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Summer Suns: Belated Game 4 Recap and Final Thoughts

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The summer league Suns' five-game "season" in Las Vegas ended last night, which means it's now time for an obligatory wrap-up post. But before I do that, a few quick words about Game 4 against Portland, which I finished watching on the NBA.com archives earlier this evening. I wasn't able to see this game on Saturday when it was played, but two things intrigued me enough to go back and watch it after the fact: I wanted to see DJ Strawberry's big night, and I wanted to see how Strawberry and Alando Tucker stacked up against two "what might have been" players on Portland.

Count me among those who were bitterly disappointed a year ago when the Suns cashed in their #27 pick that Portland used to draft Sergio Rodriguez. While I am not a particularly close follower of draft prospects, I knew enough about Sergio to suspect he just might be the kind of pass-first point guard to have a decent chance of fitting in nicely on a team desperate to find somebody, anybody who could back up Steve Nash. At the very least, it seemed like a fairly low risk move to try--or at least more likely to produce a usable player than paying another 12th-man type who's never going to step on the floor. The other Portland player I was interested in getting a look at was Petteri Koponen, who the Suns brought in for workouts before this year's draft, but passed on in favor of Alando Tucker. Well, if this game was any indication, the Suns are better off with the guys they have. Rodriguez certainly showed off his creative passing ability a few times in this game, but DJ looked like the better all-around player--especially when both ends of the floor are considered (not to mention Sergio already has a year of NBA experience under his belt). The comparison between Tucker and Koponen wasn't even close, as Tucker had his second-best shooting percentage in the Suns' five games, while Koponen's most impressive contribution was an amazing, buzzer-beating half-court shot at the end of the first half that accounted for three of his five points. So at least based on this one night (and the stats from all five games would seem to concur), I would take our two guys over Portland's.

But, even with DJ Strawberry making shots from all over the floor (while still finding time for eight assists), the summer Suns repeated a theme that was a sadly recurring one throughout their brief time together. They once again couldn't come up with that little bit extra needed to turn a close game into a win. I've mentioned on this site before how much I hate "reruns", and that's pretty much what this was. But like I said in last Monday's recap, summer league is far more about evaluating talent than it is about winning the game. And since nobody else impressed me enough to inspire more words about Game 4, I will now move on to putting the finishing touches on my first ever attempt to blog about (or watch) summer league ball.

Grading the Summer Suns

  • DJ Strawberry (PPG 15.6, RPG 3.0, APG 6.4, EFF +12.0): DJ had jitters in the first game, and looked a bit spent in the final game, but was terrific in Games 2-4. He can get to the rim in highly entertaining fashion, making him virtually guaranteed to become an instant fan favorite should he find his way into the rotation. He can also get his teammates the ball, averaging 6.4 assists per 40-minute game. He seems to really take a lot of pride in playing defense, and had at least one block in each of those middle three games. He does need to cut down on his turnovers (and passing to NBA-caliber teammates would probably help). He also needs to hire Phil Weber as his personal shooting coach, and spend every waking hour from now until October working on his jump shot. But other than that, the Suns could very well have a Manu Ginobili-caliber draft day steal on their hands. If I had to guess right now, I'd say his chances of landing the Suns' final open roster spot fall somewhere between "sure-fire bet" and "absolute certainty". Grade: A-

  • Alando Tucker (PPG: 17.4, RPG: 2.4, APG: 2.4, EFF: +8.0): Showed the ability to either be really hot (Games 2 and 4) or be really, really cold (Games 3 and 5). He can create his own shot, which is something the Suns have need of, but like Strawberry, he needs to work on his jumper so his "off nights" won't doom his chances of earning playing time in a system that values offensive efficiency above all. He also needs to rebound a lot better. True, he's only 6'6", but he easily had the lowest  rebounds per 40 minutes of anyone on the team. And if Shawn Marion can get over 10 per game at 6'7", there's no reason why Alando shouldn't be able to grab at least four or five. However, all that said, his play was generally quite solid, and he showed why the Suns chose him as their first round draft pick. Grade: B+

  • Otis George (PPG: 10.4, RPG: 9.4, APG: 1.6, EFF: +13.0): I had never heard of Otis George before this week, and I have to say I was rather impressed by his play. He actually had the highest efficiency on the whole team (except for Marcus Banks' one-game showing), and was the only Sun to come anywhere close to averaging a double-double. He does need to work on his defense quite a lot, and at 6'9", all those rebounds might not be as easy to come by in the regular NBA (then again, see aforementioned reference to Shawn Marion). His game is still a little rough around the edges at times, but overall, I definitely think he has a good shot at making it to an NBA team someday. Teams are always looking for hustle and energy guys--especially hustle and energy guys who can also make shots from anywhere on the floor. I don't know if he'll end up in a Suns uniform, and like David Griffin said in AZCentral's recent article, he's probably a year away from being ready, but I expect eventually he will get his chance to play in the NBA. As for his summer league play, he's hands down the winner of my unofficial "Where Did This Guy Come From?" award. Grade: A

