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Insight on Gabriel Lundberg, the Phoenix Suns' new two-way signing, from 2 Danish basketball experts
It’s time to get to know the newest member of the Phoenix Suns: Gabriel Lundberg.
As reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski Saturday morning, the Suns will sign guard Gabriel “Iffe” Lundberg to a two-way contract, snagging the “best international free agent available on the market” and the first Denmark-born player to earn an NBA contract.
The deal has not been officially confirmed by the Suns yet, but Lundberg is reportedly done with CSKA Moscow amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. According to Eurohoops.net, he paid for his own contract buyout and parted ways with the team on Friday.
In 24 EuroLeague contests this season, Lundberg averaged 9.1 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 21.1 minutes per game, shooting 44.6 percent from the field and 33.8 percent from 3-point range. In 39 contests overall this year with CSKA Moscow, he put up 10.4 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 21.9 minutes per game, shooting 46.1 percent from the floor and 33.8 percent from deep.
The question is, who is Gabriel Lundberg, and what can he offer a Suns team that is currently No. 1 in the NBA with a 53-13 record — especially during this time period where Chris Paul is still working his way back from a right thumb avulsion fracture?
Since we’re included among those unfamiliar with Iffe’s game, PHNX reached out to two Danish basketball experts to get some perspective on what this 27-year-old brings to the table. Morten Stig Jensen, Forbes writer and host of Radio4, TV 2 Play and The NBA Podcast in Denmark, and Jacob Bilet Rand, NBA editor on Danish basketball site Fullcourt.dk, were kind enough to provide some perspective.
1. What should Suns fans who are unfamiliar with his game know about Gabriel Lundberg? What can he bring to the table right away?
Mort Stig Jensen: Gabriel Lundberg, affectionately known as “Iffe,” is a big and sturdy point guard — 6-foot-3, 205 pounds and with a near 6-foot-9 wingspan. He’s got enough size to move up to the off-guard spot, and over the past two years, he’s made major strides as a shooter, which makes that much more feasible when the Suns want to go small.
Due to his physical strength, he is capable of absorbing contact when getting hit by larger players. If he hits the floor, it’s almost assuredly a foul. He is able to both spot up and pull up from range, and he’s got enough ball skills to use the 3-point shot as a threat, only to blow by defenders who guard him too tightly.
He’s got an NBA mindset and an NBA playing style, which almost did him a disservice at CSKA. Ironically, however, his time with CSKA almost primed him to play for the Suns specifically, given that the ball moves quickly and efficiently in both those systems.
Defensively, he’s big and hard to get by, both due to his wingspan and his physical attributes. Now, how much that changes at the NBA level is something we’ll learn in the coming month. It’s obviously a step up, and the NBA is heavier on isolation plays, which he wasn’t too accustomed to in Russia. That said, there’s a path here for him to be effective.
Jacob Bilet Rand: Lundberg was one of the hottest international players in the EuroLeague, getting selected to the All-Star Game in March. His game has improved every year since he was a young player in Denmark, to his adventures in Spain, Poland and Russia. His body is well-suited for switching between positions, and he is a perfect player in position-less basketball. While he is a natural ball-handler, he can play off the ball and is comfortable in the 1-2-3 spots.
He has been improving as a shooter and getting comfortable with the outside shout. Great defensive player who has a lot of self-confidence and believes he is good enough for any level. I would be surprised if he doesn’t work his ass off to make the roster and be a permanent NBA player for next season.
2. Two-way players rarely get substantial minutes, but how do you see Lundberg fitting in with the Suns given the way James Jones has constructed this roster?
MSJ: The fit makes a lot of sense. He’s a nice alternative to Elfrid Payton, given that he’s more of a scoring threat, and you can play him at both guard spots on and off the ball, which should allow the Suns to keep playing their brand of basketball while he’s out there. The added spacing element in the NBA is something I could see give him more chances.
Jae [Crowder] and Cam [Johnson] being these interchangeable forwards who both screen and shoot could help Iffe if he shares the court with them, as they demand a ton of attention when they sprint to the 3-point line.
JBR: With Chris Paul out with an injury and a playoff spot secured, I see opportunities for Lundberg. The Suns are a bit thin at the guard position right now, and the addition of Lundberg will provide a great contribution from the bench. Be prepared to see a player that will give everything to prove to the Suns and the league that he is born to be in this league. A player that gives 100 percent is always a nice player to have on your team.
3. As the first Danish player in the NBA, what does this moment mean to basketball fans in Denmark?
MSJ: Man, I don’t even have the words. I know Iffe well, and I sent him a voice message where I was literally crying, telling him how proud I am of him. We’ve had an unfortunate culture of coaches who err on the side of caution, so most young Danish players look at the NBA as completely unreachable. Now that changes. Now that door is open. Now they can begin to dream. Words fail to describe the feeling of pride we have in Iffe. He’s done what we’ve waited decades to see. It would behoove the Suns to give him a chance, seeing as they’re about to get a ton of jersey orders. There’s a whole country tuning into their games now, and for the rest of the season.
JBR: It means the world. There has been a hunger for a Danish NBA player in Denmark for many years. Denmark is a small country, so when one of our athletes makes it to the big leagues, the nation gets filled with pride. Basketball has been a smaller sport in Denmark, but in the last few years the popularity of the game has been rising in Denmark. With now having a player signing a contract in the NBA, the popularity can grow even more.
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