The infatuation that the Phoenix Suns have with experience is becoming a bit of a punchline at the moment, and it’s no different when it comes to the Summer League, taking place from July 7-17 at UNLV.
Summer League head coach Steve Scalzi even made a point to bring up the experience on the roster at the beginning of Tuesday’s press availability:
“They have a mature group put together, guys with a lot of experience overseas, G League, seasoned pros... winning basketball is the same all over the world; winning plays translate all over the world. They know what that looks and feels like before they get here, so I just try to remind them of that stuff.”
Last season was Scalzi’s first with the Suns, coming over from a player development role in Oklahoma City to the same role in Phoenix. He says the goal in Vegas is to “represent Phoenix Suns basketball the way we know it,” citing general manager James Jones and head coach Monty Williams as having set a culture of work, gratitude, and “humility to accept coaching.”
Suns fan favorite Ish Wainright — right now an unrestricted free agent — will join the team for the Vegas tourney, helping bring the Suns basketball onto the court with the team.
One of the biggest additions to the 18-man Summer League roster (that could see some cuts before heading to Vegas) is McKinley Wright IV, who some Suns fans remember from his PAC-12 days leading Colorado. The point guard stands 5-foot-11 and 192 pounds, but his game is much bigger. Scalzi called Wright IV a “mild-mannered guy in conversation, but he’s a leader on the court”.
The mild-mannered Wright lived in the Valley for a few years “from like [age] 7 to 11, in that area” and still has plenty of family here. He called it a “second home” and called the opportunity to be a part of the organization “big time” given recent success.
Wright, who worked out for the Suns during his draft cycle in 2021, said his biggest improvement since being at Colorado is his shooting.
“I’ve spent countless hours in the gym getting reps up; threes, mid-range, off the bounce. [I’ve] become a better playmaker, taking care of the ball, so I think I’ve improved all aspects of my game since Colorado, so I’m excited to showcase what I’ve got.”
While Iffe Lundberg isn’t returning to the Suns this season, citing a lack of a guaranteed contract, the Suns are still bringing a Danish presence to their organization with big man Asbjorn Midtgaard, who stands 7-foot and 270 pounds. He’s not as new to the Valley as Lundberg was, however, since he averaged 14.2 points at Grand Canyon University during his senior season in 2021-22.
On Midtgaard, Scalzi said:
“The big fella’s as solid as they come... he seems like he’s obviously been well-coached, he slid into his role immediately... he had some excitement and energy.”
Among the international experience — 15 countries played in — the squad has three Australians coming over with NBL experience: Dejan Vasiljevic, Duop Reath, and Jo Lual-Acuil Jr., all three having NCAA experience as well.
Vasiljevic is the guard of the trio, and he played four years at Miami (FL) from 2016-20. As a senior, he averaged 13.2 points (40.8 FG%, 34.4 3P%, 88.2 FT%), 4.2 rebounds, and 1.0 assists in his 33.8 minutes per game.
Most recently with the defending champion Sydney Kings in the NBL and now with an even more bulked-up upper body, Vasiljevic averaged 12.4 points (41.2 FG%, 35.6 3P%, 84.1 FT%), 2.7 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. He was a microwave scorer off the bench for Sydney, and he hit a dagger three in game 2 of their Grand Final to help eventually win the championship.
Duop Reath is a 6-foot-11 forward with a 7-3 wingspan and a lot more dynamism than players of his size usually have. In his last of two seasons at LSU he averaged 12.5 points (54.4 FG%, 42.2 3P%, 62.9 FT%), 5.3 rebounds, and 1.0 block per game.
With a stop in the Adriatic League between, he played most recently for the Illawara Hawks in the NBL, averaging 15.0 points (49.0 FG%, 41.6 3P%, and 79.4 FT%), 7.0 rebounds, and 1.0 assists in his 27.3 minutes per game.
Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. is the prize to be had among the three. With a 7-0 frame, a 7-3 wingspan, and loads of athleticism, this guy is the type of player that gives you chills and makes you laugh when you watch him.
A native to South Sudan, Lual-Acuil moved to Uganda at age 3 and Australia at age 6 because of the waging civil war in South Sudan. He eventually played two years at Baylor University, and averaged 14.0 points (51.4 FG%, 70.7 FT%), 8.6 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks in 31.0 minutes per game during 2017-18.
With Melbourne United in the NBL, Lual-Acuil has become a bit more well-rounded. Last season, he added a more consistent three-point jumper (34.8% on 1.7 attempts per game) as well as a bit more of a playmaking edge (1.5 assists per game). In total, he averaged 16.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks in 25.4 minutes.
I think he’s incredibly impressive, and he should get an NBA contract if all goes well in Vegas, whether with Phoenix or elsewhere.
Odds are, of course, that none of these players make the Suns’ official roster come fall, given the organization’s apparent disinterest in developing younger players. Even Ish Wainright doesn’t have a spot on the roster quite yet, though by the sounds of it, he’ll be given the keys to this squad in Vegas.
Ideally if I’m running things, Wainright and Lual-Acuil end up as Phoenix’s two two-way slots, though I’d like to see Wainright get an outright guaranteed contract after what he’s meant to the development in the organization. If he does, I’d like to see the other slot go to McKinley Wright, not to get confused with the name similarity.