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Center of the Sun: Phoenix Suns finish 2-4 in Summer League and the off-season questions are just beginning

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The Fantable discusses questions about the Suns' small forward position... TJ Warren or Josh Jackson?

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

Phoenix Suns vs Houston Rockets L (99-94) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Utah Jazz W (97-81) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Memphis Grizzlies L (102-98) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Sacramento Kings L (93-87) Full Recap (by NBA.com)

Well, the Suns bowed out of Summer League early this year with a 2-4 record but they left us with some good (and a few bad) feelings about our rookies and 2nd year players. Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender and Davon Reed all impressed me as did Mike James to a certain degree. I think that Jackson, Bender and Reed will all contribute significantly to the Suns this season.

Mike James could contribute too but I think that he's going to be pretty far down in the Suns' guard rotation to play a significant role unless there are injuries or trades during the off-season. Yeah, I know that there are more than a few fans that don't like James but I doubt that he would be playing many minutes when (and if) he gets into a game but he can score and could be a useful player off the bench at some point.

Marquese Chriss was something of a disappointment but I temper my feeling about his summer league performance by reminding myself that he was not only playing out of position at center but also trying to take on the role of one of the primary scorers in SL. And I wonder if much of the extra weight he was carrying wasn't due to some misguided attempt to "bulk up" quickly because he knew he was going to be playing mostly center in Vegas. Who knows but if he shows up at training camp without the extra weight (or has turned it into muscle) I won't worry about it or the other problems because he will be returning to his more familiar role with the team where he won't have any added pressure of trying to do more than he's comfortable with on the court.

I was kind of neutral in my feelings about Derrick Jones Jr. He didn't play badly but he didn't really impress me either.

As for the rest of the Suns summer League team, there were a couple of guys that I thought might be good players for the NAZ but no one that impressed me enough to get a training camp invitation.

And now for some comments on Summer League from a few of our Fantable members.

GuarGuar: Game 3 against Houston was much better effort wise than Dallas. Chriss had his best SL game in this one with a stat line around 25-9. He was very active I just wished he played like that throughout the entire Summer League.

Game 4: Josh Jackson was very very impressive vs the Jazz. To post a 21-15 stat line as a Small Forward regardless the league is outstanding. The monster blocks he had too just showed the defensive versatility he brings to this team. Bender had a great 1st half in this one too.

Game 5: This was the loss to Memphis but to me it didn't feel like it was a loss at all. This was the game we were waiting so long for from Dragan Bender. He played so aggressive throughout especially after Chriss went down injured. Dragan showed off why he was drafted at #4 last year. Hopefully he can build off it during the summer and heading into next season.

Sun-Arc: After three games I would say I'm impressed with Jackson and Reed, who have lived up to my respectively high expectations. I think Jackson is a lot of what we need. What I wish is that his energy was affecting the other guys more. Chriss has not taken as large of a leap as I would have liked to see, and is not feeding off of JJ's hustle as I hoped. Bender has taken a healthy leap but still has a long way to go. DJJ has disappointed me so far. But what really disappoints me the most is they aren't playing as much like a team as their opponents, particularly in game 2 - and that they foul and turn the ball over like crazy. Those were major issues last season and tells me it likely will be a problem again this coming season.

SouthernSun: Jackson - I didn't think I could get more excited for Jackson than I already was, but I definitely did. He looks absolutely fantastic. As I mentioned last week, his defense is as advertised. That block and stare down was the best Suns highlight since Booker's 70 point game. He looks like an absolute monster on that end. On offense, he actually surprised me a little. His handle is even better than I was expecting. I was expecting good playmaking, good finishing at the rim, and below average shooting, with a decent handle. His handles are very, very good for a 6'8 SF. Almost guard-like. He put a couple of defenders on skates. The shot is a work in progress.

Bender - Bender exploded in his last couple of games. I didn't get a chance to watch the game on Friday night, but the two previous to that were fantastic. Granted, his 3 looked a little off, but everything else was great. He showed his playmaking abilities a couple of times. Great passes that only a 7 footer like him could even see to make. I hope he's able to translate that from summer league to actual games this season. I really want to get excited about him, and those two games are the first things I've seen that really did it for me.

James - Mike James is an assassin. He belongs in the NBA. If we didn't already have Ulis, I would be pushing for him to be the primary backup to Bledsoe. Great injury insurance for the Suns.

Chriss - I was absolutely mortified when Chriss went down. Luckily it's just a sprain, or so it has been reported. He wasn't really looking all that great in the last game, but that's alright. He's the only guy on the summer league team that has already proved he can really play against legitimate NBA caliber players. He hasn't shot it well in summer league, but he also isn't used to being a top option on offense. Last season he averaged 45% from the field and 32% from 3, which is perfectly fine for a rookie. I think the weight is also messing with him a little bit, making things a little awkward for him. He'll look a lot better in a couple months once he gets down to his playing weight.

