Phoenix Suns

Final Regular Season Grades for Every Phoenix Suns Player

Sam CooperCorrespondent IIIApril 19, 2014

Final Regular Season Grades for Every Phoenix Suns Player

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    Despite missing out on the playoffs in the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns finished their Cinderella season with 48 wins—23 more than they won in 2012-13 and dozens more than most thought they win this year. 

    Most players on the roster exceeded expectations. And as a result, it should hardly be surprising to find that many of the players on this list received fantastic evaluations. 

    Before getting into the assessments, here's the criteria. Grades were only given to players currently on the roster, and each player had to appear in at least three games with the team to qualify.

    As always, each player is graded based on his actual performance compared to what the original expectations of him were at the start of the season. The player's entire body of work will be considered (in this case the 2013-14 season), but recent play will be a factor as well. 

    And now, before heading into the offseason, let's get to the grades. 

     

    All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com.

Dionte Christmas

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    Dionte Christmas, the 27-year-old rookie swingman, was never expected to contribute much. 

    He made 31 appearances this season and played a total of 198 minutes, mostly at the end of games. After being a regular part of the rotation in November, his playing time dwindled with the emergence of Ish Smith and Gerald Green as capable backcourt role players. The signing of Leandro Barbosa also reduced the opportunities for Christmas. 

    But even if Christmas only scored 2.3 points per game on 36 percent shooting, he had a much larger impact than your typical 12th man. 

    Whenever the Suns made a highlight play—whether it was a dunk, a great pass, a series of consecutive threes, or a game-winner—Christmas could always be found cheering emphatically on the bench. 

    He essentially became an extra cheerleader, always finding a way to boost team morale. And because of that, even if he wasn't extraordinarily productive on the court, he receives a positive grade. 

    It remains to be seen if Christmas' 2014-15 non-guaranteed contract will be picked up by the organization, or if he will be dropped to create roster space for new acquisitions. But even if the fan favorite leaves Phoenix, it's safe to say that his name will be remembered and appreciated by the team's fanbase for years to come.

    Grade: A-

     

Shavlik Randolph

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    Seven-year veteran Shavlik Randolph was signed as a free agent in early March to help the team with rebounding during the playoff push. 

    For the rest of the season, he would play only 95 minutes. Even so, it isn't fair to say that Randolph failed. In that short sample size, the 6'10" power forward grabbed 9.5 rebounds per 36 minutes and always hustled for loose balls. 

    He wasn't particularly imposing on either offense or defense, and he may not have the speed or athleticism to effectively play with a run-and-gun offense for extended periods. As a result, he did not become a part of the regular rotation.

    But even so, Randolph's hustle and rebounding were the only things the Suns originally coveted, and he was successful in those areas.

    He is under contract with the team next season, but his future with the franchise is still uncertain. 

    Grade: B

Leandro Barbosa

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    Leandro Barbosa, who played with the Suns for six seasons during the Steve Nash era, returned to the desert in January after signing a contract for the remainder of the season.

    Barbosa played only 20 games before a shoulder injury sidelined him. However, he was fairly productive in those 20 games for a 31-year-old who had just recovered from a torn ACL.

    Barbosa averaged 7.5 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game off the bench while shooting 43 percent from the field and 28 percent from three-point range. He was no longer a sixth man, but with Gerald Green starting at SG, Barbosa's presence gave the Suns another consistent scoring threat off the bench in addition to the Morris twins. 

    He had obviously lost a step, but still retained some of the old speed and quickness that originally gave him the nickname "Brazilian Blur." 

    Now, with Barbosa's contract expiring, his future with the team is also uncertain. Although he is a fan favorite, it could be argued that 19-year-old Archie Goodwin should be given Barbosa's minutes next season for the sake of his development. 

    Ultimately, Barbosa wasn't able to help the Suns achieve another playoff sweep of the San Antonio Spurs like he did in 2010. But he still was productive, and the signing helped the Suns live up to the team slogan, "ignite the future," while also giving fans a chance to reminisce about the past.  

