Never Forget.... Never Forget.
The Phoenix Suns played their last regular season game on April 16th and here we are 85 days later ready to play a Summer League game... Where has the time gone?
This year the Suns are the San Antonio Spurs of Summer League with redemption and glory on their minds. In 2013 they fell short to the Golden State Warriors in the Summer League Championship Game. This year they are on a mission. I wonder if head coach Mike Longabardi showed the team that loss to kick off practice getting ready for Summer League? That would be awesome.
Enough of me, let’s get to what matters. Some of the staff takes on the Summer League, here we go.
1. Breaking the Ice: Summer League starts this weekend where the Phoenix Suns look to defend (or improve) their runner-up finish from last year. Expectations?
Kris Habbas: Well, Summer League. The Suns are going to send out 4-5 contracted players and another rookie they have the rights to in Alec Brown so this is a unique team. They are also going to be coached by a assistant that is looking for a head coaching gig down the road. On paper a Tyler Ennis, Archie Goodwin, and T.J. Warren trio on the perimeter is as fun as it gets in Summer League. Without dissecting the rosters I fully expect the team to be very competitive and have a shot at winning the ship.
Dave King: Last year, the Suns were buoyed by the Morris brothers and P.J. Tucker, all a bit old for SL, and so they dominated. The shiny new diamond was Archie Goodwin who showed flashes of being a future star. This summer, all eyes are on Archie to break out, and maybe another youngun or two, but hopes for an SL championship should be put on hold.
Kellan Olson: I am expecting the Suns to be one of the best teams in Vegas but I am not expecting a title. They were playing with 3 legitimate NBA rotation players last season in PJ Tucker and the Morri. Individually, I think that Archie Goodwin and T.J. Warren will be two of the best scorers in Vegas and Miles Plumlee is probably the best center there. Alex Oriakhi didn't get much playing time last year in Vegas but I expect for him to not only get much more playing time but be very impressive as well. I am split on the impact that Tyler Ennis and Alex Len will have there, and my satisfaction level leaving Vegas will most likely hinge on how those two look.
Sean Sullivan: I expect the Suns to be just as good as last year. They will be missing the Morris twins, and Tucker, but gaining the likes of T.J. Warren, Alex Len, and Plumlee...along with Ennis who has a penchant for hitting clutch shots. But really, I think the Summer Suns will go as Archie goes. Goodwin played terrific last year, and with a full season of development and his continued progress, I expect him to be the difference. Although Warren can also light up the scoreboard, and he will, I think Archie will be the engine that drives the team this summer.
Austin Elmer: Archie will thrive in the summer league (18 ppg). T.J. Warren will show the fans why we picked him 14th overall, the dude can put the ball in the hoop. Tyler Ennis will show fans why he is not the next Kendall Marshall. Alex Len aka Sir Lencelot will dominate in the post with his added muscle. I expect this roster to be a top three team in the summer league.
DK: For Tyler Ennis, I'm looking for him to be different than Kendall Marshall. Marshall was only a small part of the SL team last year, averaging 7 points and 4 assists as the starter in his second SL. Tyler Ennis profiles similar to Marshall in skill-set, so I'm looking for a difference in attitude, effort and coachability. And hopefully, a little more scoring punch. Warren will provide plenty of scoring punch though, along with returnee Archie Goodwin. Those two should lead the team in scoring. Alec Brown will show us what he did in college - make some threes and block some shots, but otherwise look like he needs some overseas seasoning.
KO: We know what all three will bring. Warren will score, Ennis will run the show, and Brown will hit threes. What I will be looking at is their "weaknesses". Can Warren rebound, defend, and shoot from the SF position? Can Ennis shoot consistently, still get to the basket on a regular basis, and finish at the rim? Will Brown be able to survive down low with the big bodies at only 222 lbs? This is what I will be looking at more than anything else for the trio.
SS: With Warren, I expect him to be the first or second option to score on offense, depending on whether Archie is on the court. I think he will impress with his versatility and ability to score in and around the paint. Ennis needs to show that he can facilitate the offense and also take advantage of the defense if they sag off, or allow open lanes for him to drive...plus that clutch shooting may come in handy. As for Brown, I want to see him light it up from downtown. If you are expecting anything more from the 7' 1" shooter, just remember, there's a reason he went 50th overall.
