Suns Summer League action starts today the way it ended last year, against the division rival Golden State Warriors. Join the fun in the game thread. Chances of being bitten by a shark are low.
NBA Summer League is generally only for the hardest core of fans, but this July's edition of the Summer Suns features a handful of players to be genuinely excited or curious about, including rookies T.J. Warren, Tyler Ennis and Alec Brown, and second year players Alex Len and Archie Goodwin. I'm excited to see all five, but especially Warren and Len.
In last July's Summer League Championship, the Warriors crushed the hopes and dreams of Suns fans yearning for a title, dispatching of our heroes 91-77 in a game that was the most watched event in television history. (I might need to fact check that last bit, but I think I heard it somewhere.) The brilliant Ian Clark was simply too much for the Suns to handle, as he went for 33 to win MVP.
For more on this summer's Suns, check out these great write-ups from Bright Side's own Kellan Olson, who is onsite in Vegas this weekend for the games.
And these practice notes from Dave King:
Game Time: 5PM AZ Time, NBATV
I will be in Vegas attending the summer league from Friday to Tuesday. Each day I will be bringing you tidbits on each game and a preview or recap of the Suns action.
Day 1 of the Las Vegas summer league was madness. I woke up 10 minutes after LeBron signed and spent the next 2 hours digesting and discussing that before heading over to the arena. The access you have at the summer league is pretty great. There are coaches and GM's sitting throughout the arena and the seating in the COX Pavilion is similar to a high school game so you are very close. The level of athleticism really gets to you if you've never been this close to the court consistently. I almost had a heart attack when Cleanthony Early dunked from 1 step in front of the elbow in warm-ups. The court chatter is very easy to hear as well, and while it's not as vulgar as the regular season, it was still cool to hear. How this is going to work is a game-by-game recap with the one storyline or player that stood out to me followed by bullet points on things that caught my eye. If you want just the Suns side of the story, you will find that at the bottom of the page with a preview of the Golden State game.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo was the highlight of the first game between the Dallas Mavericks and the New York Knicks. He was by far the most energized player I saw today, which resulted in the Knicks bench being lively from the get go, Antetokounmpo gave his full and even somewhat unnecessary effort on every play he was involved in. He was picking guys up full court and would be as close to his defender as possible without fouling, which he did quite a bit of since he was so aggressive. Cleanthony Early laughed as he checked in for Antetokounmpo after he picked up three fouls in about 4 minutes and Tim Hardaway Jr almost died laughing on the bench after Antetokounmpo's reaction on his own block.
Antetokoumnmpo was jumping up and down on in bounds defense, sprinting up and down the floor, and rallying his teammates anytime he felt like it. He would stand up and yell anytime anything happened on the floor that went I the Knicks favor. This was all fun, but he showed some great ability as well besides just this insane work rate that warranted his 51st selection from the Knicks this year. Some of the basketball purists type of plays he made such as his corner threes or great vision and ball-handling to get to the basket impressed me. Here are some other tidbits from the game.
Game 2 between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Toronto Raptors only had two words on my mind: Bruno Caboclo. Caboclo was the 20th selection in the 2014 draft and was by far the biggest reach and surprise of the night. Fran Fraschilla had the quote of the draft in saying that Caboclo is "two years from being two years away." He was called him the Brazilian Kevin Durant and that's all I needed to hear in order to be as hyped as possible.
Fraschilla was right. Caboclo's game is so elementary right now I have no idea how to evaluate it. His summer league started with him not realizing a lob was being thrown to him, a travel, failing to catch a pass when he got it in the corner, and getting 2 fouls in three and a half minutes. Then, all of a sudden, he drains a step-back three right in the eye of a defender and looked very good on catch and shoots. He moves awkwardly and doesn't quite understand basketball yet. It's going to be a while before the Raptors see results on him, but it could be worth it. Other tidbits...
