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Quick Recap: Suns lose in opening round of Summer League tournament, 88-86, but there were many bright spots

Even though Phoenix dropped their first game in Summer League, there were some pluses to takeaway from it.

NBA: Summer League-Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Squaring off against the worst seed in Las Vegas to open begin Summer League bracket play, I expected Phoenix once more to roll over Philadelphia. However, that wasn’t the case.

From the beginning, both the Suns and 76ers went back-and-forth throughout, which ended in a two-point loss for Phoenix. Igor Kokoskov ran his final play off the made free throw from Askia Booker, but Mikal Bridges wasn’t able to handle it before time expired.

Instead of labeling these as “Good” and “Bad”, I’m going with a new name. It’s “Thumbs Up” and “Thumbs Down” for now on. With that being said, lets see what the instant grades were from the Summer Suns’ fourth game.

Thumbs Up: Shaquille Harrison was by far the biggest winner from Thursday’s contest. In 31 minutes, Harrison tallied up 17 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals on 6-14 shooting. Not only that, but he was taking over in the fourth quarter helping Phoenix nearly pull off the 10-point comeback. Possession after possession, Harrison was driving to the rack constantly while pressing Philadelphia’s guards for 94 feet.

Harrison is still struggling with playmaking, as far as feeding Deandre Ayton consistent looks via post entry passes, but he was looking good elsewhere on drive-and-dish opportunities.

So far in Summer League, Harrison is proving not only belongs with the Suns but on a lot of NBA rosters with his two-way tenacity. At this point, I think it would be an upset to see Harrison not on Phoenix’s opening night roster as the main backup point guard to Brandon Knight. Harrison brings so many tools to the table that you can’t show on the box score, but his defense alone nearly won Phoenix another one like he has already this week.

Thumbs Up: Even though the perimeter shots weren’t falling for Davon Reed, he made up for it like Harrison by constantly blowing by his defender forcing easy free throw attempts. Reed ended up going to the line finishing 7-9 while also showing off his defense deflecting multiple passes out of bounds. The active hands Reed showed off at Miami (FL) and the little he played last season continue to show itself for Phoenix’s front office, which is treating this as an evaluation period for him after pushing back his guarantee date past Summer League.

So far in Vegas, Reed is averaging 14 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1 steal while shooting 47.4% on 3s. It would be a massive understatement to say it would be a terrible move by the Suns’ front office to let Reed go after his performance so far.

Unfortunately Reed wasn’t able to show off his two-way profile last year due to his meniscus tear, but he fits like a glove into the defensive system and attitude head coach Igor Kokosokv is trying to build. Keeping Troy Daniels over Reed would be a head-scratching move, that’s for sure.

Thumbs Down: Unfortunately for Ayton, he lands in the negative spectrum of today’s grades. He was having consistent issues going against Cameron Oliver and Philadelphia’s defenders were able to easily swipe the ball away from Ayton post-ups on multiple occasions, four to be exact (six total turnovers). Also, Ayton fumbled away three different dump offs next to the rim.

By far, this was the worst outing for Ayton so far. He was struggling against switching out onto the perimeter, where Isaiah Miles was able to pick them apart in these situations going 5-6 on 3s himself.

Another area that will need to be drilled into Ayton is his aggressiveness in calling for the ball on the block. That wasn’t happening much, but, as mentioned, Phoenix’s guards are still unable to feed him with looks to capitalize off of.

In the Summer Suns’ final game against either San Antonio or Milwaukee, I hope to see Ayton become the focal point of the offense. We haven’t seen it yet from Kokoskov, but maybe they bring it out as a sneak peek before exiting the action up in Las Vegas.

Thumbs Up: Dragan Bender, at least on Thursday night, looked like the game was slowing down for him. Even though it won’t show on the box score, Bender was consistently staying with Philadelphia’s guards off switches and they were unable to take advantage on most of them.

As ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla was pointing out on the broadcast, Bender looked as if he wasn’t overthinking things like he usually does. No hesitation at all on catch-and-shoot opportunities, which Kokoskov wants to make even more of a staple of Bender’s game. And with the wide-open space shooters see in the motion heavy system he rolls out, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Bender get close to 40% from deep this coming season.

After his awful showing in the first two showings for the Summer Suns, Bender has bounced back to the tune of averaging 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 50% from deep (5-10) versus Orlando and Philadelphia.

Nothing flashy or dominant is coming from Bender, which should be what we come to expect at this point, but he’s at least producing at a respectable level in the role he’s being utilized in.

Maybe I’m higher than most on the aspects of Bender long term, but letting him develop alongside Ayton could do wonders for him. With that blend of size and foot speed from both of them, they are the ideal inside-out frontcourt combo in today’s NBA. Both are only 20-years-old, so let them mature together and that could turn into a formidable duo a few years down the line.

Players like Mikal Bridges (4 steals and 2 blocks) and George King (9 points in 12 minutes) also had notable performances, which is another good look for the Suns’ rookie class. Bridges had an amazing sequence in the first half that saw him have a chase-down block, then the next time down he was found in his corner hot spot hitting the three-pointer.

Even though it’s only their first loss in Summer League, the Suns now enter the consolation bracket before they head back to Phoenix and await training camp starting up in September.

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