suns came out a winner, it was without a doubt the young Slovenian. It was possible to see his confidence grow with each game. As Phoenix Stan has pointed out, this is the first time in his career that Dragic has been asked to be "the man" on the court and it's a role he's still growing into. Clearly, the Suns are pushing him to be the team leader when he's running the offense. While he has yet (even against the limited competition of Summer League) to demonstrate he's got what it takes to be the heir apparent to Steve Nash, he definitely showed signs of improvement. He grew ever so slightly more vocal as the week went on and grew more fearless about attacking the rim and finding his own offense. And let me tell you, that first step of his is going to put more than one opposing guard on their heels. Best case this season is he gives the team 15-20 minutes off the bench and continues to develop his leadership skills. He's going to make mistakes for sure, but I'm hoping they're of the aggressive smart kind (like when he got rejected going hard to the rack versus the Grizzlies) instead of the meek, flustered kind (bad passes out of traps and whatnot). He was definitely the Suns' strongest player throughout Summer League.
Robin Lopez - Oy. I wasn't there for his one good game. Instead I saw three of his lesser, and what I can sadly believe are more typical, performances. And believe me when I say against the Grizzlies, he was terrible. Hasheem Thabeet had looked, not to put to fine a point on it, god awful up until that game, demonstrating no discernible basketball instincts. He absolutely dominated Lopez in the paint when they matched up. My entirely unprofessional opinion of what's ailing Robin is an interminable case of spazziness. Seeing him on the floor, it's apparent he has the physical attributes and ability to be at the very least a passable starting center. However, he hasn't figured out how to harness his intensity and direct his body into making the plays he's capable of making. I prescribe some yoga, meditation and Alexander technique classes. That's really only half a joke. If he learned how to slow himself down, and more importantly, control his body, I think we'd see those foul number drop precipitously. I don't question Robin's desire nearly as much as I question his ability to control that desire. He has to improve almost all aspects of his game in order to give the Suns many quality minutes at the 5. I think we'll see a lot of Stoudemire and Frye at center to start the season.
[Note by Phoenix Stan, 07/22/09 3:55 PM MST ]
As Mike indicated, if we were hoping that Vegas would answer questions about Robin we were wrong. My impression is that after performing so well in the first game he acted as if he'd proved all he needed to prove. The team seemed much more focused on Goran's progress and no one seemed particularly concerned with Robin but I left before his final two games. With his brother and family in town one also has to wonder how distracted he was.
Robin still has all the tools to be a very good player. I guess we will have to wait until he gets consistent minutes either starting or off the bench to get a better feel for his desire to be that player. And by the way, Robin wasn't the only 2nd or 3rd year player that had one good game and seemed disinterested from then on in. Andre Blatche comes to mind.
Earl Clark- For me, the jury is way out on Clark. As Phoenix Stan pointed out, the players at Summer League who were driven and want to excel clearly stood out. DeJuan Blair, Brandon Jennings, James Johnson and Blake Griffin all come to mind. Aside from his first game, when Clark posted a double-double, he didn't do much to distinguish himself. To be honest, I don't read too much into this. Unlike Blair and Jennings, he didn't come into Vegas with a chip on his shoulder and unlike Griffin, he wasn't expected to save the franchise. He did however demonstrate why the Suns took him in the first round. He's capable of: hitting from outside, driving to the basket, bringing the ball up, getting his fair share of rebounds, defending multiple positions. He has a lot going for him.
However, if his drive and ambition are question marks come the regular season, I don't know who's going to be the one to get in his face. I have no doubt that Alvin Gentry will get on him, but who's going to back Coach up in the locker room? Steve "Winning a championship isn't as important as stability" Nash? Amar'e "I'm not a captain but call me Sun Tzu anyway" Stoudemire? I would guess Grant Hill, but it does not keep me warm at night that the Suns' most consistent leadership and locker room presence is the guy who, in his 14th season, just played 82 games for the first time. Better that Hill takes him under his wing early and we never has to have the attitude conversation in the first place.
[Note by Phoenix Stan, 07/22/09 3:59 PM MST ]
The key guys I think for Earl are going to be Lou and Jared. He will playing with and against those guys a lot in practice. Each brings a lot more effort and heart than Clark might be used to but neither has his talent or potential. He certainly stands to learn a lot from being around those guys. Probably more then from Old Man Hill who isn't likely to get into Clark's face. I think the team plans on making Clark earn his minutes which in the long run should be a good thing for him. He's going to have to step it up to get on the court and prove himself better than those hustle players.
Taylor Griffin - Taylor Griffin is not quite ready for prime time and I'm not sure he ever will be. I would not be surprised if he didn't make the Suns' roster. He works hard and leaves it all on the court, but aside from a memorable dunk or two, did not do much to impress me. As I've said before, his game is reminiscent of Dan Majerle's but without the skills to back up the hustle and hunger. I could definitely see the Suns going with a veteran big man or guard instead of Griffin for the 13th roster spot.
[Note by Phoenix Stan, 07/22/09 4:07 PM MST ]
I agree totally. I seriously doubt Taylor makes the team. He's going to have to improve his outside shot much more before he gets anywhere at the next level. He should probably just find a way to ride his younger brother's coat tails and help keep him out of trouble. And btw, Blake is really really good.
Zabian Dowdell - As one basketball writer at Summer League put it: "He's a grown up." He's got poise and confidence on the court. He's a good ball handler with a nice jumper. I didn't see the burst or athleticism that Dragic demonstrates, but he's a more than competent point guard. I think he'll end up on an NBA bench somewhere this season if he doesn't take the money and go back to Europe.
Micah Downs - I liked what I saw from Downs when he was on. Sadly, he was only "on" for one game. He's athletic as all get out, capable of getting off the floor and to the basket for either a dunk or a rebound. I think his frame is a little slight for an NBA shooting guard and he wasn't consistent enough in summer league for me to think he warrants an NBA roster spot. I don't think there's any place for him in the Suns rotation.
Jiri Hubalek/Kaspar Berzins - A pair of 7 footers (Hubalek is actually 6'11", but this is the Suns we're talking about. That's as close to 7 feet as we usually see around these parts.) who can hit the three, but lack the quickness or strength to keep up with the Dirks outside or bang with the Dwight's inside. They'll have fun in the D-League or Europe.
[Note by Phoenix Stan, 07/22/09 4:04 PM MST ]
I actually like Hubalek. I liked him last year too. He can shoot from range. Plays hard. He even blocked some shots but he's just not really an NBA player. If Sean Marks can't get off the bench then this guy can't. I am sure he helped his overseas contract prospects though.
Berzins is no where close to the NBA. The other guy I like is Carlos Powell. He's got some nice aspects to his game like a good face up move and he plays with passion. I think overall his skill set is too limited though. Not big enough. Not talented enough. But still a good good ball player.
The rest of the roster didn't do much to make an impression due to either limited minutes or lack of attention from me. Perhaps it's my limited experience covering games in person, but I found I could either focus on the game or the players, but to do both was pretty taxing (as was watching 6-8 hours of basketball a day for 4 days straight). So those are my final impressions of the Summer Suns.
Dragic made a strong case for shouldering much of the second unit load and I think with the right kind of mentorship from Alvin Gentry and Steve Nash, he'll continue to improve throughout the season, but won't be without his share of moments that make me groan. Earl Clark should crack the rotation and contribute some quality minutes when given the opportunity. He's very skilled and if he applies himself diligently, he could work his way up the depth chart. As for Robin, he's still very much a project as much as it pains me to say it. Unless he makes some significant improvement between now and the start of the season, he is not starter material.