The third game of the evening was the one I was looking the most forward to the most and it was between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Milwaukee Bucks. Four premier talents would be on the floor in Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Jabari Parker, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. During the first two games, the Cox Pavilion was relatively full due to the Thomas and Mack Center only having two games today, but this was completely sold out. There were at least a hundred people standing atop the rafters, behind the media rows, or sitting in the isles. Everyone was standing during warm-ups and the "ooooh!" sound bytes were in full effect whenever anyone did something somewhat cool.
It was a slow start, mostly due to the refs calling just about anything in order to "teach the players" or whatever the hell the point is there, but in the mid second quarter things got going. Wiggins finally dunked (he only did layups in the warm-ups. I was not pleased about it), had another and-1 that looked like there was a trampoline under the hardwood, and a dirty stepback from the elbow. He was hitting his threes with confidence and was the best player on the floor in my opinion. Giannis had an "in your eye" three, ran the point at times despite being SIX FREAKING ELEVEN, and looked confident and skilled. Jabari showcased why he is by far the best scorer out of this draft despite a rough shooting night. HIs shot selection will continue to improve and it's something he needs to work on. Anthony Bennett attempted to kill the rim on a fast break and was chucking up the threes to keep his acclaim as a stretch four. He was trying to beat out Tim Hardaway Jr. for the greenest light of the day I guess. It was a lot of fun to watch and it was well worth showing up for.
The fourth and final game was between the Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs. This one was relatively quiet, mainly due to the buzz for the previous game and the amount of empty seats. Bullets only here...
The aftermath post LeBron has obviously extended to Phoenix now with the Isaiah Thomas signing and Luol Deng rumor, and that goes even further into tomorrow's summer league opener for the Suns. Those signings could restrict the playing time we thought was a given for the likes of TJ Warren and Tyler Ennis. It also puts more money in other places while the hole at stretch four still exists, so that's even more of a spotlight on Alec Brown. Those three have a lot to play for.
The Suns play the Golden State Warriors tomorrow. The Warriors did not have a selection in the 2014 NBA draft but they had four in 2012. The first round pick from that year was Festus Ezeli, but he is now out due to injury. That turns the attention to Nemanja Nedovic and Ognjen Kuzmic.
Nedovic, the 30th selection in 2013, had an injury plagued rookie year that didn't allow him much playing time to get acclimated to the NBA. He's an explosive 2 guard that is undersized at 6'4. He loves to get to the basket and is always trying to get there. Kuzmic was the 52nd selection for the Warriors in 2012 and is a true 7 footer. In the D-League last year Kuzmic averaged nearly 12 rebounds a game and 1.6 blocks a game. The stat that stands out for him is his offensive rebounding, as he averaged 4.3 a game in the D-League last season. The injury riddled front court in Golden State has Warriors fans paying a lot of attention to Kuzmic.
Other notable names to watch on the roster include James Michael McAdoo, a projected top 5 pick out of high school before falling off the face of the earth and going undrafted. Former Big-12 scoring machine Rodney McGruder will also be with the Warriors. Lastly, the all-time leader in three-point field goals in NCAA history Travis Bader will be doing double duty after playing for the Sixers in the Orlando summer league.
As an opponent, Suns fans should be excited to see the likes of Miles Plumlee, Alex Len, and Alec Brown take on a true 7 footer in Kuzmic. That duo of Nedovic and McGruder should provide some competition for Archie Goodwin and Ennis. Overall, this is a team that the Suns should be able to handle pretty easily. Nedovic and Kuzmic will be intriguing and will have their success, but I expect the Suns to come out on top tomorrow. Until then...
Isaiah Thomas has always been overlooked. Now in Phoenix, he will be center stage as an electric player off the bench for likely a playoff team.
Today, once the Suns complete the trade call with the Kings and the league, Isaiah Thomas will be a Phoenix Sun. He comes to the Suns expecting to be the third guard, behind starters Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.
Check out the fact that he's already in a Phoenix road uni in his twitter profile. His facebook page also has Phoenix Suns all over it already. Give the man some love, Suns fans!
All three Suns guards have similar profiles:
Dragic and Bledsoe are bigger and can defend better (Bledsoe to the extreme on this end), but Thomas is the more accomplished true scorer. And he doesn't lack for confidence.
