It has been nearly three months, 87 days to be exact, since the Phoenix Suns’ 2016-2017 season came ended against the Sacramento Kings on April 11. Following a 129-104 loss to the Kings, the franchise shifted their focus towards the NBA Draft, where the brass selected: forward Josh Jackson (No. 4 overall), guard Davon Reed (No. 32 overall), and big man Alec Peters (No. 54 overall).
This past season marks the seventh consecutive year in which the team has failed to advance to postseason play, the third-longest streak in the NBA behind the Timberwolves (13 years) and Kings (11 years). Summer League offers us a chance to see what these young prospects can offer on an NBA level to end that streak.
In their first game of Summer League play behind a total team effort, the Summer League Suns downed the Sacremento Kings 89-85.
Josh Jackson, F, University of Kansas
There are 13 players suiting up for the Suns in the 2017 Las Vegas Summer League, with point guard Tyler Ulis and forward Alex Peters unavailable due to injury. Of the 13 available players, all eyes were on No. 4 overall pick Josh Jackson, 19, from the University of Kansas. Jackson, a highly touted prospect since his high school career, has drawn comparisons all over the spectrum — from Andre Iguodala and Shawn Marion to Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, and Andrew Wiggins. Tonight, was the first time he took the court as a Phoenix Sun.
After a slow start in the first half, Jackson turned it on in the second. He finished the game with 18 points, eight rebounds (three offensive), two assists, and one block in 34 minutes of play. Although he struggled with his shot, 6-17 from the field, Jackson’s defensive prowess was on full display. It is a small sample size, but Jackson possesses the defensive energy this Suns team desperately lacks.
One of the aspects of this game that stood out the most was the fact that the Suns opted not to let Jackson create for his teammates — one of his strengths highlighted from his career at Kansas. Jackson can create scoring opportunities for his teammates nearly anywhere on the floor, especially off the elbow. It will be interesting to see how the Suns operate through the remainder of Summer League and if they have an offense that is more complex than the one they came with tonight.
There were times where Jackson had his shot blocked or he simply just air balled, by about a solid foot. Drafting him meant there would be growing pains, this is the most prevalent symptom. By no means is he a “polished prospect,” but there is plenty to be excited about regarding the kid wearing No. 99 this summer.
Marquese Chriss, F, Sophmore
Coming into his rookie season, Marquese Chriss weighed in at 230 pounds. Las Vegas Summer League? 250 pounds, and it certainly shows. From the end of last season to Game 1 of Summer League, Marquese Chriss said he weighs “almost 250 (pounds).” Chriss, 20, told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM that he is “looking to tone my body up more; just get more in shape. I don’t feel out of shape, but I want to get in mid-season shape right now.” Those results were evident in Game 1 of Summer League, especially in the upper body.
After opening the game with a beautiful reverse layup, Chriss bullied the young Kings' frontcourt down low with a variety of post moves and face ups. He attempted four threes, hitting on none. Chriss finished the game 5-17 from the field with 19 points, nine rebounds (3 offensive), and one block and steal apiece, in 33 minutes on the court. He also racked up eight turnovers, and nine fouls in Summer League play, aspects of his game that still need improvement.
Chriss did have two blocks on speedy point guard prospect De'Aaron Fox; not sure why the stat keepers have Chriss at one block. On the defensive end, he looked like he belonged and had a full understanding of what to do to hold down the frontcourt with Dragan Bender.
All in all, the growth for Chriss was evident. He looked more confident on the court and understood his role — something he lacked at times last season. Game 1 of Summer League gave a short glimpse of what to expect in the future with a Chriss and Bender pairing in the frontcourt. Chriss is expected to workout with Tyson Chandler after Summer League, which will only aid in his development.
Dragan Bender, F/C, Sophmore
Dragan Bender was expected to come into Vegas Summer League with more aggression and poise; it was there — in the first half. Bender, 19, was arguably the best player on the court for the Suns in the first two quarters against the Kings. He played with an even higher level of confidence than he usually does while playing with more passion on defense. However, in the second half, Bender lost the edge he had. Maybe it was the outstanding play from point guard Mike James, but Bender seemed off in the latter parts of the scrimmage.
Bender’s shot looked as smooth as it usually does, shots just did not fall for him here, as he finished 4-13 from the field with 11 points, five rebounds, one assist, and seven fouls in 31 minutes of action.
Mike James, G, Greece
One of the two biggest surprises for the Suns in Game 1 was point guard Mike James. With Tyler Ulis out recovering from a minor ankle surgery back in May, Dragan Bender was expected to assume the role of point-forward for the Summer League Suns. Mike James thought otherwise, going 4-11 from the field, finishing with 12 points, six rebounds, seven assists, and four steals in 35 minutes. The poor shooting numbers are not in line with what James had going throughout the game, as he was above 50 percent throughout the game.
James, a 26-year-old undrafted point guard, made his presence felt with a resounding jam in transition. His energy on the court was contagious, in a sense, showing he has what it takes to make it on the training camp roster. It’s a one-game sample size, but James opened some eyes with his performance in Game 1.
Davon Reed, G, University of Miami
Davon Reed, the 6-foot-6 guard out of the University of Miami, let everyone know he was in the building. Reed, 22, was all over the floor defensively for the Summer League Suns, although his contributions on that end of the court weren’t noted in the box score. Reed finished the game on 6-11 shooting with 17 points and two rebounds, steals, threes, and turnovers apiece, in only 20 minutes of action.
On par with Mike James, Reed was one of the biggest surprises for the Suns coming out of Game 1. He was one of only three Suns players to shoot better than 37 percent from the field and the only other player to hit multiple threes behind Dragan Bender’s three treys. Reed may have earned himself some extra minutes for the next game against the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, July 9, 2017, at 1:30 PM MST.
Devin Booker even gave a nice shoutout geared towards Reed while he was in the booth with PJ Carlesimo and Mark Jones of ESPN.
- Of the 13 players suiting up for the Suns this summer, four received a “DNP – Coach’s Decision:” Darion Atkins Shaquille Harrison, Ike Iroegbu, and Tre McLean. Expect them to get more run as the coaching staff experiments throughout Summer League.
- Only three players finished Game 1 shooting greater than 37 percent.
- Three-point shooting is lacking from the Summer League Suns.