2013-14 NBA Season Preview Player Power Rankings for Phoenix Suns
With the preseason out of the way, the Phoenix Suns are beginning to get a grasp on their identity as a team and are realizing what they will be capable of doing in the upcoming season.
Over the past few weeks, every player has received ample playing time in several games, and each presents his own unique set of strengths and weaknesses that could either help or harm this team.
While some players have taken complete advantage of any playing time given to them, others are still struggling early on. The performance of each player in the preseason does carry some weight in these rankings.
Yet at the same time,five or six games cannot be prioritized over an entire career of work. Last season's performance, as well as future potential, both play a role in ranking as well.
With all that settled, let's take a look at the new Phoenix Suns player power rankings.
Note: All statistics referenced taken from Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.
Guaranteed Contracts (Outside of Top 10)
14. Ish Smith
For a player with just three years of NBA experience, point guard Ish Smith has certainly put on a lot of different jerseys.
And even with all of those different teams, Smith was unable to blossom is any environment. For his career, he has shot just 37 percent from the field and has only played 9.9 minutes per game.
And right now, it doesn't look like he has found a permanent home with Phoenix either. Smith is battling with other guards such as Archie Goodwin and Dionte Christmas for minutes, a battle he appears to be losing. In 51 total minutes this preseason, he has produced 11 points, 10 assists and five turnovers while shooting 5-for-18 from the field.
13. Dionte Christmas
Dionte Christmas is already 27 years old, and he has yet to log a single minute in the NBA.
Given his age, one might think that the Suns should cut him and keep their younger players that have a higher ceiling and more room for growth.
But unlike James Nunnally or Malcolm Lee, Christmas has been producing fine numbers for the Suns. In the Las Vegas Summer League, he averaged 10.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 20.9 minutes per game.
And earlier in the preseason, in a 106-99 win over the San Antonio Spurs, Christmas scored 14 points on 4-for-6 shooting (including three three-pointers) and also contributed two rebounds, an assist and a steal all in 19 minutes.
Plus, just think of all the "Christmas" puns.
In fact, should he make the team, a formal petition could be sent to ESPN demanding a Philadelphia 76ers vs. Phoenix Suns Christmas Day game, revolving around a Dionte Christmas-Nerlens Noel matchup that would spark a battle of epic proportions.
Or, you know, there's the production. That could also assure Christmas some minutes in the rotation.
12. Viacheslav Kravtsov
26-year-old Ukrainian center Slava Kravtsov is hoping to establish himself as a serviceable backup for the Suns.
And in the preseason, he played very well. In 42 total minutes, Kravtsov has put up 17 points, nine rebounds and two blocks while shooting 6-for-6 from the field.
But even with a guaranteed roster spot now, there are three other centers on this team that are currently ahead of him in the rankings. Finding a significant amount of playing time, even with Emeka Okafor injured for much of the season, may be very difficult.
11. Alex Len
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. Even though Marcin Gortat has been traded and Len will log more minutes, he will not be pressured to dominate opposing teams immediately.
In five preseason games, Len has produced solid numbers, though he does look a step slow and a bit sluggish. But this is not something to be too concerned about, as Len is coming off of ankle surgery and will also need time to transition from college to the NBA. Even though he put up good numbers at Maryland, he was still unable to dominate college centers. Now, NBA centers will only be a tougher challenge for the rookie.
As of now, Len is averaging 2.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 0.8 blocks in 15.4 minutes per game. In some games, such as his performance against the Spurs (with six points, nine rebounds and two blocks off the bench), Len has looked like a very promising prospect.
But in other games, such as the game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Len proved more of a liability than an asset (he had zero points, two rebounds and four fouls).
This will likely be a pattern for Len this season. He will contribute practically nothing one night and follow that performance up with a fantastic game. Expect a season full of ups and downs.
10. Miles Plumlee
A lot of Suns fans may look at Plumlee's rookie season stat line and completely disregard him as a bench warmer. They may have a point, too. In his rookie season with Indiana, Plumlee logged a total of just 55 minutes and shot a dismal 24 percent (5-for-21) from the field.