KH: Can Ennis run the offense with his pace, but with the style that was successful for the team last year? Will Warren's in-between scoring translate to the NBA without a three-point shot? Who is Brown in the NBA? There are a lot of questions with these rookies and none of them will be answered in this setting, but they will be addressed here leading into training camp.
AE: I know Warren can score, so that is expected, what I'm looking for in Warren is an excellent defensive performance. Not including the first game, which is the hardest for point guards to adjust to, I expect Ennis to distribute the ball efficiently throughout the summer league. What I'll be watching is his ability to guard athletically superior guards and his ability to drive past defenders. My hope for Alec Brown is that he shows he is NBA ready, it's not very realistic but that is what I want to see. I expect him to knock down 2 threes per game, if he gets the playing time.
3. Archie (Goodwin) & Alex (Len) will be there too… Should they assume leadership roles because of tenure or see what happens organically?
KO: Organically. I think that Miles Plumlee and Dionte Christmas will assume those roles, particularly Dionte. Luckily, the Suns aren't the Magic and Sixers in that some of their best players are very young. We might see a day when Archie and Alex have to be the leaders of this team, but that's very far away.
SS: I think Goodwin will, but not Len. I think Archie will naturally assume a leadership type of role, and I don't think it will be forced. He already has a season under his belt, and did well in his first summer league performance. He and Christmas seem like the most natural fits for the leadership role right now.
KH: Archie & Alex HAS to be a goofy program on Suns TV they do during commercials... Follow them around doing random things with Alex only speaking Ukrainian and Archie constantly reminding him he does not speak Ukrainian. Make it happen. In Summer League though I fully expect a monster summer from Archie. Not saying that translates to the NBA season per say, but this is a setting where he can shine with his athleticism and a lack of defense played in general. This is more of the summer for Miles Plumlee to develop in my opinion and allow Alex to slowly progress, gain strength, and get back to being the prospect that the team drafted him to be.
DK: I don't expect Alex Len to show any leadership. He's basically a rookie out here, and remember that he's still just 20 years old - the same age as T.J. Warren, and younger than most everyone else on the roster. Plus, Len is not naturally a leader. He likes to fit in and let the game come to him. Let's hope it comes to him a lot. Archie Goodwin, on the other hand, could very well be a leader in his second SL. He was a surprising star last summer, and ended the NBA season with 29 points against Ben McLemore and the Sacramento Kings. He just might be out here to show the world that Archie Goodwin is ready to make his mark on the league.
AE: It should not be forced upon them, especially since they are still very young. If they obtain a leadership role organically that's great, if not, it's not a huge loss. Archie and Sir Lencelot have plenty of time to become leaders in the future, although I can very much see Archie becoming a leader on this SL team.
4. There is an obvious "bench niche shooter" spot being auditioned for here with the incumbent Dionte Christmas, Seth Curry, and Taylor Braun. Odds one makes the roster with 10-guaranteed contracts on the books (two team options)?
SS: I really like Christmas, if for no other reason than him being the perfect teammate and locker room guy. I would love to see him come out and score double digits in each game and hit some big shots for the Summer Suns. Still, I think Curry and Braun will give him some competition. Both have other aspects of their game that are intriguing besides just their shooting. From a skill/talent standpoint, I think Braun may have the leg up because of his versatility to play both wing positions, but he'll have to show he can defend as well. If it's a close competition between them, I think Christmas wins out because of his chemistry with the team.
KH: With Channing Frye gone I would not be shocked that one of these shooters and Alec Brown both make the roster in some capacity. Whoever is in this spot will likely play a similar role on the team as Christmas did last year getting in here-and-there, providing good practice competition, and adding quality depth. This team needs shooting in the worst way looking at the roster as of today the best pure shooters are Gerald Green and Marcus Morris. Braun has size, Curry has pedigree, and Christmas has the team experience. They all bring something to the table.
DK: 95%. I am pulling for an early Christmas present. As I said on the podcast (apologies to the 5 of you who listened that long for repeating myself), I love what Christmas brings to the locker room and the bench. Without Christmas and Ish Smith, the locker room runs the risk of being very quiet and by extension a little disjointed. The Morrii, Len, Goodwin, Dragic, and others are naturally quiet. And so it appears the rookies are too. Bring some Christmas back!
KO: 90%. Christmas is the obvious favorite because of how great he was on the bench and in the locker room. He was even pretty solid when he came off the bench to play given the expectations. I'm a big fan of Braun and Curry lit it up in the NBDL last year. Curry is intriguing because he averaged 6 assists per game last year so could he be that 4th point guard and the shooter as well? Braun is a different kind of player, as he's a SF/SG that is looking to attack the basket as well as shoot +40% from deep.
