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Game Recap: Hunter Hale’s 21 points not enough as Summer Suns fall to Pels 73-82

Without Toumani Camara and Jordan Goodwin, sharpshooting Hunter Hale took centerstage

2023 NBA Summer League - Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns fell to 2-1 in the Las Vegas Summer League after succumbing to the New Orleans Pelicans, 73-82. Hunter Hale, who led the Adriatic League (top 3-5 league in the world) in scoring last season, led the way for Phoenix with 21 points in his first appearance this summer.

Rookie forward Toumani Camara was a healthy scratch for this one; the broadcast relayed info that Camara was feeling especially sore after the games, playing in his first full-speed games in months. He’s already earned a full contract and has impressed through two games, so not really any worry there. He hasn’t yet been ruled out of the final few matches there in Vegas.

Guard newcomer Jordan Goodwin joined Camara in street clothes for the second-straight game after being listed as doubtful with knee soreness ahead of the game. With the two “big-league” guys sitting for this game, minutes opened up for some newer faces.

International guards Eugene German and Hunter Hale each saw their first Vegas minutes of the year during the first quarter with the latter showing off a nice little scoop layup early. Hale added two threes later in the first to help close an early gap after a solid early start by Dyson Daniels and the Pelicans.

Hale spoke between quarters on the broadcast about how he’s trying to showcase his shooting and defensive leadership, which seem to be two prerequisites for James Jones and this Phoenix squad. Hale, who acknowledged how tough it is with everyone fighting for jobs in Vegas, pointed out how the spacing here is refreshing compared to what he’s used to in the very physical Adriatic League overseas.

Trey Jemison got involved offensively, but it looked especially clunky relative to what he’s flashed in the first two games, stumbling into a turnover or two. Jordan Usher, who flashed late in game two, took Camara’s role of cleaning up broken plays on both ends, but even his impact couldn’t do much good for the offense, which totaled 19 points over the first 14 minutes.

Summer League is funny because an offense can look totally rudderless for stretches and then you look at the halftime scoreboard to see you’re only down 36-39 because the opposing offense is having the same sorts of issues. Hale led the way for the Suns to that point with 11 points (4-6 FG) and two rebounds but started the second half the way he started the first: on the bench.

He once again got hot over the course of the third quarter, hitting two threes as part of a 13-0 run by the Suns, even appearing to catch the eye of head coach Frank Vogel:

New Orleans got to work on a 16-2 run in response which bled well into the fourth quarter to re-take control of the game, forcing a Suns timeout with about 6:30 remaining in the game down 56-65. Hale was set to check back into — and potentially save — the game. His defensive effort over this final stint would be key to track.

He quickly took the reins of the offense, finding Jemison on a beautiful pocket pass out of the pick-and-roll, forcing a Pels foul on Jemison. Soon after, Hale found Jemison once again after breaking down his defender and getting downhill before the drop-off under the rim.

If the playmaking wasn’t enough to seal the deal on his excellent showing, he also danced a bit before hitting a pull-up three right in Daniels’ face, attracting doubles on every screen he takes by this point. He was also able to get to the free throw line after attacking Daniels with a floater.

I loved Usher making a high-effort play to turn a 50/50 pass into a transition opportunity for Phoenix in the final seconds, making exactly the kind of play that Vogel told the broadcast he was looking for in the regular season.

This game was all about Hunter Hale. Putting aside sample size, I’m not sure what more he would have to do to earn a two-way contract with this team, especially once his playmaking started to show a little more, finishing with four assists (just one turnover) in addition to his 21 points on 6-12 3P in 24 minutes off the bench.

It would be really fun to potentially see Hale share the floor with Camara and Goodwin, neither of whom have been ruled out yet, in Friday’s nightcap against the Summer Jazz at 8 p.m. AZ time on ESPN2.

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