Bright Side of the Sun will be bringing you coverage from the Vegas Summer League this year. I will be there for the "regular season" Friday-Tuesday and the bossman Dave King will be there for the "playoffs" next Thursday-Sunday. With that in mind, here is a preview of the Summer Suns roster and what to expect from them in Vegas. If you missed the roster announcement, you can find our post here.
The expectation for first round picks in their second season starts with looking good in the summer league. You've had your year of experience and now you are going to be playing against mostly rookies and players with a slim chance at a roster spot. Now is the time to be one of the best players on the floor. The ginormous red flag for Kendall Marshall last season was during the summer league (his 2nd season) when he didn't even play in crunch time for the Summer Suns when they were in the playoffs. I'm not saying a second year first round pick not playing well in the summer league is a career ender, it's just a bad sign. Still, I think it's time for Archie Goodwin and Alex Len to dominate.
Archie Goodwin rarely got playing time for the Suns last year and was up and down from the D-League. In his time in the D-League, Goodwin averaged 26 PPG and shot 39% from 3. He was always impressive, but we wanted to see this level of play at the NBA level. As it turns out, we saw glimpses of what could be for the now 19 year old. When Goodwin played at least 19 minutes a game (three games) during the regular season he averaged 20.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, and 1.3 APG with a ridiculous 24-33 from the field and an average 3-8 from deep. We saw those flashes, and it was a great moment to see Archie score a career high 29 points in the last game of the season against the Kings. Archie only trailed the Morrii in scoring last summer league with 13.1 PPG, so he should contend with T.J. Warren for the scoring lead in Vegas.
The player we haven't seen flashes from yet oddly enough is Alex Len, which is hard to swallow because of that top 5 pick status that will follow him for the rest of his career. Len only played in 42 games last season which was mainly due to injury. Even in those games that Len played in, we didn't see him have much of an impact. At least from my perspective, you never had those "whoa!" moments from watching Len play that made you say "now that's a top-5 pick in the draft!" Still, the injury is a very good reason for this not to of happened yet, but this is Len's time to prove to himself, the fans, and the organization that he was worthy of the top 5 selection.
The veterans of this team will be Miles Plumlee and Dionte Christmas. At 25 years old, Plumlee might seem a tad old to be in Vegas, but this is only his third season in the NBA. A sort of "open floor" style that the summer league brings will let a lot of Suns players athleticism shine, particularly that of Plumlee. That dude can flat out fly, and it's one of the main attributes that makes him look poised to average double figures on the glass next season. Our own Jacob Padilla has been the conductor of the "why are we running a post up for Miles" train, and despite its random success at time, it's clearly where Plumlee needs to continue to improve. He can use this process to work on his post game as well as his assists, where he was one of only four players to play at least 20 minutes a game and average less than 0.6 assists a game. Plumlee is the only starter for the Suns playing in the summer league and he's the only player that played significant minutes last season. He averaged 10 PPG and 9.5 RPG for the Pacers last summer league and I expect him to average more than that this time around.
For Dionte Christmas, he will continue to show that he can score. Christmas only played in 31 games last year and Suns fans more got to know him for the great chemistry he appeared to have with everyone on the bench and his celebrations. That's not meant to sound like a shot at Christmas, it's just the reality of the situation. There's little to no upside left to his game at 27 years old, but he will come out to Vegas, score, and be a great example for some of the others on the roster.
One of the many great things about summer league is that it allows fans not familiar with college basketball or certain conferences of college basketball to see their rookies play for the first time less than a month after they've been drafted. Enter Tyler Ennis and T.J. Warren, two players with very high national profiles in college. I'm not going to spend time breaking down their game, as we have done a great job here at previewing each player. Here is the link to Dave King showing how Ennis is not like Kendall Marshall and East Bay Ray calling T.J. Warren the steal of the draft. Check those both out to get a feel for their games and their skill set. However, what you want to do with these newly drafted players in the summer league is take a peek at their "weaknesses" heading into the draft and see how they look in Vegas.
In my own opinion, for Ennis I would watch firstly how willing he is to shoot the 3 and if he is willing to, then how consistent that shot looks. The other thing I would watch is to see how he works with his athleticism, as this is one of his main knocks from many scouts. I find the way he operates offensively to compensate for it, but defensively this will be a slight concern. The matchup to watch this for the most will be Tuesday the 15th against the Sixers, who will likely start the very good scorer Pierre Jackson at point (Edit: Unfortunately, Jackson injured his achilles in Orlando. Casper Ware should still present some problems). I'd keep an eye on how Ennis does on him defensively, as well as if he is still going to be super successful at continuously getting into the key like he was in college.
