Guiding the Phoenix Suns Rebuilding Process

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It’s no secret that the Phoenix Suns have been terrible all season long. Ever since their star point guard Eric Bledsoe went down with a torn meniscu,s the Suns have won only eight out of 41 games. Yikes. It also didn’t help that Bledsoe’s running mate in the backcourt, Brandon Knight, has missed 21 games. Another factor that fans don’t take into consideration is that Phoenix’s third leading scorer, sophomore TJ Warren, is out for the rest of the season with a foot injury that he first felt on Jan. 27 at Cleveland, later revealing it in a game against the Knicks on Jan. 29. But not everything is ruined for the eclipsed Suns, as they still have their loyal fans who are willing to help in guiding the franchise in the right direction. This article will suggest some of the ways the Suns could once again compete in the Pacific division.

Guiding the Phoenix Suns Rebuilding Process

Draft the right players

The upcoming draft will play a huge part in the development of the Suns’ future. If the season ended today and the draft followed the standings, the Suns would have two picks in the lottery (3rd and 13th).

With their first pick, Phoenix should look at swinging for the fences. It’s almost guaranteed that one and two will be Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, so the question remains of who will go third.

Most scouts have Dragan Bender, from Croatia, as the third best prospect in the draft, and you can’t blame them. Bender is a 7’1 player who can play both forward positions and occasionally the center position, he can shoot the ball, and he can handle the rock. Additionally, he can pass well, his post up game is improving drastically, and he is extremely coordinated for his size. All in all, Bender is already a bona fide offensive prodigy. Oh, and did I mention he’s only 18 years old? Some question his athleticism, as he’s not very strong physically, and he’s not too quick. He is the definition of high risk, high reward type of pick.

Another player that caught the eye of many is athletic forward Jaylen Brown out of California. Unlike Bender, Brown is an NBA ready athlete, he’s strong for his age, and he’s extremely quick. He has size, and his offensive game is quickly developing. The biggest question mark for Brown is still his ball handling, as he puts his head down and out-muscles his competition, which he won’t be able to do in the NBA.

Phoenix’s second pick is a little trickier, as the draft is not deep this year, but there are still a couple of intriguing prospects left.

One prospect the Suns need to take a long, hard look at is Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere. Labissiere is a 7’0 center that plays facing the rim, his midrange jumper is already looking good, and he is extremely mobile. He still hasn’t fully developed, but he could be another pupil for the Suns under Tyson Chandler’s wing.

Looking at their potential depth at the four spot with Bender, Jon Leuer, and Mirza Teletovic, the Suns are missing something very important at that spot — rebounding. It’s very hard to find a college kid that can compete with the pros in terms of rebounding, but I think North Carolina’s Brice Johnson is perfect for the job. He’s one of the best rebounders in the ACC, grabbing over 11.7 rpg. He also has a motor that can’t be taught, he’s constantly looking to follow up on his own misses, and his leaping ability is stunning.

 

Admit to your mistake

Notice how “mistake” is a singular word? Well, the Suns made the same mistake multiple times, which is trying to play two point guards together. It started with Bledsoe and Goran Dragic back in 2014, which was one of the Suns’ better seasons in recent memory, as they finished a respectable 48-34. However, they ended up missing the playoffs, finishing in the ninth spot in the very tough western conference. Then things kind of got messy in the off-season, when Bledsoe refused to sign several offers the Suns threw at him. Out of panic that they were going to lose a point guard, the Suns’ front office decided to do a sign and trade for Sacramento’s Isaiah Thomas, but it didn’t end there. After a couple weeks of trying to persuade Bledsoe to re-sign, the Suns finally succeeded when the point guard signed a five-year contract worth $70 million. After that, they were left with a 6’1 defensive guard that can start for any team, a 6’3 crafty scoring guard that can start for any team, and a 5’9 scoring machine at the guard spots that can also start. Uh-oh. The season started smoother than anticipated, but as the deadline neared, the guards started to get antsy; a couple of days later, Goran Dragic demanded to be traded. His wish was approved and he would be on his way to South Beach to play with Dwyane Wade, but he wasn’t the only guard that got kicked out of the desert. Isaiah Thomas was also traded to the Boston Celtics. Now the Suns have only one point guard, right? Wrong. The Suns completed a deal to acquire guard Brandon Knight from the Milwaukee Bucks in a three-team trade also involving the Philadelphia 76ers. At that point, the Suns were back to where they started, with two point guards that both need the ball in their hands.

The Suns need to face reality — that the two point guard lineup won’t work, ever. “Backcourt 2000” didn’t work, and that had a pass first point guard in Jason Kidd and a 6’5 point guard in Penny Hardaway. They need to stop trying the experiment and just sit down, talk to Knight and Bledsoe, and tell them that one of them needs to play off the bench. If the Suns are serious about contending for a playoff spot in the future, they need to accept their failure and learn from it.

 

Keep developing your young guns

Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough’s track record in the lottery has been phenomenal so far in his short tenure as the GM. The first selection he made was back in 2013, when he drafted Alex Len fifth overall. The pick wasn’t the most popular decision he made, because Kentucky star Nerlens Noel, who plays the same position, was still on the board. However, looking at the pick now, and Len’s growth during this nightmarish of a season, it’s not one fans should be too upset about. McDonough’s next selection was in 2014, when he selected a dynamic scorer in T.J. Warren out of N.C. State. The pick wasn’t too exciting, as scouts had Warren somewhere between picks 20 and 30, but  in only his second season in the NBA, he is already averaging 11 points per game. He’s also shooting over 50% from the field and 40% from three, while only playing 22 minutes per game — not bad for someone projected to be picked late in the first round. And of course, McDonough’s latest draft magic came in the summer of 2015, when he drafted 19 year-old sharpshooter Devin Booker from Kentucky. Booker has been tremendous in his first season. As a starter, he’s averaging 16.9 PPG, 3.5 assists per game, and 3.0 rebounds per game while shooting over 85% from the free throw line. He’s had four 30 point games this season alone, more than Kawhi Leonard has in his entire career. In March, the rookie has averaged 22.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG, and 5.0 APG with a true shooting percentage of over 50%. It’s too bad that he won’t win Rookie of the Year, because his overall stats aren’t as great as those in March, since he didn’t get a chance to play at the start of the season.

With these three talented young players, it’s only a matter of time until one of them breaks through his shell.

 

Patience is the Key

The process won’t happen overnight. The Suns need to remain patient with what they have and try to find ways to help the players grow together and develop a chemistry necessary on and off the court. They have already added veterans in Tyson Chandler and Ronnie Price; the impact those two had on the young players has been marvelous. The Suns are headed in the right direction; they just need to keep their eyes on the road.

 

Like the legend of the Phoenix, I’m sure the eclipsed Suns will find a way to rise from the ashes and begin their climb to the top of the NBA mountain. It won’t be long until Suns fans, will once again have the winning team that they’re used to watching. With a healthy season and the luck of the ping-pong balls, we might even see a playoff team  in Phoenix next season.

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