Youth movement: Phoenix Suns make NBA history in season opener vs. Sacramento Kings

Posted at 10:51 PM, Oct 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-27 01:51:14-04

Look: We know the Phoenix Suns aren't going to win the NBA championship this season, and they probably won't even make the playoffs.

That's why the Suns' 113-94 loss to the visiting Sacramento Kings in their season opener at Talking Stick Resort Arena wasn't entirely negative.

The Suns made history on Wednesday night, becoming the first team in NBA history to have four players on their roster under the age of 20 -- and in the third quarter, they became the first NBA team to have three teenagers play in the same game.

But it wasn't just that the Suns made history -- it's that their youngers looked pretty darn good while doing so, giving Valley fans hope that this team could one day turn into the title contender that general manager Ryan McDonough is trying to create in Phoenix.

Nineteen-year-olds Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss, along with 18-year-old Dragan Bender (the Suns drafted the latter two in the 2016 draft), played on the court at the same time in the second half. And it was the rookie trio of Chriss, Bender and point guard Tyler Ulis that helped trim a 26-point Kings lead down to just 10 early in the fourth quarter.

Booker, who will turn 20 on Sunday when the Suns host the Golden State Warriors, scored a team-high 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field. Bender had an impressive NBA debut by scoring 10 points and making his first four field-goal attempts. Chriss notched seven points, four rebounds and a block, and Ulis played some outstanding defense in the second half.

It was the energy from the youngsters that encouraged Suns coach Earl Watson to leave them in the game for an extended period while keeping the starters on the bench.

"We just played young guys, let them play aggressive, let them have fun, be creative," Watson said. "The first unit wasn't giving us anything special, so you want to see if that second unit can kind of play their way in."

The 5-foot-9 Ulis was happy to take advantage of the opportunity he's waited his entire life for.

"I just came in and tried to change the game as much as possible," he said. "I'm getting a chance. This is a shot. This is something that I always wanted to do.

"Coach threw me in the game. We're down 20 but you have to play like it's 0-0. That's something Devin talked to me about and we just had a conversation at dinner about it. I just come in and try to do what I can."

Bender said the success the young guys had Wednesday is a testament to the hard work they put in during the offseason.

"I was working hard this summer getting ready for this," he said. "In the end, we came up short, but we saw what we need to do and where we need to make corrections and what way we need to go."

The Suns looked downright awful at times Wednesday night, but the moments in which they looked their best and played with the most energy came when the teens were on the court. Watson hopes that will be a wake-up call for the older players on the team who struggled in the season opener.

"The way I addressed the team is, we can't use, 'We're young.' Our young guys got us in the game, so that's not an excuse," Watson said. "Our veterans have to come, they have to play with the same passion, so that's what we have to understand."