Finding a diamond in the rough in the NBA draft is a lot easier said than done. It’s rare that a second-round pick pays dividends for a team, but as recent history has shown Suns fans, it isn’t too much of a stretch to believe a player can contribute for a team after being past up on by so many others.
In 2008, Goran Dragic was drafted in the second round and by 2010 was a key factor on a team that advanced to the Western Conference Finals. Two seasons after selecting Dragic, the Suns are again hoping their homework pays off, this time with a pair of second round picks, Georgia Tech’s Gani Lawal and Miami’s Dwayne Collins. Through three contests, Lawal has enjoyed a solid showing in Summer League while Collins – unable to participate due to a knee injury – said he’d have to wait until returning to Phoenix to begin working out.
While Suns.com understands it may be early to hand out any Rookie of the Year votes – especially considering one of the two prospects has yet to even play – we wanted to go ahead and provide fans with five reasons why they should still be excited about these two big men:
LAWAL’S HUSTLE - Gani Lawal may be a rookie, but he doesn’t allow himself to be pushed around the court like one. Lawal didn’t back down from anybody in Las Vegas this week, a trait that larger opponents with NBA experience didn’t always appreciate. Suns fans on the other hand will definitely enjoy the way Lawal plays the game, as it’s apparent he isn’t on the court to make new friends, he’s on the court to do what it takes to win. That attitude and spirit helped led to a number of extra possessions for Phoenix during Summer League, and when you’re playing for an NBA team who last season led the league in field goal percentage, those extra possessions come in handy. And they won’t necessarily only come in the form of rebounds and steals for Lawal, but hustle plays like this one below. I don’t know if there’s a stat for forcing a jumpball, but here is a prime example of why it won’t take this rookie long to earn fans in the Valley:
COLLINS’ GAMESMANSHIP – Collins may play the same position as Lawal, but does not appear to be worried about which of the two will earn more minutes than the other or who contributes more in a victory. All that Collins is concerned with is that there is a victory. While it’s safe to say there may be a bit of competitiveness between the two rookies throughout the season, it seems safe to say there won’t be an ounce of jealousy. When Lawal made a big play during Summer League, Collins was often the first one off the bench to celebrate. The 6-8 big man will fit in just fine with the Suns bench, one known for its unselfishness and synergy, a solid chemistry that helped the team en route to the third-best record in the Western Conference last season.
LAWAL’S LEADERSHIP – Yes, it is absolutely ridiculous to use such a word right next to the name of a player who has yet to participate in an NBA game. And while Earl Clark and Taylor Griffin may be the ones expected to lead by example, it doesn’t mean Lawal doesn’t get vocal when the opportunity presents itself. Following a timeout in the team’s second Summer League contest – a blowout that saw the Suns on the wrong side of the scoreboard – Lawal gathered his teammates as they returned to the court with about a minute to go. Lawal told the other players that he didn’t care what the score said, he expected everybody to play this final minute as hard as possible. Now while such actions should and will be reserved once players like Steve Nash and Grant Hill are back in the picture, that type of attitude has to be appreciated to say the least.
COLLINS’ INK – There’s an episode of Seinfeld were a cab driver tells Elaine, “Revenge is very good.” While his opinion may be debatable, as it applies to basketball, revenge usually is very good. Sometimes it’s good to play with a chip on your shoulder. Some guys have even made a career out of it. And while Collins doesn’t have the demeanor as a Sylvester Stallone-type protagonist out for ultimate payback, the tattoo on his hand which reads “Mr. Irrelevant” (a popular nickname in the NFL for the last guy drafted) along with the number 60 jersey that Collins said he anticipates wearing (the number he was selected in the draft), I don’t mind having a player on our squad out to teach a lesson to every team that passed on him in the draft (which would be all of them). The important thing is for this point to never supersede the first point we made about Collins being a good teammate and wanting to see his team succeed above any personal accolades.
LEARNING CURVE – In his first Summer League game – a loss against the Rockets – Gani Lawal managed 14 points and five rebounds. A day later against the Raptors, Lawal contributed a team-high 18 points while grabbing six boards. And while the rookie saw a slight dip in his scoring on Monday against the D-League Select team by pitching in 15 points on 6-for-12 shooting, he grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. With that contest marking the debut of rookie prospect, Scottie Reynolds, Lawal wasn’t needed as much as a scorer but still found a way to play a key role en route to Phoenix’s first win of the summer. Those lines of 14-5, 18-6 and 15-11 perhaps show the most important thing about Lawal – he’s learning with each and every contest.