The Phoenix Suns are treating this year’s Summer League as their first go-around implementing their new system by head coach Igor Kokoskov in game action. That meant plenty of learning curves to be expected, but the Summer Suns had strong moments throughout their opening win over the Dallas Mavericks.
However, the two main players I wanted to focus in on were the ones selected by Phoenix right after Deandre Ayton: Mikal Bridges and Elie Okobo.
It seemed by the end of third quarter Okobo had already won over Suns fans in attendance while displaying an array of playmaking skills that flashed for Pau-Orthez in France. Whether it was calmly leading Josh Jackson ahead on the fast break with numbers or his wizardry he pulled off snaking a bounce pass across the court to him later on, this part of Okobo’s game really popped.
Remember, this past season was Okobo’s first playing point guard full-time. Before that, he was always off-ball growing up but he definitely has accelerated his development in that area over the last few months.
Okobo showed spectacular composure on the national stage finishing with 9 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists on 50% shooting in 21 minutes — which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise after he torched French league DPOY Aaron Craft to the tune of 44 points last month in the playoffs.
Elie Okobo's passing ability really popped last night in his NBA debut. pic.twitter.com/ZaWddsf4Gl— Evan Sidery (@esidery) July 7, 2018
Okobo also flashed some surprising defensive acumen on more than a few possessions, making life tough for the likes of Jalen Brunson. With his 6’8” wingspan on his built 6’3” frame, the Suns’ No. 31 overall pick could develop down the road into someone who’s at least functional, or maybe even above-average with the right mentality.
Kokoskov mentioned afterwards how he too was impressed with Okobo’s floor awareness, an area that he’s still molding into his repertoire but could quickly turn into an everyday asset for him soon. Playing next to elite talent for the first time in his career, Okobo seemed very relaxed firing in easy opportunities to the likes of Ayton and Jackson consistently on Friday night.
At least until February, unless a trade offer blows them out of the water this summer, it seems like Phoenix is rolling with their point guard trio being Brandon Knight, Okobo and Shaquille Harrison. And if Okobo is pulling tricks out of his bag regularly like he did against Dallas, that might not be the worst idea as they possibly try to explore one more trial year with Devin Booker playing sometimes as the primary initiator in bigger, switch-heavy lineups.
Now, lets bounce over to the Suns’ most aggressive move they pulled on draft night, which was trading for the rights to Bridges with Philadelphia receiving Zhaire Smith plus Miami’s 2021 unprotected first round selection. General Manager Ryan McDonough said after the draft that Bridges was their No. 1 target in trade up scenarios, and he sure looked the part of an immediate contributor right away.
Bridges only played 18 minutes, but his two-way impact was felt often. He finished with 14 points (4/5 3s), 3 rebounds and 1 block. As you could tell by his efficiency from deep, Bridges transferred over his silky smooth catch-and-shoot dynamic from Villanova with no problem.
Last season, Bridges hit 57.1% of his corner 3s, which is an absolutely absurd percentage. No surprise, he didn’t miss an opportunity on Friday either.
Right away, the Suns’ No. 10 overall pick is going to become an immediate asset to Devin Booker in drive-and-dish situations. When Booker sucks the defense in like a vacuum bringing 4-5 sets of eyes on him, it’s going to leave Bridges in his favorite spot to feast off of.
Pairing Bridges with Trevor Ariza now in opposite corners will quickly turn into pick your poison scenarios for opposing defenses. That’s going to quickly become one of my favorite 3-man lineups Phoenix rolls out throughout the season.
What makes Bridges such a special shooter from the outside is his high release point, as The Stepien’s Cole Zwicker points out below. Not many Summer League players, let alone stalwarts in NBA rotations, are going to be able to interfere with Bridges ever getting off any perimeter shot he wants.
Maybe it’s just my homer tendencies coming out growing up in Indiana, but Bridges has that near impossible reach point like Reggie Miller. That gangly wingspan and unique length balled into his athletic package made him a difficult guard nightly. Maybe the same path is taken by Bridges here soon.
This is what makes Mikal so lethal as a shooter. Doesn't need much airspace at all off the catch. Going to be able to get 3s up on high volume: pic.twitter.com/86bRk3PlTR— Cole Zwicker (@colezwicker) July 7, 2018
Even though many came to Las Vegas wanting to witness the Ayton show up-close, they should have walked out of there after Day 1 even more enthused and or intrigued by the short and long term prospects of Bridges and Okobo.
McDonough believed not only Ayton was the franchise-altering pick by the Suns on draft night, but also placed premium value on the others. After moving the assets they did for Bridges, he was most likely somewhere in their top 7 on the overall big board. Okobo was someone the Suns valued in the mid-first round, even considering him at No. 16 before moving that to obtain Bridges.
If the Suns walked away with three future starters, as I mentioned a few weeks ago on draft night, that changes the outlook for this roster in the near future. Eventually, we could see a starting lineup of Okobo-Booker-Jackson-Bridges-Ayton, and probably see it regularly this season, too. In the long run, that could turn into the ideal combination of parts to have Kokoskov’s beautiful heavy motion and switch schemes humming along at high speed proficiency.
Even though Ayton will grab the majority of headlines in Vegas, don’t sleep on the bright futures of Bridges and Okobo.