A ‘healthier’ Tyler Ulis playing better ball for Phoenix Suns

Mar 27, 2018, 7:14 PM

Phoenix Suns' Tyler Ulis (8) shoots against Orlando Magic's Shelvin Mack, right, during the second ...

Phoenix Suns' Tyler Ulis (8) shoots against Orlando Magic's Shelvin Mack, right, during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

(AP Photo/John Raoux)

PHOENIX – Finish strong.

It’s an often-repeated phrase by both coaches and players alike, regardless of their current standing late in a season.

For the Phoenix Suns, whose standing is at the very, very bottom of the NBA, finish strong applies more to the individual player than the collective group; the latter of which is expected to undergo a major overhaul in the offseason.

One such player is point guard Tyler Ulis.

“Very important, especially going into the summer,” he said, referring to the final seven-game stretch. “Last year going into the summer I had (ankle) surgery so this year I want to finish off strong and then be able to work the entire summer, come back ready and whatever happens next year.”

Ulis’ contract says he’s signed for 2018-19 and 2019-20 though neither year is guaranteed. In other words, like so many of his teammates, Ulis is auditioning, whether for the Suns or one of the other 29 teams in the league.

Talk about timing.

Ulis is playing some of his best basketball of the season. His 19 points in Monday’s game against Boston was a season-high. In addition, he had eight assists (versus four turnovers), five rebounds, one steal and one block shot in 30 minutes.

Ulis played so well that interim head coach Jay Triano stayed with Ulis rather than turn to starter Elfrid Payton in the fourth quarter. After the game, Triano called Ulis “our best point guard tonight.”

The effort Ulis put forth continued his solid run of good play, pushing his streak of scoring in double figures to a season-long three straight games. Over this stretch, he’s averaging 14.7 points on 51.4 percent shooting and 6.3 assists.

“First of all, he’s healthy, healthier,” Triano said of the difference in Ulis recently. “He can move better than when he had that back issue. Ability to get in the lane, make two guys play, distribute if they don’t, score, using screens very well.”

Around the All-Star break, Ulis was hit with a low back spasm. It lingered, forcing Triano to look elsewhere for point guard-help. Over an 11-game stretch from Feb. 10-March 8, Ulis missed 10 games, including three in which he was inactive.

Ulis could no longer be counted on, which had already slowly begun due in part to ineffective play. It was a far cry from what the Suns saw a year ago, when following the All-Star break Ulis ranked third among rookies in scoring average, first in assists per game and fourth in steals per game.

That Ulis, whom the Suns drafted 34th overall and signed to a four-year contract, may be reappearing.

“I feel like now I’m back to…being a lot more healthy and I can tell by my movement. I’m able to do a lot better,” he said.

It’s been most evident with how Ulis is shooting the ball. Against the Celtics, he went 7-of-12 from the field, with all but one good shot attempt made outside the paint. His mid-range game was on target, hitting from 10, 16, 19-and 21 feet out plus a pair of 3-pointers.

Additional performances like that and Ulis might find himself more a part of the Suns’ future.

“I feel like I’m being more patient, allowing my bigs to step up and get a hit on guys (set a screen) and….being more aggressive,” he said. “Just playing free. Playing with confidence.”

A lot of losing

As the season nears its end, the Suns are closing in on some rather dubious marks.

Their current 12-game losing streak is one short of tying the single-season franchise high, while two more losses with match the club’s longest losing streak overall.

Then there’s their inability to win at home. They’ve done so just nine times. In the inaugural season of 1968-69 the Suns won 11 games, setting the low-water mark. This season’s Suns have four home games remaining.

The Suns, though, are building. They knew there would be growing pains.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with outcome. I really believe that,” Triano said, when asked if he’s concerned about the losing permanently affecting a young team.

“We’re focused on the process and be very good with the process, more times than not the outcomes take care of themselves. I think when you starting thinking outcome you lose focus on the process. That’s the challenge and that’s the mental toughness part of it. Stay locked in to what we’re supposed to do.”

Triano pointed to three fourth-quarter possessions late in Monday’s game in which the Celtics capitalized on Suns mistakes, helping Boston secure the win.

“Not that we were going to come back from down 10 but that made it 15, 16 and that’s too big hill to climb. And that’s the part that we focused on today: Be solid with what we’re supposed to do throughout the course of a game,” he said.

Alex Len now hurt

The number of Suns injured players grew by one on Tuesday, when the team listed center Alex Len questionable to play Wednesday against the L.A. Clippers because of a left ankle sprain.

Guard Devin Booker (right hand sprain) and forward T.J. Warren (left knee inflammation) are also considered questionable, though Triano cast doubt to their availability.

“I don’t know, but I would say probably not,” he said.

Booker has missed the last five games and Warren the last four.

Phoenix Suns

Bradley Beal #3 of the Phoenix Suns brings the ball up court against the Charlotte Hornets during t...

Kellan Olson

Bradley Beal leads big-time Suns response in ugly win vs. Kings

For as much as the last two games looked like the Suns calling it a day on the 2023-24 season, they had at least one more fight left in them.

1 hour ago

Devin Booker #1 and head coach Frank Vogel of the Phoenix Suns...

Arizona Sports

NBA playoff standings: Suns can still avoid play-in with 1 game left

Where are the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference standings? They're fighting for playoff positioning and hoping to avoid the play-in.

2 hours ago


Arizona Sports Video

Video: Bickley Blast: Something feels very different with Devin Booker and the Suns

On the latest Bickley Blast, Dan Bickley asks if a Devin Booker trade request is in the near future.

15 hours ago

(L-R) Ish Wainright #12, Isaiah Thomas #4, Drew Eubanks #14 and David Roddy #21 of the Phoenix Suns...

Damon Allred

Isaiah Thomas: ‘The world knows how scary’ Phoenix Suns can be in playoffs

Isaiah Thomas joined Burns & Gambo on Thursday to talk about the final week of the regular season and the fight for postseason positioning.

1 day ago

Karl-Anthony Towns posts up Kevin Durant...

Damon Allred

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns expected to make return before regular season finale vs. Suns

Timberwolves' Karl-Anthony Towns is on track to return from a torn meniscus on Friday when the Wolves match up against the Atlanta Hawks.

1 day ago


Arizona Sports Video

Video: Bickley Blast: Can a Phoenix Suns playoff run can force this team to reconcile its issues?

Despite the bad vibes surrounding the Phoenix Suns, Dan Bickley debates if an NBA playoff run can be the determining factor in what makes or breaks this team's underlying issues.

2 days ago

A ‘healthier’ Tyler Ulis playing better ball for Phoenix Suns