Size doesn’t matter: Tyler Ulis leads with efficiency and effort in Vegas

Jul 12, 2016, 7:00 PM | Updated: 8:57 pm
Phoenix Suns' second round draft pick Tyler Ulis, left, speaks as first-round draft pick Dragan Ben...

Phoenix Suns' second round draft pick Tyler Ulis, left, speaks as first-round draft pick Dragan Bender listens, Friday, June 24, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

LAS VEGAS — If there was one possession to sum up Tyler Ulis’ play in the first three games of the Las Vegas summer league, it was late in the first quarter against the Boston Celtics on Sunday.

Ulis, ever the pest defensively, continued to pressure Boston guard Marcus Thornton down the court, through multiple ball screens and didn’t even allow him to get inside the three-point line for most of the play.

When the last screen came and the Boston guard drove left, Ulis used his agility to beat him to the spot and with five seconds left on the shot clock, he anticipated the step-back jumper by Thornton and stripped the ball from him as he brought the ball up to shoot.

As he did all week, Ulis pushed the ball forward, but not with extreme pace. He took his time, letting the play materialize before dropping a no-look, behind-the-back dump-off to Devin Booker all while setting a screen for his good friend and former Kentucky teammate.

“He can create a lot of problems,” summer league head coach Nate Bjorkgren said last week.

Those problems were persistent and an annoyance to the opposition.

“(I’m) trying to control my man defensively, don’t let him control me and try to be aggressive as possible and speed him up,” Ulis said after Tuesday’s loss to the Miami Heat.

“When the basketball bounces, if the man doesn’t pick it up he’s going to snatch it,” Bjorkgren said.

Many experts believed the 5-foot-9 guard would go later in the draft because of his size, but falling to the second round was still a surprise.

“Yeah, I was shocked,” Booker said. “I don’t think I was the only one shocked either.”

Booker knows the late selection will stick with his good friend, but that’s something the 150-pound Ulis always has with him regardless.

“Yeah, but it’s always like that,” Ulis said about the criticisms of his frame. “They always talk about my size, saying I’m too small.”

So far, at least in Vegas, that hasn’t proved to be an issue.

In three games, Ulis has averaged 12.3 points, 6.3 assists and 4.6 steals per game.

The key figure has been his turnovers, a stat that becomes grossly inflated for most young players working through their first professional games.

When asked what he’s going to try to accomplish in Vegas following last week’s practices, Ulis said, “don’t do too much, stay within me and the team.”

That’s exactly what he has done. He has only two turnovers in three games, the least among all point guards selected in this year’s draft and the best assist-to-turnover ratio of any player in Vegas.

For comparison, last year’s No. 2 overall selection D’Angelo Russell had 15 turnovers in his three games this year.

“He continues to make the right play,” Bjorgkren said Tuesday.

Booker sees the young players on this roster as a part of the actual team for this season, and that’s even more of the case for Ulis after Ronnie Price reportedly signed with another team Tuesday.

“I have to come in, earn my spot,” Ulis said about the possibility of playing time. “(We) have a lot of great guards in (Eric) Bledsoe, Brandon (Knight), Devin (Booker), Archie (Goodwin) so it’s going to be a lot of competition. I can’t wait.”


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Size doesn’t matter: Tyler Ulis leads with efficiency and effort in Vegas