    Grade: B

     

Archie Goodwin

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    On the last night of the regular season, Archie Goodwin showed why so many Suns fans are excited about his future.

    In 31 minutes, Goodwin shot 11-of-13 and put up 29 points, four rebounds and two steals. The playoffs may have been out of reach, but it was a breakout performance by the second youngest player in the NBA, and one that lends plenty of hope to the future.

    Overall, Goodwin averaged 3.7 points and 1.7 rebounds per game this season. He shot 46 percent from the field, which is fairly efficient, but was an unsightly three-point shooter (making just five of 36 attempts). 

    Still, despite a season that may not have been so impressive statistically, Goodwin showcased his potential in a number of ways. 

    First of all, he's aggressive. Because his shot is a work in progress, Goodwin tries to attack the basket almost every time he has the ball. And he can make plenty of layups and dunks that way. As soon as he adds more weight and strength with age, he could become an elite slasher. 

    Goodwin also has a long wingspan that can help him guard opposing players on the perimeter, steal passes and grab rebounds better than most players his size. 

    Right now, the only thing stopping Goodwin from becoming a true impact player is his jump shot. If he develops that, years from now he might be considered the steal of the 2013 draft. 

    Grade: B-

Alex Len

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    An ankle injury prevented Alex Len, the fifth overall pick of the 2013 draft, from playing more than a few games for the first couple months of the season.

    And even once the new year came, he never solidified a consistent spot in the rotation.

    Even so, fans must be patient with Len. Not only is the Ukrainian big man young (at 20-years-old), but while Archie Goodwin was playing in the summer league and practicing in training camp, Len was rehabbing after surgery. He had less time to adjust to the NBA.

    On the court, he wasn't impressive, but did show some flashes of brilliance. Overall Len averaged 8.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per 36 minutes while shooting 42 percent.  

    That's a very low field-goal percentage for a 7'1" center, but Len would occasionally showcase a great post move. He can also hit mid-range shots, another skill that separates him from Miles Plumlee.

    Len admittedly looked ungainly at times, but his lankiness should allow him to grab rebounds and block plenty of shots in the future. He could be the interior defensive presence the Suns need to take the next step. 

    But while there is potential, it's also important to note that a 7.3 PER is disappointing for the fifth pick. 

    Grade: C+

Ish Smith

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    When Eric Bledsoe went down with a torn meniscus, the Suns needed another guard to step up and aid Goran Dragic.

    Luckily, Ish Smith was able to take on that responsibility and become a crucial role player for the rest of the season.

    Smith, at 6'0", is an absolute blur. He looks to push the pace on offense every time he receives the ball, and when coupled with another athletic player such as Goodwin, Dragic or Bledsoe in the backcourt, the team's speed is unmatched.

    And despite his small size, Ish fills up the stat sheet. He averaged 9.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.8 steals and even 0.5 blocks per 36 minutes.  

    He consistently makes transition layups and ridiculous circus shots that seem to defy the laws of physics. His only weakness is his jump shot, but even that seemed to improve late in the season. He's still afraid to take threes (he made only one this year), but can confidently make mid-range shots.

    The Suns have a team option on Smith for about $1 million next season, and that's a bargain for a player with his talent. He's a great third-string point guard, and it's refreshing to see him succeed after playing for five different teams in the first three years of his career. 

    Grade: B+

Marcus Morris

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    After being traded from the Houston Rockets to the Suns in February of 2013, Marcus Morris got off to a dreadful start.

    In 23 games with the Suns last season, Marcus shot 41 percent from the field, 31 percent from deep and 41 percent from the free-throw line. He averaged 5.7 points per game, and gradually lost playing time as the season went on.

    This year—under Jeff Hornacek instead of Lindsey Hunter—Morris has been much more effective.

    Marcus has posted career-high numbers in virtually every statistical category. He's averaging 9.7 points and 3.9 rebounds per game off the bench, and has become one of the team's knockdown shooters (making 38 percent of his threes). 

