In my first full summer covering the Suns — from the draft to free agency to Summer League — I tried to have as many conversations as possible to understand the way this new braintrust in Phoenix thinks.
Along the way, I captured some thoughts and quotes from those around the organization that haven’t made it in any of the other pieces I’ve written this summer. So, before we part ways for the remainder of the offseason (training camp is just two months away!), I wanted to unload the remainder of my notes from this summer so as to not miss anything.
In this final installment, I’ll fill in as much as possible on the Suns’ continued focus on player development under James Jones, Monty Williams and Jeff Bower.
Development doesn’t stop just because the Suns want to win
The entire feature I wrote about Mikal Bridges last season focused on the rookie’s ability to improve deep into his 20s. That he could do so is a bet the Suns made when they traded up from 16 to 10 on draft night in 2018 to grab him out of the 76ers’ clutches, and the early returns are positive. Bridges in his first season held value on defense like a role player 10 years his elder.
Whether based on the progress they saw from the 22 year old rookie Bridges over the course of the season or simply a staunch belief on the part of Jones, the Suns doubled down on older rookies this summer.
Johnson and Jerome will have to improve just like any rookies, but the Suns will be judged in particular by Cameron Johnson’s NBA growth because so many believe the No. 11 overall pick was a reach.
“People have different developmental trajectories,” Johnson said in Las Vegas when he was introduced to the media.
“A big thing about being old is you’re viewed as someone who doesn’t have much potential, a finished product, you are what you are, you’re never going to get much better. But I think it’s not the case. I think there are people that are younger, maybe 18, 19, 20, 21 that have hit their ceiling, whereas there’s plenty of 21, 22, 23-year-olds who have plenty of room to grow and I think my game has a lot of room to expand.
“I can sit there and watch film with you and point out every which way that I can improve and I’m working on it. Age is something that I can’t change, I can’t change the fact that I’m 23, but I can work on what I need to work on and show that I’m not at my ceiling now.”
Besides Johnson, Bridges and Jerome, the Suns will also have to hope there is room left for Booker to get better on defense, for Saric to develop as a two-way player, for Kaminsky to show the second half of last season was legit. Even Rubio was discussed by Williams as someone who can keep getting better.
“Hopefully I can stay out (Rubio’s) way and help him become a better player, because I think he has room to improve, which is really good,” Williams said.
The understudies to Rubio, rookies Ty Jerome and Jalen Lecque, will in all likelihood be expected to grow in conjunction with Rubio. His continued development can rub off on them as they undergo their own journey in the league.
“I just gotta simplify my game and do what I do best,” Lecque said at Summer League.
When asked what the next step to growing his game was, Jerome told me to get back to him at training camp. He sounded eager but didn’t want to get ahead of himself before getting to work with the coaching staff more extensively.
No one is excused from development. Despite the Suns turning the page to leave tanking behind, they expect continued growth out of every member of the roster.