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2016-17 NBADL Team Preview: Northern Arizona Suns

Editor Dakota Schmidt takes a look at the Northern Arizona Suns to continue our 2016-17 NBA D-League preview.

NBA: Phoenix Suns-Media Day Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Projected Opening Day Starting Five

Point Guard: Askia Booker

Shooting Guard: Elijah Millsap

Small Forward: Shaquille Harrison

Power Forward: Derek Cooke Jr.

Center: Gracin Bakumanya

How Did They Do Last Year?

Before the Phoenix Suns moved the team to Arizona for the 2016-17 season, the team was the Bakersfield Jam. During their final season in Bakersfield, the Jam finished with a 22-28 record. Those struggles were due to the team’s troubles on the defensive end, as teams averaged 108.2 points per game against the Jam. A good part of those defensive struggles were because the Jam never had a real inside presence on the defensive end, as 6’9 power forward Cory Jefferson was the closest thing that the team had

How Will They Do This Year?

I think there’s going to be a steady improvement for the Suns, as they feature a pretty strong crop of players that range from D-League veterans (Elijah Millsap, Askia Booker, Xavier Silas and Derek Cooke) to intriguing young rookies (Gracin Bakumanya, Josh Gray, Shaq Harrison and Wally Niang). Although we should keep our eyes on those young players throughout the 2016-17 season, that core four of NBADL vets should play the biggest role for the Suns in the upcoming season. The leader of that quartet will probably be Elijah Millsap, a former NBADL All-Star and member of the 2012-13 All-Defensive 3rd team.

Transitioning into their crop on young talent, eyes will be set on Gracin Bakumanya and Wally Niang. Both players are two international front-court threats that spent the last few years over in Europe. Bakumanya spent last season playing with Antibes of the French LNB Pro A. Although he didn’t get any kind of playing time during his lone season with the team, playing only 8 minutes for the entire season, he did get a chance to practice alongside the best players in France. Likewise, Niang spent last season with MoraBanc Andorra of the Spanish ACB league. Although he only played a total of nine minutes, Niang practiced with former D-Leaguers Stephen Holt and Shawn Jones.

Who Is The Most Likely Call-Up?

The most likely member of the Northern Arizona Suns to be called up is probably Askia Booker. During his debut season in the D-League, Booker averaged 12.8 points, 3.5 assists and .7 steals per game on 46% from the field. While those numbers aren’t that impressive, Booker really improved as the NBADL season went on. That’s most evident during his final ten games with the team, where he put up 19.9 points, 5.4 assists and 1.1 steals per game on 49% from the field and 38% from beyond the arc. If you can put up those numbers on a consistent basis, he could definitely be called up to the NBA.

Most Likely Assignee?

That answer has actually been answered as the Suns have assigned UNLV alum Derrick Jones Jr. to the NBA D-League. Back in a mid-September piece, we took a thorough look at Derrick Jones and why the D-League team may need him. In that piece, we noted that Jones was a pretty damn athletic player that was pretty raw in terms of all-around basketball skills. Hopefully Jones will be able to utilize that time in the D-League to fix some of the problems that he has in his all-around game.

What Should We Expect From Gracin Bakumanya This Year?

One of the more intriguing D-League prospects in the upcoming season is undoubtedly Gracin Bakumanya. Bakumanya is a 6’11, 240 pound French prospect that spent last season with Antibes, where he played a total of 8 minutes for the entire season. Despite that lack of playing time, Bakumanya still stands as a pretty intriguing prospect as he’s very quick for a player his size while showing flashes of a versatile all-around game. Although he basically lacks any kind of experience, he should still be a starter on the Suns due to him being a 6’11 big that could potentially be one of the more well-rounded bigs in the entire NBADL.