If you watched the Phoenix Suns Summer League game on Sunday night, you might have had flashbacks from pre-Ricky Suns games where the point guards had no idea how to feed a big man, which breaks apart the whole offense.
The Summer Suns, who had led nearly the entire second half, lost 73-72 to the Lakers’ summer squad on a putback off a missed shot with just 2 seconds left on the clock. The Suns shot just 36% from the field, including 22% on threes.
“A lot of hustle plays,” summer Suns coach Brian Randle said of what he saw in game one. “I know people are probably going to look at shots, the percentage. It was just a gritty, hard-fought game.”
Randle is an assistant coach under Suns head coach Monty Williams. This is his first chance to run a summer league team. His mishmashed roster has been practicing together for only the past week, with one of those days being a travel day to Vegas.
Randle wasn’t given a whole lot to work with. The Suns declined to trot out a single player from the 2021 Draft class — not even an undrafted rookie free agent. Instead, they signed a number of mid-career players who have been playing overseas and want a chance to break into the NBA.
The centerpieces of the Summer Suns roster are second-year players Jalen ‘Stix’ Smith and Ty-Shon Alexander. Smith was the 10th overall pick in the 2020 Draft, while Alexander went undrafted and spent the year on a two-way contract with the Suns. Neither played much for the contending Suns.
And they are under a lot of pressure. Stix has to prove he is head and shoulders above the rest of this team and most of their opponents in talent and production. Ty-Shon is fighting for a contract. He has to prove he’s at least a little better than all these guys who couldn’t make it in the NBA. If they are just ‘two of the guys’, rather than the team leaders, their NBA careers could come into question.
After one game, here are my shortest takes:
- Jalen Smith was definitely the most naturally talented guy on the floor, but at this point is still a baby giraffe
- Ty-Shon Alexander looks a little better than the other summer Suns players around him (phew!), but did not flash as being a lot better
- The rotation around them will change game to game
“He’s improved quite a bit... on his shot, on his ball handling and his conditioning,” Randle said after the game.
Stix, who started at power forward on Sunday, made just 5 of 13 shots but led all players (both teams) with 30 minutes, 15 points, 12 rebounds and had a nice assist in the fourth quarter to help his team keep the lead. He showed some ball-handling skills in the open floor, including bringing the ball up a few times, also had 4 turnovers on ill-advised errant passes. He showed quick second and third hops in fighting for rebounds off missed shots.
The Lakers roster was devoid of high level prospects too, so Stix had all the opportunity in the world to shine. He kinda did.
“It was great,” Smith said. “Not many people get to have a job that they love doing. And like Chris (Paul) said, we got the best job in the world.”
He was mostly positive about his game, but also open to things he could improve.
“I think I did okay, but there was a lot of things I could have done better,” Smith said. “There was an offensive rebound I had, I could have finished that better. I shot a lot of air-ball threes. I rushed it.”
His main focus was just to go out and play, get used to playing big minutes and try to impact the game every way he could.
He was lucky enough to have half his team watching from the first row. Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Payne, Cameron Johnson, Landry Shamet and former teammate Jevon Carter were all there courtside.
“It was fun because me and Ty watched them all year,” Smith said. “So having them on the sideline for us was amazing.”
They were partly there for the summer team, but also there for Payne’s birthday party. He just turned 27 a few days ago, and had planned this birthday celebration with his teammates in Vegas all year. No word on whether Smith, who just turned 21 years old recently, will be joining his teammates in the celebration. He’s got another game to play on Monday.
The second year guard had 11 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists in 21 minutes of play. He was very effective in the first half, a little less so in the second half.
“Especially the first half,” Alexander said after the game. “I am very excited to showcase what I’ve been doing my whole career, especially my first year playing in the league.”
Alexander played okay in the pandemic-shortened G-League season last year, but spent most of the year on the Suns bench watching them win a lot of games.
Alexander’s future is as tenuous as it gets, though. He has no contract for 2021-22 after playing on a two-way contract with the Suns last year. And now in Summer League, he came off the bench in game one, behind guys who are a bit older but never played in the NBA. He’s got to prove he belongs more than they belong.
“We call each other brothers for a reason,” Alexander said of his teammates who were watching from the sidelines. “I know I’m going to hear some stuff later on, after the game, especially to have a better second half than what I did today. But it’s fantastic to have those teammates come out here to support us.”
Alexander is known as a 3-and-D specialist. He’s listed at 6’4” with a 6’8” wingspan who plays hard-nosed defense and made 40% of his threes in college from the shorter line. On Sunday, he made only 1 of 5 three-point shots and was critical of his own defensive impact, but also made 3 of 4 shots inside the arc.
Again, he looked a little better than his summer Suns competition.
“I was just having a blast,” he said of the game. “I’m glad to get the rust off.”
He beat himself up for not boxing out the Lakers player, Austin Reaves, on the game-winning putback. Said he was pushed in the back, but should have found Reaves first and made sure that didn’t happen. He also lamented a late turnover. Those miscues both impacted the final score after the Suns had led most of the half.
“I need to slow down,” he said. “And let the game come to me.”
The other guys
Eleven of the 15 players on the roster saw time on Sunday night, and none of them could really run an offense that found a big man with a mismatch under the basket.
The ‘point guards’, Jaleen Smith and Nate Mason, had 6 total assists in 40 minutes of play, accounting for 40% of the team’s 14 assists on the night. The Summer Suns shot only 36% from the field in the game, including 22% on threes. Ugh.
Maybe the summer team is holding out their best supporting cast for Game 2? We can only hope, right?
Look for new players to hit the floor tonight and have fun listening to the playcallers trying to get the names right. Of the four, I can only confidently pronounce Alpha Diallo, brother of Hamidou Diallo, a restricted free agent from the Pistons. Former Suns player Cheick Diallo is not related, in case you were wondering.
The Summer Suns come right back today, playing the Utah Jazz contingent (7:00PM, on NBATV).
Like the Suns and Lakers the night before, this Jazz team does not boast any draft picks from the 2021 draft. Their only draft pick, Jared Butler taken with the 40th pick, is not on the Vegas SL roster for the Jazz.