By: Kayla Mortellaro
PHOENIX— The Phoenix Suns have had an eventful off-season and it all started with the 2015 NBA draft.
In what seemed to be the perfect fit for the Suns, guard Devin Booker from Kentucky fell into Phoenix’ lap with the 13th overall selection. Booker is just 18-years-old but possesses the maturity and physical talent to make an impact next season.
Before getting to the 2015-2016 season, the Suns will compete in NBA Summer League play in Las Vegas from July 10- 20. Im addition to Booker, highlighting the team for the Suns in Vegas will be Archie Goodwin, Alex Len and TJ Warren.
“It’s totally different out here,” Booker said after the first Suns summer practice at U.S. Airways Center. “You got Alex Len down there who is 7 foot but Kentucky kind of prepared me for it with Karl[Anthony Towns] and Willie Caulie Stein in practice, so I’m kind of adjusted to it already.”
Booker is known for his pure shooting where he knocked down 47 percent of his field goals and 41.1 percent of his shots from behind the arc in his one season with the Wildcats.
The biggest key for Booker is to get comfortable with the size and speed of the NBA players around him.
“Just figuring out the offenses, trying to get a feel for everything, the whole NBA feel, it’s totally different from college and I’m just looking forward to being in it,” Booker said.
As a young player, Booker is showing great maturity by keeping his expectations simple and taking the opportunity to learn from everyone around him.
“Just go out there and compete,” Booker said of his goals in summer league. “I’m ready to just go out there and compete and try to get wins. That’s the type of player I am. You saw that at Kentucky. We do everything to win, we sacrifice 20 minutes of playing time just to win.”
Winning is something the Suns are trying to accomplish next season as the franchise is in its longest playoff drought of five years. The team finished under .500 at 39-43 last season in Jeff Hornacek’s second year as head coach.
As it was widely reported, the Suns made a hard press at free agent LaMarcus Aldridge after also acquiring free agent center Tyson Chandler. The Suns fell short of grabbing Aldridge but in addition to drafting Booker, the team has already made several off-season moves that indicate an effort to get back to winning ways.
Returning for the Suns is point guard Brandon Knight, who is set to sign a 5-year $70 million contract. And in several coaching moves, the team parted ways with assistant coach Kenny Gattison and moved assistant coach Mark West to a front office position paving the way for promotions to Corey Gaines from player development coach to assistant coach and appointed Bakersfield Jam [the Suns D-league affiliate] head coach Nate Bjorkgren to player development coach.
Bjorkgren is set to run the team in Las Vegas for the summer league and his main goal is getting the guys to play hard.
“On day one, the main thing was playing extremely hard,” Bjorkgren said. “I threw a lot of defensive things at them this morning and the biggest thing for me, is that they are all moving at a very fast pace. We want to step on that floor and be very active.”
Bjorkgren was very adamant that his main objective is to get the players to play hard for each other, something the team is looking to instill in their roster players early-on.
“Just that the guys play hard and play hard for each other,” Bjorkgren said. “You know, the number one thing in summer league is these guys are looking to try and help their individual futures, looking to maybe get a spot in the NBA, or get a spot overseas. The only way that that works is if you play hard for each other and these guys have to do great things in the team concepts and then everybody looks good.”
Some of the players on the Suns summer league team won’t be joining the Suns during the 2015-2016 season. But the changes in culture and coaching mentality have to start somewhere. It is important to develop the younger players, such as Booker, Len, Goodwin and Warren, so they are ready for keys roles during the NBA season.
“Chemistry has to be developed in these early stages of practice,” Bjorkgren said. “It just gives a sense of confidence knowing that when you have the ball and move it, that you’re going to get it back to be able to make plays. And that’s the thing, you’re going to see guys really sharing the ball and doing nice things for each other.”
Second-year player, Warren echoed Bjorkgren’s sentiments about the importance of building chemistry as these players will be relied on heavily for bench contribution next season.
“Just trying to build that chemistry with the guys,” Warren said. “Devin is a great player, great shooter, work his way in [to] summer league to get to play with him there and [that] leads up to the regular season.”
There are no guarantees in the NBA and no guarantees the changes and efforts by the Suns will result in more season wins next year. But with a young nucleus of players and a more solidified direction, the Suns have a chance to turn the tide.
And it all starts with building chemistry with the young players during summer league play.