After a surprising run that saw the Phoenix Suns fall just short of the playoffs in the 2013-2014 season, Phoenix struggled through a 2014-2015 season marred by chemistry issues and roster turnover that again resulted in their watching the playoffs from home.
Phoenix entered last season with a roster full of point guards and wings. Midseason trades sent out Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and Tyler Ennis, and with Gerald Green and Marcus Thornton entering free agency, the Suns now enter an offseason in which their depth along the perimeter is in question.
By trading away Miles Plumlee, Ennis and an incredibly valuable protected first round pick from the Lakers (likely to convey to the 76ers next year), the Suns sacrificed much of their depth and future flexibility to acquire Brandon Knight. In order to justify his acquisition, Knight must not only re-sign but become an All-Star caliber point guard and a franchise building block for the Suns.
Brandan Wright, acquired in the Thomas trade, has proven to be a highly efficient backup center who played well for the Suns down the stretch. He also is an unrestricted free agent this summer. And while both sides have expressed interest in keeping Wright in Phoenix, Wright will have suitors looking for bigs with his skill set and his departure would create an even bigger hole in Phoenix’s frontcourt.
Knight’s cap hold as a restricted free agent is $8.88 million for the summer and he’s expected to command up to $12 million per year on his next contract. With Danny Granger likely to opt in to his $2.17 million player option, the Suns could have roughly $12 million in cap space to add pieces in free agency, assuming they renounce their rights to Thornton, Wright and Green. That number would go down to about $9 million if Knight signed a new deal right away starting at $12 million a year.
Source: Basketball Insiders
One scenario that the Suns couldn’t have envisioned which casts some doubt on their 2015-2016 outlook is the uncertainty surrounding the Morris Twins and their criminal investigation. Depending on the outcome of the case and whether the NBA seeks to levy its own internal punishment, the Morris’s availability could further contribute to the holes in the Suns’ frontcourt rotation.
One key component of that Suns’ 2013-2014 success, in addition to the All-NBA play from Dragic, was the spacing provided by Channing Frye and his shooting ability from the center position. Frye’s ability to either pick-and-pop or spot up at the three-point arc around other pick-and-rolls forced opposing big men away from the rim and allowed Dragic and Bledsoe to get into the paint and create havoc on offense. With Frye in Orlando, Phoenix’s offense fell from a top 10 offense in 2013-2014 to a league average offense this past season.
For an organization as analytically-minded as the Suns, the team also shot a surprisingly low amount of free throws compared to their overall field goal attempts; their free throw rate of .251 ranked just 25th in the league. This was one of the biggest byproducts of the midseason trades of both Dragic and Thomas; outside of Bledsoe, the Suns simply don’t have players capable of drawing fouls by dribble penetration. Knight, as good as he is, has never been one to draw free throws at a high rate. Phoenix also struggled on the glass, finishing in the bottom half of the league in both offensive and defensive rebounding rates.
Sitting at the 13th pick, the Suns, given their lack of depth up and down the roster, are in the fortunate position of being able to target the best available player, regardless of position. Many mock drafts project the Suns to address their needs on the perimeter, with common selections including Kelly Oubre, Devin Booker and even Cameron Payne. A more pressing need for the Suns, however, given the flashes shown by recent first-round picks Archie Goodwin and T.J. Warren on the wing, may be depth along the front line.
Markieff Morris is a core piece of the franchise, even after a down year on offense. Alex Len has shown flashes, though he’s still raw on the offensive end. And should the Suns re-sign Wright, they’ll retain a high efficiency big who excels in the pick-and-roll. What the Suns continue to lack, however, is a floor-spacing big capable of filling the role vacated by Frye.
Fortunately for the Suns, two players projected to be selected near the 13th pick fit the floor-spacing big role: Frank Kaminsky and Myles Turner. Both would provide the Suns lineup versatility by being able to stretch the defense offensively while also having the size to play down low on defense.
Phoenix would be a particularly good fit for Turner, profiled recently by Michael Wonsover, whose movement issues have been well-documented and who would stand to gain much from the excellent Phoenix training staff. At nearly 7’ and 240 pounds with a 7’4 wingspan, Turner has prototypical size for an NBA center. His 9’4 standing reach is also the 10th highest amongst center prospects at the NBA Draft Combine since 2009. Turner uses this length to be a disruptive force on defense, where he averaged 4.7 blocks/40 minutes and could be a real difference-maker in the NBA.
On offense, Turner doesn’t have a very refined all-around game, relying primarily on spot-up jumpers and not creating much for others. It also seems odd to refer to a 27 percent three-point shooter as a legitimate stretch 5 prospect, but Turner’s shooting stroke and 84 percent free throw percentage on nearly six attempts/40 minutes show a shooting touch that’s likely to translate to the NBA level.
Kaminsky, the 2015 Naismith Player of the Year, has a much more versatile skill set than that of Turner. Renowned for his shooting ability, Kaminsky, as noted earlier by Luke Winn, may be underrated as a prospect as his playmaking ability and incredible post-up efficiency often fail to get mentioned. Like Anthony Davis before him, Kaminsky spent much of his life as a guard before a late growth spurt pushed him to the frontcourt. This guard-like ball handling is what allows Kaminsky to attack closeouts and make plays off the dribble, for himself or his teammates.
Kaminsky’s issues at the pro level will likely come on the defensive end, where he may not have the footspeed to chase power forwards around the perimeter or the length to work as a rim protector underneath in certain matchups. Kaminsky did, however, excel on the defensive glass.
Both Myles Turner and Frank Kaminsky profile as the type of pick-and-pop, floor-spacing big men that Phoenix needs to open up the offense for Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. Turner is a raw prospect, but his upside may be higher than just about anyone’s in the draft. Kaminsky provides a more diverse skill set, and a more limited upside on defense, but his playmaking ability and offensive versatility would be a welcome addition to the Phoenix roster. If either player is still on the board when the Suns are on the clock, Phoenix would have a difficult time passing convergence of roster need and draft value for a team with a young core looking for elite talent to finally push them back into the playoffs.