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Carter in the mix at Suns’ backup PG spot with offseason improvement

Jevon Carter #3 of the Memphis Grizzlies moves against Shaquille Harrison #3 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on February 13, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The Phoenix Suns’ latest roster overhaul has left them with much more certainty heading into the season in terms of a concrete rotation and having depth.

The biggest mystery left is how the minutes at guard pan out.

New signing Ricky Rubio at point guard and shooting guard Devin Booker are going to demand a majority ’em. Then there’s where Tyler Johnson factors in off the bench as a combo guard, as well as if the two-guard spot is where head coach Monty Williams tries to squeeze in a few extra minutes for wings Kelly Oubre Jr. and/or Mikal Bridges.

That’s not even getting to backup point guard yet, where Johnson could play, but there are also rookies Ty Jerome and Jalen Lecque along with second-year guards Elie Okobo and Jevon Carter.

Lecque will very likely spend the majority of his season in the G League up at Prescott Valley while Jerome has generated some buzz this week.

But Carter is a name to watch, specifically because of the basketball traits Williams and general manager James Jones have been saying were targeted this offseason.

If Carter doesn’t ring a bell, he was acquired by the Suns in the Josh Jackson deal that also had De’Anthony Melton going to the Memphis Grizzlies and veteran Kyle Korver coming back to Phoenix. The Suns also sent two second-round picks the other way.

The deal was about Phoenix moving on from Jackson and Memphis picked up two prospects who could work out, while also avoiding waiving Korver and wasting that $3.4 million (like Phoenix did).

So that added up to Carter not feeling like much of a piece that mattered.

To go back to Jones and Williams wanting smart, hard-working and winning players, though, that’s where Carter fits in.

“One thing that is really hard to find is pure heart and he’s one of those guys who’s gonna outwork you,” Johnson said of Carter on Monday.

Carter went No. 32 overall in the 2018 NBA Draft, one spot after his new teammate Elie Okobo.

That’s a weird twist, as the Suns were surely a team Carter had circled that passed on him in the draft and now he’s wearing their uniform.

As Suns fans will learn, Carter’s personality and work ethic make him easy to latch on to. He had clearly won over Grizzlies fans while bonding with their team, making it a tough split from Memphis, even after only one year.

“It was shocking at first but that’s just the business of the game,” Carter said Monday of his reaction to the trade.

Carter is a player who prides himself on defense and workrate, taking that role of defensive agitator in stride and playing with a certain brand of relentlessness.

“Jevon’s a bulldog,” Williams said after practice on Wednesday. “Enough said. He’s a bulldog. He’s rocks.”

Unsurprisingly, he was able to make his mark as a rookie in Memphis doing that.

This is none other than the Point God Chris Paul that Carter is absolutely all over.

“He asked me today, ‘Coach, do you want me to guard fullcourt?’ and I was like, ‘… Yeah, that’s what you do,'” Williams said. “I wouldn’t want to have Jevon in my shirt trying to bring the ball down the floor.”

Carter brings immediate value in that role on opposing ball-handlers. The issue is the other end.

While it was only over 39 games and 577 total minutes, Carter’s offense struggled to an enormous degree. He shot 26.7% from two-point range, checking in at a percentile of zero in Cleaning the Glass’ database last season. As in, the worst number.

For a guy coming out of West Virginia with four years of experience and now at the age of 24, that’s concerning to say the least.

But Johnson has seen significant growth.

“You can tell how many strides he’s made since his year in Memphis to where he is now,” he said. “I played him twice in Memphis and it was more of he just had a few things a little bit to polish up and when he came back this summer I didn’t even recognize him.

“He looked like a completely different player.”

Carter’s jumper was one of the bigger questions attached to him in the pre-draft process and Williams has seen positive strides there.

“His shooting has improved a lot in the last year and a half,” he said.

As is the case with most defensive stalwarts, Carter can differentiate himself from others on the team because of his unique skill there.

That makes him someone to keep in mind with how minutes unfold behind Rubio.

For now, Williams wants to see the group play more before making any decisions, but he knows what he’s looking for.

“The backup point guard, in my opinion, he’s the most steady guy on the team,” Williams said. “Because he’ll play with both units. The way the league has been played now, he can play on the ball and off the ball.”

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