Suns’ Toumani Camara already turning heads at Summer League

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21: Toumani Camara #2 of the Dayton Flyers in position during a college basketball game against the George Washington Colonials at the Smith Center on January 21, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21: Toumani Camara #2 of the Dayton Flyers in position during a college basketball game against the George Washington Colonials at the Smith Center on January 21, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

If there is one thing fans of a franchise don’t want to do at this time of the year, it is read too much into how a player gets on at the NBA’s Summer League out in Las Vegas. Previous MVPs of the tournament have included Randy Foye, Jerryd Bayless and Josh Selby, while on the other end of the spectrum, Victor Wembanyama only had a so-so first game for the San Antonio Spurs.

The Phoenix Suns are no different, and they don’t even have a first round pick on their roster for the exhibition games anyway. Given that they have had an excellent offseason through trades and free agency, bringing in everybody from Bradley Beal to Eric Gordon, you would be forgiven for thinking that Suns fans aren’t even really paying attention to what’s going on out in the desert.

Those who have watched however, will have seen a lot to like out of their second round pick Toumani Camara.

Again we’re not going to commit the cardinal sin of overreacting to a single game, because it was just that. Camara did see 31 minutes of action, the most of any player, against the Milwaukee Bucks squad, and he also put up 20 points and eight boards to get people talking.

Really though it is everything around those numbers that need to be talked about, because of what they signify to Camara and the Suns. Right out the gate, Camara plays hard. Like “chill out man this is only Summer League” hard. MarJon Beauchamp was the most complete player on the court, which makes sense given he was a part of the Bucks’ actual rotation last season.

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Yet Camara went straight at him on the defensive end, and the most impressive thing he may have done actually came on a made Beauchamp dunk. In what was already looking like a lost cause, Camara went up and tried to contest it anyway. He didn’t quite get posterized, but even if he had been done, it didn’t look like Camara cared.

He just wanted to make it hard, in a Summer League game, for Beauchamp to complete a dunk he looked incredibly likely to make from the moment he got the ball. That wasn’t all though, as Camara also fancied himself on a few occasions in transition in trying to face up Tacko Fall. Yes, as in this guy who just runs right by Camara.

It wasn’t just the extreme defensive effort that was worth noting. Camara also showed a willingness to move without the ball offensively. In fact his cutting was among the best of all of the players on display, and while that may seem like a low bar to jump, think about how useful that will be once the games actually start to matter.

Camara is going to have to make a living offensively moving and waiting for his superstar teammates to find him when they want to. We’ve stretched to make the case that Camara can be the next Mikal Bridges for the Suns here before, but what if he’s actually their answer to Bruce Brown? Look at this movement into space and subsequent athletic ability to flush it down.

When you think of Suns rosters of the last few seasons, we haven’t always seen a ton of that. Torrey Craig and the returning Josh Okogie are certainly capable of doing this… yet it felt like they didn’t do it as much as fans would have liked. In their defense it can be hard to get exciting about cutting all of the time, when players like Deandre Ayton or Devin Booker don’t pass the ball.

This isn’t like playing with Nikola Jokic, and cutting hard and with intent even when you know you’re not going to get the ball is one of the most underrated skills in the entire league. Not because it is hard. It is so easy in fact, that almost anybody can do it. But because it is boring, it will not get you noticed or paid tons of money, and you rarely actually get the ball.

Camara’s defensive desire, intensity and motor look to be on point already, and we’re only in July. The hard part will be doing this over the course of a whole season, and you can be sure he is going to hit a rookie wall at some point when the action begins. But this is all impressive stuff in game one.

With all of the noteworthy additions to the Suns’ rotation, and there may yet be more to come in the form of Bol Bol, it was always going to be tricky for Camara to get minutes on one of the true championship contenders in the league. All of a sudden however, playing like this opens up a pathway to him being a part of their second unit.

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In theory his skill set would work extremely well with some of the stars like Booker and Beal, but it is far too soon to be making that kind of case for the Belgian. If he continues playing like this in Vegas however, Camara will absolutely carve a role out for himself with the Suns this season, and be able to play about 15 minutes per game for the team.

So while the scoring punch and volume of rebounds was what got Camara noticed against the Bucks, it is everything around that which we should really be paying attention to. He has something, and was an astute late draft pick by the organization. His style of play is exactly what the back end of their rotation is going to need to succeed.