The Phoenix Suns have now played two preseason games, with plenty to take away from the encounters. The “Big 3” of Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal didn’t play in the loss to the Denver Nuggets, with an overtime win over the Detroit Pistons preceding that.
Obviously fans should not read too much into these games, and yet every year there are those who do. This is not a good time to claim you were right about a player after they have a good performance, only to see them buried on the bench once the actual season begins.
In saying all of that, the Suns may just have given up on a former draft pick far too soon with what we’ve seen so far.
We’re talking about Toumani Camara, the organization’s lone second round draft pick this summer. The Belgian arriving to little fanfare as owner Mat Ishbia sought to put together a superteam worthy of winning a championship. Expectations for Camara were modest, with some time in the G-League looking likely.
Then Deandre Ayton was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers, and everything changed. For some reason – and if salary filler is that reason then it is a bad one – Camara was included in the deal that sent Ayton to Portland, with the Suns netting four players in return.
Deals like this happen all of the time, with second round picks and fringe players being moved to a new location, and often washing out of the league altogether not long after. Only Camara already looks different, and more worryingly from the Suns’ perspective, also looks like the perfect role player to add to the back end of their rotation.
A few of the hardcore fans took notice of this at Summer League, with Camara suiting up for the Suns and looking every inch the future rotation player. He defended and cut to the basket on the offensive end with an intensity that was matched by few others, while also displaying quick hands to nab a couple of steals. There was a real unselfishness about his play.
Defending and cutting are not glamorous, and you won’t find yourself as a viral sensation on TikTok if you exhibit these traits. Yet coaches rightly love to see this – they can be the difference between a star-laden team winning and losing a game. Role players matter, and Camara at Summer League looked like he had a great opportunity to learn from Eric Gordon.
It is not only that he was traded either, but rather what the Suns got back. Jusuf Nurkic and Grayson Allen are two of their top eight players, but the futures of Nassir Little and Keon Johnson are more uncertain. The Suns have too many players on their roster right now, which is likely one of the reasons they saw fit to let Camara go.
But in his first appearance for his new employers, Camara had more points than Ayton (13 points, four rebounds and three assists) in less minutes, and his level of comfort out there was noteworthy. Again, this is preseason and so it is less about the numbers and more the broad strokes of what a player can bring to a team.
To that end Camara really excelled, looking like one of the Trail Blazers’ best players on the court, and the ideal defensive-minded wing who is going to thrive next to rookie Scoot Henderson. Yes Camara was playing against the New Zealand Breakers, but what he was doing out there had people taking note – including Suns fans…
If the Suns jump out to a quick start this season, then Camara is going to be quickly forgotten, and rightly so. Their focus is on championships and the continued ascension of Booker, not on developing a 23-year-old Belgian so that he can maybe one day take over from the ageing Gordon.
But that in itself is the potentially scary part here. Camara doesn’t look like he needs that much developing, and is already older than some players who are entering their third season in the league. In what will be a long and tough regular season, he already looks like the ideal player to throw out there for 20 minutes in December when you’re in Charlotte.
The Suns’ depth issues are no problem right now, but even the most optimistic fan will know that injuries are going to pop up. If that happens to any of their three stars it will be a disaster, but the franchise will feel the loss of Gordon, Yuta Watanabe, Josh Okogie or Keita Bates-Diop for even 10 games if that happens as well.
Perhaps Little or Johnson will quickly emerge as role players who can help (Saben Lee has looked nice in a couple of appearances so far), but the Suns look to have had a ready made replacement on their roster already in the form of Camara. Letting him go, and as a throwaway no less, doesn’t hurt this team yet. A few more performances like that from Camara though, and it certainly will.