With the deadline for NBA teams to sign players to two-way contracts looming, the Suns checked that transaction off their team-building to-do list by signing Tariq Owens, a defensive menace from Texas Tech who went to training camp with the Suns and had been with their G League affiliate all season.
Gina Mizell of The Athletic had the news:
The #Suns are planning to sign Tariq Owens to a two-way contract, league sources tell @TheAthleticNBA. Owens has been with G League affiliate NAZ this season and played for Phoenix’s Summer League team. Suns have had a two-way spot open all season (Jared Harper has the other)— Gina Mizell (@ginamizell) January 14, 2020
Owens is averaging 9.0 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game across 23 contests this year for Northern Arizona. The big man is shooting 55 percent from the field and has shown the ability to stroke it a bit as well, attempting 16 threes but most importantly making 83 percent of his free-throws.
The Suns seem to only want players who at least show a willingness to shoot, and Owens has at least attempted to extend his range as a pro. After attempting 71 threes at Texas Tech, the big man has continued to improve his free-throw shooting and may have to be a shooting threat to make it in the NBA offensively considering his relative lack of functional strength and play-making.
Owens missed Summer League and training camp with injuries, so I haven’t watched him play much since Texas Tech, but he had my favorite highlight of the NCAA tournament.
The best thing about this signing from my perspective is that it actually happened. Last season, the Suns opted not to fill either one of their two-way contracts until near the end of the year, when they grabbed Jawun Evans. To make matters worse, Evans was waived before the end of the year and made little impact up north or in Phoenix.
The fact that James Jones and the Suns’ front office targeted Owens right out of the draft, kept him in their organization, and signed him to a team-friendly deal, at least shows a plan. Last year, it seemed the two-way thing just caught the Suns off-guard.
The Suns have been building up their G League infrastructure for a while, and taking advantage of two-way contracts is one of the best ways an NBA team can use its G League affiliate.
While Harper hasn’t spent much time in the Valley, two-way players are allowed to spend 45 days in the NBA prior to the end of the G League season. When the G League season ends (NAZ’s last game is on March 28), the two-way players can return to the Phoenix roster for the final couple weeks of the NBA calendar. It’s hard to know what the Suns’ plans are here considering Harper has basically functioned as a member of the NAZ Suns this season rather than a true-way player. Will Owens be any different?
Rather than expecting Harper or Owens to contribute to the Phoenix squad this season, the real value here is retaining the rights to each player for next season. I can’t find any proof that Harper’s contract is for two seasons, but I would assume it is. If the same is true for Owens, then keeping both guys locked up at the cheapest possible NBA salary is smart if the Suns want to keep their rights. Should either of the two players suddenly blossom, the Suns will have an advantage in signing them to NBA deals.
Regardless, expect to see both of the Suns’ two-way players in Phoenix before the end of the season.