Phoenix Suns Are One Rookie Star Away from Being Really Good

Sam CooperCorrespondent IIINovember 19, 2013

Nov 15, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) looks up the court in the first half of the game against the Brooklyn Nets at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sport

Now nine games into the NBA season, the Phoenix Suns continue to impress.

Despite two consecutive losses and a 5-4 record, the Suns have outscored their opponents by 27 points this season. They have yet to lose a game by a margin of more than six points. 

But this success has not simply been the result of one or two players. It has been a complete team effort, with different players exceeding expectations at every position. The Suns may have seemed rather thin on "promising young talent" earlier, but now it appears as though their prospects were greatly underestimated by other NBA teams and media outlets.

If these young players continue to play at this rate and develop their skills even more, the Suns may have a great supporting cast. The only thing stopping them from a deep playoff run then is a star, or a franchise player who can lead the team. 

But first, let's examine this team's supporting cast, and what the future may hold for the young players currently on the roster.

In the backcourt, it is clear Eric Bledsoe has taken control of this team.

With Los Angeles last season, Bledsoe was only able to score 14.9 points per 36 minutes. Given that he wasn't particularly impressive in his 12 starts either, most people expected Bledsoe to score somewhere between 13-17 points per game for the Suns this season.

Bledsoe has certainly exceeded those expectations, scoring 20.4 points per game so far while shooting 50 percent from the field. He has shown an elite ability at getting to the rim and finishing through contact, and he has also been the player Phoenix has been going to in the fourth quarter, scoring 7.2 of his points in the final period of the game.

If there are any weaknesses to highlight, it would be his three-point shot and his ball control. But for the most part, Bledsoe seems to have evolved into an All-Star-caliber point guard. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising to see him receive a number of max-contract offers over the offseason, which Phoenix would be able to match (as Bledsoe is a restricted free agent). 

Also in the backcourt is Archie Goodwin, currently the backup shooting guard. Goodwin's future is still impossible to predict at this point. Even if the 19-year-old could become an adequate starter or even an All-Star, for now he is stuck behind Goran Dragic in the rotation.

So far, he hasn't been very impressive. Goodwin is averaging 3.0 points and 1.4 rebounds per game, shooting 34 percent from the field and 11 percent from downtown.

However, he has made a few highlight plays, and he appears to be an extremely aggressive player that isn't afraid to attack the basket. He is also capable of changing his shot mid-air and finishing through contact.

His shooting is the only huge problem. But head coach Jeff Hornacek, one of the greatest three-point shooters in NBA history, is working with Goodwin on his shot. If Goodwin can add an efficient shot to his game, he may be a fantastic sixth man or starter a couple of years down the road. 

These first couple of seasons Goodwin may only play 10-20 minutes per game, as they will try to develop such a young player slowly. But a backcourt with Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Archie Goodwin could be fantastic in a few years.

The backcourt is not the only area where the Suns could excel in the future. They have two great prospects at center as well.

With the way he's playing, Miles Plumlee is a legitimate candidate for the Most Improve Player award. He is currently averaging 10.9 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game, and he leads the team in rebounds and blocks.

Plumlee is both an intimidating presence on defense as well as a sufficient scoring option on offense. He can grab offensive rebounds, initiate pick-and-roll plays and finish with a layup or dunk or hit mid-range shots. He also has a number of impressive post moves and jump hooks that have allowed him to dominate some of his opponents on offense.

On defense, he not only blocks shots but alters them. Rather than aggressively going for the block on defense every time a player attacks the rim, Plumlee simply goes straight up with his opponent and often blocks or changes their shot without being called for the foul (he averages just 2.7 fouls per game). He is a smart defender, something he likely learned from his teammate Roy Hibbert in Indiana

Alex Len has still only played a total of two games and 21 minutes, so it's hard to judge him at this point. However, the future in Phoenix is bright if Plumlee and Len share the center position. 

And at power forward, you have the two Morris twins. Many Suns fans seemed willing to give up on the twins this year, as neither one seemed to show much improvement or development during the 2012-13 regular season.

However, both twins have come out in force this season. In fact, even in a bench role behind Channing Frye, Markieff Morris has already been acknowledged as the Western Conference Player of the Week once this season.

Markieff is averaging 14.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. That's almost 19 points, 8 rebounds and 2.5 steals per 36 minutes. He has also shot 55 percent from the field and 50 perfect from three-point range through eight games.

With Frye struggling, it now appears as if Markieff is ready to be the team's future starting power forward. But what has led to Markieff's sudden rise?

He's not settling for the same long shots he used to. This season, Markieff is averaging 1.3 three-point attempts per 36 minutes. Compare that to his sophomore season, when he averaged 2.6, or even his rookie season, when he averaged 3.6.

Morris is now using his body to get inside and play close to the basket. He still forces the defense to guard him on the outside, as he is capable of stretching the floor and hitting mid-range shots and three-pointers, but he doesn't settle for those shots and instead looks to score most of his points at the rim. Just look at his shot chart for this season, and his fantastic efficiency under the basket.

Markieff may not necessarily be a future All-Star, but for him to average 15 points and eight rebounds per game as a starter in the future doesn't seem like such a ridiculous expectation anymore. 

And off the bench, his brother Marcus could also be an important rotational player in the future. Marcus is averaging 8.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game this season, knocking down 12-of-27 three-point attempts and also rebounding at an insane rate for a small forward/power forward hybrid. In fact, Marcus' 10.1 rebounds per 36 minutes is second on the roster only to Plumlee.

With all of these prospects, the Suns have formed a solid team. They are certainly better than anyone expected. And with promising young players at point guard, shooting guard, power forward and center, it appears as though small forward is now what general manager Ryan McDonough must turn his attention to. 

Veteran players Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker have been playing well, but it is time to find another young rookie. If the Suns could find just one star small forward through the draft with one of their six first-round picks in the next two years, they could be back in the playoffs. Perhaps not as a top seed, but definitely not as bad as the eighth seed either. 

The question is, where is this prospect the Suns are looking for? They will have plenty of chances to draft him, but will they ultimately be capable of doing so?

In the 2014 draft class, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker are clearly the two top small forwards. Despite their recent success, can they still draft one of those two players with a top pick?

Do the Suns still have a shot at drafting a top prospect such as Jabari Parker?
Do the Suns still have a shot at drafting a top prospect such as Jabari Parker?Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Or will they have to look deeper into the draft, hoping prospects such as Glenn Robinson III, Wayne Selden, James Young or LaQuinton Ross could be the answer to their needs?

The answers to these questions will become clearer later in the season, as basketball scouts thoroughly examine each top prospect.

In fact, the answer to the Suns' small forward problem may not be in the draft class at all. It could be two, three, four or even five years before they find the right player.

However, they are still only one player away. And that makes them much closer to a championship banner than you might think. 


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