If there was a common theme to Northern Arizona Suns forward Aaron Epps’ rookie season in the NBA G League, it was thus – when he’s feeling it, he’s feeling it.
He had his first big game on Nov. 13 against the Santa Cruz Warriors, his fourth game of the season. Epps tallied 24 points on 9-of-11 shooting, including 6-of-7 from distance, 13 rebounds, three blocks and two steals. It was one of just two games in the entire season a player recorded 20+ points on 80 percent shooting, 80 percent shooting from distance, 10 rebounds and two steals. The other player to do that? NAZ Suns forward George King.
So, right out of the gate, it was clear the Suns had someone special in their sixth overall draft pick. It’s hard to find someone more dangerous than a 6-foot 10-inch tall forward who can knock down the outside shot as well as anybody.
Epps cooled off a bit after his first big game, which led to big improvement across the board and even bigger numbers for the Louisiana State alumnus in the second half of the season.
“We’ve seen a couple guys make huge strides; Retin Obasohan and Aaron Epps,” said head coach Bret Burchard, shortly before the Suns’ season finale, noting who’s growth he was particularly excited about. “Epps, just his first exposure to pro basketball, the NBA and different offensive concepts, spacing, and how he can use his skillsets to impact the game. His defensive instincts improved a lot.”
When the new year hit, Epps started his career-long six-game run of scoring in double figures at the Agua Caliente Clippers with 16 points and nine rebounds. One of his best games of the season came at home against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers on Feb. 12. In the contest, he came off the bench to record 28 points on 12-of-15 (.800) shooting, also staying perfect from distance (2-2) and the free throw line (2-2). He added 15 rebounds (nine offensive) and two blocks, becoming the fourth player in team history with 25+ points and 15+ rebounds in a game (Alec Peters, Elijah Millsap, Johnny O’Bryant).
Just a few weeks later, Epps exploded once again, going off for a career-high 29 points on 12-of-19 (.632) shooting, including 5-of-10 from deep, 14 rebounds, two assists, three steals and two blocks. He also posted a +23 in the Suns’ largest win of the season, a 30-point romp over the Texas Legends on March 10.
He ended his rookie year in style, averaging 20.0 points on 67.6 percent shooting (50.0 3PT%) and 7.3 rebounds over his final three games.
Altogether on the year, Epps averaged 10.3 points on 50.2 percent shooting (36.6 3PT%, 89.7 FT%) and 6.7 rebounds in 23.8 minutes per game in 49 games (25 starts).
Epps led the Suns in total rebounds (327), total blocks (44) and free throw percentage (.897). He achieved the second most double-doubles in one season in team history with 10, only behind Millsap’s 13 double-doubles in 2016-17. His 327 total rebounds were the third most in one season in team history, behind Millsap (399, 2016-17) and Derek Cooke Jr. (378, 2016-17).
Across the league, Epps had the 22nd most rebounds and tied 37th most double-doubles. Among qualified players, Epps was the only player to shoot 50 percent from the field and 85 percent from the free throw line.
The 22-year-old moved from 6.5 PPG and 4.6 RPG in November to 13.3 PPG and 7.7 RPG in March. The sky is the limit for Epps, who has only improved his game since joining the squad.