"If I was 6-foot, I would be signing for $90 million contract, just like [Kyrie Irving]," Thomas told Slam Online last week. "I'm 5-foot-9 and that's why I was the 60th pick. That's why the Kings keep bringing new guys in. That's the reason why. And I understand and you can't put it past that. If I was 6-foot, I would be a max player. I think a lot of people feel that way, too."
True enough, compare Thomas' numbers to Kyrie Irving, whose team didn't win any more games in his first three seasons than Thomas' Kings.
Truly, Irving is a more talented player than Isaiah Thomas, not just bigger. But is he twice as talented? That's where the opportunity becomes exciting.
Phoenix Suns GM Ryan McDonough always talks about identifying undervalued players for acquisition. He's not about overpaying for talent. Yesterday, the Suns agreed to pay Thomas just under $7 million per year for the next four guaranteed years (no options).
"We welcome Isaiah Thomas," said President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby in the official press release today. "His addition to our backcourt makes it one of the deepest and most dynamic in the league. We have enjoyed getting to know him during his visit to Phoenix this week. He will quickly become a fan-favorite."
"Isaiah is one of the most dynamic scorers and playmakers in the NBA," said General Manager Ryan McDonough in the official press release today. "I have always admired his competitive spirit and his love for the game. He will be a great fit for our up-tempo attack and he will help solidify what we believe is the best backcourt in the league."
If Thomas is that good, why would he want to join the Suns just to be a backup?
"I just want to be wanted. I don't know if they really want me like other teams do. Like I said, since day one I just want to be wanted.
"I'm going to just continue working hard, continue to be me, and hopefully a real good team wants me on their team and I can go there."
--Thomas to Slam Online
As an undersized player, Isaiah Thomas was always overlooked.
He was not recruited heavily to college, but then succeeded in becoming one of the nation's best scoring playmakers at Washington. Yet after proving himself all four years in college, he was barely drafted to the NBA - taken with the very last pick of the 2011 draft.
In the NBA, he was immediately placed behind the 10th overall pick Jimmer Fredette on the rookie depth chart. But the diminutive Thomas ended up playing the 5th most minutes on the team as a rookie, starting 37 of 65 games in a strike-shortened season. He was 4th in scoring (11.8), 2nd in assists (4.1) and 1st in 3P% (37.9%). He even had a 3:1 assist/turnover ratio, making him an efficient option running the point.
The next year, Thomas was the starting point guard for 62 of his 79 games. He was flanked by erstwhile
ball handlers ball hoggers John Salmons and Tyreke Evans, but led the team in assists (4.1) and was 3rd in points (13.9).
As a reward for his good play, the Kings benched Thomas. They traded Evans that offseason for point guard Grievis Vasquez who had just finished a breakout second season with the Hornets (13.9 points, 9.0 assists per game).
"It hurt," Thomas said to Slam Online last week of the Vasquez acquisition. "But at the same time that's been my story my whole life. People have doubted me, people always bring guys in who they think are going to outplay me or outwork me and that's just not the case. I'm going to just continue working hard, continue to be me, and hopefully a real good team wants me on their team and I can go there."
But Thomas beat out Vasquez for the starting position, and Vasquez was eventually traded to Toronto in the Rudy Gay deal.
"Thomas is much better than Greivis Vasquez and earned the starting spot fair and square," SactownRoyalty.com editor Aykis shared via email to me last night. "Vasquez wasn't terrible, but the Kings offense proved to be much more efficient with Thomas on the floor than Vasquez and so did the defense. There were only two players last season that made the Kings better offensively and defensively according to Basketball-Reference's On-Off stats and they were DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas."
Vasquez played well in Toronto as they bull dozed to 3rd in the East. He just signed a new contract with Toronto for $13 million for 2 years ($6.5 million per year) to back up starter Kyle Lowry ($12 million per year). Toronto's other starting guard, DeMar DeRozan, makes more than $11 million per year. So, Toronto's top three guards will make about $30 million between them.
