Another Summer League game down for the Phoenix Suns, and another victory under their belts. After defeating Sacramento 71-63 on Saturday, every pre-game headline focused on the star-studded matchup between the top two picks, Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III.
Ayton finished his night with 21 points, 12 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block on 8-11 shooting. Meanwhile, Bagley racked up 15 points, 7 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block on 5-13 field goal attempts. They only matched up a few times as Ayton guarded Harry Giles and Dragan Bender took the assignment of Bagley III, but it was still an entertaining battle.
One underrated aspect of Saturday’s tilt between two of the brightest young cores in the Western Conference was how the Suns bounced back from a rough start to maintain a double-digit lead throughout most of the game.
Lets dive into the “Good” and “Bad” of Phoenix’s second primetime matchup below.
Good: Even though his presence wasn’t felt in terms of box score production in the first half, Ayton continues to create so much gravity for shooters out on the perimeter. Many didn’t fall unlike Friday, but once the regular season rolls around it’s going to put defenses in a bind. Once the offense started flowing through Ayton over the final quarter, it was awesome to watch. Whether it was finishing through contact on post ups or firing passes back out once he realized double teams were incoming, Ayton seems to be picking up the nuances of his role well. Even though there were some possessions where he was floating around — not laying any screens or diving towards the rim, simply just standing around — Ayton was still able to quietly put together a 20 and 10 performance, which is a rarity in Summer League. That also shows the impact Ayton has on the floor at all times, and it’s going to be a treat to see him having the inside-out combo with Devin Booker in October.
Bad: Honestly, I wasn’t expecting this from Dragan Bender but here we are. Through two games, Bender has more turnovers (8) than points (5). He just finished a Summer League outing with 0 points heading into his third season in the NBA, which included only five field goal attempts. Even though Bender knows he’s the third option in most scenarios, he needs to show some semblance of aggressiveness. For some reason, it’s still not coming together in that sense. He tried to drive on Giles once and created no leverage, instead floating out for a jumper and getting his shot swatted back 10 feet into the stands. There were some great flashes defensively pairing him next to Ayton, but tentativeness shouldn’t be showing at all in Summer League for someone like Bender. Between now and February, it’s likely the most important time of his career so far. He needs to prove he belongs, which still hasn’t been etched in stone.
Good: Sure, it’s only been two games but Mikal Bridges is quickly becoming one of my favorite Suns to watch. He’s giving it his all every second he’s out there, and so aware of his surroundings at all times. One possession that stood out to me was where Bridges picked up his man 94 feet, knocked it loose and dove for it but was called for a loose ball foul. It’s hard not to see that Bridges and Davon Reed’s grittiness are rubbing off on each other, seemingly having competitions who gets more deflections at anytime. In 24 minutes, Bridges only posted five points but his defense was felt throughout two steals alongside countless other energy plays. When he’s out on the floor with Reed and Shaquille Harrison, it’s one of the more fun trios in terms of defensive attitude. All three of them are in the opposing players’ grills up and down the court. It’s the little things, but Bridges’s on-court value in terms of leadership and high basketball IQ are easy to spot. Once the regular season rolls around, I have a hard time seeing how Bridges isn’t cracking around 30 minutes per game.
Bad: Unlike Dallas, Sacramento was at least allowing Phoenix to try to throw entry passes Ayton’s way in the post. However, it had a rocky start in the first quarter. Not only did Harrison, Jackson and Reed all have their subpar moments throwing sloppy passes but Ayton wasn’t establishing good enough position to fend off the likes of Bagley III and Giles from stealing them away. After Kokoskov settled them down, it seemed to quickly get under control, but there were five turnovers alone just off trying to feed Ayton. After seeing him post an easy double-double, Orlando with Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba will likely try to wall off Ayton every chance they get. That makes getting entry passes down even more important as they head into their toughest matchup yet, in terms of pure length to deal with.
Good: Davon Reed wasn’t able to showcase himself much last season recovering from a torn meniscus he suffered before training camp, but he’s showing his value right away through two games. Reed is also playing like his job is on the line, too, after his guarantee date was pushed back until the conclusion of Summer League. Against Sacramento, Reed tallied 12 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. Like last year, Reed maintains his role as vocal leader out there. Every possession, Reed was barking out orders and calling out reads the Kings offense was going to make before it happens. If he keeps this up, Reed is carving out a role for himself as the 3 and D specialist Phoenix selected at No. 32 overall in 2017. Sure, it’s Summer League, but I’m ready to give all of Troy Daniels’s minutes over to Reed, letting him play alongside the likes of Jackson and Bridges each and every game.
Good: Igor Kokoskov continues to impress me with how his system is looking early on. This offense is predicated off spacing and ball movement, allowing so many open looks at plenty of opportunities throughout the shot clock. General Manager Ryan McDonough has said before Kokoskov’s offense is similar to Golden State, in terms of overall ball movement, and the proof is in the pudding. Phoenix has an asset percentage of 65% on all their baskets (39/60). Compared to how Jay Triano ran his offense in the regular season, Kokoskov has boosted the AST% up +10%, including a focus on finding the shooters. That’s a nice change of pace over the past few seasons of Suns basketball. An underrated aspect I also love about Kokoskov already is his demeanor. No matter if Phoenix is down 20 or up 10, his expression never changes. It’s all about business and focusing on his guys. When there were maybe bad calls with officiating, Kokoskov immediately looked over to his players to calm down and settle into the play call. It’s very early, but Kokoskov is quickly becoming the asset to this young roster I expected he would right after he was hired in mid-May.
The Summer Suns will be back in action on Monday against Orlando before beginning Summer League tournament play. If Phoenix wins again, they will be waltzing into the Vegas version of the playoffs as the No. 1 seed.