But throughout the past several months, it has become clear that Plumlee has the potential to be a solid player and potentially even a starter in the NBA.
First, in the Orlando Summer League, Plumlee averaged 10 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game, establishing himself as the second-best rebounder behind only Andre Drummond.
And then he continued to excel in the preseason. In 7 preseaon games (including one start), Plumlee averaged 6.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in only 18.6 minutes per game. He also shot 19-for-37 from the field.
Plumlee is a prospect who can play either power forward or center. He may not be the greatest offensive player, but he does have a nice touch around the rim and can set himself up for dunks (as shown in the linked video). Additionally, his motor and athleticism allow him to be one of the better rebounding prospects in the NBA.
Already teammates are praising his game. Dionte Christmas said of Plumlee, "Plumlee has a motor, he doesn’t stop. He’s very, very, super athletic. He’s very good. I think he’s going to have a good year."
If he continues to impress teammates and coaches, perhaps Plumlee will earn a significant role in the rotation and steal minutes away from players such as the Morris twins, Channing Frye, Alex Len, Viacheslav Kravtsov and Emeka Okafor.
9. Archie Goodwin
The hype that surrounded Archie Goodwin following the summer league has started to quiet down.
After playing a role as a key contributor to the Suns in the Las Vegas Summer League, the 19-year-old rookie out of Kentucky was expected to be one of the major steals of the 2013 draft class. In the summer league, Goodwin averaged 13.1 points and 3.3 rebounds in just 24.6 minutes per game. He also shot 57 percent from the field in seven games, and he even converted 8-of-14 three-point attempts despite being considered a weak long-distance shooter.
Now, Goodwin has not been nearly as impressive in the preseason, but he is still producing quality numbers. Through seven games, Goodwin has shot 17-for-41 and is contributing 6.3 points in 15.7 minutes per game.
On the other hand, he failed to convert even one three-point shot despite trying 11 times.
How Goodwin will play a role in the Suns' future is still unknown. Even if he does become a starting-caliber player, he could end up stuck in a bench role behind the Goran Dragic-Eric Bledsoe backcourt duo.
He probably won't play more than about 20 minutes per game this season, but he will make the most of those minutes and could surprise teams around the league. 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.”
8. Gerald Green
Only two years ago, Gerald Green had a fantastic season for the New Jersey Nets. He had the opportunity to log a significant amount of minutes for a bad team, and took advantage, scoring 12.9 points per game while shooting 48 percent from the field and 39 percent from three-point range.
This season, Green will be placed in a similar situation and the Suns are hoping that the 2011-12 Gerald Green will show up for this team, not the 2012-13 Gerald Green who struggled for the Pacers and shot just 37 percent from the field.
And so far, he is off to a great start. Green is averaging 10.6 points and 2.3 rebounds in just 14.7 minutes per game (which is 26 points per 36 minutes) and has been one of the team's top scorers of the preseason.
Green cannot provide the physicality of defense that small forward P.J. Tucker can, but he is still a strong candidate for the starting small forward spot. What is special about him is that he has the ability to either space the floor and shoot threes from the wing and the corner, or he could run the floor and finish strong with an emphatic dunk. He could potentially give the Suns' starting lineup offensive production that P.J. Tucker couldn't possibly produce.
Of course, there is always the possibility that Green fails to revitalize his career in Phoenix. In a worst-case scenario, he struggles with poor shot selection and defense and eventually falls out of the rotation, much like what happened to Shannon Brown and Michael Beasley last season.
7. Marcus Morris
Marcus Morris has been extremely inconsistent throughout his first two seasons in the NBA.
His rookie season was an absolute disaster. Morris played a total of 17 games and shot just 30 percent from the field for the Rockets, who sent him to the D-League for the majority of the season.
However, at the start of the 2012-13 season he was flourishing in Houston. In the first 54 games, Morris averaged 14.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per 36 minutes while knocking down 38 percent of his long-range attempts.
Unfortunately, that hot streak did not continue when he arrived in Phoenix for the second half of the season. Morris struggled, 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.
