A SHORT Look at Tyler Ulis’ BIG Potential

Mar 26, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Devin Booker (1) and guard Tyler Ulis (3) against the West Virginia Mountaineers in the semifinals of the midwest regional of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 26, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Devin Booker (1) and guard Tyler Ulis (3) against the West Virginia Mountaineers in the semifinals of the midwest regional of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports /

Tyler Ulis is short. Really short. By NBA standards, Tyler Ulis is too short. Of the minimum 450 players to make up NBA rosters over the course of the season, only Isaiah Thomas is shorter.

Ulis is listed at 5’10”, but having met Tyler personally, and being 5’11” myself, I’d have to say his 2016 NBA Combine numbers appear to be more accurate. Listed at 5’8 3/4″ without shoes on, Ulis has had to deal with concerns about his height throughout his basketball life. He would have likely been a much higher draft pick if he had prototypical point guard size. In fact, he may have been drafted higher had he merely been at least six-feet tall. Luckily for Phoenix, he fell to them at pick #34, and the Suns believe Ulis has adapted his game to turn his vertical limitations into a sizable benefit.

Because his height is both an asset and a liability, here is a breakdown of both sides of the ball and a look at whether Ulis’ height makes him a better point guard or not. 

Ball Handling: 

As a ball-handler Ulis is excellent and appears to have the ball on a string, keeping his dribble despite larger players trying to knock him out of position.

More from Valley of the Suns

Paul Coro identifies that Ulis has shown the capacity to consistently make the right play, writing, “The point guard that the Suns felt should have been selected in the mid-first round has 19 assists to only two turnovers…”

Assist to turnover ratio is a great way to analyze whether or not a point-guard is being effective, and no one would be surprised for any rookie point guard to turn the ball over the first three times he plays with new teammates. Not Ulis. Tyler is composed, intelligent, and crafty, worming his way into the lane, creating space for his teammates, and then delivering the ball on time, and on target. Ulis tells Coro it’s just part of who he is, “It’s just something I do – try to not turn the ball over, try not to make too many mistakes on the offensive end,” Ulis said. “As a point guard, I have to take care of the ball, so it’s just something that comes natural.”


Ulis understands how to get separation, something fellow little guy Isaiah Thomas also shows an incredible talent for. Thomas has been able to shoot very high percentages on shots in and around the rim, despite often being surrounded by defenders over a foot taller than him. Ulis uses a lot of the same moves we got used to seeing from Thomas in Phoenix.

Ulis is an expert at keeping his defender on his hip while driving, then jumping at an angle to both cut off the defender, create contact and as a result separation, allowing him to get the shot off cleanly. Ulis shot a solid 47% from two, and 37% from three during his career in Kentucky, proving his height didn’t limit his scoring. During his 20 point, 8 assist performance in the opening game of the Summer League tournament, Ulis was 9 of 14 from the field. He has learned to create odd angles to see around his opponents and looked excellent with his mid-range arsenal.


Another thing Ulis does very well is control an offense. Ulis appears comfortable in control and showed off his capacity to get the ball to his teammates where they want it, often passing them open. He stays within the offense, and makes sure his size doesn’t prevent him from finding the open man.

Ulis will drive the lane, maintain his dribble among the big men in the paint, and squirm out along the baseline to find open shooters in the corners. Ulis knows how to get in the way of defenders while delivering scoop passes, or dribble handoffs as well, helping to open up just a few extra inches of shooting space (All Devin Booker needs).

Ulis looks like he has been playing with his teammates for years, showing off the ability to build immediate chemistry. Certainly, the Suns expected him to have chemistry with former teammate, best friend, and super sophomore, Devin Booker. But the two play off of each other as if they have been playing together for years, when in reality, they’ve only spent one full season as teammates.

Ulis has incredible court vision and uses his size to get inside the lane, create panic amongst the defense, and then quickly and cleaning pass the ball where it needs to go, or pull up for a quick jumper from 10-15 feet.


On defense is where height can be the largest concern for an NBA player, no matter what position they play. In the NBA today Ulis will be asked to guard players much larger than him on a regular basis. Point guards with true size in the form of John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Kris Dunn, Ricky Rubio, could present problems for Ulis. However, Ulis may actually have an advantage against these guys, because he is able to capitalize on players who dribble too high.

More from Suns News

Suns Summer League head coach Nate Bjorkgren elaborates, “When that basketball bounces, if the man doesn’t pick it up, he’s going to snatch it,” Bjorkgren said. “He stays between his man and the basket at all times.” Bjorkgren isn’t kidding, Ulis has 14 steals through three games in Summer League and has been justifying his SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors.

If Ulis can limit his turnovers, and continue to force them at a high rate, he could end up being the steal of the draft. The Suns seem to think so as well, having fully guaranteed Ulis’ contract. Don’t be shocked if Ulis is backing-up Suns starter Eric Bledsoe by the all-star break. This kid is THAT good. The Suns have four other guards with Kentucky origins, but that didn’t stop Suns coach Earl Watson from saying, “He’s definitely going to make the team, how could he not?” After this summer performance, Ulis isn’t just going to make the team, he is going to compete for serious playing time.

Here is what his best bud, Devin Booker has to say about his short sidekick. “He can run teams,” Booker said. “He uses his size as an advantage instead of a disadvantage. He slithers through pick-and-rolls, finds the open man. He’s really special. I think he’s going to fit in well with this team.”

I couldn’t agree more. Watch Ulis during the Suns Summer League quarter-final game starting at 3pm (PT) Saturday, July, 16th.

Summer League: Booker's Summer Is About More Than Stats