The NBA Summer League is the first chance to see the rookie crop in action and the last chance to see NBA basketball until the preseason. All 30 NBA teams are participating in Las Vegas this year for the first time ever, providing observers with a smorgasbord of hoops action to both analyze and enjoy.
But with how big the event has grown, it can be easy to assign too much weight to good and bad performances alike, forgetting that these are glorified exhibition games between teams’ youngest and rawest prospects.
So while reflecting on the Phoenix Suns’ first three Summer League games, I thought, “Why not do both?”
Here are a few level-headed impressions from the Phoenix Suns’ time in Vegas so far, as well as an attendant wild overreaction for each.
Impression: After a bout of knee-knocking nerves in his Summer League opener against the Dallas Mavericks, Deandre Ayton has found a greater comfort level on the court. He is averaging 16 points per game on 66.7-percent shooting while also ripping down 11 boards per contest (T-8th in Summer League) and has already demonstrated a proficiency at converting those Tyson Chandler lob passes. Furthermore, he has been letting the game come to him, and even though that can come across as blasé from time to time, it’s not a negative for a rookie to demonstrate a sense of control in an environment where the natural tendency is to go one hundred miles per hour every minute on the court.
Ayton still has some areas to work on, such as establishing better (and lower…and wider) post position and keeping the basketball up when the gnats swarm, but overall, he’s looked exactly like what one expects from a one-and-done rookie taken first overall — a talented, productive player with ample room to grow.
Overreaction: Ayton is gonna be [a hybrid of Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Wilt Chamberlain / Michael Olowokandi 2.0]! He’s already proven to be a [transcendent / worthless] player who [is running roughshod over the bigs in Summer League / can only dunk and do nothing else]. Just watch. In two years, he will [lead Phoenix to its first of eight consecutive championships / be playing with Mike James in Europe]. Mark my words!
Impression: Someone wants his contract guaranteed. Davon Reed is currently the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.3 points per game and is shooting 57.1 percent from 3. While he looked slow and out of sync when he returned from injury last season, he has since morphed back into the promising player he was from the 2017 Summer League roster. If he continues playing like this, he might just survive the culling that Alan Williams and Tyler Ulis did not.
Overreaction: Oh man, Ryan McDonough almost screwed the pooch letting Reed get away. This guy has superstar written all over him, and these three exhibition games prove it! Reed is shooting out of his mind, or rather, out of our minds because us mere mortals aren’t accustomed to such transcendent displays of basketball prowess. For him, though, he’s just scratching the surface. Guarantee his contract, McDonough, and watch the championships roll in!
Impression: A casualty of Josh Jackson’s decision to re-up with the Summer Suns, Mikal Bridges has seen fewer minutes than he otherwise could have expected (20.0) and is averaging just over four field goal attempts per game. To his credit, he’s been productive with what he’s gotten, shooting 53.8 percent from the field and hitting five of his nine 3-point attempts (although he’s 1 of 4 since his 4-of-5 effort against Dallas). He’s also been another active defender for this athletic summer team. However, his limited opportunity here is only highlighting the logjam that will present itself in October with the full NBA team.
Overreaction: I can’t believe we traded the No. 16 pick this year and the future Hall of Famer we would’ve drafted in 2021 with that Miami pick for a bench warmer. Tar and feather, McDonough!
Impression: Josh Jackson probably didn’t need to show up for Summer League, but he did anyway — a testament to his competitive fire. Unfortunately, he has not used that fire to set the league ablaze. Jackson averages 10.3 points per game but has failed to shoot above 25 percent from the field in any of the three games despite attempting double-digit field goals in each. Worse still, he is 1 of 11 from behind the 3-point arc. Jackson has played with effort on the defensive end, as his steals and highlight blocks attest; however, it would have been nice to see progress made towards his goal of shooting 30 percent from 3 in the upcoming season.
Overreaction: He still can’t shoot, even against subpar competition! And now he has a head injury? He’s trying to out-T.J. T.J. Warren!
Impression: Dragan Bender is on the slippery slope back to Europe. As the player with the most NBA experience on the roster, he should’ve been the veteran leader for Phoenix over these three games. Instead, he’s looked just as indecisive and timid as he did during the NBA season, only against players who won’t be heard from in a year or two. Even in his 11-point, eight-rebound effort yesterday against the Orlando Magic, he did most of his offensive damage as a spot-up shooter. Shooting is fine, but why not work on the areas of his game that need development? It may require stepping out of his comfort zone, but honing one’s skills in a competitive environment is the Summer League’s main purpose for existing. Settling into the same, limited role he’ll play with the full NBA team is doing himself a disservice.
A project is one thing, but projects must develop. Bender’s development, however, has been so minuscule as to be statistically insignificant. The ability is there, but how long must everyone wait for it to bloom? The Suns drafted a power forward, not a century plant.
Impression: The first thing that jumps out about Shaquille Harrison — always — is his defense. As was true during the season, Harrison is still hounding opponents, averaging 2.7 steals thus far in Summer League, which places him in a tie for sixth place. But he’s also demonstrating a penchant for facilitating at a better clip than he did, connecting with Ayton for a few highlight alley-oop dunks. Through Monday’s games, Harrison is tied for fourth in assists with 6.7 per game, behind only Chris Chiozza, Wade Baldwin IV, and Trae Young.
His own offense is still heavily predicated on driving to the basket, but he has shot well from 3 in limited attempts (2 of 5) and is tied with Josh Jackson (10.3) for third-most points per game on the team. But Harrison knows where his bread is buttered.
Overreaction: I will take a measured approach to this and merely suggest that Shaquille Harrison is to Gary Payton what Secretariat is to a bottle of glue and a horsehair brush.
Impression: Jack Cooley has played well as a hustle guy behind Ayton. He works hard, throws his body around, and creates space wherever he moves on the court. He’s this year’s Josh Harrellson feel-good story.
Overreaction: Why? Does anybody know the answer? Why did it take until the waning minutes of the third game of Summer League for the crowd to start chanting M-V-P for Jack Cooley? Inexcusable! Just release Chandler; the Suns have found their backup center. Keep it simple, Jack!
Impression: It’s great that Devin Booker showed up to Summer League to support the team. Even better? That the Suns handed him a pen that wasn’t out of ink to sign his five-year, $158 million contract extension. I love it when a plan comes together.
Overreaction: Yeah, he signed his rookie extension, but did you see when they showed him on TV during Summer League? He didn‘t smile every time. You know what that means…he’s still unhappy about the Ulis situation and gonna demand a trade! He got his money, and now he’s gonna make trouble until he’s dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers. This sucks. Someone get out the “We suck again” GIFs because all hope is lost. Oh God, it hurts so much! Food is flavorless, flowers odorless. The world is a muted palette of greys. An empty void sits where my heart once beat. Why does everything I love leave me?