Its that time of year again: SUMMER LEAGUE!
For the first time in a number of years, the Suns come into the Summer with a unique problem: who will play for the Summer Suns.
Mainstays Devin Booker and Alan Williams likely won’t play. Tyler Ulis is recovering from ankle surgery. Its possible that the Suns keep Dragan Bender out as well, though the recovery from his bone spur removal procedure should be well over by this point.
Josh Jackson and Davon Reed are both likely to participate. Alec Peters is a little more of a question mark; he had surgery in March to repair a stress fracture in his foot that required the use of pins, and has not been able to work out for some time.
Among returning players, only Marquese Chriss and Derrick Jones Jr. seem like sure things to play. And given Chriss’ breakout season, it wouldn’t even be surprising if he didn’t participate.
The Suns, then, have a number of holes to fill on the Summer League roster. They started that process yesterday, signing Darion Atkins, a 24 year old PF/C who played collegiately for Virginia. He played last in Israel.
The Suns largely seem to have skipped the undrafted free agent market: top guys like Luke Kornet, Malcolm Hill and Antonius Cleveland have all signed elsewhere.
That is not to say there aren’t options remaining, however. There are players still available in all three of the tiers from which Summer League players are drawn: undrafted free agents, the G League, and overseas leagues.
As a reminder, given roster expansion this year the Suns will likely be using their Summer League roster to explore options for the two way contracts to fill the 16th and 17th roster spots. For more on this new wrinkle in the NBA, see this fine synopsis by Chris Reichert.
Note: this is just a rundown of players that are available to the Suns. It is not an exhaustive list. You will absolutely, definitely see many players on the Summer Suns I have not covered here.
Undrafted Free Agents
Not all the good undrafted free agent talent is gone. Prime on my leftovers list is Ishmail Wainright out of Baylor. Wainright is built like a tank: 6’6 with a 7’2 wingspan, 240 lbs., but deceptively quick. He has the potential to be an elite defender, capable of guarding all five positions.
Derek Willis out of Kentucky is another option. Willis was the rare four year player at Kentucky, largely because he was never good enough to consistently crack the rotation. But remember: that rotation was STACKED with NBA players. At 6’9, and a career 40% shot from beyond the arc, he has the potential to stick as a fringe rotation shooter. He is playing in Orlando with Detroit, but remains unsigned for Las Vegas. He also should be well known to the many former Wildcats on our roster.
Justin Tuoyo out of Chattanooga is another option. An undersized center at 6’9, Tuoyo was a three year starter in college, where he averaged 13 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks on high efficiency. Statistical models love him; scouts seem concerned about his ability to translate his production in the NBA.
Sidy Djitte, the 6’10 center out of Clemson is also still available. Djitte was a bit of a late bloomer in college, only becoming a starter in his senior season. He is an athletic center, noted for his offensive rebounding and ability to defend the pick and roll. He averaged 6 points and 8 rebounds per contest.
The Summer Suns are notably thin at point guard, and one option from the undrafted ranks is Dewayne Russell, a Peoria native who played college ball at Grand Canyon. Russell is undersized, but has a fairly developed shot and is a good distributor: he averaged 5.5 assists per game his senior season. He probably doesn’t have a shot to make an NBA roster, but he would be a fun addition.
In the international undrafted ranks, I previously mentioned both Lucas Dias Silva (6’9 F, Brazil) and Michael Fusek (7’5 C, Slovakia) as options. Neither has been signed, and both would be long term development projects. Fusek has the better likelihood of sticking, because a) he’s 7’5, and b) he actually moves really well for his size.
G League Free Agents
There are also some really interesting options from the ranks of the G League.
In my mind the most interesting prospect is Will Davis II, who played last season with Reno and played in college for UC Davis. Davis played in the Greek Leagues in 2015-16, where he was very solid. For Reno, he averaged 10 points, 4 boards and a block in 18 minutes per game, and shot 61% from the field. He’s an undersized, small ball 5. In college he had a friendly rivalry against Alan Williams.
Another interesting player (though not really a prospect any more) would be Keith Benson. A journeyman center, Benson has been a Summer League regular, participating in every tournament since 2012. Across all the tournaments he has averaged 9 points, 5 rebounds and a block in 18 minutes per game. He has also 4 times been on a training camp roster, most recently with Miami. He seems a player who is always the bridesmaid, but never the bride.
Cat Barber, who played for NC State before leaving early last season and going undrafted, had a strong year in the G League. He averaged 16 points, 3 rebounds and 4.5 assists on decent shooting. Defense and turnovers were both issues for Barber, but can probably be overlooked for a Summer League invite.
If Earl Watson is looking for a Ronnie Price replacement, one option would be NBA journeyman Sundiata Gaines, a three year NBA vet who was pretty strong for the Salt Lake City Stars last season. Gaines has a ton of experience across the NBA, G League and overseas leagues (China, Israel, Turkey, Venezuela, Italy). At 31 he could provide some veteran leadership in the locker room, and Summer League might provide an opportunity to test him out.
