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Suns GM: Jalen Smith’s move to G League gives him chance to play

Jalen Smith #10 of the Phoenix Suns during the NBA game against the Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns Arena on January 23, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

It’s not often you see a top-10 pick in the G League as a rookie, but the Phoenix Suns’ deep roster has put them in a position to try and find No. 10 overall pick Jalen Smith some run.

The solution to that was sending Smith to the G League’s Agua Caliente Clippers on Tuesday.

The Suns did not send their G League affiliate — the NAZ Suns — to the G League bubble, so Smith went to the Clippers’ affiliate.

Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones expanded on the decision while joining Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf Tuesday during Newsmakers Week.

“We wanted him to have a chance to play,” Jones said. “If you look at our roster … there are a lot of guys that have played well and are just more prepared to help us win right now. That doesn’t mean that Jalen can’t help us win but when you have the three forwards that we have, four centers that are playing at such a high level, it’s tough.

“I’ve said it before: We won’t gift minutes. We expect him to be a good player, but for right now, the guys in front of him are playing better and they’ll continue to play.”

Phoenix was put in a precarious position during the season opener against Dallas when starting center Deandre Ayton got in foul trouble. With Dario Saric out injured, that bumped up reserve 5 Damian Jones as Ayton’s backup, and he proceeded to commit five fouls in seven minutes.

Thus, Smith was unexpectedly called on, and played well in 16 minutes. Before the second game of the season, though, Smith turned his ankle and missed five games. After being active in a Jan. 6 win over the Toronto Raptors, Smith tested positive for COVID-19 and was out for two more weeks.

He returned to the team on Jan. 22, but since he had last played in late December, the team claimed center Frank Kaminsky off waivers and Kaminsky played well. With those four centers in front of Smith now, along with the wing trio of Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Jae Crowder at the 4, there wasn’t any room at all for him to play. He was likely struggling to even get some practice reps in.

Thus, he moves to the G League, where a tournament runs through to the All-Star break, giving Smith a few weeks to at least play in some games.

That process started on Tuesday. Smith played eight minutes, registering four points, three rebounds and an assist.

He also had a steal that led to one of his two buckets in a good showcase of his mobility at 6-foot-10.

Smith will assumingly get much more playing time as he gets acclimated with the Clippers, who are scheduled to play 11 more games before the postseason portion of the tournament gets underway. He played 15 minutes in his second game on Wednesday and scored 18 points.

Head coach Monty Williams has been honest in saying where he sees the rookie’s game at currently.

“He’s a diligent worker. I don’t think any young player understands how hard you have to work to be a good player in this league, so he’s embraced that part, which we’re really pleased with,” Williams said Friday. “He doesn’t miss days to get work in … As far as telling him what he’s got to do to be a good player — a lot of it for young guys like that who went straight from the draft right to a training camp, it’s all IQ and understanding how this game is played.

“You know the ability is there but now you have to embrace the program and comprehend so much that’s being thrown at you while still playing your game. We just feel like right now if he can pick up some of the vernacular, the nuances of certain situations, it’s gonna help him get on the floor because you have to understand all that stuff as a young player. From a work ethic standpoint, he’s diligent about it.

“Now it’s like getting stronger, so he can take the pounding playing inside the point and guarding quicker guys, but also the level of understanding. Raising his IQ is gonna be something that’s gonna help him in the future get on the floor.”


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