AE: 70% I can see the Suns going else where with a bigger free agent, but I hope one of these guys can make the roster. Christmas is most likely to get the role because of his chemistry with the team, but I'd rather have Curry or Braun on the roster next year. Mostly, Curry because I want to be able to yell 'Curry for three' next year and not be rooting for the Warriors. The Suns could always use an extra shooter and any of these guys could fill that role. I'm an avid supporter of 'Threes To Win.'
5. Mike Longabardi is coaching, which is awesome since he is a prospective future head coach. Thoughts on this decision?
KH: Would have been cool to see Mark West out there or the D-League Coach, but this is a great call. He gets to run practices, bond with the young roster, and bring that to the regular season. He has a lot of respect here in Phoenix and that is translating league-wide as a potential future NBA head coach.
DK: Love it. Longabardi needs a chance to show he can scheme an entire game to win, despite not having much time to prepare and practice. The team will be led by younguns, so attention spans will detract from what could likely be a brilliant scheme. Longabardi's ability to reach the kids will be on display here.
KO: I'm a fan. It's scary dangling a guy out that could very well take a head coaching position somewhere else in the future, but you want the guy there who is important to the overall picture. The individual strides that all these players made were terrific, but the top 15 ranked defense that Longabardi helped create still blows my mind and that is mainly why this team was able to win 48 games. Young players tend to struggle with defense the most when they come to the league so it makes a lot of sense for the defensive specialist to coach the summer league team.
SS: I think it makes sense. Longabardi will be able to help evaluate not only the scoring, but the defensive potential and progress of the players. This will also give the Suns and the fans an indication of how well he can execute a game plan, and adjust to various situations on the fly. As others have stated, he is a head coaching candidate. So, this will give not only the Suns, but the league an indication of his ability in that respect as well.
AE: Great, great for him and great for the players. Longabardi will help build his resume for a head coaching job and will also help the young players learn how to play better defense and team defense.
BONUS: Where do you hang a Summer League Championship Banner at U.S. Airways Center?
DK: Well there's certainly plenty of room. The only banners up there now are from the Mercury and Rattlers.
KO: Right next to Sherdrick Bonner's retired number.
SS: In Longabardi's office.
KH: In the visiting teams locker room? The hallway over a Steve Nash picture (kidding!)? Modify it into a cap and have the team MVP wear it all year? P.S. They should cut down the net and bring that back too... A crown or cap garnish can be made from that. Okay, I will see myself out.
AE: Do other teams hang their SL championship banners? I'd say in the practice gym.
Bright Siders, what do you think?
Second year center Alex Len has all the skills and athleticism he needs to succeed in the NBA. All he's missing is a run of good health.
This is a big summer for Alex Len, the former #5 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. The Phoenix Suns say he was at the top of their Draft Board, and were lucky that he fell to #5 due to injury concerns and lack of production in college.
But there's never been a question of his talent, or his NBA frame. The former gymnast stands 7'1" with a 7'4" wingspan. He's got a great shooting motion, quick feet and a mean streak. If he can put everything together, watch out NBA.
Len is ready to participate in his first Summer League, beginning Saturday in Las Vegas, after missing last year due to the ankle surgeries.
"I told Alex this summer league is very big for him," Summer Suns coach Mike Longabardi said on Tuesday. "We all know that. I want him to be available so he's got to be durable so he can play. We want to keep him injury-free as best as possible."
With any player, the more healthy you are the more you can play the game of basketball.
"He's feeling more comfortable," Longabardi said of Len this summer. "He's playing a lot more free and easy, which is good. That's why summer league is so important. It's huge for him. If he gets to play, he can learn from his mistakes and hopefully not repeat them."
Could Alex Len and Miles Plumlee form a twin towers lineup for the Phoenix Suns? In this scenario, Len would be the "mini-stretch" power forward because he's got a very smooth 18-foot shooting stroke.
The Summer Suns, coached by Mike Longabardi, are going to try multiple lineups - some small, and some super-sized.
"We do have some versatility," Longabardi said of the Summer Suns roster. "We can play very big with Alex and Miles. We're going to play to our strengths as best we can."
With a point guard like Tyler Ennis, who is focused on finding the open man and running a clean offense, this super-sized front line could work very well.
