The off-season is upon us. While Bright Side of the Sun will continue to bring you all sorts of Phoenix Suns news and notes until training camp starts, feel free to discuss all your Bogdan Bogdanovic, peripherally Suns-related or straight up non-NBA-at-all topics here in the Madhouse. Like maybe how you are planning on attending Summer League next year because it's the best?
All-Star Game, check... Time for the Phoenix Mercury to get back to where they left things in the regular season, which was a 12-game winning streak.
Record: 18-3 (.857)
Place In Standings: First (+2.0 on Minnesota)
Points Per Game: 85.57 (1st)
Points Against: 75.52 (3rd)
Wow. The 2014 WNBA All-Star Game was about as good of a game of basketball that the league could have ever asked for on the national stage of ESPN giving them a terrific advertisement. More of that here, but let's talk about the Mercury at that event on Saturday.
With Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner starting, Candice Dupree off the bench, the Phoenix Mercury were represented in the event they hosted.
For Taurasi it was a quick wink and hello of a game. She logged just 16 and a half minutes, threw up seven shots, grabbed four rebounds, and dished out two assists. After that, the warm-ups went on and the night ended early for Taurasi as she watched the young gun Skylar Diggins lead the way. It was not about Taurasi, but about the event and letting stars shine. It was not Taurasi's night to let her star shine, saving that for the final 13-games of the season.
On the other end of the spectrum there was Candice Dupree with 12 points (on nine shots) and rebounds coming out of the box with all the smooth energy we have come to appreciate here in the Valley.
Then there was Griner. And, this:
She filled up the stat-sheet with 17 points 5 rebounds and 3 blocks as a starter. She played well overall and had a blast doing it as evident by the permanently plastered smile on her face no matter the situation in the game. That is what All-Star Games are all about. In the end it was a loss for the West and for the Mercury three inherently, but they had fun doing it where having fun was what mattered the most and the serious games start again here now.
How do the final 13-games of the season look for the Phoenix Mercury? Well, if they are anything like the last 12-games then they will be harmonious for the team.
To close out the season the schedule has Los Angeles Sparks (10-12, thrice), Seattle Storm (9-15, twice), New York Liberty (8-13, twice), Minnesota Lynx (17-6, twice), Atlanta Dream (15-6, twice), Indiana Fever (11-12), and San Antonio Silver Stars (11-12) each once. What does that mean?
There are four games against teams above .500 and in fact they are against the two teams closest to the Mercury's league best record.
There are nine games against teams under .500 at the moment, but four games with teams that are just two wins or less from being in the category above this.
There are six road games and seven home games left. Six of those games are on National Television between NBATV and ESPN.
Last, but certainly not least, the Mercury are one more victory away from clinching a playoff spot and that could be as soon as this Tuesday against the Storm. So as the final leg of the WNBA season kicks off here in 24 hours for the Mercury there are various goals on the table. A 15-game, historic, winning streak. A playoff birth. A championship.
Who were the Phoenix Suns at the All-Star Game Weekend break this year?
At the break the Suns were 30-21 with 10 more wins than the Las Vegas predicted them to win for the entire season. So, just with that, they had accomplished a seasons worth of success. They were in the mix as a playoff team at that point in the muck with Memphis, Dallas, Golden State, and playing some up-and-down basketball at that point. They headed into the All-Star Game Weekend break with a loss to the Miami Heat while the Mercury...
Burst through their own doors hosting the game with a 12-game winning streak. They are three off of the Houston Comets mark of 15-games in a row from the 1998 season. That journey starts on Tuesday, as you see with the schedule below.
Tuesday vs. Seattle Storm at 7:00 p.m. AZ Time
Thursday @ Los Angeles Sparks at 7:30 p.m. AZ Time
Saturday vs. New York Liberty at 7:00 p.m. AZ Time
Last night the NBA announced their Summer League MVP and All-NBA Summer League teams. Glen Rice Jr. of the Washington Wizards won the MVP with 25 PPG and 7.8 RPG. Here is a list of the teams via nba.com
Those are the awards via the NBA and now here are my overall impressions from my five days in Vegas. I saw 19 games and I saw nearly every team that was there. Most of them I saw at least twice, but I missed a few teams like the Wizards and only saw part of these teams performances, so that's something to keep in mind for the players I talk about here.
