Pre-Training Camp Player Power Rankings for Phoenix Suns

Sam CooperCorrespondent IIISeptember 5, 2013

Pre-Training Camp Player Power Rankings for Phoenix Suns

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    NBA training camp is about to begin, and the Phoenix Suns will use the upcoming weeks to prepare for the 2013-14 regular season and finalize their roster.

    It is safe to say that given the current level of talent on the roster, the Suns do not have playoff aspirations this season. In fact, the season will be less about the number of wins and losses and more about advancements in player development. The Suns are now one of the youngest teams in the NBA, with several incoming rookies and sophomores and only one player in his thirties (Channing Frye). 

    As the season draws nearer, the team's roster and rotation will start to become clear. But for now, the Suns have some players fighting for a starting gig, while others just hope to make the final cut for the 15-man roster. 

    For now, here are power rankings for the entire Phoenix Suns roster heading into training camp. 

Players Fighting for the Last Spot

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    Currently, the Suns have 16 players on their roster. By the beginning of preseason, that number will have to be cut down to a maximum of 15.

    The following players will be competing with one another to avoid being cut after training camp. Even if these players do make the Suns' final roster, it is unlikely that they play much of a role for the team and would receive very limited minutes.

    Ishmael Smith

    Smith was one of the two players the Suns received from Milwaukee in the Caron Butler trade several days ago. He is only 25 years old, however Phoenix will already be his sixth career NBA team. Additionally, he will be the fourth-string point guard, behind Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Kendall Marshall.

    That is pretty much all there is to say about Smith. He may receive some playing time if he really impresses the coaching staff with his play, but given his career 37 percent shooting from the field, that isn't likely to happen. As of now, Smith doesn't appear to be a valuable asset worth keeping. 

    Viacheslav Kravtsov

    Kravstov, the 7'0" Ukrainian center (Phoenix has two of those now), was the other piece involved in the Caron Butler to Milwaukee deal. His role will be as the fourth-string center for now, but all of that could change if Marcin Gortat is traded or if he outperforms prospect Miles Plumlee. 

    Kravstov played limited minutes with the Pistons last season, and he did impress in some areas. For example, he shot 72 percent from the field (33-for-46) and displayed averages of 12.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per 36 minutes.

    However, simply put, he is not of starting quality, so do not expect a "breakout" season. The best Kravstov can do is work himself into the rotation as a role player, but even that is somewhat unlikely. 

    Malcolm Lee

    Malcolm Lee is another fresh new face, as he was acquired from Golden State in the trade that also sent Phoenix Archie Goodwin on draft night.

    In that trade, Lee served no purpose other than being a filler. However, at only 23 years old, he still does have plenty of potential. If everything goes right for him, he may not only make the team but could work his way into the rotation and play significant minutes. But all of that is mainly a question of health.

    As a sophomore last season, Lee averaged 4.9 points, 2.4 rebounds and 0.8 steals in just 18 minutes per game. He didn't shoot well (38 percent from the field and 33 percent from deep), but the Timberwolves did start the 6'5" guard for 12 games.

    But in January, Lee had two surgeries on his hip and his knee that kept him on the sidelines for the remainder of the season. 

    Phoenix is known for having one of the best training staffs in the NBA, and hopefully that means Lee will be in good hands and can overcome his injury.

    But for now, there are certainly no guarantees of that happening. 

Fringe Role Players

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    The following three players will almost definitely survive the cuts that will take place before the regular season, but they may not play a significant amount of minutes in the rotation unless they step up their game. 

    Shannon Brown

    Shannon Brown is a player who has always been known for his poor shot selection. But last season, Brown was so unimpressive that he eventually lost his spot in the rotation entirely. He shot a career-low 28 percent from distance, and all of his shooting percentages declined from the season prior. Overall, Brown was one of the more inefficient offensive players the NBA had to offer.

    Even so, it makes sense that Brown would be given another chance, considering the Suns kept him and he had a very good '11-12 campaign. Eric Bledsoe will start at shooting guard and rookie Archie Goodwin will receive minutes, but Brown could play some minutes on the wing, fighting with guys like Malcolm Lee and Gerald Green. 

    This very well could be his last chance. He will try to recover from a disastrous season and once again work his way into the rotation.

    But if Brown fails, his career could be in jeopardy at the end of the season when his contract expires.  

    Gerald Green 

    Gerald Green and Shannon Brown in some ways are very much alike. Green, who was on the Pacers last season, is also coming off a disappointing year.

