Again, the Suns made easy work of their competition up in Las Vegas with an 18-point drumming of Orlando.
Lets dive into the “Good” and “Bad” from Phoenix’s third Summer League contest.
Good: Deandre Ayton only needed to shake off the opening jitters, because ever since then he’s looked the part of best big man prospect in the 2018 draft class thus far. With another efficient double-double in the books, 17 points and 13 rebounds on 6/10 shooting, Ayton is showing how much space he can create not only for himself but others.
The gravity effect will be discussed plenty with the Suns’ No. 1 overall pick, because it’s apparent when watching Phoenix’s offense in motion. If Ayton isn’t getting fed the ball down low, he’s creating wide-open looks for shooters like Dragan Bender and Mikal Bridges on the outside.
In 76 minutes of action thus far in Vegas, Ayton has tallied up totals of 48 points and 33 rebounds while shooting 66.7% on field goals and an even more impressive 80% at the free throw line. Once tightly contested games in the regular season happen, Ayton’s knack for creating contact to draw fouls will be a major weapon. It also signifies his on-court value when he won’t get run off the floor against quicker guards, case in point when Ayton chased down Melvin Frazier for a chase-down block that was deemed a foul.
His defense is still classified as a work in progress, especially in pick-and-roll settings, but the foundational toolkit he already has with Igor Kokoskov molding him should make many delighted about his long term outlook. Already, Ayton is showing his worth as the Summer Suns continue to steamroll anyone who gets in their way.
Good: If there is one player who has definitely earned a spot on the opening night roster, it’s Shaquille Harrison. Alongside Davon Reed, Harrison is fighting for his job on the Suns with these games being of upmost importance. It’s showing itself early and often as Harrison’s grittiness and never say die attitude on defense continue to thrive in correct situations.
In Summer League being the primary ball handler, Harrison is showcasing his improvements as he currently carries a 4/1 assist to turnover ratio (20/4). Against Orlando, Harrison finished with 5 steals, harassing their ball handlers until they proverbially submitted.
One sequence that really popped off the screen was when Harrison had a chase-down block on one end, then the next defensive possession stole the inbounds. Then, he stayed patient before attacking the opening at the rim and making the precise dump-off pass to Alec Peters for the easy layup opportunity, which he was fouled on.
At this stage in the summer, Phoenix might feel comfortable enough rolling with Brandon Knight as their starter backed up by Harrison and Elie Okobo, until at least February’s trade deadline if it doesn’t go to plan. Right now, though, Harrison is etching his roster spot in stone. For me, he was by far the biggest standout for Phoenix in their latest victory.
Bad: Only one person made the “Bad” category this week, and it was Josh Jackson. For both sides, I think it’s best to just shut him down at this point entering tournament play. Jackson doesn’t need to show much anymore with all the NBA minutes he logged his rookie season, but his performance has been rather shaky.
Not only is Jackson shooting the ball atrociously, 10/41 from the field (1/12 on 3s, yikes), but he’s not making correct reads often in many pick-and-roll settings. An area that bothered Jackson last season continued to show itself as his tunnel vision on drives permeated throughout this game. In the first few minutes alone, Jackson missed Ayton on a post-up but also Mikal Bridges and Bender on various attempts on corner 3s. Jackson still draws a crowd, especially in Summer League when defenders usually are easily sucked into ball-watching, but he has to realize that extra attention is a benefit for others.
I would be singing a different tune if he was making correct choices, but 2017 Jackson was out there on Monday instead of the one we saw from January-April of last season.
Good: Surprise, Bender looked way more comfortable this time around. After two subpar showings where he totaled more turnovers than points, Bender settled in as the stretch-four with plenty of positive moments on the defensive end.
The 7’1” Croatian shot 3/6 on 3s and was way more aggressive on the boards, even beating Ayton to the ball on more than a few occasions. Also, Bender was bringing the ball up the floor after grabbing the rebound and initiating swing sets on offense.
Bender’s role in Phoenix now will be one where he’s the ultimate role player — really what his main archetype was based around when selected two years ago — which is capitalizing off open space on the perimeter and making smart reads on both ends. Monday’s outing by Bender didn’t display that to it’s full capabilities, but it at least flashed on more than a few occasions.
I’m actually really liking the long term outlook of pairing Bender next to Ayton. While Bender spots up, Ayton is the one creating space to allow for those open looks. Meanwhile, Bender’s playmaking ability will be able to show itself in a more structured system, especially one where he’s paired next to someone like Ayton.
Unlike Jackson, I still expect Bender to play in the Summer League playoffs, because, as mentioned last season, he seems to get better once he’s more comfortable and confident. After a successful night with the Bender/Ayton frontcourt, I want to see way more of it in Kokoskov’s motion-heavy offense.
After comfortably defeating Dallas, Sacramento and Orlando, Phoenix now enters as the No. 1 seed as it’s win or go home time. Summer League runs through July 17, which should be when the Suns are still playing if they keep this up.