For Warren, the tweener concerns are all over the place. It's his rebounding, his defensive work, and his shooting. Watch all three. We all know that Warren is going to score a lot and that it will impress a lot of people, but watch those areas. If he can start hitting the corner three right out of the summer league (like some suggest) and not struggle defensively, it's time to get really excited.
The Second Rounders
Alex Oriakhi is back for his second summer league with the Suns after being drafted 57th overall by the Suns in 2013 and this time he should see far more playing time. Oriakhi only played 8 minutes a game in Vegas last season and the Suns had other ideas of players they wanted to get a look at instead. During the regular season, Oriakhi returned from playing time in France and Israel to play in the D-League. Oriakhi averaged 8 PPG, 7RPG, and nearly a block per game to earn first team all-rookie honors for the season. Oriakhi is a big man at 6'10 260 lbs who uses that strength and his 7'4 wingspan to be a physical player inside on the glass. He works hard and grew somewhat of an offensive game in his time at UConn and Missouri. The Suns are really lacking a banger inside and Oriakhi could be that guy. He's got a lot on the line in Vegas.
Alec Brown was the second round selection for the Suns this year at 50th overall and is the 4th center on the roster. Much like Oriakhi's situation last year, he might not get as much playing time as others since the Suns know he needs a year or two overseas. Brown's stretch 5 play is certainly unique and will be even more wild to see with three other centers already on the roster.
The New Guys
There are four players left on the roster for the Summer Suns, with two of them having some solid family roots in the NBA. We start with the Suns fascination in the lesser brother, as Seth Curry has picked up a spot on this roster. Curry, Steph's brother, tore it up in the D-League last season, as he made 3rd team all-league and 1st team all-rookie. In that season, Curry averaged 19.6 PPG with 5.8 APG and shot 37% from 3. Curry has had an interesting journey, as he led all freshmen in scoring at Liberty before transferring to Duke. It never really fell into place there except for his senior season and that was not enough for him to be drafted. His shooting will of course be welcomed in Phoenix and I expect him to share some time with Christmas in Vegas.
Taylor Braun's name might sound familiar, and if you were reading up on March Madness coverage last season or watching, that's where he is from. Braun was the star man for North Dakota State, who had one of the big upsets of the tournament against Oklahoma before getting shut down by San Diego State. He struggled with double teams and systems planned to stop him in the tournament, as he was the only primetime offensive weapon the Bison possessed. Braun is fearless in attacking the rim and can really shoot the ball. In his last three seasons at NDSU, Braun shot 45%, 43%, and 41% from deep. I'm a fan of Braun's versatile offensive game and I expect for Suns fans to grow on him. Like Curry, Braun will look to fill it up from deep and try to show off his scoring.
Elias Harris was a member of the Lakers D-League team last year and showed that he can play. Harris averaged 10.2 PPG and 5.6 RPG with his time there which earned him a contract with the Lakers. He had a short-lived career there, as he spent only 1 game in the D-League and 2 games in the NBA before being waved. Harris spent the rest of the basketball season playing in Germany for Brose Baskets, where he averaged 21 MPG with 9.7 PPG and 3.4 RPG. A fun tidbit, Harris backed up former Suns first rounder Casey Jacobsen in his time there. Harris has the bulk to battle inside on the glass and can stretch it out to hit the 3 as well (37% in Germany). That kind of pedigree for production would have me expecting Harris to have some sort of impact for this team in Vegas.
The last player on the list is David Stockton. Stockton, John's son, spent 4 years at Gonzaga and ran the point like you expect John Stockton's son to. He was efficient, usually found the right pass, and only attacked when the defense was allowing it. Among many other things, Stockton's size has his pro dreams in the NBA looking bleak. Watch for his steals, as he averaged at least 1.5 a game for his last two seasons at Gonzaga. Stockton won't have much of an impact on this team, but he will run the offense like the coaches want him to and get some exposure for possibilities overseas like a few others on this roster.
That's it for the preview. I will have daily posts from my time in Vegas. Until then, I will count down the days to Super Bowl 49 (Alex Len vs. Nerlens Noel) and plan out my attempts to stalk Ryan McDonough for offseason info only to lose him in the shadows.
Phoenix vs. Golden State- Saturday, July 12, 5PM PST
Milwaukee vs. Phoenix- Sunday, July 13, 7PM PST
Philadelphia vs. Phoenix- Tuesday, July 15, 5PM PST
After that, the playoffs start. Each team is guaranteed at least two playoff games.