The Phoenix Suns were one of the NBA’s best stories last season. The team went from perennial cellar-dweller to playoff contender in one season.
Before the 2013-14 season, the Suns traded big man Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards for a package of players and picks. The move was supposed to signify the team’s desire to acquire assets and build around Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic.
Although, when the team showed they were a legitimate threat in the Western Conference everything changed. Led by coach Jeff Hornacek, the Suns were able to compete in the highly-contested Western Conference, which he did with a fairly inexperienced roster.
The team’s best overall player, Dragic had a career year for Phoenix last year, as he averaged a personal best 20.3 points during the 2013-14 season, and established himself as one of the NBA’s elite players at driving to the basket, and teaming with Bledsoe.
The two became known as the NBA’s slash brothers. Both had an innate ability to get the ball to the basket, and were one of the most-feared backcourt in the NBA.
However, Bledsoe ended up going down with an injury that kept him out for a good part of the NBA season. The Suns would certainly miss Bledsoe’s 17.7 points a game. The team rallied and saw solid contributions from Gerald Green.
They were able to keep up their stellar play through the last days of the season, causing the team’s frontcourt to step up their game as well, becoming a huge factor in their success.
Regardless of the team drafting Alex Len at the 2013 NBA draft, they didn’t have many impactful pieces at their frontcourt positions. The team used former Duke center Miles Plumlee, three-point specialist Channing Frye, and the Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus as their primary big man tandem, as it paid off much.
Plumlee had a career year averaging 7.8 rebounds, which included a month of December which saw him average 9.9 boards a game. Markeiff Morris saw his production increase as he averaged 14 points and 6 rebounds a game.
In addition, Frye not only averaged 5.3 three-pointers a game, but he was able to effectively create floor spacing, which in turn set-up opportunities for his teammates to run their offense.
Despite their remarkable season last year, Phoenix went through some changes this off-season. The team knew they would have to make moves to keep their core intact. Even with Bledsoe’s injury plagued season, he was set to become a restricted free agent.
He was expecting to receive a maximum contract and Phoenix was unwilling to pay. To make matters worse, the team also lost starting power forward, and floor-spacing extraordinaire, Channing Frye to free agency.
With the loss of Frye and the Bledsoe situation looming high over their heads, Phoenix needed to act quick. Their first move was to shore up their backcourt to give them options in the event Bledsoe didn’t return.
Phoenix was also able to add to their backcourt by signing, Isaiah Thomas to a four-year deal. The team also drafted guard Tyler Ennis with the 18th pick this season.
Thomas had a career year with the Sacramento Kings last season, as he averaged 20.3 points with 6.3 assists.
Rookie, Tyler Ennis will likely spend most of his year on the bench, but might also see some time in the developmental league, his future seems to be very promising.
With the team at a premium for guards, they could focus their attention in the frontcourt, and put the Bledsoe negotiations on the back-burner.
With the loss of Channing Frye the team had holes to fill, surprisingly, they opted to stay with their current roster. While the combination of Plumlee, Markeiff and Marcus Morris, and Len could work, it will certainly have its growing pains.
The team has already seen Plumlee, and Markeiff Morris play significant minutes for the team, and they will be relied on heavily this upcoming season. The team will look to underachieving Marcus Morris and second-year big Alex Len to fill the void left by Frye.
Marcus has all the tools as he proved when given time he can be an effective NBA player. During the April 16th finale against Sacramento, Marcus was recorded a line of 22 points and 6 rebounds in 31 minutes.
So, we can clearly see he has the talent, teaming with brother, Markeiff he will be very comfortable in his new expanded role.
Len on the other hand is still a mystery. The 5th overall pick in the 2013 draft, Len wasn’t able to see the court much during his rookie year due to injury. When he returned he wasn’t very effective as he only averaged 2 points and 2 rebounds a game. Despite his low numbers, Len was only playing 8.6 minutes a game, a number that will definitely increase this season.
A break-out year by Len might not be that farfetched.
Even if Phoenix receives huge season’s from Len and Marcus Morris they are still the same team that missed the playoffs’ last year. The only addition being Thomas, whom was expected to fill Bledsoe’s role, but the team would soon receive some much-needed news.
On September 24th, a date way later than many first expected, Eric Bledsoe signed a five-year deal with the team.
The team’s fortunes changed drastically, as they now have three dynamic guards on their roster (Dragic, Bledsoe, Thomas). The move will enable the team to use the trio in many offensive sets, including a possible combination of using all three at the three backcourt positions. (It hasn’t been confirmed but knowing
Hornacek’s ability to be creative, it certainly is possible.)
The starting lineup on opening night will likely look as follows.
PG: Goran Dragic/ Eric Bledsoe
SG: Eric Bledsoe/ Goran Dragic
SF: P.J. Tucker
PF: Markeiff Morris
C: Miles Plumlee
The team boasts a very strong starting lineup, which includes a great defender in Tucker, and two dynamic guards with the aforementioned Dragic and Bledsoe. The pairing of Morris and Plumlee gives the team a very effective defensive presence, but can also benefit from Morris’s ability to shoot outside of the paint as well.
With the first unit firmly established, we now look at the team’s bench and their roles on the team.
6th Man: Isaiah Thomas
G: Tyler Ennis
G/F: Gerald Green/Zoran Dragic
F: T.J. Warren
PF: Marcus Morris/ Anthony Tolliver
C: Alex Len
The addition of Thomas does add a huge spark to the team and he will likely be used as both the point guard and shooting guard, and could possible see a Jamal Crawford type of role on the Suns.
Gerald Green proved last year he could play significant minutes, but P.J. Tucker’s defense gives him the nod over Green. Expect Green to average around 22-26 minutes per game, and possibly put up decent numbers. Warren and Ennis are both rookies and are not guaranteed time of the bench.
Morris and Len’s impact have already been examined, but the team might be wise to give Anthony Tolliver some run. He averaged a career high 1.6 three-pointers a game last season, and might be able to fill the void left by Frye if Morris falters.
I have left one name out of the bench preview, and that is Zoran Dragic. Dragic, who is indeed Goran’s younger brother, is coming over from a successful career in the European basketball leagues.
He averaged 11 points and 3 rebounds for his club team, Unicaja. He is praised for his high motor and relentless attack on defense.
Phoenix has almost all of their talent returning from the previous seasons team and will look to build on a promising 2013-14 campaign, but it certainly shouldn’t surprise anyone if they do.
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