The annual NBA Las Vegas Summer League wrapped up this past Sunday. 24 teams played a total of 60 games over the span of 10 days, and fans got to see the next stars of the NBA as rookies and sophomores headlined most of the teams that took part.
Your Phoenix Suns were one of the teams that sent a squad to Vegas, and fans got to see second-year big man Markieff Morris dominate and rookie point guard Kendall Marshall dive head-first into professional basketball for the first time. Unfortunately, the Summer Suns, led by Suns assistant coach Dan Majerle, struggled and finished the week with a 2-3 record.
However, despite the losing record there were plenty of positives to come out of Summer League for the Suns. Some of the important Suns-related story lines are Markieff Morris playing like a man amongst boys, Kendall Marshal making his professional debut and showing steady improvement, an undrafted free agent securing a training camp invite and another free agent and former second round draft pick earning a contract with the Suns.
Make the jump for a more in-depth look at all these story lines and more.
The Summer Suns kicked off their week in Vegas with a victory with Kendall Marshall on the sidelines while dealing with his contract. However, they played the Knicks, who quite possibly fielded the worst team in Vegas. The team struggled offensively after that and dropped the next three games against the Cavaliers, Hornets and D-League Select team. They bounced back with a win against the Memphis Grizzlies to wrap up their five-game schedule in Sin City.
The team's struggles were rooted in the construction of the roster. As you can see in the chart above, there were a lot of forwards on the team and not much else. There were too many five tweener forwards who all did some of the same things on the court, and not enough ball-handlers or shooters. However, Summer League isn't about wins and losses. It doesn't even mean all that much to the draft picks as they already have roster spots secured. It's about the other guys. It is about the undrafted players trying to get their names out there. It is about the former draft picks who are trying to get back into the league. For those players, Summer League is an audition.
The Suns had nine such players on the roster this year. Some of them impressed, others ... not so much.
Marcus Landry, the younger brother of Carl Landry, took advantage of his opportunities and finished as the team's second-leading scorer. He was the target of many Kendall Marshall skip passes and drive-and-kicks and led the team with 10 made 3-pointers. DeShawn Sims finished third in scoring and rebounding, and showed off some offensive skill, but he also looked like a guy trying to prove himself and get his rather than playing team ball. Neither player earned contracts or training camp invites from the Suns as of yet, but they both showed enough that they might get some interest from other teams.
Diante Garrett started at point guard in Kendall Marshall's place in the first game and was very impressive with eight points and 10 assists. He didn't put up the same kind of numbers after that as he was moved to the bench when Marshall became eligible to play, but he still showed the ability to do a little bit of everything out on the court. He still needs to improve his jumper as he missed every 3-pointer he shot, but if the Suns didn't already have three point guards on the roster I would advocate giving him a shot to compete in training camp for a roster spot.
Matt Gatens lived up to his reputation as a great shooter, but didn't do much and played very sparingly. Similarly, David Lighty proved himself to be a good perimeter defender as expected but struggled mightily on offense.
Matt Howard and Patrick O'Bryant did little other than proving they aren't NBA players.
Now let's take a look at the guys that will be part of the Suns moving forward.
The Suns' 2011 lottery pick finally got to play in his first Summer League, and he did not disappoint. Morris led the team in points, rebounds and blocks and finished tenth in scoring and second in rebounding among all players in Vegas. He looked like a man amongst boys all week, and at times he was unstoppable.
Morris showed off an improved all-around game. He did some work in the low post, the release on his jumper looked faster than last year and he was a beast on the offensive glass.
Where he was at his best, however, is operating out of the high post. Morris is a versatile offensive player, but he is primarily a face-up four. Morris was effective when he got the ball around the elbow and was able to look at the floor and find his spots. He is a threat both to shoot and put the ball on the floor and attack the basket. He's also a pretty good passer.
However, some of the problems that plagued him as a rookie also reared their ugly heads in Vegas.
Morris continued to struggle with fouls, averaging five fouls per game and picking up six fouls in three of them. In Summer League you're allowed 10 personal fouls before being disqualified, so perhaps Morris didn't worry so much about picking a couple cheap ones up. Also, the referees in Vegas aren't exactly top of the line, so the validity of at least a few of those fouls is very much in question. However, it is something we are going to have to keep an eye on in the preseason where he figures to play plenty of minutes. Will he be able to stay on the floor?
