Get to Know Your Summer Suns
July 7, 2014
The Suns are set for as many as 11 days’ worth of basketball in Las Vegas this month, courtesy of the annual Summer League that features 23 teams. The week-and-a-half-long sprint of games includes round robin play followed by an elimination tournament, a format the Suns rode to the championship game a year ago.
Summer League holds more long-term meaning for NBA franchises as well as the players suiting up for them. We take a look at the latter, which includes rookies, highly talented prospects, and players still hopeful of locking up an NBA roster spot.
Taylor Braun – F/G
Info: 6-7, 210 pounds, 23 years old, North Dakota State
History with the Suns: Braun worked out in Phoenix on May 28, but didn’t end up hearing his name called on draft night. His 18.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 39.6-percent shooting from downtown, however, ultimately weren’t enough.
What he’ll need to prove: That he can hold his own against elite competition. It’s a chore for big-numbers guys from small conferences to get into the league. Even Portland All-Star Damian Lillard faced question marks coming out of Weber State. If Braun can impress the coaching staff early enough in practice to carve out some gametime – and then make an impact in his games – he could catch several teams’ attention, including his own.
Alec Brown – F/C
Info: 7-1, 235 pounds, 21 years old, Wisconsin-Green Bay
History with the Suns: Brown’s versatility impressed the Suns enough that they drafted him 50th overall last month. How? Brown showcased the same versatile skill set that saw him average 2.8 blocks and 44.6 three-point shooting in college.
What he’ll need to prove: Like Braun, Brown will need to prove his elite skills translate when the competition level is raised. His showings in workouts led Phoenix to believe they can at some point, but his time in Vegas will show how far along he is in that regard.
Dionte Christmas –G
Info: 6-5, 205 pounds, 27 years old, Temple
History with the Suns: Christmas has been a summer league regular for the past several years, and it finally paid off with a full season with Phoenix in 2013-14. His three-point shooting has always been at the top of his resume, but he also showed capable ball-handling as well as superb skills as a teammate on the bench and in the locker room.
What he’ll need to prove: That his NBA three-point stroke (29.0 percent) was a result of inconsistent playing time. Christmas will once again be playing for an NBA contract, though Phoenix loved what he brought to the team from a chemistry and sparkplug standpoint. He’ll serve as the veteran leader for the summer Suns while also looking to exhibit an expanded skill set after a full season with an NBA training staff.
Seth Curry – G
Info: 6-1, 180 pounds, 23 years old, Duke
History with the Suns: Nothing to report here, but it’s worth noting that Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough uses Summer League as a key talent identifier. He pinpointed Miles Plumlee as a must-include trade asset when the opportunity arose because of his performances in Orlando last summer. It’s highly likely Phoenix is gearing itself up for a closer look at Curry, who averaged 19.7 points, 5.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 37.2-percent three-point shooting in the D-League.
What he’ll need to prove: That he can man the point guard position while scoring at an efficient clip. Curry averaged over 16 shots a game in the D-League, including a whopping seven three-pointers per contest. If he can bump up his 43.7-percent shooting clip and cut down his turnovers (2.8 per game), he could latch onto another NBA team after brief stints in Memphis and Cleveland last year.
Tyler Ennis –G
Info: 6-3, 182 pounds, 19 years old, Syracuse
History with the Suns: Ennis was one of the last draft prospects Phoenix worked out, though it wasn’t just his recent impression that prompted the Suns to select him 18th overall last month. His 3.2 assist-to-turnover ratio was off-the-charts efficient, especially for a college freshman manning the poin guard position. He was also a thief on the other end, averaging 2.1 steals per contest.
What he’ll need to prove: Phoenix will want to see further proof of his poise in running an offense, but it wouldn’t hurt for Ennis to show an improved jump shot. The 19-year-old playmaker shot 41.1 percent overall last year. He was usually money late in clutch situations, but defenses will need to be convinced they have to respect him on the perimeter.
Archie Goodwin –G
Info: 6-5, 198 pounds, 19 years old, Kentucky
History with the Suns: Since the Suns drafted him 29th overall in 2013, Goodwin was the most-often witnessed Phoenix player on the practice court. He showed flashes when given the playing time, including a 29-point explosion in the season finale at Sacramento. The effort served as a reminder of why Phoenix is still very high on the young prospect’s future.