    With the Nets in 2011-12, Green was fantastic. He only appeared in 31 games, but averaged 12.9 points and 3.5 rebounds per game off the bench while shooting 48 percent from the field and 39 percent from downtown.

    Last season, those numbers declined. Green shot just 37 percent from the field and 31 percent from three-point range, both well under his career averages. He went from playing 25 minutes with New Jersey to 18 minutes on a much deeper Pacers bench, and his scoring dipped to seven points per game.

    Green will try to recover this year in Phoenix, but if he cannot bring his shooting touch back, what skills does he have to offer? He is supremely athletic and can throw down emphatic dunks, but how does that differentiate Green from Brown? 

    At the very least, expect Green to receive a few minutes per game at small forward behind P.J Tucker and Marcus Morris.

    Miles Plumlee

    In his 2012 rookie season, Duke alum Miles Plumlee played a grand total of 55 minutes for the Indiana Pacers. He only scored 13 points in that time, while shooting an awful 24 percent (5-of-21) from the field.

    So, when he was traded alongside Green and a first-round pick to the Suns for Scola, Suns fans didn't expect much. 

    However, Plumlee is a young prospect with plenty of potential, and he has the ability to excel in other areas. For example, he is one of the best rebounding prospects currently in the NBA, and he is also a good defender. Last season, Plumlee did average 14.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per 36 minutes, and he also averaged a double-double for the games he played in the D-league.

    Suns fans should also take note of his Orlando summer league play. It was only four games, but Plumlee averaged 10 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game, establishing himself as the second-best rebounder behind Andre Drummond.

    With both Alex Len and Marcin Gortat coming off an injury to start the season, you can expect Plumlee to be given an opportunity to play. It may not be much, but he is more than just a throw-in. 

10. Kendall Marshall

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    For a lottery pick, Kendall Marshall certainly was not impressive. He only connected on 37 percent of his shots, and averaged just 7.3 points and 7.3 assists per 36 minutes. And then, of course, there was his poor perimeter defense.

    As of last season, Marshall looked like a one-dimensional player. His passing and court vision continues to be fantastic—he averaged 12.3 assists in three games as a starter—but he struggled in almost all other areas offensively and defensively.

    Of course, now isn't the time to give up on Marshall, or at least not yet. He is still only 22, which gives him plenty of time to develop as a player. With both Dragic and Bledsoe, the Suns may no longer expect Marshall to ever start at point guard unless it is absolutely necessary. But a more realistic goal for Marshall is to become a reliable backup. 

    It won't be long before we see for ourselves just how much Marshall improved over the offseason. If he addressed some of the major issues with his game, it will be a joy to watch him. But if passing continues to be his only real skill or asset out on the court, he may not be in the team's long-term plans. 

9. Marcus Morris

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    When Marcus Morris was acquired by the Suns at the trade deadline in February in exchange for nothing but a second-round pick, it seemed like an absolute steal for Phoenix. 

    However, he then proceeded to struggle the entire second half of the season, posting averages of 5.7 points and 2.5 rebounds per game while shooting just 41 percent from the field. He began to lose minutes and fall out of the rotation to the point where he averaged just 12 minutes of play over his final 10 games. 

    Now, Morris is going to play a much bigger part in the rotation. The Suns will need him at both small forward and power forward, where he can provide valuable scoring and create space for other players with his three-point shooting. 

    But just like his brother, Markieff, Marcus also has to work on both consistency with his shot as well as defense. Despite shooting 35 percent from downtown for his career, Marcus only knocked down 31 percent of his threes in Phoenix. That is worse than Kendall Marshall's numbers, which would be unacceptable this season as Morris will be relied on to create adequate spacing with outside shooting. 

    Shooting isn't the only problem area either. His defense needs work, and his rebounding and passing are decent and sufficient, but could always improve. 

    Morris does has potential, and hopefully we can see some significant improvement this season. He will definitely be one of the more important bench players on the team's roster. 

8. Alex Len

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    Alex Len was drafted fifth overall by the Suns on the basis that the 7'1" Ukrainian center will be a strong rebounder and defender later on in his career. He isn't a fantastic offensive player (though he isn't a liability either), and he will not be expected to contribute immediately with Marcin Gortat on the roster. 

    It was a move that made sense, considering that the Suns needed a center to take over for Gortat in the future. 

    Last season, Len produced very good numbers for Maryland. He led the ACC in blocks, he was second in offensive rebounds, fifth in defensive rebounds and sixth in PER.

