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Phoenix Suns sign former Jazz center Udoka Azubuike to a 2-way contract

The former Big 12 Player of the Year and 27th overall NBA draft pick in 2020 is heading to The Valley on a two-way deal.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Lakers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

It is currently August 1st at the time of writing this roster update, and the Phoenix Suns are still tinkering with their roster to add the most value to their team. Under the new CBA, three 2-way spots are permitted for teams to have, which the Suns are taking full advantage of with the preliminary signing of returning guard Saben Lee, and now signing center Udoka Azubuike.

The 23-year-old former Jayhawk came off a successful career at Kansas, including having an impressive tournament stretch back during the 2017-18 season where he led the country in field goal percentage (77%), which broke the KU record and the Big 12 Conference. On top of this, he added 13/7/2 blocks which led the Jayhawks to the Final Four where they lost to the eventual champion Villanova Wildcats.

This kind of production continued throughout his college campaign, putting up averages very consistent with the aforementioned tournament run. A major highlight his senior year came with knocking off top-seeded Baylor, putting up a monstrous stat line of 23 points and 19 boards to seal the 64-61 victory.

Utah saw the potential in Azubuike, selecting him with the 27th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, which he was officially signed later that year. He played for Utah’s G-League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars to begin the 2021 season.

He made his first start during the 2022 season against Denver, where Azubuike had to match up against the reigning MVP in Nikola Jokic. Through three seasons, he is averaging 3.5 PTS, 0.2 AST, and 3 REB, adding in about half-a-block per game.

The former member of the Jazz had a career year in terms of field goal efficiency this previous season, shooting ~82% from the field on 2 FGA per game.

The Suns continue to make upside moves around the perimeter of their roster, garnering younger talent that can supply athleticism and versatility to the team. This pattern is indicative of not going after the traditional veteran “ring-chasers” with limited upside or at a point in their career in which their production is declining.

Azubuike fits this mesh being only 23-years old, but still having some NBA experience that could potentially translate to helping a winning club such as the Suns. Not to mention to add to the Suns' pursuit of length to match the size of larger teams, he holds a 7’7” wingspan that will allow for easy finishes out of the dunker spot or out of a PNR set. This also will aid in being a presence in the paint, whether that is grabbing boards or deterring shots.

Here is an example of him being in a prime position to finish a lob after a dribble drive in clutch time:

It will be interesting to monitor the status of Azubuike as the season goes on, especially with the Suns not having their own G-League team in town quite yet. One thing is for sure, however, that Phoenix is complementing their stars with younger talent who are freak athletes and can guard numerous amount of positions. Pair this with the defensive-savvy Frank Vogel, and this will present a product that will strike fear in the hearts of opposing NBA offenses.

The other thing that intrigues me about getting another playable big on a flexible contract is more competition for Deandre Ayton, who will have his work cut out for him in practice now having to deal with the rotation of Drew Eubanks, Bol Bol, Chimezie Metu, and now Azabuike. Suns could even experiment with some multi-big lineups during the regular season depending on the matchup and should project to have enough to afford to test things before playoffs.

Azabuike is reported by AZCentral’s Duane Rankin to have won the spot over Suns Summer League standout and former UAB center Trey Jemison, who brought a lot of similar attributes in terms of rim protection and finishing ability.

With one more two-way spot available, the Suns will be seemingly looking to fill that spot with another player who could prove enough to move into the regular roster prior to the postseason. The front office has been diligent this off-season in making strategic moves despite limited financial flexibility and leveraging the appeal of playing for a championship-caliber team in the process.

Welcome to the Valley Udoka!

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