Over the last few years, the Phoenix Suns have basically remained steady in their status as the NBA’s biggest cellar dweller. Since the 2015-16 season, the Suns haven’t been able to eclipse 24 victories or finish better than 14th place within their own conference. Hell, they’ve finished dead last in the conference in each of the past three years despite the presence of Devin Booker, who has been a consistent 20+ point per game scorer during that stretch.
Now heading into the 2019-20 season, the Suns made moves during this off-season to try to get out of that extended rut. That included hiring Monty Williams to be their new head coach and selecting sharpshooters Ty Jerome and Cameron Johnson in the 2019 NBA Draft. Even from a developmental standpoint, they signed undrafted 19 -year-old high school grad Jalen Lecque to a guaranteed deal and electrifying Auburn alum Jared Harper to a two-way contract. Both of those players will likely be spending most of their rookie year down in the G League with the Northern Arizona Suns.
Speaking of prospects, former Texas Tech big Tariq Owens will be with the team after reportedly signing a one-year contract with Phoenix back in July. Although the details haven’t been officially announced, the contract will likely include an Exhibit 10 clause. This would allow the Suns to transform Owens’ deal to a two-way contract before the end of NBA training camp.
If he doesn’t get that two-way, he’ll still be in line to receive a bonus of up to $50,000 if he spends 60 days with Northern Arizona. That money in addition to the $35,000 for spending the season in the G League, would allow Owens to at least have a decent year from a financial perspective.
In addition to Owens’ bank account getting a little boost during the upcoming season, the big should also have a positive effect on Northern Arizona’s on-court play. That positivity mostly comes from how he was able to shine on both ends of the court during his college career with Texas Tech. During his senior year, he put up 8.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks on 61% from the field in only 25 minutes per game. Those limited minutes were due to him regularly getting foul trouble as he averaged 2.9 fouls per game, the fourth-highest average in the conference.
Despite that limited playing time, the 6’10 prospect was able to play good enough to get named to Big 12 All-Defensive Team and be a member of the conference’s Honorable Mention squad, which included fellow Exhibit 10 prospect Lindell Wigginton.
The main factor behind Owens getting named to the conference’s All-Defensive Team dealt with his tremendous work as a shot-blocker. Finishing fourth in the Big 12 in blocks per game, his work protecting paint pushed opponents to average an NCAA-low 84.1 points per 100 possessions against Texas Tech, according to KenPom. The ingredients behind that defensive impact were quick feet, high hops, a long 7’4 wingspan and a sprinkle of solid defensive awareness.
While those traits are beneficial to his dominance, they have to remain in sync for him to be a genuinely dominant inside defender. An example of those traits is seen in the clip below as Owens immediately recognizes the Memphis guard that’s driving along the sidelines, moves feet to get in that path, gets vertical with the opponent, and makes a big block.
Although the Texas Tech alum mostly shines inside the paint as a help defender or rim protector, the forward has shown an ability to go out to the perimeter and be able to stop guards. Most of the time, that act finishes with him using his 7’4 wingspan to hamper a perimeter shot. In some occasions, Owens can switch onto that guard and stick with them on their path to the rim. A great example of that is seen in the clip below where the 6’10 big switches onto stud Kansas freshman Devon Dotson, moves his feet to stay to the side of the opponent and does an excellent job contesting the layup attempt.
Despite a lot of his overall impact occurring on the other end of the court, the Texas Tech alum isn’t a slouch on the other end of the court. That might not be evident from a statistical perspective as he averaged only 8.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game on 61% from the field. Although those base stats might be pedestrian, watching him play on that end could sometimes be extraordinary with his work in the pick-and-roll. Like his work on defense, Owens is capable of shining as a roll man through being able to use a combination of quick feet and excellent hops.
Sticking with his work in the paint, Owens stood as a solid offensive rebounder throughout his college career. That was evident during his senior campaign, where he snagged 2.1 offensive boards per game, which placed him 11th in the Big 12. His solid average makes sense when you watch film as he does an excellent job of boxing out the opposition while the ball is in the air and then taking advantage after it bounces off the rim.
At this point in his career, the Texas Tech alum’s impact as a shot-blocker and alley-oop threat is pretty established. However, the 24-year-old forward still might upside as a shooter, whether it’s from within or outside the three-point line. The most significant piece of evidence to back up that claim is how he shot 73% from the free-throw line on a total of 207 attempts during his college career with Texas Tech. Considering the fact that a high free throw percentage gives an idea of a player’s touch and how consistent their mechanics are, that solid percentage is one example of what he could be like as a shooter.
The other step is seen from how efficient Owens was as a mid-range shooter during his senior season. According to the Stepien, Tucker shot 53% on long mid-range shots (from 13 feet to the NBA 3-point line) on a total of 34 shot attempts. Although skeptics might say that’s an example of small sample size, his shooting stroke is definitely smooth and is pretty quick between catch-and-release.
Entering his pro career at 24-years-old, some may believe that Owens has reached his plateau as a prospect. If that were true, he’d be positioned as a prospect that could immediately stand as one of the best defenders in the G League while being a tremendous alley-oop threat. But personally, there’s optimism that he has the tools to continue to progress as a shooter to the point of eventually being a consistent threat from the corners. If that were to happen, his stock would rise and would rise to the point where Owens would stand as a top option to either receive a two-way or 10-day contract.
In addition to improving his shooting, the Texas Tech alum will need to lessen the mental mistakes that he makes on defense that allowed him to commit 2.9 fouls in only 25 minutes per game.
If he can find a way to diminish those fouls and continue to progress as a shooter, Tariq Owens could stand as one of the best candidates to some type of NBA call-up, whether it’s a 10-day or two-way. Will he be able to do that? I guess we’ll have to see when the G League season tips off on November 8th.