The youth movement is officially on in Phoenix and it has tallied its first victory. The Suns’ Summer League squad trounced the New York Knicks 99-74 on the far-flung battlefield of Las Vegas’ Cox Pavillion. Markieff Morris led the way with 21 points, on 7-of-16 shooting, and nine rebounds.
The Suns as a team shot nearly 53 percent from the field and 10-of-21 from beyond the arc. They held the Knicks to under 40 percent shooting for the game.
Summer League basketball is never the prettiest thing to watch, but the Suns had several stretches of quality play in this one. Offensively they had their way with the Knicks, and defensively they put in a strong albeit erratic effort. Team defense is difficult to institute in the short amount of time summer squads have to practice, but the Suns got the job done with solid effort from all five spots. Phoenix forced New York to play isolation ball for most of the game. The Knicks recorded only nine assists in 40 minutes of play to go with 15 turnovers. The only standouts for New York were Chris Copeland, Mustapha Farrakhan, and Wes Witherspoon.
Copeland was far and away the best player on the floor for New York. He was strong offensively, scoring on penetration, post ups, and jumpers. Defensively, he was the only Knick with any intensity, recording two blocks and a steal. Knicks legend Walt Frazier, who was commentating the game for MSG, was singing Copeland’s praises throughout and fully expects him to get an invite to training camp.
Farrakhan asserted himself in the second half and impressed with his ability to get into the lane. He has great strength for his size, quickness, and a solid handle. He had 10 points and four boards in 16 minutes. Witherspoon was also great off penetration. He was only 2-of-6 from the field, but he earned six free throws in a game where the referees really swallowed their whistles.
The Knicks will be slightly disappointed in the performances of their NBA legacy players. Chris Smith, brother of Knicks’ SG J.R. Smith was 0-for-6 from the field in 27 minutes of action. Mychel Thompson, son of former NBA star Mychal Thompson and brother of Golden State’s Klay Thompson, was only 1-for-4 from the field in 17 minutes.
As for Phoenix, all five of the starters looked great offensively. Point guard Diante Garrett dished out 10 assists and only turned the ball over twice. Although I don’t think he has much of a left hand, Garrett is a good ball handler, and the team’s offensive efficiency can be attributed to his court vision and Markieff’s dominance.
DeShawn Sims also played very well, scoring 16 points and hitting both of his attempts from downtown. Sims and Garrett were both an astonishing +32 in this game. Marcus Landry, who nearly made the team last season, scored 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting. It’s staggering how much he looks like his brother Carl Landry. The one difference is Marcus’ shooting touch from beyond the arc. He went 1-for-3 on the night, but I like his shot and believe he should continue to look for it.
Coming off the bench, I liked Patrick O’Bryant’s size and physicality. I also liked point guard Erving Walker. Walker is listed at 5-foot-8, but he’s nowhere near that tall. The not-so-big man didn’t let his size hinder him offensively. He didn’t miss a shot, going 5-for-5 from the field, including 2-for-2 from downtown. He did turn the ball over twice, but his quickness was often too much for the Knicks to handle. Draft pick Kendall Marshall was present but did not play because he and the team have yet to come to terms on a contract.
This was a solid start to the exhibition season for these young guys. Morris was incredibly assertive offensively, and to my eyes looked far more agile and quick than he did last season. This is good news for the franchise as they look to get more production out of the power forward spot in the upcoming year. Morris doesn’t seem reticent to take on the challenge of being the offensive focal point. That’s the best-case scenario for Phoenix this summer. If Morris can make a jump in his sophomore season, the Suns will be much better for it.
The squad still has four more games in Vegas over the next week. If they can play like this the rest of the way, a bunch of these guys are going to get an invite to training camp from Phoenix or one of the other 29 teams.