    But despite those numbers, Len did not appear on any of the All-ACC teams. In fact, he received no awards at all for his college play.

    Then, this summer, the NBA held their annual rookie survey. Rookies were asked questions about how other players would fare in the NBA. Len was completely snubbed by his peers, receiving not even a single vote on any of the questions. 

    Receiving zero recognition for any of his play as a fifth overall pick is a troubling sign. Already, many people are writing Len off as the bust of the year. 

    Let's hope that he can prove the doubters wrong with a surprising rookie campaign. 

7. Archie Goodwin

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    Unlike drafting Alex Len, who many people are criticizing, rookie shooting guard Archie Goodwin is looking more and more like a steal.

    Goodwin is just 19 years old, making him one of the youngest players in the NBA. Many felt that he could have benefited from staying in college for another one or two years, considering that his rookie season with Kentucky was somewhat disappointing for one of the better incoming high school prospects. 

    But this summer, the 6'5" athletic guard has looked more prepared for the NBA than many of his fellow rookies. He shined in the summer league, where he averaged 13.1 points and 3.3 rebounds in just 24.6 minutes per game. Goodwin shot 57 percent from the field in seven games, and he even converted 8-of-14 three-point attempts despite the belief that he is a weak long-distance shooter.

    Goodwin is going to be an exciting prospect to watch. He has the length and athleticism to defend the perimeter on one end while relentlessly attacking the basket on the other. And if he can continue to drain threes, he could be a dangerous all-around player.

    As he said himself in an interview with SLAM Online“Now every team that didn’t pick me, I’ve got to give them hell.”

6. Channing Frye

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    Channing Frye will return to action this season after missing all of 2012-13 with an enlarged heart, and his presence will have a huge impact on the Suns.

    At one time, Frye averaged over 10 points per game and was able to occasionally score 20+ points for the Suns while nailing three after three. Now, we don't know just how well he can recover from a heart condition, or if he will ultimately be the same player.

    However, Frye contributes more than just his on-court play. As the only player on the current roster who is at least 30 years old, Frye has become a veteran role model for the younger prospects on the team. Dragic and Frye are now the only two Suns remaining from the 2010 playoff run, and those two will be expected to help the process of player development as much as they can.

    Additionally, Frye gives Phoenix the floor spacing they desperately need with his three-point shooting. After losing Jared Dudley and then Caron Butler, the Suns will likely be a bottom-five team in three-point field-goal percentage. Frye does not instantly make this a team full of sharpshooters, but he does prevent the paint from getting clogged and creates space for Dragic and Bledsoe to drive the lane or for Gortat to finish down low. 

    He is also an underrated rebounder and defender, who in 2011-12 grabbed 8.2 boards per 36 minutes and came second on the team in defensive rating behind Marcin Gortat. Frye is definitely more than a one-dimensional role player.

    Markieff Morris will likely start at power forward with Frye coming off the bench, and hopefully he can have a productive season. 

5. P.J Tucker

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    Last year, few people knew what to expect from P.J. Tucker. After a short stint in the NBA with the Raptors several years ago, Tucker played on various teams in Israel, Ukraine, Germany, Italy and Greece. Most fans expected Tucker to have a limited bench role.

    But then, Tucker played 79 games over the course of the season and started 45, with averages of 6.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Those numbers aren't eye-popping, but Tucker contributes on the court in a number of ways. 

    First of all, he is a lockdown defender. Throughout last season, Tucker effectively shut down superstars such as Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce, Kevin Durant, Joe Johnson, Chris Paul, James Harden, Kobe Bryant and even LeBron James. All of those players combined shot 73-for-183 with Tucker on them, which is a terrible 39 percent from the field. 

    Tucker is athletic, he has a huge wingspan and, most importantly, he hustles more than anyone else on the court. He was a power forward in college because he often plays like one, and there is a reason Tucker has the second-most offensive rebounds on the roster despite being just 6'5".

    Tucker may not be a legitimate offensive weapon or go-to scorer, but he isn't a bad shooter. He shot 47 percent from the field and a solid 31 percent from downtown. He doesn't hurt the team offensively, and he is great at converting layup and dunk opportunities in transition. 

    This season, he will likely start at small forward, and it's unlikely that Gerald Green or Marcus Morris take that spot from him. 

    The Suns found a gem in P.J. Tucker. He is only 28 years old, and yet, with his great determination and work ethic, he is one of the greatest veterans for the younger prospects on the team. 