  • Ron Hale (PPG: 12.4, RPG 3.60, APG: 1.0, EFF: +11.0): If I hadn't already given the "Where Did This Guy Come From" award to Otis George, I would be giving it to Ron Hale. This is another guy I hadn't heard of before the summer league started, but he was easily the Suns' best player off the bench. Except for Marcus Banks' one-game anomaly, Hale had the highest 3-point percentage (45%) of any player on the team, and he tended to score in bunches. He could also get to the rim for dunks as well, and did a decent job on the glass in the final three games when he was getting 20+ minutes. He seemed to be better in the first half of games than in the second, and most of his scoring barrages came when he initially entered. Curiously, he had his best outings in Games 1, 3, and 5 (maybe he likes odd numbers?). While it might be something of a long-shot (pun intended), I could see Hale having a future as the designated "three-point bomber" on a team in need of shooters. Grade: B

  • Adam Hess (PPG: 7.2, RPG: 3.6, APG: 0.8, EFF: +5.00): Much like Ron Hale, Hess's best work came from the three-point line where he shot 41%. However, Hess usually did most of his damage late in the game, especially the fourth quarter. His consecutive three-balls in Game 3 really helped to keep the game out of reach for the opposition. He also provided energy and hustle, grabbing 3.6 rebounds per game in 17 minutes of play. Like Hale, if Hess has a future in the NBA, it would likely be as a three-point specialist. Grade: C+

  • Melvin Sanders (PPG: 5.6, RPG: 1.6, APG: 0.4, EFF: +3.0): Sanders had one really nice showing in Game 2, shot a nice percentage from three in Game 4, and mostly laid an egg in the other three games. Game 5 was particularly sub-par, where he shot 0-6, and contributed a line of zeros other than five fouls and two rebounds in his only start of the summer league. In short: better luck next time. Grade: D

  • Pape Sow (PPG: 5.4, RPG: 6.2, APG: 0.8, EFF: +7.0): I'm not sure whether to cut Sow a break for having to recover from a fractured vertebrae a year ago, or whether to skewer him for utterly failing to be the "Most Likely to Challenge DJ For That Last Roster Spot" guy I expected him to be. Let's just say that at 6'10" with some actual NBA experience under his belt, I wasn't expecting Sow to be so thoroughly shown up by Otis George. Maybe I'm being unfair, but I wanted more. Grade: C-

  • Terrell Everett (PPG: 3.4, RPG: 1.6, APG: 2.0, EFF: +4.0): Everett had the highest overall shooting percentage of anyone on the team other than Marcus Banks' one game. The problem is, he only took twelve shots the entire five games. In fact, he seemed largely invisible to me. Perhaps I was just spending too much time watching DJ Strawberry, but I hardly noticed when Everett was on the floor for some reason. He did only average 13 minutes, so it's probably not a fair test, but it just didn't seem like he made much of an impact. Grade: C-

  • Marcus Banks: Banks had the game of his life in the first outing, shooting 68% from the field, 80% from three, and making 86% of his free throws in route to setting a summer league scoring record with 42 points. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait for the season to start to find out whether this game signified a breakthrough for Banks, or was merely a one-time deal. A shoulder injury forced him to miss the remaining four games. As for the one game he did play, a few people have pointed out that while Banks had an amazing individual night, his team still lost a la Kobe Bryant. However, I don't think this is a valid comparison because (a) Banks was so on fire he would have been negligent not to keep shooting, and (b) it isn't like he didn't try to get teammates the ball, they just weren't making shots when he did so. But still, one game is not enough to give an accurate reading, and in fact, I have mostly taken Banks out of the equation when coming up with the "curve" for handing out my grades for the other players. In short, I don't think we can say yet whether Banks has truly turned the corner, or if this game was just a spike on the radar. Grade: Incomplete

  • Everyone Else: In the interest of not being up all night writing this, I am going to group all the guys who averaged less than 10 minutes per game into a single bullet item. This would include Cameron Bennerman, Eric Williams, and Michael Bradley. Of these, Eric Williams came closest to showing signs of promise. He wasn't on the floor much, but when he was, he hustled, and had a lot more mobility than his size would seem to indicate. By contrast, Michael Bradley may be the biggest bust on the team, mainly because there was talk in AZCentral about him maybe being a candidate (along with Pape Sow) to land an invitation to training camp. It's probably safe to say that's not happening, given that Bradley's appearance was limited to two sub-par showings in the first two games. I may feel bad about this later if I find out he had an injury or something, but barring that, I'd say he's the only one on the team who outright deserves an F. Bennerman, at under eight minutes per game didn't get enough playing time for me to make a judgement one way or the other. Grades: C for Williams, F for Bradley, Incomplete for Bennerman
As I said in yesterday's game thread, it's been a lot of fun watching these young players give the kind of effort one might expect from guys hoping to land a spot on an NBA roster. While the result wasn't always beautiful basketball, the intensity was somewhat similar to that in the playoffs, where every possession has meaning, and players try to scramble their way to every loose ball and rebound. I never thought I would say this a week ago, but I'm going to miss this--at least until the regular season starts in October.