It’s a good year to be a rookie in the NBA.
Just ask Dijon Thompson, one of the featured attractions in the Suns’ summer activities. Thompson was the lone Suns draft pick last week, taken No. 54 in the second round and drafted for the Suns by the Knicks as part of the Quentin Richardson-Kurt Thomas trade
With the new collective bargaining agreement, the Suns must keep 13 players. And with three or four spots vacant, Thompson is a lock to make the club.
"I think my chances are very good," said Thompson, a 6-foot-7, 195-pound guardforward who is happy he stayed in the West, within an easy drive for his family in Southern California.
Thompson’s rise to the NBA follows a four-year career at UCLA, where he averaged at least 14.0 points his final three years. He earned All-Pac 10 honors as a senior, when he averaged 18.4 points (fourth in the Pac-10) and 7.9 rebounds.
"He’s got a feel for the game," Marc Iavaroni, the Suns assistant coach who is directing the team’s summer activities, said of Thompson.
That was apparent in the camp’s first workout, when Thompson showed the basics: the ability to pass, dribble and shoot.
Thompson has played all over the floor, including two seasons as a point guard in high school. In his senior year at UCLA, he often played the power forward spot, battling such inside players as Arizona State’s Ike Diogu.
For the Suns, he’ll be in between these positions.
He considers himself more of a small forward, though the Suns also want him to learn the off-guard (two) spot.
"Being a ‘two,’ you have to guard the ‘two,’ " Thompson pointed out. "You’ve got to get used to chasing people like Ray Allen and Allen Iverson around screens. At the ‘three,’ you have to rebound against bigger guys."
At the moment, "They want me to shoot the ball.
"They’re not expecting me to know how to play NBA defense yet. They’re teaching me the fundamentals, and I’m learning."
In the meantime, "I just want to go out there and put the ball in the hole."
The Suns, of course, have plenty of players who can do just that, as they scored the most points in the league in 10 years. So Thompson doesn’t figure to get much time.
But he does have a precious roster spot. On a title-contending team, that’s a great start for a rookie.
BONUS SHOTS: Iavaroni is directing the summer camp while keeping his eyes and ears open for news on the head coaching vacancy in Portland. The Blazers appear to be waiting on Nate McMillan, who is a free agent coach, while McMillan may be waiting on where his best player in Seattle, Allen, is heading.
"If there’s a call, I will go and talk," Iavaroni said. . . .
The Suns will pick 11 players to compete in a summer league in Las Vegas from Wednesday through July 15.