Winning the inaugural Summer League championship would have been nice, but the real reason teams head to Vegas is to give their young players experience and to evaluate players who after hoping to make it in the league. The Suns sent a grizzled veteran, two third-year players and two second year players from last year's roster in addition to the two rookies Ryan McDonough just drafted. Five other players joined them in Vegas hoping to impress someone in an NBA front office. Finally, new Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek made his NBA debut.
First, let's evaluate the players who were on the Suns roster last season.
Mook led a balanced scoring attack from the Summer Suns at 14.3 points per game on a respectable 47.2 percent from the field. However, take out his 6-9 and 8-11 games and Marcus shot just 35 percent from the field in his other five games. He was given the freedom to handle the ball and create his own offense, and unfortunately that led to a lot of long jumpers. He actually shot better from 3-point range than he did overall at 47.8 percent, which is something that should translate well to the regular season. He chipped in a little bit in the rebounding, distributing and steals department, but the vast majority of his value is in his scoring. He finished with the second highest +/- overall at +45 and his only minus game came at -2.
Overall, Marcus was one of the Suns' best players and was a big reason for the 6-1 record. But he didn't show much improvement in terms of creating good shots off the bounce. Mook still looks to me like his best role is as a spot-up 3-point shooter who can slash and handle the ball every now and then. Ask him to do more than that and you're asking for inefficient play.
Keef wasn't far behind his twin in terms of scoring (those guys do everything together) at 13.6 points per game. He actually shot over 50 percent from the field unlike last year and made almost all of his free throws. Markieff was playing center again and held his own on the boards, pulling down 6.4 per (equivalent of 10 boards per 36 minutes). He passed the ball around and protected the rim a bit. He still fouled a whole lot, but he managed to avoid fouling out even when the limit dropped back down to six in the tournament. Markieff really struggled in the last two games, but was really solid in the first five and was more impressive than he was last year despite the raw numbers being smaller. He reverted back to the jumpshot-jacking, inefficient guy we all know in the least two games which was evident in the numbers (-26 over the last two games, and he missed his last six 3-pointers).
If Keef can play more like he did in the first five (scoring more in the paint, taking mostly open 15-footers instead of contested 20-footers or shots off the dribble), we might have a rotation-worthy player just yet.
11.9 PPG, 55.0 FG%, 2-8 3FG, 75.0 FT%, 5.9 RPG (1.7 ORPG), 1.4 SPG, 1.1 APG, 1.3 TPG, 22.6 MPG, +11
P.J. Tucker was a beast. He was one of the more experienced players in Vegas and he played like it. He took over when the Suns were struggled and willed the team to victory. He scored efficiently inside and rebounded at a high rate. He was the guy we expected him to be. However, as well as he played, he was more or less the same old Tucker. His points came mostly in the paint and his jumpshot still resembles a medieval catapult (with about as much accuracy). He shot just 2-8 from beyond the arc in his seven games. Improving his 3-point stroke is what Tucker needs to focus on most to be a more effective NBA player, but at this stage in his career I don't know how much improvement we can hope to see.
5.6 PPG, 38.7 FG%, 40.0 3FG% (15), 81.8 FT% (11), 4.0 APG, 2.0 TPG, 20 MPG, +9
Marshall still struggled statistically, but he did make progress from where he was at this point last year. Marshall showed flashes of improvement throughout his seven games. He was more aggressive at times. He attacked the basket and used his body to create space and get off shots, which is something he's going to have to learn how to do as a bigger guard who lacks quickness. He shot 40 percent from 3-point range on 15 attempts, which is over two per game, and he made all but two of his free throw attempts. I thought his defense was adequate for the most part. And of course, he distributed the ball well both on the break and in the half court. Marshall still made plenty of mistakes, and he's still not as developed as he needs to be to be effective consistently, but he is making progress. Marshall had a lot of work to do when the Suns drafted him, and so far he's only had one year to work on that.