Reed - What can I say about Reed that hasn't already been said? The man has been a revelation. It seems like every time I'm watching him he picks up his man at halfcourt and hounds him mercilessly. He, Jackson, and Bender are going to be fun to watch on the defensive end, and I'm not even a guy who really likes watching defense all that much. But this is the fun kind. Suns had 11 blocks the other night. It was a beautiful thing to watch.

Summer League Stats

Josh Jackson - 17.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.2 spg, 1.0 bpg, 2.8 TOpg

Marquese Chriss - 14.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.8 spg, 1.0 bpg, 4.6 TOpg

Mike James - 20.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 5.0 apg, 1.8 spg, 3.0 TOpg

Davon Reed - 14.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.3 bpg, 2.0 TOpg

Dragan Bender - 14.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.4 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.2 bpg, 2.2 TOpg

Derrick Jones Jr - 7.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.8 bpg, 1.2 TOpg

Shaquille Harrison - 10.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 2.0 spg, 0.3 bpg, 1.7 TOpg

Chris Obekpa - 1.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.5 apg, 1.2 spg, 2.2 bpg, 1.0 TOpg

Christian Wood - 2.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 0.3 spg, 1.0 TOpg

Joe Jackson - 1.0 ppg, 0.3 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.3 spg, 1.0 TOpg

All players listed played in at least three SL games. Six other players played limited minutes in only one of the six SL games and were not included here.

Stats courtesy of RealGM.com

Summer League Highlights

Josh Jackson

Dragan Bender

Davon Reed

Warren or Jackson?

That is a question on the minds of many Suns fans. With that in mind I've asked three questions of our Fantable regarding the future of the Suns' small forward position.

1. A lot of fans think that Josh Jackson should be the Suns' starting SF from Day 1. What do you think?

GuarGuar: I am totally on board with Josh Jackson being our starting SF from Day 1. We all know eventually Josh will start for us so why should we prolong it? I feel bad for TJ because his entire career he battled with PJ for the starting job and now has to deal with Josh. However, TJ hasn't proved enough in 3 years that he can be our starting SF on a future winning team. We need defense badly in the starting lineup and that is what Josh brings.

Sun-Arc: I am still a big fan of TJ and think a lot of Suns fans underrate him. I also feel he can and will continue to improve and is an important part of the core moving forward. Having said that, I think JJ should be starting over TJ because of fit alongside Booker and Chriss. But also because of TJ's fit next to Ulis and Reed off the bench. I actually think this may actually happen even in the first regular season game because Watson will see the fit, much like how he pushed Knight to the bench. With how Jackson creates his own shot in Summer League so far, you can see how much pressure this could take off of Bled and Book, and how much pressure it will put on opposing teams on defense. It really should happen, though maybe not game #1.

SDKyle: I'm ok with either decision at this point. Jackson will be the starter at some point in the near future, but I have no problem if he's forced to earn it with good play off the bench first. Ultimately I think Watson should make the call based on what he thinks will make the Suns a more competitive team, not on the politics of starting a fairly average player over a highly-touted #4 draft pick.

SouthernSun: I would like Josh Jackson to start from day one. Do I think it's realistic that he does? No. I assume Warren will have the starting gig until Jackson proves himself to be the better player. This might happen early in the season, halfway through the season, or next summer at training camp. But it will eventually happen. If I had to guess the minutes allocation between the two at the SF spot, I would say that Josh will probably play almost all of his minutes there, whereas Warren will probably get some time as a small ball 4 in a lot of games. I think they will both end up playing similar minutes overall though. Jackson -24 minutes at SF. Warren - 24 minutes at SF and 4 to 6 minutes at PF.

2. If/when Jackson does move into the starting lineup, is TJ Warren expendable (ie - trade bait) or could he become the sixth man scorer that the Suns had hoped Brandon Knight would be?

GuarGuar: If TJ can be sold on being a 6th man, unlike Knight I truly believe he can be one of the best in the league. The role just fits his skill set so well. Playing with Ulis would be a huge bump for him too as the ball would find his hands a lot more on backdoor cuts, off-ball movement, etc. If he doesn't except the role we might be forced to deal him out.

Sun-Arc: TJ should absolutely not be expendable. Any 3rd year player that is a threat to put up over 20 points in any game should not be be discarded. And TJ has improved in several areas over his career, most notably rebounding (8 per 36), WS (4.1) and per 36 scoring (17 ppg). He thrives next to Ulis, who knows how to hit him on his cuts. Ulis, Reed, and Bender are great complimentary players alongside him, as is Dudz if he's still around. To have a high scorer like that off the bench is important for a team's success, and I think he can handle that focus. Honestly, I think both he and the team could really thrive in this role.

SDKyle: I like TJ Warren off the bench long-term, and I see no reason not to keep him around unless he just can't stay healthy. I wouldn't be heartbroken if we dealt him, but I think his scoring ability is worth more to the Suns than whatever role player or late first round pick he could command in a trade.

