The Phoenix Suns have a well-balanced, talented team that somehow makes very little sense.
Here’s a general look at how their rotation will likely enter the season, with the exception that P.J. Tucker will likely not be available for the start of the season due to injury.
|PG||Eric Bledsoe||Brandon Knight||Leandro Barbosa||Tyler Ulis|
|SG||Devin Booker||Brandon Knight||P.J. Tucker||Archie Goodwin|
|SF||P.J. Tucker||T.J. Warren||Jared Dudley||Dragan Bender|
|PF||Jared Dudley||Dragan Bender||Alex Len||Marquis Chriss|
|C||Tyson Chandler||Alex Len||Alan Williams|
*John Jenkins is in there somewhere, too.
**There’s been talk of a Len-Chandler pairing, but that seems like a spacing nightmare.
You can find weaknesses in that lineup based on Tyson Chandler’s age, Knight’s inconsistency, or the inexperience throughout. But talent and skill-wise, that’s a really balanced rotation with what it brings to the table. Six players have five years or more of NBA experience, nine have fewer than five years, with three rookies. There’s a youth movement with Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Alex Len, Dragan Bender, and Marquis Chriss. There’s a veteran core ready to win now with Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Tucker, Leandro Barbosa, Jared Dudley, and Chandler.
This team won 23 games last year.
That kind of faceplant for a team expected to compete for a playoff spot usually spells a total overhaul. But instead, management and owner Robert Sarver elected to sacrifice Jeff Hornacek, who had played a huge role in Phoenix beating expectations in what was thought to be a rebuilding season three years ago, and trade most-disgruntled-ever forward Markieff Morris about three months too late to Washington, though they did get a first rounder for him.
Other than that, the Suns seem to be rolling back this thing for another run. The thing is, with the Suns, you can’t really anticipate stability.
It’s not that that’s a huge number of deals, it’s that it’s a big number of real shakeups. They’ve cycled through a large number of young prospects, some of whom have gone on to be productive. Detroit is invested in Reggie Bullock, for example, and Isaiah Thomas is a star in Boston. It’s hard to blame them for that given how good Bledsoe is, but it adds to the overall picture.
It’s not just the trades though. Bledsoe has been rumored in deals for years, despite having been the best player on the team. If you are on the Suns, you’ve been mentioned in trade rumors. Several players, among them Channing Frye, the Morris twins, and Gortat, have complained about how they’ve been handled on their way out.
So if we look at the way the roster is constructed, there’s a good likelihood that a deal will be made. But notice in that timeline how spread out those decisions are. Some were early in the season, others were at the deadline. They don’t do a lot in the in-between times. So if a deal isn’t made in the next six weeks before the season starts, don’t expect anything to happen until the deadline … unless it does.
The biggest issue is Knight. Knight was terrific in Milwaukee. He put together the kind of season that capitalized on what he was capable of. He was even a good defender. But he’s struggled in Phoenix, though there have been some promising signs with him next to Bledsoe. But this is where the youth movement comes in. Booker is the future, and that could squeeze out Knight.
Devin Booker, franchise path changer?
Booker has to start. His rookie numbers tailed off in the second half of the season, extreme as it was. (Booker’s 3-point percentage was 40 percent before he All-Star break, 29 percent after. But the kid shows every sign of being not just a great shooting guard, but a future top-five scoring force in the league. His shot is poetry in motion.
He’s got such a high release point that even top-flight defenders like Tony Allen get burned. Booker’s offensive numbers were great for a rookie, as he landed in the 56th percentile offensively in the pick-and-roll according to Synergy Sports, and coming off the screen to his shooting hand, he shot a blistering 46 percent (53 percent effective field goal percentage).
Booker’s emergence has a wide range of outcomes. If he and Bledsoe can’t play together, it makes moving Bledsoe, hampered by injuries and with the biggest contract, more urgent. If they can, then moving Knight might become a bigger deal. There will likely be lineups with all three in a smallball rotation, but that’s a lot of usage to share the ball between.
Knight could thrive as a sixth man off the bench, with his ability to run combo guard next to either of the other two, that’s clearly the plan going in. But with Ulis behind them and Leandro Barbosa now on board and still very effective, there’s a crunch there.
Other moves could become urgent
Then there are the forwards. T.J. Warren doesn’t have many marquee games to his credit, but his overall offensive numbers are promising. If the Suns are trying to win now, they might look to move him for more veteran help, or if the Suns need filler for more big moves. Again, some promising young players who weren’t irreplaceable at the time have been shipped. Ennis, Plumlee, Bullock, all got moved in pursuit of other deals.
Dudley is expected to start at stretch four. He struggled in Washington last year, in part due to the overall confusion of the Wizards’ woeful defense with constantly changing pick-and-roll schemes. That creates a time crunch for Bender, and Chriss, though Chriss looks more like a long-term prospect.
There’s also Chandler’s diminishing ability as age takes is toll. Chandler was in and out of the lineup last year and was also frustrated with the overall chemistry of the team. Len showed flashes — brief ones, but flashes — and if he emerges, that could mean moving Chandler might make more sense.
If it seems like much of this sounds like a lot of “maybes,” it’s because there is a lot of uncertainty. There’s no immediate rumor headed into camp, the team at least wants to see how this is going to go. But there are two very different cores in place, with the veterans who have max trade value, and the young prospects who will need floor time. There’s a world of talent on this team. If they thrive, it will be a great balance of veteran ability and youngster energy. A surprise season isn’t out of the question, even after last year’s debacle.
Other teams in that position, like Denver last year, have struggled with trying to bridge the gap between the two. Don’t be surprised if trade rumors continue to percolate with this team throughout the season, as the Suns always seem to be on the verge of a blowup, and yet never really start over. To their credit, GM Ryan McDonough always gets great return in trades. It’s balancing those assets to find a successful squad that has been the problem, and if the Suns don’t find a groove, there’s no telling what the Suns’ roster will look like at season’s end.
Source: CBS Sports / Why the Phoenix Suns face another season where trade rumors could fly