Seeing so many teams and so many players gave me a very good sense of who had a good week and who did not. I had my expectations set for just about everyone there so it's something we will look back on right now. Here are the players that surprised me, those that met my expectations, and those that disappointed.
Doug McDermott was high on my list for those I was eager to see and he managed to surpass that. McDermott's quickness and mobility was evident and he used this in the Chicago offense built around him moving off the ball. I said that this is arguable his best trait and it played out that way. You see his movement and IQ both with and without the ball and you get all antsy already, but then you see the guy shoot and that's when you get blown away. McDermott shot 44% from 3 in Vegas and that's with a 1-6 performance against Philadelphia in their last game. I saw McDermott as a fantastic shooter with both super intangibles and super scoring entering the draft and that's what I saw in Vegas. Seeing it in person made it more evident to me how good he could be in the NBA and that's why he makes this group. The question I asked in my column was if he could really succeed if you don't run an offense around him like the Bulls did in Vegas and that will be something to watch for in Chicago for their first few games.
C.J. McCollum, Will Barton, and Thomas Robinson stood out to me as players who looked experienced. All three spent some time in Portland's rotation and that time on a very good team had them look like veterans in Vegas. McCollum's court vision and ease of not only reading every situation, but also had the ability of looking very good while doing some difficult things to make the best out of these situations. Barton's athleticism, slashing and defense were good, and the same for Robinson but with the added bang he brings on the boards. Their overall sense of rhythm for the flow of the game defensively showed off how crucial it is to get minutes early in your career and get them for a very good team. All three weren't seen as defensive options out of the draft but all of them looked like NBA caliber defenders to me. That plus their overall skill sets had me very impressed.
Tony Snell could not miss. Snell flat out looked like a bad player last season for Chicago and then started doing everything that everyone wanted to see out of him in Vegas. He was shooting the three with confidence and looked like a deadly jump shooter to me. 50% from three on 34 attempts with all sorts of different situations shooting the ball makes that Chicago bench look much improved for next season.
Jordan Clarkson looked as advertised to me and it continues to look like he will be added to the list of second round steals. Clarkson is crafty and smooth with his athleticism in attacking the rim and that unique way he goes about his slashing was his main appeal as a prospect. His man concern was shooting, but Clarkson shot 42% from three in Vegas on a good amount of attempts. As with everything from summer league, I'm not saying that means he's a good shooter now, it's just a very good sign. His awareness on the floor extended to his game-winning tip-in against the Warriors and it appears that the Lakers got themselves a player.
In our "the Suns could have had this guy" group, Gary Harris and Nerlens Noel looked great to me. Harris as a jump shooter was the most impressive, as he has a very quick and good looking release that suggests at the very least he could be your lockdown defender and three-point specialist. His shooting was one of his critiques in college but it looked ready to me. His expected IQ, slashing, and defense were all great and he looks legit. Noel as a defender was one of the most impressive things in Vegas. He's extremely agile, has good instincts, and just understands how to use his length and athleticism to lock up passing lanes, block shots, and get steals. He's going to be very good when it comes to being just a defender, but the big plus might be the potential you can spot with his offensive game. He understands how to get his hook shot and other moves off with space, he just needs to work on his touch. His jumper is a work in progress, but his very high release and touch he has on it suggests that it will become a weapon later in his career. The injury concerns are legitimate but he looks like he will be a very good player.
Dante Exum is going to be the real deal. He is so fast and quick with the way he works on the floor and his passing ability was some of the best I saw all week. There are some extensions and evolutions that are going to come with his game as he gets older and the core skill set you saw in Vegas was impressive enough to warrant that assumption for growth.