Finally, there is the option of sticking with players from the NAZ Suns. Only Josh Gray (PG), who averaged 13.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game has any realistic shot of making it on to an NBA roster. In a very brief stint with the club Joe Jackson (PG), who you may remember from training camp 2014, looked good. Michael Bryson (SG), who played for the Summer Suns last year, ended the season inactive, but could bring a shooter to the team (he shot 38% last season).
If the Suns wanted to go back to an older pick, Alec Brown is a free agent. Brown was quite good in the G League last season for the Windy City Bulls - he averaged 11 points, 2 blocks and 5 rebounds per contest while shooting 48/36/81. He then moved on to the Spanish ACB, where in 6 games he went on an absolute tear - 14 points per game on 66/64/69% splits.
Tons of potential NBA caliber players are playing overseas any given year. There are all sorts of reasons guys stay in other leagues: sometimes it is more money (especially in China). Sometimes it is playing time. Sometimes players just want the life experiences playing in other leagues can bring.
I’ll approach these guys a little more haphazardly: most are true long shots, but at the same time most have appeared in Summer League in the past. I’ll highlight a few players in each of the major overseas leagues.
Adriatic Basketball Association
There are three guys are think deserve some attention in the Adriatic League. First, a note: the ABA is chalk full of players who’s draft rights are controlled by NBA teams (or soon to be!). So most of the top tier talent is already accounted for.
Two domestic players who went undrafted in recent years have been playing well since their respective automatic eligibility seasons. The first is Jovan Novak, a 6’2 PG who plays for the well known Mega Leks club. On a team full of NBA drafted talent (3 of his teammates were drafted), Novak was still good: in 26 minutes per game, he averaged 10 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds. He shot poorly overall, but almost 37% from beyond the arc. At not yet 23, he could be worth a stab.
The other option is Gregor Hrovat (no relation, I believe, to our own East Bay Ray), a 23 year old 6’5 SG playing for Union Olimpija. Hrovat averaged 11 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals in ABA play, and had a strong showing in the Eurocup. He isn’t a great athlete or shooter from range, but he is adequate and still quite young.
One American playing in the ABA deserves special note: Charles Jenkins. You may remember Jenkins from a two year stint he spent with Golden State in 2011-13. Jenkins has developed into an ABA star, guiding his team Crvena Zvezda to strong showings in both the ABA and the EuroLeague. Last season across the domestic league, the ABA and the EuroLeague, Jenkins averaged 10 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals per game, on a 46/46/82% shooting split. He is just 28, and is likely worthy of another NBA shot.
Chinese Basketball Association
The CBA is largely filled with guys who have seen their NBA careers come and go. While there are a number of NBA journeyman who could probably suit up for a team, they aren’t likely going to come over for Summer League. There are two exceptions, however.
The first is Feng Xin. A 25 year old PG, Xin stands out for largely being able to compete with the American imports in the league. Last season he averaged 9 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds and shot the ball relatively well. In a league where he is competing against guys like Jimmer Fredette, Lester Hudson, Pooh Jeter and Dwight Buyks, those numbers aren’t too bad.
The second player is Jamaal Franklin, who is probably more well known to many of you. The SDSU product and Phoenix native spent two years in the NBA before becoming an international journeyman. He landed in China, and bow did he have a breakout season. Franklin averaged a triple double in 2015-16 (35 points, 11 assists, 11 rebounds) before coming down to a more pedestrian 34-9-10 this past season. Oh, and he averaged 3 steals per contest both years. Franklin is an NBA caliber talent - its only a matter of time before he gets another shot.
Belgium Scooore League
The BSL has quietly become a very solid league in recent years. An increasingly large amount of undrafted American talent has filtered into the league, increasing the level of competition.
One of those Americans is Codi Miller-McIntyre (PG), who played in college for Wake Forest and now plays for the Stella Artois Leuven Bears. Last season Miller-McIntyre was solid, averaging 17 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and two steals. He’s a below average shooter from deep, but otherwise might be worth a flyer.
The other player is the darling of Northern Iowa, Seth Tuttle. After playing sparingly in Summer League 2016, Tuttle settled in the BSL playing for Limburg United. He averaged 14 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists on solid shooting, though he shot just 30% from three. The concerns about his athleticism remain, but he could be an interesting point forward for a team that lacks a definitive point guard.
The ACB is pretty unarguably the second best professional league in the world. Players who perform highly in this league, even in more limited roles, are very likely to be able to compete in the NBA.