What he’ll need to prove: That all that hard work is paying off. Goodwin showed remarkably increased control and strength in getting to the rim in that Kings game. Proving those qualities are there to stay could secure him more consideration for minutes in the upcoming season. The biggest question mark surrounds his jump shot, the area he’s worked on the most after shooting 13.9 percent from downtown in 2013-14.
Elias Harris – F
Info: 6-8, 239 pounds, 25 years old, Gonzaga
History with the Suns: Harris undoubtedly caught McDonough’s eye in last year’s summer league, when he averaged 10.2 points and 5.6 rebounds for the Lakers. A multi-year deal with L.A., however, was voided after getting waived. He then signed a deal with Brose Baskets of Germany.
What he’ll need to prove: That the versatility he showed in Gonzaga can emerge again at the NBA level. His ability to score, rebound and hit the three with varying success in college helped get him on the professional radar. He has made an impact on box scores in the NCAA, Summer League, D-League and Eurocup when given minutes.
Alex Len – C
Info: 7-1, 255 pounds, 21 years old, Maryland
History with the Suns: Before he needed a pair of ankle surgeries, Len had convinced Phoenix he was a seldom-seen combination of size and skill at the center position. The Suns subsequently drafted him fifth overall in 2013. He had brief moments following his midseason recovery and is now gearing for what McDonough called a “big summer” for him and fellow 2013 draftee Archie Goodwin.
What he’ll need to prove: That the mobility he exhibited in college has been restored. Len showed flashes, especially toward the middle of the season when he received semi-consistent playing time. It would also help immensely to see the mid-range shot he exhibits so effortlessly in practices.
Miles Plumlee – F
Info: 6-11, 255 pounds, 25 years old, Duke
History with the Suns: Plumlee made an impact almost immediately upon arriving from Indiana via trade last summer. The undervalued big man provided a rebounding and shot-blocking presence the Suns needed. He burst out of the gate and nearly averaged a double-dobul through the first two months of the season before trailing off at the close of Phoenix’s playoff run.
What he’ll need to prove: That the energy he supplied early last year has been recharged since mid-April. He’ll also be set to display the low-post offense he’s worked on rigorously with big men assistant coaches Mark West and Kenny Gattison. This will be Plumlee’s third summer league, so he should feel comfortable and produce effectively.
Alex Oriakhi – F
Info: 6-9, 255 pounds, 24 years old, Missouri
History with the Suns: Oriakhi’s senior season (11.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 63.9 percent shooting) convinced Phoenix to take a second-round flyer on him in 2013. He was on that summer league team as well, but lost his role and playing time to Arinze Onuaku. Oriakhi ended up logging time in France and the D-League before returning to Phoenix a few weeks ago.
What he’ll need to prove: That his bump-and-bang reputation can hold up against NBA competition. His seasoning in various leagues over the past year no doubt helped, but the onus will be his to secure playing time with active roster players Len and Plumlee already lining up for minutes down low.
David Stockton – G
Info: 5-11, 165 pounds, 23 years old, Gonzaga
History with the Suns: Stockton has family friend ties to Hornacek via his father (John), but this is more about his pre-draft workout and the impression left from that. Court vision will be essential on a team full of so many NBA-quality scorers, and Stockton ensures Phoenix goes three deep at the point guard position.
What he’ll need to prove: That his size won’t be a negative factor when he steps on the floor. He’ll also need to show better than the 43.4 percent shooting (23.2 from downtown) that marked his senior year at Gonzaga.
T.J. Warren – F
Info: 6-8, 215 pounds, 20 years old, North Carolina State
History with the Suns: Warren scored, scored and scored some more at North Carolina State, where he averaged 24.9 points per game last season. The unique way in which he did so – combined with convincing Phoenix he could also defend and shoot from the outside – led to the Suns selecting him 14th overall in last month’s draft.
What he’ll need to prove: That his singular way of scoring, especially in the paint, can translate to the NBA level. Warren is the likely starter at small forward in Vegas, where his combination of size and speed should give him some kind of advantage at any time. If he can use them within the flow of an organized offense with multiple options around him, he’ll impress early and often.