When Tyler Ulis was drafted by the Phoenix Suns with the 34th overall pick in this year’s draft, people were fast to compare him to former Sun and current Boston Celtic All-Star Isaiah Thomas. Aside from both of them being 5’10”, they are both crafty point guards that can take over games with their scoring and playmaking.
Ulis looked like one of the most impressive rookies at Summer League. After averaging 14.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 2.8 steals per game in over 32 minutes of action, he looks like a player that is ready to contribute at a high level this year. But with Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Archie Goodwin, and Leandro Barbosa all ahead of him on the roster, playing time will be almost impossible to come by for the talented rookie out of Kentucky.
If Phoenix wants him to develop into more than a 5’10” sixth man, giving him playing time with the newly relocated Northern Arizona Suns (formerly Bakersfield Jam) is the only answer. He is incredibly talented, but far from perfect. His biggest issues right now are shot selection and consistency. The only way that he can iron out those types of kinks in his game is to get playing time, and a lot of it.
Despite his height, he does most of his damage in the pick and roll, driving towards the rim, or pulling up from midrange. If there is anything that Summer League taught everyone about Ulis, it is he is a volume scorer. He averaged over 14 shots per contests and shot a pedestrian 41.2 percent from the floor and a disappointing 31.3 percent from deep.
What is really concerning is how many long two pointers he takes. A lot of his scoring comes off of the most inefficient shot in basketball or off of driving the lane. As a 5’10” guard, that is a gigantic red flag.
Thankfully, Ulis contributes in ways other than scoring. He is an incredible point guard that is highly skilled at running an offense, especially the pick and roll, and he is a gritty defender. During Summer League, he had 38 assists to only 11 turnovers and averaged just under three steals per contest.
What makes this whole arrangement all the more tempting is the fact that Ulis could be at practice in Phoenix in the afternoon, play in a D-League game that night, and be back and available for Phoenix the next day for a game. The Northern Arizona Suns are just an hour and a half away from Phoenix in neighboring Prescott Valley.
Tyler Ulis has the potential to be great. He is a low-risk, high reward player that could be one of the hidden gems from this draft class. But he won't develop into that if he sits on the end of the bench collecting dust in Phoenix all season. The Northern Arizona Suns have an excellent coach in Tyrone Ellis and Phoenix seems committed to developing young players in Prescott Valley. If there was ever a time to use the D-League to help young talent, now would be that time.