The Phoenix Suns are in no position to make a playoff push this season, but that is no surprise given the roster has an average age of 25.2 (third-youngest in the league). It is hard to win with so much youth, though there is plenty of promise. Recent lottery picks Devin Booker (20 years old), Marquese Chriss (19), and Dragan Bender (19) are all expected to have bright futures in the league, and now there is another young player in Tyler Ulis (21) who has burst onto the scene and is looking to cement his name in the rotation.
Ulis had only two 20-plus-minute games over the first 60 games of the year, but the Kentucky product has exceeded the 20-minute mark in the last three games for an average of 25.6 minutes per game. And during this three-game stretch, he is averaging 14.0 points, 6.6 assists, 2.3 rebounds, and 2.0 steals. The Suns have benefited from his production and have put together an impressive three-game winning streak.
None of his 17 made field goals in the past three games were as big as the game-winner to upend the Boston Celtics on Sunday night.
Standing at just 5’9,” Ulis is entertaining to watch simply because of the size difference on the floor. But as you really watch Suns games, you start to see that this kid has a great awareness for the game. Sure, he’ll make typical rookie mistakes here and there, but he is one of the big reasons the Suns are becoming fun to watch again despite a poor overall record.
Ulis has tremendous speed, so he’s been great initiating transition offense. His presence also gives Devin Booker or Eric Bledsoe the chance to fill a lane and await a kick-out three instead of their usual responsibilities of bringing the ball up. With a 4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio the past three games, it’s evident that Ulis is making great decisions when he is on the floor.
Everything is starting to come together for the rookie after only a handful of games, and Ulis spoke about his development with Gerald Bourguet of Hoops Habit:
“It’s about experience and early in the season I didn’t get much, but when I did I tried to make the most of my opportunity,” he said. “I learned from Bled, learned from Brandon and now that I’ve played four or five games straight, I’m starting to get in better rhythm and our group is starting to get in better rhythm with each other, recognizing how each other plays.”
The great part of Ulis’ game is that he doesn’t force any situations. Not only is this indicated by his assist-to-turnover ratio, but also his 60.7 shooting percentage. He only attempted one three-pointer in the past three games, plus he cashed in on all of his seven free throw attempts.
Minutes didn’t just appear out of thin air for Ulis. They were owned by Brandon Knight for the majority of the season, but Knight has been booted from the rotation due to his lack of productivity. The Suns have shifted their focus to getting their youngest players as much experience as possible to build for the future, so it’s quite possible Knight may not see the floor again this season unless an injury occurs:
The February 2015 trade for Knight and subsequent extension has bombed, and no teams were interested in the guard thanks in large part to the three years and nearly $44 million left on his deal.
But whatever the Suns decide to do with Knight, they may have realized Ulis could be their answer at backup point guard for the future. Phoenix is now on the right track giving him and other youngsters more minutes after the head-scratching decision to play veterans so much not long ago, and Ulis’ improvements could be key in the future when the team is ready to make a playoff push.