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Suns Summer League primer - Josh Jackson wants to prove something

Not only will Summer League give us our first glimpse at the young draft picks and early developmental signs from the likes of Josh Jackson and Dragan Bender, but these few games will also give us our first look at what Igor Kokoskov and his merry men will do with offensive schemes.

“It’s going to be really fun,” second year forward Josh Jackson said after their Wednesday practice. “We are just all really energetic. and we’re all competitors.”

“We have a lot of talent this year with the young guys, obviously with Deandre,” Dragan Bender said. “Just trying to figure out how we all blend together and try to prepare for next season.”

My favorite five-man grouping for the upcoming season, based on the current roster, is a vision of Devin Booker running point and Deandre Ayton in the middle, with Josh Jackson, Mikal Bridges and Trevor Ariza along the wings. I can see Booker, Jackson and Ayton creating gravity with the ball, sucking defenders off the wings a few steps at a time and then BAM there’s a kick out for a dagger three from Bridges or Ariza. Everyone in the lineup is a threat. If the defenders hug up on the wings, then Ayton, Booker and Jackson have even more room to operate. You can even sub in Bender for Ariza to get more length at the expense of a little wiggle, but still have that weak-side/corner three threat.

We will get our first glimpse of Kokoskov’s offense with four of those six guys in Summer League.

Could be very fun to watch if Kokoskov can get them passing and moving properly into space and scoring positions throughout the shot clock. Luckily, that’s exactly what Kokoskov is supposed to be good at.

On the Summer Suns roster, Elie Okobo will handle those playmaking duties while Davon Reed and George King will handle Ariza’s role, providing some of that same skillset as three-point shooters and defenders.

I know I’m ignoring lots of Suns players and even a few deserving SL players, but this article is just focusing on what I think is my favorite five-man grouping for 2018-19.

We don’t know a starting lineup yet for opening night of Summer League, but I’m expecting something like Okobo-Bridges-Jackson-Bender-Ayton. As the weekend goes along, and especially into the second week, I can see Ayton, Bender and Jackson all getting less playing time to avoid the chance of unnecessary injuries.

Players with interesting scenarios in game one.

Elie Okobo

We don’t know how Okobo will look running the offense, but he’s reportedly skilled at pick-and-roll, which should help Ayton and he’s aggressive so he will create gravity. Whether he’s got the vision to kick out is an unknown.

Summe League is a great place for Okobo to start. Without good defenses, Okobo will be able to use his aggression to get a lot of looks. We don’t know how controlled he will look, of course, but he will be noticed for sure. Remember how much we loves Archie Goodwin in his first summer league? Okobo might leave that same impression.

Josh Jackson

It’s almost like he has nothing to prove in SL, despite an up and down rookie year, but that doesn’t mean Jackson will look great in SL the way Booker looked great two summers ago. We will have to see how in-control Jackson appears, but I’d warn you not to fret if he seems out of control too.

He definitely wants to prove he’s better than those other guys.

“That’s the plan coming out,” he said. “I think that should be every second year player’s plan to come out here and show that they got better. I thought I did all right in Summer League last year, but obviously I want to come out and blow my last performance out of the water.”

Jackson was named to the All-Summer-League first team last summer with 17.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 steals and one block per game.

Expect him to try to dominate out of the chute, then be rested after the opening weekend is over.


This is Dragan’s third year in Summer League, but he’s not looking to dominate the way Josh Jackson will be.

Bender posted very good numbers last summer: 14.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists.

“Just try and compete,” Bender said of his plan this summer. “Try to be more aggressive with the ball, and try to work hard on defense. Try to be more aggressive towards the basket, shoot open shots and try to get more involved in the passing game.”

Bender is still only 20 years old, then youngest player on the Suns roster besides Deandre Ayton, even though he’s about to enter his third NBA campaign.

But he doesn’t want to dominate the way Josh Jackson does, or the way Devin Booker did two summers ago. Bender just wants to help the team win.


We can expect that rookie Deandre Ayton (7’1” 260 pounds) will be physically imposing.

The question is how aggressive he will be against lesser talented competition. He’s not a natural manimal like Marvin Bagley III but should find it easy to post a double double each game.

UofA fans will probably recognize Ayton’s profile showing up this weekend - probably look occasionally underwhelming while posting a 20/10 line in 25 minutes. On one hand, you wish he’d maximize his talent on every play. On the other, you have to respect what you’re seeing and hope for awesome days in the future.

On Friday, Ayton will face Dallas. The biggest player on the Dallas roster is someone named Duop Reith (6’10” 244). The second-biggest is a swing forward Jonathan Motley (6’10” 230) who isn’t known for playing the middle. If rookie Luka Doncic plays (they say he might play opening night, but then check out after that), he would be their third biggest player at 6’8” 230.

A bigger challenge will come on Saturday against the Kings.

“We’ll probably just laugh,” Ayton said his matchup with Bagley. “Until the tip.”

Former high school teammate of Ayton’s, Marvin Bagley III (6’11” 234) has had a hot-cold start to SL with their California Classic mini-schedule. He had 18/6 in his debut, but then missed 13 of 16 shots against the Warriors on day two. The Kings also boast Harry Giles (6’10” 240) in his recovery from lots of ailments and a couple other bruisers.

Then on Monday, he gets to face Mohamed Bamba (7’0” 225) with the Orlando entry. Bamba is super long but also super-skinny. In the SL, he won’t have to face a lot of physicality, though, so Bamba should shine in this environment.

The closest anyone will come to Ayton’s size is Byron Mullens (7’0” 270) with Orlando. Remember him??!?! yes it’s THAT B.J. Mullens making a comeback.

Still, Ayton won’t face anyone his size this week in SL. Let’s see what he does with that.

Happy 4th of July everyone!

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