But now, Morris is once again shining in the preseason. He's averaging 6.7 points and 3.3 rebounds in 18.1 minutes per game, and he has also been one of the team's best three-point shooters, knocking down 9-of-21 from behind the arc.
This is very encouraging, as Morris will have to play a much bigger role for the Suns this season. With Jared Dudley gone, the Suns need to have more reliable three-point shooters other than just Channing Frye. Neither of the Morris twins are reliable, but they both have range, and the hope is that they can space the floor on offense so that Dragic and Bledsoe have ample room to drive the lane.
Also, nothing is stopping Marcus from stealing the starting small forward spot. Although P.J. Tucker and Gerald Green appear to be the two favorites right now, starting Morris at small forward would be the best idea regarding player development.
6. P.J. Tucker
P.J Tucker is not much of a scoring weapon. He isn't a player who will score 20-plus points in a game, nor will he even look to take a mid-range or three-point shot unless he is clearly open.
However, Tucker's athleticism, defense, work ethic, and hustle plays are what instantly made him a fan favorite last season. And those traits could potentially land him the starting gig this season.
First of all, Tucker is a fantastic rebounder for his height. He is athletic, has a huge wingspan and, above all, hustles more than anyone else on the court. Those traits make him great on the glass, and, despite being just 6'5", he grabbed 132 offensive rebounds last season (second on the roster only to Luis Scola). In seven preseason games, Tucker is averaging 4.4 rebounds in 21.3 minutes per game (and is rebounding at about the same rate as Channing Frye and the Morris twins).
Even more impressive than his rebounding is his defense. Last season, Tucker established himself as a great perimeter defender, capable of irritating and aggravating his opponents while also forcing turnovers that would lead to transition baskets.
Tucker's defense proved so great that he was trusted to guard some of the league's elite. And even then he fared pretty well. 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 an awful 39 percent from the field.
Tucker is already 28 years old, so there isn't too much room for development anymore. However, he will continue to do what he does on the court, playing fantastic defense and doing the dirty work that other players avoid. And off the court, perhaps he could be a great veteran for the team's younger prospects.
5. Channing Frye
Many Suns fans were completely unsure whether or not Channing Frye would look like the same player he once was after returning to action. After all, there was always the possibility that Frye would struggle upon returning to the league and his career would be in jeopardy.
But now it looks like the Suns do not have to worry about that. While he isn't necessarily his old self, Frye has played well in six total preseason games. He averaged 7.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in 16 minutes per game. On the other hand, the sharpshooter has converted just 7-of-24 three-point attempts.
Markieff Morris is going to be starting at power forward this season, but that doesn't mean Frye won't still have a very important role off the bench.
For one, he seems to be the team's main veteran now. He is the only player on the roster who is at least 30 years old, and both Frye and Dragic are the only two Suns players remaining from the team's 2010 playoff run. He will be expected to help some of the younger players with the development process.
But he will be valuable on the court as well, mainly with his three-point shooting. The Suns do not have many great three-point shooting options this season, but if Frye can consistently make about 40 percent of his three-point attempts, he will force the defense to stay with him on the perimeter and open up space for the 2-guards to attack the basket or for the centers to work down low.
4. Markieff Morris
Markieff Morris definitely has the talent to be a starter. The potential is there, and he has shown some flashes of greatness in his two years as an NBA player.
For example, in 32 games as a starter last season, Morris averaged 10.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.0 steal and 0.9 blocks per game. Also, keep in mind that this stat line is in just 26.6 minutes per game, and the per 36 minute numbers are even better.
And as of now, he appears to be doing very well in the preseason too. He hasn't been spectacular, but has put up a solid 8.9 points and 5.1 rebounds in 20.7 minutes per game.
The problem with Morris continues to be consistency. He has shown flashes of greatness in the past, but has been unable to sustain any of his hot streaks for a long period of time. The graph below shows just how much his shooting percentages changed from month to month.
In some months, such as April, Morris could be considered one of the best shooting forwards in the league. But in other months, such as January, he seems completely incapable of helping the offense in any way.
