The 2014 Las Vegas Summer League tips for the Phoenix Suns on Saturday at 5 p.m. PST. Coach Mike Longabardi’s squad faces off against the Golden State Warriors, the Vegas champions from last year who dropped a veteran Suns in the 2013 title game.
This is what we’ll be watching as a team with five draft picks from the last two seasons tip their 2014 summer league experience. And
The unique big man rotation
Phoenix lost a member of this group when Alex Oriakhi was included in the Isaiah Thomas sign-and-trade, but the Suns still have a versatile stash of big men, including two players they hope will contribute heavily to the 2014-15 team. Miles Plumlee is the old man of the group that also includes Alex Len and stretch big Alec Brown.
Longabardi said rotations and matchups will be situational, but Phoenix has a lot of different directions it can go with its frontcourt group. Brown can play stretch four alongside Plumlee or Len, and small forward T.J. Warren could also get some looks as a power forward in a small-ball unit. Plumlee and Len could also see some time together, which would present an intriguing possibility in the regular season following Channing Frye’s departure.
“We’re really working on our big-to-big passing, and Alex has got a great mid-range jump shot,” Plumlee said this week. “It’s not the same as having Channing space the floor, but I think we got something really good going on right now.”
Plumlee has worked all summer to make more natural moves, reacting instead of over-reacting. Len, meanwhile, is simply hoping that his weight gain and health hold up to make him a productive member of the rotation. His mid-range game and passing ability flashed at times during his rookie year, but for Longabardi this is about staying on the floor.
“Availability is the biggest thing for him right now,” the Suns’ assistant and Summer League leader said. “We need him out there to play. He has to be durable, and he has to play through fatigue. He looks good, and hopefully he’ll get to go out there and show everybody what he can do.”
Archie Goodwin scored 13.1 points per game in the 2013 Summer League, only trailing Suns vets Markieff and Marcus Morris. This year, he’s had a whole regular season and a summer’s worth of work to give him a solid footing.
“I expect to just show a full game this year,” Goodwin said. “Last year, I did so more scoring and competing than showing I can pass, rebound, make other players better around me.
“I’m just going to go out there and just try to make others better and take advantage of scoring opportunities when they come.”
With the sign-and-trade of Thomas and considering Phoenix has Tyler Ennis, David Stockton and Seth Curry on the summer roster, there probably won’t be many minutes for Goodwin to play point guard. It’s clear at this point that Goodwin may not be all that close to being a point guard, which isn’t necessarily bad considering even his tunnel vision has led to big scoring outputs in both the D-League and in spurts with the Suns.
Goodwin isn’t concerned about his label; he’ll lead breaks off rebounds and also get a chance to line up against opposing point guards on defense, according to Longabardi.
Tyler the creator
Rookie point guard Tyler Ennis will play the obvious and important roll as a playmaker in pick-and-rolls. The Suns’ bread and butter should suit him well, and the youngster from Syracuse has gotten rave reviews from all of his teammates.
“It’s really weird, he doesn’t seem that young at all,” Plumlee said of his 19-year-old teammate. “He never seems rattled, he never seems out of control. He’s ready to make the right play at the right time.”
It goes beyond the playmaking. It’s expected Ennis will make the correct reads on pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops, but how aggressive he is with his own scoring will be even more interesting. Brown suggested that Ennis had been shooting quite well during the workouts this week, and how the point guard plays in the NBA style, with so much more put on his shoulders, will be key.
An opportunity for Brown?
Alec Brown hasn’t committed to heading overseas this year, and there’s reason to believe the Suns might consider him for a roster spot. But the big ding on his resume is his below-average rebounding playing for a mid-major squad in Green Bay. Against the best competition this past season, Brown struggled.
He went 1-for-5 for two points, two blocks, five fouls and five turnovers against a Wisconsin team that had stretch bigs in Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. Brown scored nine points and had a rebound against a very good Virginia squad this year as well.
Can he defend and rebound well enough during the Summer League? And will he find enough time to make his three-point shooting a real threat?
Warren as a weapon
At N.C. State, T.J. Warren became the second-ranked player in his 2014 draft class in terms of usage, according to Draft Express. He won’t be needed to carry such a load with the Summer Suns, and even though Jeff Hornacek won’t be leading this team, it’ll be interesting to find out how Phoenix aims to set the elite scorer up.
Warren is at his best going toward the basket, and the Suns would probably be using curl screens and backcuts to get him open. But once the shorter clock runs out, it will be on Warren to score at the rim against NBA-level size and strength. He wasn’t a great spot-up shooter in college, so he’ll add a unique wrinkle to this offense that generally creates out of small-big pick-and-rolls. He is neither the initiator and slasher, nor the floor-spacer that many of the Suns are. Might Warren be used as a pick-and-roll screener himself?