    Unlike his twin brother Markieff Morris, Marcus was not good enough to be considered a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. However, he was still one of the most consistent players off the bench, and routinely provided scoring through his mid-range and long-distance shots. 

    For now, Marcus should remain on the bench. He does not provide the stellar individual defense that P.J. Tucker does.

    But that doesn't mean he can't be considered a vital part of the franchise. The Suns should start thinking about extending both Morris twins on new contracts immediately. 

    Grade: A-

     

Markieff Morris

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    There was once a time when Markieff Morris was considered inconsistent.

    Now, it's safe to say that those days are gone.

    Markieff may not be the favorite to win the Sixth Man of the Year Award, but there is certainly a strong case to be made for him. He leads all bench players in minutes, points and rebounds.

    In the final 45 games of the season, he scored at least 10 points 41 times. And over that span, Markieff averaged 15.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on 50 percent shooting from the field. 

    This season, Markieff became an incredibly efficient player. His three-point percentage rate (the percent of total field-goal attempts that are three-point attempts) has decreased from 28.4 percent in 2011-12 to 12.8 percent. Essentially, he stopped taking so many threes that he couldn't convert at a high rate, and is instead taking more mid-range shots and performing more post moves.

    In addition, his defense continues to improve and he can grab an adequate number of rebounds for his size and position. 

    Whereas Channing Frye is getting older and beginning to decline, Markieff Morris is stronger than ever. And if he keeps this up, he may not be a sixth man for much longer. Unless the Suns pursue a superstar power forward, Markieff may be a starter as early as next season.

    Grade: A-

Channing Frye

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    Cold streaks happen to everyone. Channing Frye struggled with his shooting in the second half of the season. Despite that he is still one of the best stretch 4 players in the league. Additionally, for him to start 82 games one year after suffering from an enlarged heart is nothing short of extraordinary. 

    His simple presence on the perimeter is enough to scare the opposition. And when the defense feels compelled to stick to Frye, guards such as Dragic and Bledsoe are given plenty of space to attack the paint where the defense becomes weak. 

    Frye's shooting is his greatest asset. Unfortunately, his three-point percentage steadily declined throughout the season to the point where he shot just 32 percent from deep after the All-Star break.

    With Frye possibly seeking a contract extension soon, one question remains: Will the Channing Frye of the future resemble the player we saw at the start of this season (who shot better than 40 percent from deep), or the player we saw toward the end?

    Nobody can know for sure. But either way, with Markieff Morris developing and with plenty of free agents available, Channing Frye's days as a starter could come to an end within the next year or two. 

    Grade: B+

Miles Plumlee

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    It's been said over and over, but this point has to be emphasized again.

    Miles Plumlee played 55 minutes in his rookie season for the Indiana Pacers.

    He then came to Phoenix, started 79 games and put up 11.8 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes. 

    That is simply astounding. He's no dominant star, and can sometimes look clumsy on offense by dropping a pass, but his post moves, rebounding and defense made his season appear impressive overall. 

    However, can Plumlee take the next step? Can he become a dominant interior presence for the Suns, or will they have to look elsewhere if they want to compete for a championship.

    Plumlee is already 25 years old, but this was also his first season with a significant amount of playing time. In that regard, he was essentially a rookie. It would be silly to assume that his production will remain completely stagnant. Expect him to continue to improve.

    However, 20-year-old Alex Len may have the higher ceiling. And if he doesn't work out either, there are plenty of players to sign or to trade for. 

    Plumlee had a fantastic breakout season, one which should be appreciated. His athleticism and ability to run the floor make him perfect for this up-tempo offense.

    But at the same time, it's far-fetched to call him a long-term starting center for a Phoenix team with championship aspirations. 

    Grade: A- 

P.J. Tucker

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    P.J. Tucker is all about hustle, defense and toughness. That, coupled with his ability to be a vocal leader, makes him the heart and soul of the Phoenix Suns. He is quickly becoming the Bruce Bowen of the franchise, and is developing a reputation. 