But will Len be camping at the three-point line like his predecessor Channing Frye? No. If he does, he'll get pulled so quickly his head will spin.
"I just want them to play their game," Longabardi said of guys stepping out of their comfort zone to make an impression. "We don't need anybody to reinvent themselves. Everyone is here for a reason."
Just in case you wondered if the players heard Longabardi's mantra, here's Len 10 minutes prior when asked what Longabardi asked of him: "Just play your game. Don't be selfish and pass the ball."
Len's reason for being here is to be a big presence on the inside. He is already the Suns heaviest player, at 260 pounds with a 7'1" frame and a 7'4" wingspan. The 20 year old says he's added a good 10 pounds of muscle in the past two months, but we've heard that from countless players over the years. Get him on a basketball court nightly, and those extra pounds will shed like... well... the water weight that most of it is. Even then, 250 pounds is more than any other Suns player.
Yet Len has clearly been working on his body since the end of the season. While his waistline is still thin, his arms, chest and legs all looker thicker. He's definitely more buffed out than he was as a rookie, and those muscles won't fade away with exercise.
The kid will fill out in time. He's only going to turn 21 next month, so he's got a lot of "growing out" to do. By 23, I wouldn't be surprised to see him pushing 280 with good mobility.
"Yes, definitely," Len said of of his ankles being healthy right now. "I worked hard with the training staff and they got me healthy."
Coach Longabardi speaks with a bit more caution.
"We're going to be smart," he said of Len's minutes in SL. "What [Head Athletic Trainer Aaron Nelson] and [coach Jeff Hornacek] and Ryan [McDonough] feel is possible. This is big for him. We want him to develop. But we have back to backs. We have 3 straight days of two-a-days. We are going to be smart with that."
After spending an entire year rehabbing Len from ankle injuries, and now expecting those ankles to carry 260 pounds at NBA speed, the Suns are smart to be cautious. They want Len in incredible shape, so he's not hurting himself by making mistakes due to fatigue.
"The most important thing is conditioning for him," Longabardi said. "If he's in great shape, he's got to play and push through so he's not tired and make some silly mistakes whether its a foul or a turnover. That's big for him in summer league."
But clearly the Suns want Len to succeed and are doing everything they can to put him in that position.
"I am puling for him," Longabardi said. "I am one of his biggest fans. I want him to do really, really well. He does look good.
"He's put the time in with 'Nellie', 'Cowboy' all those guys in the Training Staff Mafia. And he's put his time here with [assistant coaches] Mark [West] and Kenny [Gattison]. And he wants to be good. Now we just got to make sure he's durable and he can sustain it. That's huge."
The Suns coaching staff has some specific expectations of Len this summer.
"Offensively, I want him to be efficient," Longabardi said. "I want him to take care of the ball, take great shots. Defensively, his communication has got to be great, he's got to play with multiple effort."
Some of those shots will be on the block, some as a cutter and some from the midrange area. Len also showed some really nice passing ability in preseason last year, so I'm sure the Suns would like to see him giving up a good shot to get an even better one with a cutter to the rim.
Len's assessment of his offensive expectations: "Pick and rolls, catch and finish, hit the open shot."
Defensively, when coaches talk about multiple effort with big men, they mean playing the whole 24 seconds of the shot clock. Many players are effective when their man has the ball, or when they are being attacked on the drive, but often just stand around when the action is not coming to them.
With Len, the Suns want him making multiple defensive efforts on the same possession. Attacking the ball handler on a pick and roll, and then adjusting back to your man, then adjusting when a player drives, and then again when the player dishes to another. Sometimes, there are three or four attacks on the basket in the same possession, and the Suns want Len active for all of them.
It's a lot to ask of a 20 year old, but this is the NBA. And Len has the athleticism and quickness to be that great defender.
Alex Len has the skillset, frame and athleticism to be a very good NBA center. Or, maybe even a LaMarcus Aldridge-type power forward. The NBA doesn't have a lot of 7'1" forwards out there, but Len could be an aberration due to his overall athleticism and mobility.
But for this upcoming season, let's just hope that Len stays healthy and progresses into a valuable role player off the bench as the backup center. He will only be 21 this season. Big men take a while to fully develop. If you put too much pressure on him to succeed too early, he might just fail.
"Development is important," Longabardi said of everyone on the team. "We want to make sure these guys are getting better and are ready to play come November. Thats what's most important."
So be easy on him, but don't be surprised if you see him in summer league and ask yourself, "Where was he last year?"