Thomas finished the season with an eye-popping line of 20.3 points, 6.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game, despite only starting 54 of 72 games. In those 54 starts, Thomas averaged 21.1 points and 6.8 assists.
In 18 games as a reserve, while Vasquez started, Thomas threw up 17.8 points and 4.9 assists per game in only 27.7 minutes. Damn. That's production right there, folks. Meet your new 6th man.
"Isaiah Thomas is one of the best scorers in the league," Aykis said. "That is not stretching the truth. In just his first three years in the league, Thomas has proven that he can score on anyone and everyone. His size is not a disadvantage here. He gets to the bucket easily and finishes very well. He's got some of the best hesitation moves and is an excellent stop and pop shooter from mid-range to the three point line. He has the ability to take over games; In one game against the Thunder in which the Kings were being blown out, he scored 21 points in the fourth quarter alone, singlehandedly bringing the Kings back."
So, why would Sacramento want to get rid of Thomas?
Of course, Thomas has his flaws. On offense, he can take bad shots and on defense he just doesn't have the size to compete against the bigger opposing guards.
"As for weaknesses, Thomas is sometimes too aggressive," Aykis said. "He jacks up shots that most players wouldn't dare to take (the catch being that he also makes more of those shots than most players would) and he tends to overdribble. His distribution skills are not bad, especially for a score-first point guard, but they also aren't elite. Passing will always be Plan B for him.
"Defensively, Thomas isn't great, but it's not for lack of effort. At times he can be a pest, but his lack of size makes him especially bad when helping or trying to chase spot-up shooters."
Despite adding a renowned defensive coach in Mike Malone, the Kings were still just 23rd in defensive efficiency last season. This was a stop up from being 30th and 29th in the prior two seasons, but still pretty bad.
But Thomas is a great asset, and that goes way beyond the basketball court. His fans will miss him greatly.
"Honestly, this is what is perplexing Kings fans the most," Aykis said. "Thomas was a fan favorite, both for his on-court ability and his off-court persona. It's possible that the new management is trying to make this their team and clean house, but to cut ties with one of the only good assets they had makes little sense to me.
"The truth of the matter is that it came down to vision and money; The Kings did not see Isaiah Thomas as a starting point guard and as such didn't want to pay him starting point guard money. In their eyes they could get a quality guy in Darren Collison for less money to replace much of the value they lost in Thomas. That remains to be seen but all the evidence suggests that Thomas is a much better player than Collison."
And as far as the price, the Suns are paying - $27 million over 4 years, with reportedly declining salaries in future years as the Suns inch closer and closer to that luxury tax line - Aykis has some input on that as well.
"I think it's a perfect price for Thomas," Aykis said. "Should his production remain similar, he's fantastic value to contract and a great overall asset for the Suns."
"Thomas's best role is that of a scorer," Aykis said. "That's why so many consider him to be a 6th man type. He is good enough to be a starter in my opinion, but the Suns already have two amazing guards in Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe (assuming they bring back Bledsoe). If you need points, putting in Isaiah Thomas will help you out. If you need energy, Isaiah Thomas will help you out."
Thomas is super-personable, and offers great energy with a chip on his shoulder. He will always give you great effort and scoring.
Let me repeat that earlier stat of Thomas coming off the bench last season. 17.8 points and 4.9 assists in 27.7 minutes per game as a reserve.
But is he easy to root for? Let's ask Aykis.
"I just want to say that Phoenix Suns fans are getting one of the easiest guys in the NBA to root for. Thomas is a guy that works his butt off, never gives up, never says never, and will never quit. We will miss him in Sacramento and I think it's very possible that the Kings will regret their decision to not bring him back."
Not only is this a huge value deal for the Suns, it signals that the Suns are not taking next year lightly. The Suns want to win and win big, and one way to do that is to have an elite scoring guard off the bench.
The Clippers have Jamal Crawford. The Thunder used to have James Harden.
And now the Suns have Isaiah Thomas.
Check out this free agent scouting video from Draft Express. Mike Schmitz kills it with these things. If you're not convinced about Isaiah Thomas yet, watch this to see his strengths and weaknesses, replete with video evidence of it all.