Basketball never stops, nor does the grind.
The 2020-21 NBA season ended just a couple of weeks ago. Team USA went to Tokyo and won the gold. And now the NBA Summer League is about to tip-off. For members of the Phoenix Suns, seeing they were one of the last two teams standing and sent Devin Booker across the Pacific to compete, they’ve had a hand in all of the above.
It’s been quite the whirlwind.
The two members of the Suns’ 2020 NBA Draft Class have been along for the ride and are excited for the opportunity to showcase their abilities and improve their game when Summer League begins tomorrow evening against the Los Angeles Lakers. Jalen Smith and Ty-Shon Alexander enter their first Summer League after a rollercoaster of a rookie season.
Although both rookies did not see much of the court in their inaugural season — Stix played 156 minutes during the regular season and Alexander played 47 — the lessons learned were invaluable. They had a front row seat as the Suns marched their way to the NBA Finals, led by veteran point guard Chris Paul.
“The biggest thing [Chris Paul taught me] is being a leader and being able to talk,” Ty-Shon said in a Summer League press conference on Friday. “After watching a lot with Chris, what he does on the court, I’m honestly looking forward to what I can do in the summertime, trying to win games.”
Ty-Shon will have plenty of playing time as he assumes the Chris Paul role for the Summer League Suns by playing the point and guiding the team on offense. It is his chance to put some more reps on tape and see if what he has learned is applicable to a team of players looking to break through into the NBA.
Alexander understands that his ability to mirror Paul, to be a vocal leader, is something both he and Jalen Smith will bring to the team.
“Me and Stix are the only people that really know our scheme and how to play Suns’ basketball, but Chris has really taught me and him both on how to communicate and be a leader at the end of the day,” Alexander commented. “Talking on defense, making sure guys know where they are on offense, making sure that they’re in the right spots”
Like a 1996 Tupac album, all eyes will be on Jalen Smith in the 2021 NBA Summer League. The lottery pick did not get much of a chance to prove his worth last season and fans are amped to see what he can do with more playing time. Smith is as well.
“Most rookies, as a normal rookie season, they’re going to Summer League and understanding the game a lot more, allowing it to slow down to them, I really didn’t get that chance,” Smith continued. “I feel that this is going to help me feel more comfortable out on the court and being in the right spacing and continue to find open areas that I can improve.”
It was a year full of learning for both rookies, albeit from the comfortable confines of the expanded NBA benches. Both reflected on the season that was.
“It was a fun journey, us being drafted to a team that made it to the NBA Finals was an extraordinary moment for both of us,” Stix said. “And then having great vets around us like Chris, Jae, Book, LG, E’Twaun, all the guys helping us out and helping us understand the league a lot more. Us being rookies, it’s a lot of work behind the scenes. The unorthodox year we had, we had to put in a lot more work than most.”
“We spent a whole year basically just training, spent the whole year just trying to get better, figure out some things. Me and Jalen played a lot of one-on-one especially during the season before games,” Ty-Shon added.
The team navigated it’s way all the way to the NBA Finals and experienced numerous moments along the way. What was the most memorable experience for Jalen Smith? It had to be the Valley Oop, right? Or watching Chris Paul drop 41 to end the Clippers season? Nope.
“When we lost the championship,” Stix responded. “That’s the highest level you’re going to get to and then being able to get there your first year, and then realizing, ‘okay, you got this far and you just lost it’, that was kind of the ‘wow’ moment of my first season. As a competitor you don’t want to lose anything at all. If I keep improving and keep working on myself, I can help my team get to that point again. And win it.”
The work never stops. The shortened offseason has not allowed much time for either player to rest, especially with Summer League occurring so close to the end of the NBA Finals.
“Everyone took a break and I stayed here in Phoenix,” Alexander shared. “I took a day-and-a-half off and I instantly got back to work trying to prepare myself for Summer League. I obviously haven’t gotten a break yet until Summer League is over with and after I’ll probably go home for a couple of days and come straight back in and get back to work.”
Dude. A day-and-a-half off?! #RespectTheGrind.
Both are ready to display the fruits of their labor. “We honestly couldn’t wait for the opportunity to play one day,” Ty-Shan said. “Summer League is going to be that time to pretty much just showcase what we basically been working on.”
When asked what he’s most excited for, Stix responded, “Pretty much just go out there and hoop, that’s the main thing. Being on the bench all season that’s the one thing you want to do as a player, that’s what Summer League is for. That’s what Coach Monty has been telling me, just go out there and hoop. Having fun and playing the game. And then, obviously, just working on myself. Continuing to elevate my skills.”
As for the addition of Jaleen Smith to the roster? “I was confused at first,” Stix commented. “I thought they had a typo. I always go by Stix, so that’s not a problem for us. I’m Stix and he’s Jaleen.”
Oh, we know Stix. We know.