5.7 PPG, 42.9 FG%, 2-6 3FG, 2-6 FT, 3.9 APG (12 assist game), 1.0 TPG, 16.7 MPG, +57 (+20 in one)
Garrett got off to a bit of a slow start but picked it up as the tournament rolled along. His production was very similar to Marshall's, although he got it done in a different way. Marshall actually shot better than Garrett, but Garrett was better at getting to the hole and finishing. Garrett's assist and +/- numbers are really impressive, although both are boosted by great games of 12 assists and +20.
Overall, Garrett is who we thought he was. A guy who can do a little of everything but doesn't have one go-to skill. He still needs to improve his jumper, but his distributing looked good. And he did post the highest +/- on the team. Garrett certainly didn't play himself off the roster, but with an unguaranteed contact and a full roster I don't know if he played well enough to stay on it.
*Part 2: The Rookies and Roster Hopefuls coming soon!
In the mean time, what did you think of the veterans' improvement Bright Siders?
There is an aura of excitement in the Valley for the first time in years. A jubilant adolescent glee has stretched over the masses with promise, potential, and plenty of praise. One unique individual has caught the imagination of fans and media alike as those that love the game are swooning over this soon to be NBA rookie.
Who is causing all this excitement? None other than former University of Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin.
That feeling was there in a crowded conference room as 20-25 reporters ranging from "old enough to be Goodwin's dad" to "old enough to be his grandfather" from all avenues of media crammed together to ask the 18 year, 10 month, 4 day old kid all kinds of questions to get a feel for him.
As the youngest player in the 2013 NBA Draft Goodwin has a unique appeal and the potential every team looks for. Despite always being a little younger than his peers, Goodwin has always been one of the best talents in his class. His talent on the court is only matched by his engaging personality and award winning smile he flashes with a nonchalant motion after a question.
With the one year rule added in 2007 and the emergence of young players going to prep school it has become a rarity to have the opportunity to draft an 18 year old talented canvas that a team has the opportunity to paint on and develop into a potential work of art.
During his year at Kentucky Goodwin was criticized for immaturity, a common concept for any normal 17 year old kid.
Goodwin is every bit of what a normal teenager is like as a fresh baby faced, physically incomplete kid that wants to go out there and do what he enjoys doing. When you meet Goodwin in person it is easy to take a step back and remember that he is a teenager that is entering into the very adult world of professional sports. The difference between Goodwin and a typical teenager is that he has the potential to be a part of the future on an NBA team and has captured the imagination of a city. That is not a common occurrence for a typical teenager.
Over the past three years the Phoenix Suns have drafted in the lottery each year playing it safe rather than taking risks on high end talents. When the season ended the excitement turned to the draft in both 2011 and 2012, but when the dust settled the climax was anticlimactic. Like a Dick Wolf Ending.
Each prospect had a solid college season before their respective drafts and careers leading top programs to high seeds, tournament wins, and high profiles in the eyes of NBA executives. Markieff was the compliment to his brother with the Kansas Jayhawks while Kendall was the engine of the up-tempo, exciting North Carolina Tar Heels. They were both steady, played to their strengths, and were seen as safe; average and even tolerable picks.
After those selections there wasn't a single person ready to climb to the top of the mountain and anoint either as a franchise savior.
This year the team fell even further landing them a Top 5 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft and when they were on the clock they had the pick of some of the perceived top talents in the draft on the board. They turned to that familiar strategy though in drafting Alex Len out of Maryland.
Len has a higher ceiling than his peers, but the excitement factor is on the same level as both Morris and Marshall in the eyes of the public. Len does not bring the excitement primarily because of his position on the court, but also because of those left on the board when he was drafted. He was on the board with more high profile prospects like Nerlens Noel (No. 6), Ben McLemore (No. 7), and C.J. McCollum (No. 10) that would have been more engaging to the audience in Phoenix who were clamoring for some excitement.
In college Morris and Marshall showed talent and some potential, but both had ceilings that were visible at that level and at times were touched with an out-stretched arm.
Expectations that Goodwin is the savior and will lead the Suns to multiple Championships before all is said and done is clearly the wrong route to go. That is far-fetched for any prospect let alone the No. 29 overall pick in a "weak draft." Some are in that camp while others are simply excited to have something worth being excited about. It has been years since the last time the Suns genuinely had an exciting player on their roster with promise.