SouthernSun: I like the idea of Warren off the bench as the primary scoring option of the 2nd unit once Jackson takes the starting spot. However, I think that eventually, if he stays healthy and is able to continue to up his value, Warren could be a valuable trade piece in the future. At some point we may want to attempt to consolidate some of our average/above average talent into great talent, and Warren seems like one of the most likely pieces of that hypothetical future trade.

3. Warren is in the last year of his rookie contract. I think that the Suns should offer him a reasonable contract extension instead of letting him become a restricted free agent next summer. What is your opinion and what do you think a "reasonable" offer would be?

GuarGuar: I am all for extending TJ if we come out front and tell him his future role will be the 6th man. If he says he is totally fine with that role than we should work on an extension ASAP. I think a 4 years 50 million dollar deal would be fair. TJ obviously is not deserving of a max nor deserving of less than 10 million a year. Somewhere in the middle is probably the most "reasonable" offer.

Sun-Arc: What is a reasonable salary may change depending on the cap and how he performs this season. I could see anything from $8-16m/yr for him if we don't extend him now. What would he take is the question. If we could extend him for $9-11m/season this summer it might be a very wise move. That is around 10% of next season's cap, which seems quite fair for Warren- particularly with a lack of offers for Len currently. If he does keep improving it would be a very movable contract too, which could be important with all the other extensions looming on the horizon. I think keeping him as part of our core is also a good move for team (and fan) morale and consistency.

SDKyle: I agree that the Suns should make a reasonable effort to retain Warren, and my definition of that would be something in the $10-$12 million per year range. Such a deal is arguably a bargain going forward if Warren succeeds in becoming the Suns' ace 6th man scorer, and wouldn't be impossible to move in the event that the franchise goes a different direction. I know some Brightsiders are anxious that TJ might be worth $15 million or more in free agency and therefore hard to keep. While I personally doubt that barring a huge year from him, it's all the more reason to make him a decent but sane offer now.

SouthernSun: Warren cannot be one of the guys we spend big on. If one is to assume that Booker, Bender, Jackson, and Chriss will all be getting sizable deals (with Booker's and Jackson's being the largest), then some of your players are either going to have to go, or be on below market deals. If Warren basically shows himself to be the same player next season as he was this season (which wasn't bad by any means), I think you look at giving him maybe a 4 year/40 million extension. Could he get more from somebody else in free agency? Probably, but it's not assured. This is sort of a meet in the middle deal I believe. A little on the low end perhaps, but it gets him locked up for 4 years of guaranteed money.

Once again many thanks to our Fantable... GuarGuar, Sun-Arc, SDKyle and SouthernSun!

Quote of the Week

“He’s been tremendous. He’s just going to continue to get better as he continues to pick up our schemes that we want to do. He’s such a versatile player that he picks up things so quick.” - Suns summer-league coach Marlon Garnett on Josh Jackson

News & Notes

Suns’ Dragan Bender shows skill off the dribble at end of Summer League. Kellan Olson/Arizona Sports

Now is Not the Time to Forget About Dragan Bender. Vice Sports

Josh Jackson stars for Phoenix Suns in Vegas. AZCentral

Phoenix Suns: 5 takeaways from 2017 NBA Summer League. Gerald Bourguet/Hoops Habit

NBA Saturday: Jackson Finding His Way in Summer League. Basketball Insiders

Detroit's Josh Jackson: Performance - not the hype - is what matters with Phoenix Suns. Detroit Free Press

ESPO: Suns Have 4 Questions Left to Answer. Greg Esposito/Sports 360 AZ

NBA To Move Up 2017/18 Trade Deadline. HoopsRumors

Suns History in Video

Dan Majerle scores 34 points and hits 8 three pointers against Seatlle during 1993 playoff game.

Suns Trivia

Dan Majerle ranks 10th in the list of all-time leading scorers for the Suns with 8,034 points. He ranks 2nd in three point shots made (800), 9th in rebounds (2,823), 10th in assists (1,862), 5th in steals (811) and 14th in blocks (258). Thunder Dan also ranks 1st in career three pointers made in the playoffs for the Suns with 115.

Statistics courtesy of Land of Basketball.com.

Previewing the Weeks/Months Ahead

August 31: Last day teams may waive players and apply the stretch provision to their 2017/18 salaries.

Sept. 5: Deadline to sign second-round draft picks (picks become free agents if not given a required tender)

Last Week's Poll Results

The question was, "Do you think it is possible that this Suns team could shock everyone this season as the 2013-14 team did?" The results were:

17% - Anything is possible!

52% - Maybe but not likely.

31% - Not a chance.

There were a total of 152 votes cast.

This week's poll is...

Poll

Who should start for the Suns at small forward at the beginning of the season?

This poll is closed

  • 39%
    TJ Warren. It's his job until Jackson proves he's better.
    (216 votes)
  • 41%
    Josh Jackson. He's the Suns' SF of the future so put him in the starting lineup ASAP.
    (227 votes)
  • 19%
    It's too early to say. I'll wait until after watching the pre-season games to decide.
    (105 votes)
548 votes total Vote Now