The Phoenix Suns are coming into 2014 looking to make a splash by earning a trip to the postseason.
While the Los Angeles Lakers are in an unfamiliar state of mediocrity, the Suns are also playing in a division that includes the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors, reducing the likelihood that Phoenix will win the Pacific crown.
They will, however, aim to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Although they finished fifth in their division last year with a record of 25-57, the Suns made themselves considerably better in the offseason.
Phoenix acquired Caron Butler and Eric Bledsoe in a three-team trade that sent J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley to the Clippers. In addition to Butler and Bledsoe, the Suns also snagged a potential star in Alex Len in the draft. Inside Hoops reported on the excitement felt in the Suns' front office.
“The addition of a very dynamic young player in Eric Bledsoe and an All-Star veteran in Caron Butler is very exciting for the Suns,” said Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby. “At the same time, we thank Jared Dudley, a consummate professional in every respect. He takes our best wishes with him to the Clippers.”
The Suns will put forth their youngest, scrappiest and most athletic roster that they’ve had in years in 2014. Phoenix will also have a brand new coach—former Suns sharpshooter Jeff Hornacek.
Hornacek seems like the perfect guy for the job, as he has learned how to connect with younger players during his time as an assistant with the Utah Jazz.
"They [young players] may look at you and you might think they're not paying attention," he said, "but they really do want to learn.
"You have to find that fine balance between being able to get on guys and not harping on them all the time," he said, "because if you do that they're going to tune you out." (via ESPN.com)
The following slides include power rankings of each player on the Suns roster (including draft picks), based on their individual ability, track record and what they’ll bring to Phoenix.
Although he played in just 23 games, Marcus was able to contribute 5.7 points per game, a number that should rise next season.
Marcus and Markieff have similar skill sets—both can score on the low block and rebound. Markieff receives more playing time (he played in all 82 games) and has better numbers. Last season, Markieff showed a lot of promise and averaged about eight points and five rebounds per night.
Both of them could see a playing time drop-off in 2014 with the additions of Alex Len and Alex Oriakhi, but they will try to remain a part of the rotation.
After playing three seasons at UConn and his fourth and final year at Missouri, Alex Oriakhi is ready to contribute to the Suns in 2014.
Valley the of the Suns broke down what the 57th overall pick can bring to Phoenix.
Opposing big men made only 35.7 percent of field goals in the post-up against him last year, according to Synergy. His bulk certainly plays a big role in that, but Oriakhi establishes a strong base and doesn’t let opponents push him off his position. Those fundamentals shouldn’t go unnoticed.
In addition to superb rebounding (8.4 per game in 2013), Oriakhi is an efficient scorer on the post. Despite not getting a ton of touches, the big man dropped 11.2 points per game on 63.9 percent from the field.
Similar to Luis Scola, Channing Frye needs to bring consistency to the Suns in 2014.
Going into his eighth NBA season, Frye will look to build off of a productive year in 2011 (he has been injured for the past couple of seasons)—10.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.
Frye is a consummate professional and can act as a great mentor to younger players like Len, Oriakhi, Archie Goodwin and even Michael Beasley, both on and off the court.
On the court, though, the Suns will need improvement in his jump-shooting. In his last full year, Frye hit a career low 41.6 percent from the field. If he can get that number up in 2014, Frye will be able to spread the floor for slashers like Beasley and Caron Butler.
Archie Goodwin, the 29th-overall pick, was the youngest American-born player in the 2013 draft after playing in just one season under John Calipari at Kentucky.
The 6’4” guard put up 14.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game in his freshmen year.
Goodwin was a low-risk, high-reward pick for the Suns. He has the potential to blossom into a quality NBA guard, but Phoenix is pretty deep in the backcourt—if he doesn’t pan out, they aren’t going to lose a lot.
Goodwin is definitely a player to keep an eye on going forward.
P.J. Tucker quietly had a nice season for the Suns in 2013. The 28-year-old guard posted about six points per game, but appeared in 79 contests.
Tucker is another player who could see his playing time decline, but if he can improve his three-point shooting (31 percent last season), he could very easily work himself into the rotation.
However, with Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Archie Goodwin and Caron Butler in the mix, Tucker might not get a lot of time next season.
In L.A., Brown was mainly a highlight player, but since he came to Phoenix in 2011, he’s expanded his game.
Playing under a young coach like Hornacek, Brown should be able to continue growing as a player and turn himself into a multifaceted weapon for the Suns.
In 2013, Brown put up 10.5 points per game in 23.8 minutes per game.
Although he’s just 33 years old, Luis Scola is a chiseled veteran—at least on the Suns’ roster.
In his first season with Phoenix, Scola put up 12.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. He knows how to score on the post and is one of the NBA’s scrappiest players.
Scola played in every one of Phoenix’s games last season, and his health will be key in 2014. The Suns have a lot of potential and young players, but they can’t realistically count on each one of them—Scola needs to be the consistent scorer and rebounder that he’s been during his five years in the league.
Since he came to Phoenix three seasons ago, Marcin Gortat has really stepped his game up.
During his time on the Suns, the 29-year-old center has averaged 13.2 points and 9.3 boards a night. His improvement has been noticeable, and he’ll look to continue improving under Hornacek.
Rumors of a potential trade that would send Gortat, an unrestricted free agent after next season, out of Phoenix have surfaced, but the Suns are likely going to hold onto him for at least a little while.
Alex Len can’t be trusted to come in and start right away, but if he develops into a star, Gortat is as good as gone.
The Suns will be Caron Butler’s sixth team, but his diversity and experience will be a plus for Phoenix this coming season.
The Suns are young and relatively inexperienced, and players like Channing Frye, Luis Scola and Butler are going to have to contribute in order for players like Eric Bledsoe and Alex Len, the future of the franchise, to be effective.
Butler can shoot, slash and play defense. He has averaged 15.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists over the course of his 10-year career.
Hornacek’s first true test as an NBA head coach will be handling Michael Beasley.
Beasley is an explosive scorer, playmaker and game changer—when he wants to be. In five NBA seasons, he has averaged 14.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Despite a bit of a troubled past, Beasley insists that those days are behind him (via ESPN). If Hornacek can keep Beasley on the right path and engaged in the team, he could be a great weapon for the Suns this season.
The freakishly athletic point guard put up about 15 points and five assists per 36 minutes last season, and will likely share the team’s ball-handling responsibilities with Suns guard Goran Dragic.
Bledsoe is sure to bring a lot of fire, scoring and highlights to the Suns this season.
“I think maybe 10 years from now, I’ll be the best player out of this draft.”
Right now, Phoenix is a team without a true identity and no swagger. Len, the fifth-overall selection, has enough for the whole team.
The Maryland native averaged about 12 points and eight rebounds per game for the Terrapins last season. Len will be a key piece to the future of the Suns, and he has 100 percent faith in himself that he is more than ready for the challenge.
Goran Dragic is coming off of a career year running the point for Phoenix. The 27-year-old guard averaged nearly 15 points and seven assists per game in 2013, and will look to build off that next season.
Dragic will be sharing ball-handling duties with his teammate, Eric Bledsoe, and that duo will prove to be one of the best point guard tandems in the league.
Dragic started all 77 games that he played in last season, so it’s unclear whether he will start over Bledsoe, come off the bench or start alongside the former Clipper.
Regardless, Dragic should have another big year for the Suns.