EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns notebook: Ayton underperforms, Okobo injured, Bridges’ revenge game

Jul 12, 2018, 6:53 PM
(AP Photo/John Locher)...
(AP Photo/John Locher)
(AP Photo/John Locher)

LAS VEGAS — Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton did not have a standout performance through three games at the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League and he certainly didn’t have one in the fourth against the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday.

In an 88-86 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, Ayton finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and six turnovers.

Ayton’s effort was not the issue according to head coach Igor Kokoskov, but it was little things across the board the Suns and Ayton have to tighten up.

“I think he is engaged,” he said. “He’s definitely trying. We have to learn how to play with a caliber of the player he is with the size and the length.”

Ayton was staying productive in Vegas despite not dominating any stretches but Thursday was a poor performance considering the standards he holds as the top overall pick. His defensive rotations were a step behind and when he did get chances around the rim, he was often having the ball stripped.

Through four games, Ayton hasn’t had a portion of a game where he took over offensively, a concerning tidbit for a top pick.

To be fair, the Suns have also struggled to get Ayton the ball. He’s had under 10 legitimate post touches through the four games and has taken only a few of his signature midrange jumpers.

Phoenix continued to turn the ball over to Ayton on lob attempts and post entries, something Kokoskov highlighted, as well as Ayton needing to stay physical.

“It drives so much attention when [Ayton] is physical, when he sets physical screens, when he rolls to the basket … We also have to find a way to make his game easier with easier passes,” he said. “The whole tournament we struggled taking advantage of his size.”

OKOBO INJURED

One of the reasons the Suns couldn’t get Ayton involved consistently is because one of their point guards was injured early.

Second-round pick Elie Okobo got hit in the eye in the first quarter. He only played one minute and would not return.

“Hopefully nothing serious,” Kokoskov said of Okobo’s status.

That left the point guard duties to Shaquille Harrison, who had another impressive game. He had a team-high 17 points and six assists as well, to go along with eight rebounds. Harrison, though, is not a natural point guard and was one of the ball-handlers turning it over when passing to Ayton.

Okobo told Kokoskov his vision was blurring in the eye that took a hit. The French point guard was being reevaluated at a local hospital. Kokoskov did not rule him out for the team’s last game on Friday.

REVENGE GAME

Players love to prove teams wrong for trading them and the Suns’ Mikal Bridges got an early chance at his own revenge game.

Bridges, selected 10th overall by the 76ers, was traded by Philadelphia for the No. 16 pick, Zhaire Smith, and an unprotected 2021 first-round pick via Miami.

Bridges has a special connection to the organization, as he played at Villanova for three years and his mom works for the 76ers. The 21-year-old even had interviews with the 76ers draft hat on expressing his excitement to be so close to his family.

But, of course, that was not meant to be and he was traded to Phoenix on draft night.

Bridges matched up with Smith and finished with seven points, four steals and two blocks. He got the start over Josh Jackson, who will not play for the rest of Summer League, according to 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s John Gambadoro. Jackson is not sitting out because of an injury, per Gambadoro.

Despite the link between Bridges and Smith that will have them compared to each other for years to come, Bridges doesn’t see it that way.

“There’s no individual matchup,” Bridges said. “It’s five against five. I don’t even look at things like that.”

In one sequence, Bridges showed why the Suns moved up for him.

“I know when I’m open I’m going to shoot the ball,” Bridges said of his role. “Trying to take that challenge defensively, trying to make plays on the defensive end so we can get out in transition.”

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Suns notebook: Ayton underperforms, Okobo injured, Bridges’ revenge game