The 5: Things to watch from the Summer Suns in Las Vegas
It’s only summer league.
That is the grain of salt you have to take in with watching and attempting to evaluate the NBA Summer League. The level of competition and quality of basketball is poor and there is nothing to take away from a stats perspective.
But, there are little nuggets to catch here and there. For example, when Devin Booker participated in his first summer league, his comfort as a ball-handler and decision-maker in the pick-and-roll was extremely evident from the get-go. He did not look like “just a shooter.”
Here are a couple of departments of some players’ game to keep an eye on.
Deandre Ayton playing center
The chief argument for Ayton’s defensive woes around the rim was him playing a large number of minutes with Dusan Ristic in Tucson.
It’s not an invalid argument, but Ayton still showed a lack of instincts defending around the rim when Ristic wasn’t on the floor.
In Vegas, we will get our first peek at how Ayton operates as a full-time center, both offensively and defensively.
On offense, it will be interesting to see how much Ayton pops on ball screens and then how often he rolls. In post-up situations, how can he do taking some dribbles to get closer to the rim? We will see his expert passing out of that spot on display as well, which is only going to be better with more space and shooting.
Defensively, Ayton will show off how well he can move his feet defending guards on the perimeter. The next step of recovering and being in the right spots off the challenge is an area he can add a lot of value. Where the spotlight will shine, though, is his instincts around the basket as a rim protector, which were worrisome at Arizona.
Elie Okobo’s floor-general skills
Okobo can shoot and score, there is no denying that. With his size and experience overseas, he will show that right away.
Where the 20-year-old has to impress to earn minutes is that he’s a legitimate point guard who can run the flow of the offense successfully. Limiting his bad shots and keeping everyone involved is the key.
With such a loaded summer league roster, Okobo is going to be the primary guy in charge of distributing the wealth, but don’t be surprised if Igor Kokoskov has other guys like Josh Jackson handle the ball too.
Okobo showing he is capable of that is the first step in him earning more minutes off the bench as a rookie. That’s what the Suns have to be hoping for, as there is uncertainy in the point guard rotation with Okobo, Brandon Knight and Shaquille Harrison.
Mikal Bridges’ versatility
Instead of examining weaknesses like the last two rookies, Bridges is going to be more about seeing his immediate value.
His defense will pop from the jump and with the names on this roster, he will have the space to do some shooting and scoring as well.
The Suns sure seem to be angling for some switch-heavy defensive looks, and we could see a preview of it with Bridges and Jackson specifically.
Again, that’s where Bridges earns his money.
Josh Jackson being “Too Good To Be Here”
One of my favorite summer league traditions is the “Too Good To Be Here” club, when we see second- and third-year players that are clearly above and beyond their competition in Vegas.
From Booker roasting Luis Montero in 2016 to Brandon Ingram dominating in stretches last year, there are instances of it every year.
Expect Jackson to join that group.
As an athlete alone, Jackson is going to stand out on both ends, but when you combine that with the feel he acquired after averaging 25.4 minutes per game as a rookie, he should be the best player on the floor when he is in.
Dragan Bender looking like he’s been there before
Look, Bender doesn’t need to average 20 points in Vegas for it to be a success. Quite honestly, he shouldn’t be doing that anyway with the amount of talent on the roster.
He is with the team to get settled into the role he will have on the real Suns this upcoming season. Don’t make any mistakes, score when the opportunity is there and be a difference-maker defensively.
That’s what Bender struggled to do with consistency on two terrible teams, but perhaps with a far better collection of talent, his role-player attributes will fair better.
For however long he plays in Vegas, Bender gets the chance to show he can do that. Like Jackson, he should not be making the loads of mistakes most summer players commit together. Bender should stand out as an NBA-caliber rotation player, and if he doesn’t, I don’t blame you if you get more worried about his outlook as a former No. 4 overall pick.
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