EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns enter Summer League with another experienced, older roster

Jul 5, 2022, 5:05 PM | Updated: Jul 6, 2022, 7:37 am
A Summer league logo is shown on center court during a game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the...
A Summer league logo is shown on center court during a game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Houston Rockets during the 2021 NBA Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center on August 8, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Rockets defeated the Cavaliers 84-76. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — For the second straight year, the Phoenix Suns are approaching NBA Summer League unlike any other team.

Phoenix’s roster is littered with players that have professional international experience under their belt, and the youngest on it is 21-year-old Vrenz Bleijenbergh, who started his playing career in Belgium four years ago.

The Suns did this last year as well, but the difference is there’s even more of the globe covered and Phoenix does not have one of its own draft selections on the team. It did not have a pick in this year’s draft and traded away last season’s as well, leaving Indiana Pacers center Jalen Smith from the 2020 NBA Draft as the Suns’ last selection.

When taking in the 18-player roster, 14 of them have played overseas in some fashion and their international clubs span 15 countries and six continents. If someone was hooping in Antarctica, I’m sure the Suns would have brought them in too.

Players like Brazilian forward Leonardo Meindl and German wing Karim Jallow have resumes filled with over five years of professional ball in their respective countries. Meindl, in fact, started in 2011 and went undrafted for the 2015 NBA Draft, the same class as Devin Booker.

It’s unorthodox but certainly is a way to delve further into a pack of prospects the league doesn’t invest as many resources into. The majority of the players in Las Vegas from July 7-17 were in the 2022 NBA Draft class. Phoenix’s roster doesn’t include even one.

The group is headlined by forward Ish Wainright, a two-way signing last year that worked his way into some playing time and a playoff roster spot. Wainright, who was a 27-year-old rookie, is essentially the prototype for what Phoenix is scouting after Wainright played in Belgium and France.

As of writing on Tuesday afternoon, Wainright is a free agent. Speaking of other continents, Wainright just got done in the first round of the 2023 FIBA World Cup African Qualifiers representing Uganda, where he averaged 19.5 points. 8.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in his first two contests. He was in the process of flying back from Rwanda as the Suns’ summer league team got its third practice underway on Tuesday.

Assistant coach Steve Scalzi is the head coach of the squad. He joined Monty Williams’ staff in 2021 after time in Oklahoma City working in player development, analytics and scouting. Scalzi spoke on how the amount of experience on the roster helps.

“Winning basketball is the same all over the world,” he said Tuesday. “Winning plays translate all over the world. They know what that looks and feels like before they get here, so I just try to remind them of that stuff.”

The roster does have a few familiar names for Valley sports fans who tune into Pac-12 basketball. Guard McKinley Wright IV (Colorado) and wing Louis King (Oregon) will be featured after both of them have taken the G League route to try to find a permanent position in the NBA.

Wright lived in Arizona for four years and played basketball here from seventh to 11th grade. He’s been able to catch up with some old teammates still in the area inbetween practices, including a ride from the airport when he arrived, which is always nice to have.

The four-year player for the Buffaloes at 23 years old is on the younger side of the roster, and cited the biggest improvement in his game since he left Colorado in 2021 as his shooting.

Wright is undersized at 6 feet tall, but the Sun Devil and Wildcat faithful will remember the poised way in which the floor general dictated the pace of play while scoring from all three areas. He had a two-way contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves last year and played in five NBA games.

“I’m just trying to do the best job I can with the one year of experience that I got at this level to help lead these guys, make sure they’re having fun, making sure they’re making the most out of their opportunity,” he said. “And most importantly, just being themselves. We all out here competing for a job. You get noticed when you win games, so that’s my main focus and that’s our main focus.”

Who knows how the Suns’ roster shakes out over the next couple weeks in the offseason, but both two-way spots are open, and Wright is one of the best bets from the Summer League squad to potentially get one.

Another is King. He was the MVP of 2021’s Summer League after a pair of two-way deals from the 2019-20 season with the Detroit Pistons and last year for the Sacramento Kings.

King, an athletic 6-foot-7 wing that certainly has the look of an NBA forward, has 26 games of NBA experience to his name. In his one season for the Ducks three years ago, King shot 38.6% from deep on 4.9 attempts a game and was at the same 38.6% on 3s for last year’s G League season.

Like just about everyone on his team, he’s had a few years as a professional now to know what to expect.

“Just using all the instincts and the tools that prior teams have taught me and using it here to show these guys what the NBA and Summer League is all about,” King said.

The Suns begin Summer League play on Friday and all five games will be televised.

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