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Suns remain patient with rookies Jalen Smith, Ty-Shon Alexander

Jalen Smith #10 of the Phoenix Suns reacts after scoring against the Dallas Mavericks during the first half of the NBA game at PHX Arena on December 23, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Mavericks 106-102. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Having reeled off seven wins in eight games, including a Monday victory over Cleveland despite five players being out with injuries, the Phoenix Suns have gone deep into their roster.

Only in recent blowouts have they turned to their 2020 first-round pick, Jalen Smith.

The No. 10 overall selection has made seven brief appearances so far this year and surely would’ve had more if he didn’t catch coronavirus, knocking him out from late December to early January.

With Dario Saric (ankle) likely returning in the coming games and Frank Kaminsky playing the best basketball of his pro career, it would seem the opportunities might only dwindle from here.

For the Suns, that’s OK. For the first time in a long time, they have the benefit of bringing along their rookies slowly.

They have been impressed with how Smith has worked behind the scenes. Over the last week since the Suns have been at home, he’s been getting in shooting work at Phoenix Suns Arena after games.

“He’s a diligent worker,” head coach Monty Williams said. “I don’t think any young player understands how hard you have to work to be a good player in this league. He embraced that part, which we’re really pleased with. He doesn’t miss days to get work in.”

Amid a pandemic, the 6-foot-10 big man out of Maryland already missed out on the usual time to learn the NBA with such a quick transition from draft night to training camp and then to the season.

Right now, playing catch-up without any way to cram that knowledge is the main focus for Smith, according to Williams.

“It’s all IQ and understanding how this game is played, ’cause you know your ability is there, but now you have to embrace a program and comprehend so much that’s being thrown at you while still playing your game,” Williams said. “We just feel like right now if he can pick up some of the vernacular, the nuances of certain situations, it’s going to help him get on the floor because you have to understand all that stuff as a young player.”

That will come in practice with more reps, and maybe as the late-game situations add up after the Suns send their starters to the bench in blowouts.

So far, Smith has played only a game’s worth in the NBA: 48 minutes. He’s scored 14 points on 6-of-17 shooting to go with 10 rebounds, two assists and two blocks.

Just being more comfortable with the intricacies of the NBA game will come only with time, as will the physical aspect of playing in the post. For a 20-year-old nicknamed Stix, there’s obviously room to improve there.

“Getting stronger so he can take the pounding of playing inside the paint and guarding quicker guys,” Williams said, “but also the level of understanding, raising his IQ is going to be something that’s going to help him in the future get on the floor.”

Alexander shines early in Gubble

Phoenix’s only other rookie, Ty-Shon Alexander, has meanwhile been sent to the Canton Charge in the G League to get himself experience.

Because of coronavirus protocols pushing the league’s action to the same Disney World bubble that the NBA used to finish last season, that means he will likely remain away from the Suns for Canton’s full 15-game schedule.

On a two-way deal, the guard out of Creighton scored 24 points to go with four rebounds and three assists in a win Friday.

He hit five threes for the second game in a row, following up a 15-point performance in Canton’s season-opener Thursday.


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