Local and National media alike are swooning on social media like Twitter to express their gratitude to the Basketball Gods for the Gift of Goodwin.
That is what social media is for. When is the last time in-depth, hard hitting, quality analysis was thrown on the platform of social media? It is a tongue-in-cheek way to connect with fans and the basketball community alike.
The excitement is justified when Goodwin is flying through the lane and finishing with agile finesse required for a perimeter player. The caveat to that is that this was at Summer League, but Goodwin did not have a Von Wafer display in the meaningless summer tournament, instead flashed the potential that captured the imaginations of talent evaluators last summer when Goodwin was a consensus lottery pick in the infantile stages of the 2013 NBA Draft process.
Attacking the rim and making plays with his raw athleticism separates him from his lottery pick peers on the roster. He is capable of independently making plays that can change momentum in a game and be a difference maker.
That is a claim that the players selected higher on this roster cannot make.
A prime example of that came in the Summer League when Goodwin perfectly executed an in-bounds play curling from one side of the paint to the other, catching a lob pass, and finished through traffic. As Goodwin goes through the motions of learning how to make the simple plays the fact that he is capable of making the spectacular plays further more emphasize the potential he has.
At times he looks like a young Monte Ellis. Other times he looks like a raw, young Kobe Bryant or Gerald Green, and the truth of his potential lies somewhere in-between.
It all started with Goodwin walking in with his fresh suit, Kentucky blue tie, and a nervous confidence that seemed fitting for an 18 year old with no expectations on him specifically, but worlds of potential that create the kind of excitement that this city and fan-base has been looking for.
RealGM reports that Dionte Christmas, who played for Phoenix in this year's Summer League, is receiving interest from several teams, including the Suns. Throughout seven games in Las Vegas, the 6'5" shooting guard was arguably the best reserve for a team that went 6-1, ultimately losing to the Golden State Warriors in the Summer League Championship.
"I’m getting positive feedback from a lot of teams," Christmas told RealGM. "Perhaps I get a call saying they want to see me in training camp or hopefully sign me for the season."
Christmas, who went undrafted in 2009 after a four year career at Temple, spent a month with the Philadelphia 76ers that year but didn't get a chance to play. He spent a couple years overseas before signing a partially guaranteed two-year contract with the Boston Celtics last year, only to be waived at the beginning of the season.
Christmas will but 27 in September and has yet to play even one game in the NBA. When asked about his hopes of landing on the Suns' roster, he said:
"Yeah, it would be a dream come true," Christmas said. "If they sign me for the year, that’s what I’m here for and that’s my goal."
In seven Summer League games, he averaged 10.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in 20.9 minutes per game while shooting 46.3% from the field, 32.1% from three, and 75% from the free throw line. Other than the tournament final, in which Christmas failed to score, he was mostly consistent throughout the ten days.
After a good performance with the team, Dionte Christmas stands a strong chance of at least earning a training camp invite with the Suns. He is a versatile scoring guard with good size, length, and defensive ability, but is held back by his below-average athleticism. Still, he would be good option has a fifth guard to earn a few minutes every now and then.
However, there are two factors that might hurt his chances of landing a roster spot with this team: his age and the fact that the Suns roster is currently stocked with several guards. Although the latter could easily change between now and the start of the season through a trade or another personnel move, the former is sure to be a factor. The fact that he will soon be a 27 year old player without a single minute of NBA action under his belt does not help his case.
The Suns could also consider other players from their Summer League squad to add to their roster or at least invite to training camp. Arinze Onuaku, Chris Babb, and Diante Garrett should and probably will receive consideration from the team. Onuaku would bring a skillset and body type that this team doesn't have (which could be useful in practice). Babb would be a good 3-and-D option at the end of the bench. Garrett is a versatile guard who can do several things on the court (although none exceptionally well). Alex Oriakhi might also receive attention, although that would be more because GM Ryan McDonough drafted him, not necessarily due to his performance in Summer League.
All things considered, the Suns have a few interesting options from their Summer League team that they will be sure to look at. Dionte Christmas, despite his age and the Suns' roster situation, might be the best of the lot.
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.