How to Train your Dragan

“Speed unknown. Size unknown. The unholy offspring of lightning and death itself. Never engage this dragon. Your only chance: hide and pray it does not find you.”

Hiccup, How to Train your Dragon (2010)

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Vegas Summer League 2016 – 7/12/16 PHX vs. MIA: 

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Last Tuesday’s NBA summer league matchup in Las Vegas between the Phoenix Suns and Miami Heat was an apparent mismatch before tipoff.  Highly touted lottery picks Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender highlighted a solid roster for Phoenix, while Miami’s squad consisted of mostly undrafted free agents and second-round picks.  Heat fans were disappointed when promising second year player, Justise Winslow, was listed for play, but not ultimately not present.  Still, things did not play out the way Suns fans had hoped.

Bender struggled early in the first quarter on both sides of the court for Phoenix, and looked lost and sheepish without the ball on offense and was easily moved around in the post by the bigger Heat front court players. He picked up early fouls and struggled to find the right cutting lanes in the pick and roll, resulting in multiple turnovers. On the bright side, the rookie forward showed aggression on the boards and put in a good effort defensively. Bender was consistently called on fouls for bowling into opponents and grabbing at players, but eventually was more mentally checked in on defense as the game progressed.

The Suns’ Marquese Chriss showed off his athleticism throughout the game, and while he struggled offensively in isolation, Chriss was able to get some dunks and easy lay ups by floating into the lane and demonstrating overall good ball awareness. While his jump shot didn’t consistently early on, he was ability to make appropriate cuts, defend in the high post and 3-point line, and move without the ball.

The Heat offense, led by guard Briante Weber, looked disorganized, with disproportionate amounts of iso plays, little ball movement, and poor shooting.  However, the heat coaching staff recognized the size advantage in the post, and used Heat forwards to score in the paint and from the free throw line throughout the first half. Phoenix continued to struggle into the second half, as Miami’s Michael Carrera came off the bench to consistently break down the Suns’ team defense for easy buckets in the lane.  

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For Phoenix, Bender finished with 9 points, all from 3 point shots, and Marquese Chriss ended up with 11 points and 7 rebounds. The Heat bench maintained the positive momentum throughout the fourth quarter, eventually leading to a Heat victory with a final score of 80-71.

The two teams demonstrated the improvements that their young cores must make to develop into quality NBA players, but there were some positive signs from the prospects on both teams.  For Phoenix, Dragan Bender showed confidence and competence from the three-point line throughout the game.  Though sometimes lacking control, Bender was a ball hawk while on the floor, and also frequently provided help support to teammates. Still, through Summer league, it has become clear that Bender is nowhere near as NBA ready as some of the other top prospects from this year’s draft (Simmons, Dunn, Brown, etc.). In the low post, he will need to learn how to establish and maintain position against bigger players on both offense and defense.  He’ll need to bulk up, learn isolation defense, and become a more confident pick and roll partner before he can see any significant NBA playing time. Marquese Chriss seems more ready to play against NBA competition, and showed flashes of a mid to long-range jump shot. His post defense needs work, especially if Phoenix is going to try him out at the 4 – but he definitely had a decent game.

Miami showed little, with few summer league prospects having a realistic chance at making the NBA roster. However, with the recent departure of hall of fame guard Dwyane Wade to Chicago and the continued health struggles of all-star big man Chris Bosh, Summer league guard Briante Weber and forward Michael Carrera will get a hard look from the Miami front office if they continue to play well.

By Jeremiah Whitten

For more on the NBA from Jeremiah, follow on Twitter and IG @jerwhitten