One player who excelled in a limited role last season in the ACB was University of Arizona alum Kyle Fogg. An undersized 2 guard, Fogg was a bench shooter for Unicaja Malaga last season. Playing behind Nemanja Nedovic (who is also available!), Fogg shot the heck out of the ball, shooting 44% across 37 games in the ACB and 42% across 21 games in the EuroCup. Fogg has participated in the Summer League before, and could be back.
Shayne Whittington is a (probably mostly unknown) NBA veteran who played two seasons with the Indiana Pacers. The 6’11 C from Paw Paw, Michigan became a stretch big after landing in the ACB - he shot 45% from three on good volume (2.7 per game) on route to averaging 12 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
Finally, the Summer Suns could bring back fan favorite Mickey McConnell, who played a ton of minutes with the team in the 2015 Summer League. McConnell had a good season in Spain, averaging 11 points and 6.5 assists, though his shooting numbers were subpar. He would be a fun throwback player, and may be worthy of a two-way contract depending on whether he would actually take it (he almost certainly makes more in Spain, where he is a starter).
The Turkish league has produced some of the highest quality teams in the world outside the United States. This year’s winner of the EuroLeague, Fenerbahce, plays in the BSL, along with the well known Anadolu Efes. Three Americans may be worth looking at for a Summer League spot.
The first is Tyler Honeycutt, the former UCLA star some of you may remember. Despite the fact that he came out in the 2011 NBA Draft, Honeycutt is still just 27 years old. After spending two seasons with Sacramento, Honeycutt has bounced around, playing in Russia and Israel before landing in Turkey. Honeycutt has developed into a defensive enforcer, and while he doesn’t start, he plays more than half of the game. He may have the potential of being a new P.J. Tucker type, and is probably worth a flyer.
Anthony Gill (F) is another option. He played with Darion Atkins for Virginia, though he is a year younger. In Turkey last year Gill developed a bit of a three point shot while averaging 14 points and 7 assists. He was an undervalued player in college, and may have the ability to contribute.
Finally, Scottie Wilbekin deserves mention here. A participant in each of the last 3 Summer League tournaments, the Florida product averaged 11 points, 3 assists, 1.5 steals and shot pretty well in EuroLeague play. I imagine he’ll be back somewhere, if not in Summer League than for a training camp.
German BBL/Greek HEBA A1/Italian Serie A
These leagues form the backbone of the EuroLeague and the EuroCup; while they don’t often produce the winners, the representatives from this league are tightly clustered in the middle. One player from each has looked pretty good this past season.
The first is Tim Ohlbrecht, a 6’10 C who played for the Houston Rockets in 2012. The German had a bit of a breakout year, being named a BBL All-Star Starter. He might be a bit of a stretch, as he seems unable to average more than 20 minutes per game.
Khem Birch, a 24 year old PF/C out of UNLV, is also a legitimate target. Birch played for Olympiacos in the Greek HEBA A1, a team that made the EuroLeague championship game. In EuroLeague play Birch averaged 7 points, 6 rebounds and a block on highly efficient shooting. He’s not the starter for the team, and could be looking to re-enter NBA circles after his strong season.
Finally, former Golden State backup PG Aaron Craft deserves a mention. Craft played in Italy last season, where he led his team to its first Finals appearance in club history. Craft started all 44 games on the season and he averaged 10 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals. He still struggles as a shooter, and is somewhat underathletic, but the former Ohio State star is a steady hand to run an offense.
An honorable mention here should be given to Rotnei Clarke. Though he played primarily in the Australian NBL, Clarke had a short stint in Italy and played really well. He’s going on 28, and likely isn’t good enough to make it in the NBA, but he’s a lights out 3 point shooter (well over 40% for his international career) and has some modest distributive skills.
Arguably the third best league in the world, the VTB United League brings together teams from the former Soviet Union, usually dominated by Russian teams. A lot of good undrafted players have ended up in this league over the years, including Patrick Beverley. The VTB also produces a ton of domestic talent.
One of those players is Artem Klimenko, a 23 year old 7’0 center from Russia. Klimenko entered the draft early in 2014, and went undrafted, though he was on the radar of a number teams. Klimenko only appeared in a handful of games this year, but looked good: he averaged 5 points and 3 rebounds in 11 minutes per game. He would be a developmental player, but could be worth a look.
An American who played well in the VTB last season was University of Arizona/University of San Francisco product Mark Tollefsen. The 6’9 stretch four was never seen as much of an NBA prospect, but he was surprisingly good in the VTB, averaging 11 points and 4 rebounds while shooting 47% from 3 (on 4 attempts per game, no less).
Another well-performing American import was Abdul Gaddy, the former University of Washington guard. Gaddy’s stats weren’t gaudy - he averaged just 5.5 points, 4.5 assists and 3 rebounds. But he showed some flashes of an ability to compete at a high level, and combined with his Husky pedigree it might be worth giving him a third opportunity to play in the Summer League, where in two previous appearances he was pretty good.