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Tyler Ulis working to recreate ‘special’ synergy with other bigs in Alan Williams’ absence

Phoenix’s second unit point guard is looking to compensate for Big Sauce’s season-ending knee injury.

NBA: Preseason-Brisbane Bullets at Phoenix Suns Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

When it was announced in September that backup center and fan favorite Alan Williams was likely lost for the entire 2017-2018 season with a torn meniscus, it was a big blow to Phoenix, who had just rewarded him with a 3-year extension. However, the person most impacted, at least on the court, is Tyler Ulis.

Entering his second season, Ulis will have to make magic happen with other bigs on the roster this time around. Last season, it was obvious early on the synergy between Ulis and Williams was immediately there. Especially in pick-and-roll, that’s where the former Kentucky point guard is at his best setting up plays inside for their forwards.

Ulis will have to work on finding his new favorite PnR partner through the early portion of this year, and luckily the Suns have players such as Chriss, Chandler, Dragan Bender, and Alex Len to experiment with.

“Just whoever I’m working with in {pick-and-roll} situation,” Ulis said of finding that new go-to partner. “Whether it’s Quese or Tyson, just have to come up with something. The type of chemistry me and (Williams) had, something we had was kind of special so we just have to work on it and get better each day.”

University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari recently said that he believes Ulis could be a starting point guard right now somewhere in the NBA. And that opportunity has a chance of presenting itself here in Phoenix depending on how actively they are looking to sell high on Eric Bledsoe.

During his two seasons under Calipari in Lexington, Ulis’ all-around game grew, and during his final year, he allowed his point guard to fully operate the offense himself. It wasn’t Calipari calling the plays or sets, it was actually Ulis.

"He could start in this league, but if you want to win 60-65 games, you want to get in those big numbers, if he's your second unit point guard, you're going to have your team wanting to play with him and you'll eventually have to put him in that starting lineup,” Calipari said. “Everybody wants to play with him, and the reason is he makes the game easier for everybody. And then they look at him defensively, and he won't back up."

When I asked Ulis after practice Tuesday about Calipari’s comments, as far as controlling the offense and hitting players at the exact right moment, he mentioned it’s always been in his basketball DNA to be unselfish.

“It’s just something that I’ve always played with,” Ulis said. “I’ve always been an unselfish player. That’s why me and (Devin Booker) clicked early. I like to get my players involved. Just run the point guard the way it’s supposed to be.”

Ulis’ thoughts on faster small ball

Heading into Wednesday’s season opener, head coach Earl Watson has been preaching structure and pushing the pace even more. Last year, the Suns finished second in total pace and now they want to see if adding in Josh Jackson will add some more horsepower in that category.

Throughout the preseason, we have seen Phoenix roll out plenty of lineup variations. At points, Ulis has played alongside Bledsoe and Mike James, each time controlling the offense.

In Tuesday’s practice, James, wearing an alternate purple jersey, was at the point while Ulis played off-ball. It didn’t matter, though, because Ulis was the one who stood out as far as scoring. He went right by Booker for a layup, finished through Jackson once, and even sized up Bender and drew a foul going to the rim.

Is Ulis a fan of small ball? Indeed he is and added that the overall team speed on this roster believes it makes it an advantage for them.

“It’s a lot of fun because with two point guards on the floor you can play a lot faster, push the ball up the court,” Ulis said. “It gives you a lot more options offensively. Defensively, being smaller guards, we can harass guys and basically just go out there and play and have fun and be free.”

After six months without regular season basketball in the Valley, it will be back tomorrow night and we shall see if these Run-N-Gun Suns are legit. Even though many in and around Phoenix do not see immediate success coming, this team has full-on belief in themselves to be that league-wide surprise.

“I feel like we always have a dog mentality, we have a chip on our shoulder. We’re young,” Ulis said of this team’s overall mentality heading into Wednesday’s opener. “Guys don’t think we can win, so we’ll come out and prove everybody wrong. Just make sure to punch everyone in the mouth first.”

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