I was very surprised by whenever Rudy Gobert could have a sequence of blocks and finishes, but he flirted with flat out dominating some games which blew me away. Gobert seems to understand what the point of him as a basketball player is and with two point guards on the court that are such good passers (Exum, Burke) he can be a plus offensively. He's miles behind still in terms of understanding the game though, which you noticed by how often his teammates yelled at him or had to pull him aside to tell him what he did wrong. He's a lot further along than I thought he would be though, and the handful of stretches he dominated for Utah is enough to land here.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo and Cleanthony Early were my favorite duo in Vegas. Antetokounmpo's energy on the bench and the floor was insane and he was actually very impressive as a defender and with the ball in his hands. His takes to the rim and confidence in shooting (wasn't consistent, but he was ready) showed a surprising amount of offensive potential, which has to be a huge thrill for Knicks fans considering his tenacity as a defender. Early looked like I thought he would and I still stand by my high grade of him. He's strong, athletic, and can shoot outside while banging inside. That package pretty much guarantees for him to have an impact on the game in some way and it was clear that he was becoming a fan favorite for the Knicks. He looks ready to be a rotation player right away and could become far more than that in my opinion.
Some might freak out that he didn't make the other list, but T.J. Warren did just about what we expected him to do. The dude gets buckets and he was clinical in his finishing around the rim and in transition. It was strange to see his number one weapon in college, the floater, be so off in Vegas but everything else looked good. We didn't see him enter that "I'm going to score now" mode until later on in the trip and that's when the Suns were really struggling so it's hard to judge. He doesn't really jump out anywhere in the game and then you see that he has 17 points at halftime. I saw a handful of possessions where his size and defense were a concern still so that's why he finds this group.
I've been high enough on Andrew Wiggins for him to land here. The way he operates as a scorer continues to suggest that he will become a legitimate scorer in the NBA. This is still with him being that lockdown defender who makes freak plays athletically and has the intangibles to be in the right place at the right time. Still holding on to my very high evaluation.
They didn't really dominate at any points, but my goodness is the potential oozing out of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker. Antetokounmpo ran the freaking point at nearly seven feet tall for some points and did it rather effectively. His ability to get into the lane is well noted but the way he shot the three suggests that could be a part of his game very soon. Despite shooting just above 40% in Vegas, Parker still looked good. The way he sees the floor, his control of the ball, his strides, passing, finishing, and composure. He forced it way too much there but once he settles in he will be just fine.
I wrote enough about Tyler Ennis in the recaps of our Suns games so you should be familiar by now with how I feel. He has a special way of working off of ball screens and seeing the floor. His floater looks ready to me and once he starts developing jumpers from mid-range he could be basically unstoppable in those situations. His defense was the most impressive but that was countered by how concerning his shot from deep looked.
Bruno Caboclo was disappointing in the way that he plays. I expected him to be a big time flash and have some "WHOA!" plays, but he just looks like a super role player (potential wise) to me. His defense was a lot better than I expected it to be and his scoring was limited to using his athleticism and hitting threes. The "Brazilian Kevin Durant" was his big tag-line from the draft but I'd go more with something along the lines of some aspects of Kawhi Leonard.
Anthony Bennett was in shape and hitting threes, but I didn't see much more to his game that suggest he will evolve over time. He is very comfortable receiving the ball at the top of the key and could work off the dribble to create space, we just didn't see a lot of him working inside on both ends and with his body type that concerns me. The work off the dribble wasn't that impressive either, it was just more so that he could do it. You could take his work both ways, I just take it that there might not be that much more to his game besides the simplistic version of a stretch 4.
Archie Goodwin still has a long way to go. He can really get to the rim and finish but there are so many more parts of his game that need to improve. Whether it's defensively, playmaking, or knowing what to do when he can't get to the rim, he looked really young out there. This is nothing to get worried about because of how young he is, it's just that I don't think that he's ready to be in the rotation right now like some others do.