The other problem is Morris' finishing ability. He shot 39.9% from the field as a rookie last season, and was only marginally better than that at 41.5%. Those are not good numbers for anyone, let alone a big man. He misses a lot of put-backs and shots around the baskets still. It doesn't matter how well you can beat your man and get to the basket if the shot doesn't go in. To be fair, he had to take a lot of really difficult shots because of the players around him. He was the go-to guy, and when things broke down and the the clock was running down he was the guy that had to get a shot off. That's tough to do when you're the sole focus of the defense and you don't have shooters around you spacing the floor. Morris won't be asked to do nearly as much during the regular season as he was this summer, but he'll still have to find a way to finish plays at a much higher rate.
Kendall Marshall got off to a rough start, but he made adjustments and got better every game. As I wrote after his second game, Marshall is a work in progress and we will have to be patient as he develops and learns the NBA game. However, his double-double in the final game against the Grizzlies was great to see.
Marshall finished first in assists per game in Vegas, which isn't surprising. We all know he can pass the ball. He excels in pushing the pace and advancing the ball up the court in a hurry. Marshall sees the floor very well and is adept at finding the open man, wherever he may be on the court.
He also showed improvement in attacking the basket, both to score himself and to set up others. He's going to have to become very comfortable operating in the paint, because he's not going to be effective trying to just direct traffic from the perimeter.
As Leiland pointed out here, Marshall has yet to earn the back-up point guard spot. However, the skills he showed in Vegas point to him being able to take that spot at some point this season, as long as he continues to work hard.
Tucker was not the most statistically impressive player on the roster, finishing seventh in points per game at a paltry 5.8 and only starting one game. However, he did finish second on the team in rebounds at 6.2 and impressed the coaching staff enough to earn not just a training camp invitation, but, according to Paul Coro, a two-year contract with the club as well (first year partially guaranteed).
Tucker is a 6-foot-6 224-pound forward who was taken 35th overall by the Toronto Raptors in the 2005 NBA Draft after a standout career at the University of Texas. As detailed in the Coro piece I linked to above (you really should read it), Tucker's immaturity as a young player in Toronto was the reason he lost his spot in the NBA. After a few years playing overseas (and playing well), Tucker returned to the States and is ready to work for his spot. From Coro's story:
"I didn't get the big picture or that it's a business." [Tucker said.] "You have to understand your role on a team. You see kids come after you and do the same thing. So many never play and say they got screwed by the GM or coach. When you can be real with yourself and understand why, that's really when it comes to life."
Tucker really does seem to get it now. He's turning down more money in Europe for another shot at the NBA. As for the kind of player he is, here's a couple more excerpts from Coro's story:
"I love P.J." Suns summer coach Dan Majerle said. "He's right after my own heart. That guy plays extremely hard. He does everything you ask of him"
"First and foremost, I'm going to help the young guys and always be a positive voice in the locker room," [Tucker said.] "I look at myself as a defensive player first but I can rebound and handle the ball. I just stick my neck out and play hard. I never let anyone outwork me."
Again, this is a great piece by Coro. Go read the whole thing. Do it.
Charles Garcia impressed the team early on and earned an invite to training camp after only two games in Vegas. He finished the week fourth in points at nine per game and second only to Morris in offensive rebounds at 1.6 per game. Garcia spent the last two seasons playing in the D-League, and he averaged 13.8 points and 6.7 rebounds last year.
Garcia is raw but he he has excellent physical tools and he leaves it all out on the court. Dan Majerle called him a "joy to coach." Right now, Garcia's understanding of the game is behind his physical abilities. He's going to have to work hard to learn the mental side of the game if he wants to stick in the NBA.
"I think he is a good talent," Majerle said. "We've thrown a lot at him, he's had a hard time taking it all in and remembering it. But he's a guy who can get out and run, plays hard defensively, he can shoot the basketball."
Whether he makes the team or not, Garcia's intensity and work ethic should be great to have in camp, and being around NBA players and coaches can only help Garcia in his development.