    Tucker is no longer a well-kept secret. By now every GM in the league knows that he is a scrapper and a lockdown defender who loves to take on elite guards and forwards. 

    And because of that, he may receive some lucrative offers as a restricted free agent this year. But despite that expected pay increase, it is crucial that the Suns match other offers and bring Tucker back to Phoenix. 

    In addition to defense, Tucker is a fantastic rebounder. He is always looking for offensive rebounds that can lead to second-chance points. In fact, Tucker and Lance Stephenson of the Indiana Pacers are the only two NBA players 6'5" or under who grab at least 6.5 rebounds per game.

    Finally, his other asset is corner three-point shooting. Tucker added the ability to shoot from the corner before the season started, and it has made him much more versatile. 

    He is shooting 39 percent from deep this season, with all but a few of those makes from the corner. He has established himself as a true "3-and-D" player. 

    Overall, another great season from Tucker. He is one of those rare role players who can affect the game in so many ways besides scoring.

    Grade: A- 

     

Gerald Green

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    Gerald Green should win the NBA's Most Improved Player Award. 

    To go from being a scarcely used bench player one season to one of the most important pieces on a 48-win team the next is phenomenal. 

    For the season, Green averaged a career-high 15.8 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the field. He was also one of just a few players to make at least 200 three-pointers. 

    And after the All-Star break, Green was even deadlier offensively. In those 31 games (16 as a starter), he put up 18.5 points per game and also shot 43 percent from downtown. 

    His 41-point performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder was one of the greatest individual games by any Phoenix Suns player in the past few years. 

    Next season, if Bledsoe and Dragic are both healthy, having Gerald Green and both Morris twins in the second unit should make the Suns' bench terrifying for opposing teams. 

    Grade: A

Eric Bledsoe

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    A relatively small sample size must be used to evaluate Bledsoe, as he played just 43 games this season.

    But after those 43 games, it's safe to say that re-signing him should be a priority this offseason and that he can be a great backcourt partner for Goran Dragic. 

    Bledsoe averaged 17.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game this season. He shows an ability to either attack the inside or shoot from outside (where he makes 36 percent of his attempts), and can play great perimeter defense against opposing guards. 

    And in transition, he is nearly unstoppable. 

    It took Bledsoe a while to adjust after returning from a torn meniscus injury, but he gradually improved. In the final seven games of the season, he scored 29 or more points on three occasions. 

    He is still quite turnover prone and may be too aggressive, which occasionally forces him to lose control of the ball or take bad shots.

    Overall, however, he has been a pleasant surprise. Bledsoe may be the next future All-Star point guard for a franchise with a long, rich history of legends manning the point. 

    Grade: A- 

Goran Dragic

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    Goran Dragic has become the Phoenix Suns' next great guard. Fans have not been this excited to rally behind a player since Steve Nash a couple of years ago. 

    Although Eric Bledsoe may be the better player in a few years, Dragic is obviously the first option for now. 

    This year, Dragic averaged 20.3 points, 5.9 assists and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 51 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. He was one of the most efficient players in the entire NBA, and many considered him the greatest All-Star snub. 

    Offensively, Dragic has become more versatile than he ever was before. He can attack the basket, hit the mid-range jumper or spot up from behind the three-point line. And that doesn't even include his ability to create for others, usually by utilizing a pick to create an open shot on the perimeter or at the basket.

    On defense, he is a solid on-ball defender who can force turnovers. Bledsoe is the superior defender, but Dragic is no liability. He works hard on both ends of the court. 

    This season, Dragic proved that Bledsoe's arrival will not take away from his overall value. In fact, it only made him better. There were some serious doubts about two point guards starting in the same backcourt, and although it remains to be seen if that strategy can really win championships, Dragic and Bledsoe are great teammates who are perfectly capable of playing together.

    Grade: A

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