If you were not watching the Phoenix Suns’ titanic tilt against the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night — and, given that it was a matchup between teams with two of the three worst records in the NBA this season, that choice would not be unreasonable — you missed history.
The Suns — who entered Thursday at 22-49, and who are playing for nothing but ping-pong balls and lottery position at this stage in the season — ran out the youngest starting five the NBA has ever seen during their visit to Barclays Center:
— Phoenix Suns Stats (@SunsBballComm) March 24, 2017
The greybeard of Thursday’s Suns lineup? Center Alex Len, who’s not exactly on deck for an AARP card at 23 years and 281 days old.
He was joined in the starting lineup by point guard Tyler Ulis, who turned 21 on Jan. 5; shooting guard Devin Booker, who won’t hit legal drinking age until the day before Halloween; forward Derrick Jones Jr., who just turned 20 on Feb. 15; and forward Marquese Chriss, who won’t exit his teens until July.
How green is that group? It would’ve been nearly the youngest lineup playing in a college game this weekend:
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 24, 2017
If only 19-year-old rookie big man Dragan Bender wasn’t on the mend following ankle surgery, he could’ve stepped in for the clearly over-the-hill Len and toppled the Boilermakers. Alas!
Thursday’s historically aggressive youth movement is the fairly natural result of Phoenix shutting down vets like Eric Bledsoe, Tyson Chandler and Brandon Knight, as the Suns embark on a late-season “youth evaluation period” aimed at getting a longer look at their array of first- and second-year pieces in a going-nowhere season … and, as you likely suspected, losing as much as possible down the stretch to give the Suns the best possible chance of securing a top-three pick in the 2017 NBA draft.
In a related story, while the Suns offered some flashes of excitement in the form of some big honkin’ dunks by the spring-loaded Chriss …
… and some more buckets by Booker, who led the way with 28 points …
… Phoenix still got freaking smoked.
Eight Nets scored in double-figures — including six reserves, which is the first time that’s happened in more than 26 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau — as Brooklyn roared back from an early 15-point deficit to outscore Phoenix 62-33 in the second and third quarters combined en route to a 126-98 blowout win. The Nets have now won consecutive games for the first time this season, have gone 6-9 since the All-Star break after going 9-47 before it, and own a better “net rating” (whether you outscore your opponents on average over the course of 100 possessions, or vice versa) since the break than the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies and Washington Wizards. I’m telling you: there’s the outline of something downright mediocre developing in Brooklyn these days!
There’s more young talent on hand in Phoenix — most notably the high-scoring Booker and the fast-developing Chriss — but, for now, also plenty of losses. After losing six straight, the Suns sit at 22-50, just 1 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the second-worst record in the league, and thus the second-best odds of landing 2017’s No. 1 pick. Catching the similarly submarining Lakers won’t be easy, so Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and head coach Earl Watson might have to get creative.
Maybe run The Gorilla out there at small forward for a couple of games? We already know he hustles hard enough to be willing to dive on the floor at a moment’s notice. Or how about putting a toddler — just an average, run-of-the-mill 2 1/2-year-old with an unexceptional wingspan, poor lateral quickness and a real temper — in a Jarell Eddie jersey, and just hoping nobody’s familiar enough with what he looks like to be able to tell the difference? Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and youth-focused brands are all about innovation and disruption; I have faith in you, Phoenix.
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