The Suns will need Morris' scoring ability this season, and they will struggle when he goes on a cold streak. His ability to stretch the floor is very valuable to the offense, but if he is shooting 19 percent from downtown one month, the entire starting lineup will be affected. Hopefully he can work on becoming a much more consistent player this season.
Note: Statistics in chart taken from Basketball-Reference.com.
3. Emeka Okafor
For the Suns, this trade was not so much about Okafor, a 31-year-old veteran center making $14.5 million this season. Instead, the Suns were more focused on acquiring another 2014 first-round pick, potentially giving them four first-round picks in June.
Okafor is a decent player, but the main reason the Suns acquired him is that he is an expiring contract who will save the team some cap space for next season. He certainly won't be playing much this year, as he is still out for a few more months with a neck injury.
But even if this trade was more about the pick than it was about Okafor, that doesn't mean he has nothing to offer. Okafor is a veteran center, one who has averaged 12.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game throughout his nine-year career. He is now the oldest player on this Suns team, and will hopefully be able to take prospects such as Alex Len, Miles Plumlee and Viacheslav Kravtsov under his wing.
Additionally, Okafor isn't all that bad on the court. Last season, he still managed to average 13.4 points, 12.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per 36 minutes with Washington. Once he returns to action in the second half of the season, he will play a key role in the team's success.
2. Eric Bledsoe
One of the biggest questions entering the preseason was how Eric Bledsoe would perform. Would he blossom in a starting role, or would he fail to live up to expectations and prove to be nothing more than a spark off the bench?
So far, Bledsoe appears to be proving his doubters and critics wrong. In seven contests and six starts, he has contributed 13 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.7 steals and 0.6 blocks in only 26 minutes per game.
Bledsoe is simply an unstoppable freak of nature. He is one of the most athletic players in the NBA and that athleticism allows him to throw down fast-break dunks and rack up steals in a hurry. He is also able to distribute the ball, and he can rebound and block shots as if he was a small forward and not a combo guard.
But if there is one concern with Bledsoe's game so far in the preseason, it has been shooting. He has shot 46 percent from the field (38-for-83) which isn't bad at all, but he has also shot just 4-for-22 from downtown.
Bledsoe is a player who took just 1.8 threes per 36 minutes last season. He was able to convert on 40 percent of those attempts, but many of those shots were wide open as opposing defenses did not always perceive of Bledsoe as a threat from three-point range.
But now, Bledsoe is already taking more than three three-pointers per game in the preseason (the equivalent of 4.6 attempts per 36 minutes), and he hasn't found much success. The Suns do need three-point shooting this season, but that doesn't mean below-average shooters like Bledsoe should suddenly be forcing shots.
Hopefully head coach Jeff Hornacek can help Bledsoe become a much better shooter and, therefore, a more dangerous overall player. However, until his shooting improves, he has to stop being so careless with his shot selection.
1. Goran Dragic
Goran Dragic's preseason performance can only be described as phenomenal, and it is another reason why he is the clear leader of this Suns team.
Dragic averaged 11.5 points and 4.2 assists in only 20.7 minutes per game. In other words, that is equal to 20 points and 7.3 assists per 36 minutes.
While other players such as Eric Bledsoe and Alex Len struggle with their shots, Dragic has carried the entire team. He an astounding 28-for-48 from the field (58 percent) and 7-for-16 from downtown (44 percent).
In the second half of last season, we saw Dragic put up fantastic numbers. 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.
And if these preseason games are any inclination, perhaps Dragic will continue to play at that level in 2013-14.
The key for him is to simply be aggressive. Dragic does not have to be a pass-first point guard and let Eric Bledsoe take care of the scoring. That isn't the point of pairing these two together. Instead, Dragic has to be aggressive, attacking the basket, driving the lane and looking for open three-point shots. By doing that, other players will get open and the assists will come.
The upcoming season may be fairly depressing to watch for Suns fans, who will watch their team drop game after game and tumble to the bottom of the Western Conference standings. But if there is one thing to be excited about, it is the Goran Dragic/Eric Bledsoe backcourt. Those two players are promising gems that give fans hope for the future.