After a 6-0 start to the 2013 NBA Summer League the Phoenix Suns fell short to their in season divisional rival, the Golden State Warriors, but in a fashion that has to be commended. The team took this summer serious, tried to win, and sent out the "A-Team" to get the job done.
From the rookies on the court to the rookies on the bench; we scope how the summer went overall for the Suns in the first every "meaningful" Summer League in NBA history.
Ninth Topic: Five Questions on the Summer League Final (Championship Game)
1. Breaking the Ice: How does it feel...? To be the runner-ups at the inaugural Summer League Championships?
Jim Coughenour: The parade through downtown Phoenix has been canceled. The champagne was carted out of the locker room as the players entered after the game. Championship rings were melted down. Lon Babby's statue in front of USAC is on an indefinite hold. Championship t-shirts have been shipped to a third world country (per Richard). Excursus aside... they won six games and had players evidence growth and promise. Sting mollified.
Jacob Padilla: I'm not going to lie. It hurts. It hurts real bad. Or not. Seriously though, even finishing second out of all the teams in Vegas is pretty cool. We got to see Suns players doing well and had some fun along the way. It was cool to see the vets stick around and go for it all when they really didn't have to.
Dave King: It sucks. And it hurts. It's most disappointing to me because that's the way the Suns are going to lose a lot of games next year. Kids are inconsistent. What they do well one game doesn't carry over. What they do well one quarter, even, doesn't carry over. And it doesn't hurt any less just because there's "promise" and "hope". I hate watching the Suns lose.
Kris Habbas: The Suns sent a seasoned group to Las Vegas and nearly came away with the franchises first championship! To me the biggest thing that I took away from this experience is that the team really wanted this and tried to win. They took the opportunity to play in July serious.
Richard Parker: It's a little disappointing that they weren't able to win it all and really continue a phenomenal summer, especially since this is the most invested Suns fans have been in Summer League in a long time (probably ever). However, I'm glad the team did well and was able to enjoy some success while showing several great things out on the court in Vegas.
Sean Sullivan: Feels almost great to be almost champions.
2. Scoping the entirety of Summer League, what were you the most impressed with from the rookie players and the rookie coach?
JP: I liked the way Hornacek got the team to play his way and the results in terms of points and wins speak for themselves. I also thought he made some adjustments throughout the run that helped the team get better. He did his job. As for the players, Archie Goodwin is clearly the headliner from Vegas. He showed off his athleticism and knack for drawing contact, and Suns fan are getting excited. Oriakhi didn't really show anything at all, although he was stuck behind more experienced players in the Morri and Arinze Onuaku.
DK: If I step back a bit to when they were 6-0, I can see a lot of progress and growth. I like that Hornacek is instilling an identity, and that he knows how to make it work. Even in the loss in the Final, the Suns were disciplined in their offensive sets. Every shot was a quality shot after several passes, either behind the 3-point line or within 15 feet of the basket. Rarely did the Suns hoist a shot they didn't want. Unfortunately, the layups didn't go in, and then the team got run over by a hot-shooting team. But there's a plan - run fast, play smart, get out in transition, play tough defense, get out in transition, make shots. Drive, kick, pass, shoot, swish. That's an identity. And, by the way, they made a lot of shots. Everyone looked like a better shooter after only a few weeks with Hornacek after finishing last season as one of the worst shooting teams in the league. (exceptions: Marshall still needs to totally rebuild his shot, and P.J. is just never going to be a dead-eye 3-point shooter)
KH: There is almost nothing that can be taken away from the coaching staff because there is little strategy in this format, but Archie Goodwin showed a lot. He is an NBA level athlete and this was hopefully the injection of confidence that Goodwin needed to get his career going after an up-and-down year at Kentucky.
RP: I was really impressed with the success the team had pushing the ball consistently. Hornacek had this team run and that's an exciting thought for fans eager to see the team play in October. I was also obviously impressed with Goodwin's level of play, which was beyond what I could have even hoped.
SS: I liked the aggressive style of play and the tempo set by Hornacek. As for the players, Goodwin was easily the most positive sign for our future.
JC: Hornacek = equanimity. McDonough = engaging. Goodwin = potential. Marcus = liberated. Onuaku = ogre.
3. On the other side of things what were you not impressed with?
DK: I was not impressed with... not much. Actually, there really wasn't much to dislike about the SL Suns. The Morris brothers looked focused, P.J. looked like a leader, Goodwin was great-win most of the time, Hornacek showed an ability to coach an identity that people will like to watch. Even Marshall wasn't totally terrible. It's just that the offense doesn't cater to his strengths unless they are in transition. In the half-court, the guards have to be able to shoot or drive and kick/score. That's not Marshall.
KH: Other than the contracted players the Suns sent to Vegas there were zero NBA quality big men on the roster. Some showed flashes, but the search for the fifth big man continues...
RP: Alex Oriakhi was thoroughly underwhelming. To be fair, he didn't really receive many minutes (and he is a bottom of the second round draft pick) but he was overshadowed from the start by Onuaku and never really regained momentum after that.
