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Roundtable: What we learned from the Suns’ Summer League

From left to right, Phoenix Suns second-round draft pick Tyler Ulis and first-round draft picks Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss are introduced to the media as head coach Earl Watson smiles, Friday, June 24, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

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The Phoenix Suns fell 93-83 to the T-Wolves in the Summer League semifinals on Sunday, effectively ending a telling week in Sin City. With plenty of storylines heading into the week and all of the excitement that followed, we’ve learned quite a bit.

Devin Booker was in a class of his own, but what else did we observe?

And remember: While a summer league run will not dictate the Suns’ success nor tell us where a player’s career might end up, it does affirm or deny our prejudices of NBA prospects in the present.

Outside of Devin Booker, who was the most impressive player for Phoenix in Las Vegas?

Bryan Gibberman: Tyler Ulis. His feel for the game and ability to overcome his physical disadvantages showed very well. The next step is to see how he fares in the preseason when the competition takes another jump. I’m definitely buying him as a guard capable of contributing off the bench in time.

Kellan Olson: Because I was someone that was already very high on Tyler Ulis, I was the most impressed by Marquese Chriss and his energy. A high motor wasn’t something that came across in his one year at Washington, but Chriss was all over the place in Vegas. In the second game of the week against the Boston Celtics, Chriss hit the floor at least five times trying to get to a ball, and he followed that up in the third game against the Miami Heat by diving over the scorer’s table in the first quarter. Chriss’ ceiling as a basketball player is radically different if that type of lively play is consistent.

Kevin Zimmerman: Tyler Ulis gets my nod after showing well up until the final game and a matchup against second-year point guard Tyus Jones. And even then, it wasn’t all that bad. The jump shot was good for most of the week, and the defense and playmaking was as advertised. I’m still skeptical if the size issue at this point, but what’s one more person to prove wrong?

What’s one major thing we learned about any of the three draft picks after seeing them play this summer?

Gibberman: Both Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss have a long way to go. It’s going to take patience and development, which there is nothing wrong with.

Olson: We learned that Dragan Bender is not ready to play as a center in the near future. The clear flaw in Bender’s game in Vegas was not being in the right spot around the rim to defend, but making the right play on the ball. Bender really struggles locating it, looking like someone swatting at a bug instead of contesting a shot. He fouled on nearly every circumstance of that matter despite being in the right position. On the other end, I don’t recall one possession I saw when he had an individual post touch despite having a size mismatch nearly every second he was on the floor. That tells us his strength and/or post game isn’t ready yet either.

Zimmerman: Bender’s strength deficiency stood out as the biggest thing we didn’t know. For all the praise Bender got regarding his basketball smarts, Chriss, a player who from experience alone has so much room to make up, could end up earning more minutes just because he can keep up physically.

Which rookie power forward is more ready for minutes in their rookie season, Dragan Bender or Marquese Chriss?

Gibberman: If I had to pick one I’d go with Bender, but I don’t think either is ready for more than 10-12 minutes. It’s important that they both get little chunks of time to start the process of them learning on the court.

Olson: Bender is still the clear favorite. He’s never an individual player that is going to stand out in a summer league setting when elite players are supposed to take over and as one of the youngest players in his draft class, that’s fine. His role player skillset will work well when he’s not required to be one of the two best players on the floor for his team. Most importantly, his defense on the perimeter looked as advertised and he should be at least above average when compared to other rookies.

Zimmerman: Just to fire up the hot take cannon more: Bender may be a safer two-way option, even though he might not be able to do more than play hot potato by passing the ball or shooting it. But if his foul trouble against undersized summer league small forwards says anything, his defense might not be adequate against NBA bench forwards, either. Chriss can be a more impactful rookie if he plays with the energy he displayed before falling ill. I’ll hedge this by saying there’s still 3.5 months for Bender to pack on some pounds.

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