4. Markieff Morris

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    Many people may be stunned that Markieff Morris is one of the best players on this Phoenix Suns team.

    However, I do believe that he has the potential to be a consistent starter, and that could begin this season.

    With Luis Scola gone, Morris is set to be the starting power forward on the depth chart.

    And contrary to popular belief, Markieff has done relatively well when given starting minutes. Last season, in 13 games where he played at least 30 minutes, Morris averaged 15.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game while shooting 51 percent from the field and 50 percent from downtown.

    Those are fantastic numbers, and they bring hope. Perhaps, if all goes well, Morris could be the starting power forward the Suns were looking for after all.

    But before the Suns commit any more money or time to him after his rookie deal expires, he needs to work on the consistency of his shot as well as his defense. Those are known flaws of both the Morris twins. 

    If Morris is to be a part of the Suns' long-term plans, he can no longer be a defensive liability. 

    We will see just how much Morris improved over the summer soon enough. For now, let's hope that he can have a breakout season. He will be receiving more playing time, and perhaps will emerge as one of the team's top scorers as well. 

3. Marcin Gortat

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    Marcin Gortat is an expiring contract who does not fit in with the Suns' plans for the future. That being said, there is a great chance that his days in the desert are numbered. But will he be traded tomorrow or in February? Nobody knows yet.

    But until he's gone, Gortat will be one of the best players on this team. He continues to be a starting-caliber center with the ability to finish on offense as well as defend the post and block shots incredibly well on defense.

    Alex Len and Plumlee may take away some playing time from Gortat, but both Luis Scola and Jermaine O'Neal are now gone. Considering the fact that Frye and Morris are better spot-up shooters than they are post-up big men, and that Alex Len isn't too much of an offensive threat, Gortat will be the team's best post player and pick-and-roll finisher. After seeing his usage rate decline last season, expect it to shoot back up again, even without Nash manning the point. 

    Gortat will receive plenty of great opportunities to score, especially if it raises his trade value. 

2. Eric Bledsoe

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    Many people are skeptical about Bledsoe's ability to be an effective full-time starter after being a spark off the bench for the Los Angeles Clippers

    However, the potential is absolutely there. Bledsoe will share the backcourt with Goran Dragic this season at shooting guard, and those two are currently the cornerstones of this franchise. 

    Bledsoe is simply an unstoppable freak of nature. He is one of the most athletic players in the NBA, allowing him to throw down emphatic fast-break dunks and rack up steals in a hurry defensively.

    But are some of the critics correct? Is Bledsoe's athleticism his only great attribute? Can he contribute passing, shooting, and perimeter defense to a team, and not just highlights?

    This is Bledsoe's final season on his rookie contract, so his performance this season will greatly affect the future of his NBA career. Should Bledsoe establish himself as one of the better young, rising guards in the league, he could sign an offer sheet of several years making millions of dollars annually. 

    On the flip side, if he fails to live up to expectations, he could go back to being a sixth man or fringe starter and play out the rest of his career that way. 

    But this is a fantastic opportunity for Bledsoe to prove his worth and value. Without any true go-to scorers, he will have the ball in his hands a large portion of the time. And with enough touches, there's no reason to believe why Bledsoe couldn't average a stat line of around 15 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals per game. If he truly is a future All-Star, he could do even better. 

1. Goran Dragic

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    Did you expect to see anyone else in this spot?

    Last season, Goran Dragic proved to be a wonderful team leader and his great production should assure him a spot as the team's point guard of the future.

    Dragic put up 14.7 points, 7.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game last season while shooting 44 percent from the field and 32 percent from downtown. Those statistics are by no means fantastic, but Dragic is a very good all-around player and was just one of five NBA players last season to average at least 14 points, 3.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 1.5 steals per game. The others were LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Jrue Holiday and Chris Paul.

    If you watched the second half of last season, you must have seen that Dragic was simply astounding. He averaged 16.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 9.5 assists per game after the All-Star break, and he played at a level we have never seen from him before. He ran the offense so efficiently and effectively and had multiple 30-point outbursts for Phoenix. 

    If he can continue to play at this level now, Dragic could be an All-Star candidate. And with another great young talent in Eric Bledsoe, the Suns have one of the most explosive backcourts in the NBA. If they can surround those two with some frontcourt talent, the Suns will start winning more games. 

    This is likely going to be a dismal season for Suns fans, as they will watch their team drop game after game. But Goran Dragic can still be one promising gem that gives fans hope for the future.