SS: Some of the things I was hoping to see our players improve on individually. I wanted Markieff to be more of a force in the paint...didn't happen. I also wanted more scoring attempts from Marshall...nope. In their defense though, I thought both the Morrii and even Marshall played well overall, and showed some things they had improved or added to their games.
JC: Marshall = passive. Markieff = inconsistent.
JP: I wasn't all that impressed with Marcus Morris despite how much attention he was getting from NBA TV. He had a different role than he hopefully will with the Suns this year, but he looked to force too much by himself rather than taking good shots and playing within the flow of the offense more often than not.
4. The team sent a lot of contracted players to Summer League and won. In that, are they setting a new precedent?
KH: Hopefully. If a rookie or sophomore player is not doing something else to get better in June and July then they should be at Summer League. Some do not need it, obviously, while others clearly do. You know who needs to be here and who does not.
RP: I don't think it was really a precedent that they were setting. I think that is attributed to the fact that the team has a rookie head coach who wanted to get some actual coaching action with a roster filled with Summer League-eligible players.
SS: I doubt it. I think this was more about a new coaching staff trying to get a look at their young-ish players than anything else.
JC: I think it had more to do with the transition than being a bellwether. Hornacek's inexperience was the deciding factor in him being there. I think it was more of a get to know you mixer than a trend. Also... the Suns have plenty of underperforming players in need of seasoning. Too bad there aren't more games... these guys need them.
JP: I doubt it. Summer League wins aren't really valued so winning isn't motivation to send the big guns. The Suns were a bit unique in that they had so many players that were eligible to play in Vegas who were both healthy and wanted to participate, but that won't be the case most years.
DK: I am glad they took SL seriously. I mean, why not? There are several developing players on the team, and players are always more focused when they have something to play for. Plus, Hornacek and his staff needed to actually coach something to prove to themselves they can do it as a unit. Mission accomplished.
5. Should this be the norm going forward to give more legitimacy to the concept of Summer League?
RP: I definitely like the tournament format a lot. I think the legitimacy of sending a roster NBA-caliber players should be evaluated on a team-by-team basis. I think it was a great move for this Suns team but obviously (and hopefully) that will change in a couple years when we're more successful in the regular season and have mostly veterans that are too advanced to play in SL.
SS: Only if there is a reason. I think Summer League is still best left up to rookies trying to adapt their games, and free agents looking to find a home in the NBA.
JC: It was already the norm. The Suns ended up being bridesmaids again. I think this experience is invaluable for rookies and players trying to crack rosters, but having multiple rotation players attend doesn't inspire confidence. In order for the competition to be legitimized there needs to be an incentive. For most of these teams it's just not there.
DK: In the larger scheme, I sure hope other teams start taking it more seriously. Why wouldn't Charlotte, in the same boat as the Suns, not want to win something after going through all that losing? Why waste that opportunity? You are in the middle of 5-6 months off, and the only way the next season will be better is to make your players better in the off-season. SL is potentially a big part of that. Kind of like the minors. I love it, and I hope other teams start to feel the same.
KH: That would be great. Who wouldn't want to see as many first round picks from the current draft as well as the previous draft to showcase each teams talents. The Suns did that, the Charlotte Bobcats did that, and so did a few other teams. If that became the norm then everyone wins. Teams, players, fans, and the concept of Summer League.
6. BONUS: Does Summer League create a "false confidence" in players that will fill a role in the regular season or is it good to see them in this environment taking control?
SS: I don't think so...I think the players understand their roles for the most part. I think the false confidence is more about the fans watching the games and expecting these young players to be those same world beaters once the season starts, only to watch the majority of them ride the pine in the end.
JC: I don't know. Markieff was a presence the previous summer and we all know how that went. Confidence is great... even false confidence at times. These players just need people preaching perspective to them. These are building blocks, not pyramids. Just because they tinker toyed their way through the SL doesn't mean it translates to prime time. Just ask Deion.
JP: Not if the player has the right attitude. I doubt P.J. Tucker is going to use this SL run as a reason for him to try to take over for the Suns late in games. It's always a good feeling when you play well, so as long as the player doesn't use it as a reason to not work as hard then it is almost all positive.
DK: I don't know about false confidence, but I guess it's possible. Not sure any of them can have more confidence than they already have. There are no wallflowers on this team. The Morris, Marshall, Goodwin and Tucker all feel like they are pretty darn good players. I guess you could say losing in the Final might help ground them, to make them work hard the rest of the summer, so there's that. But I think Hornacek would have made them work regardless.
KH: There is the caveat to everything above, right? Is coach Hornacek going to be able corral Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris from being perimeter oriented, jacking up jumpers, and playing small? Is he going to be able to remind them that during the regular season roles are clearly more defined? Bad habits have a habit of not dying...
RP: I don't think so. At least, I hope not. These players should (and I think do) know that summer league is an environment for them to showcase their talents in an attempt to earn a roster spot or show that they deserve a larger role with their team next year. It think it's a great place for many young players and fringe-NBA guys to show what they can do and display their off-season improvements.