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Time To Tank For The Phoenix Suns, But That’s Okay

Bledsoe pulls up for a jumper over Jrue Holiday . Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns have lost 13 games in a row and fired their head coach, Jeff Hornacek. This upstart team now must look to the draft for answers.

The Phoenix Suns, last relevant as the feel-good, 48-win story of 2013-14, are all but a distant memory at this point. The Suns sit at 15-44, in the midst of a 13-game losing streak. The Suns fired its head coach and almost all of the coaching staff before that, leaving a makeshift brain trust behind the bench.  

No one needs to be reminded that the Suns shipped out two recent former first round picks, Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee, to Milwaukee. The team also traded the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2016 top-three protected first round pick (initially intended as a 2015 first round pick) to acquire Brandon Knight from Milwaukee at the trade deadline last year. 

This move looks exceedingly bad, and as the Suns look to the future, the team must emphasize the growth and development of Eric BledsoeDevin Booker, TJ Warren, and the team’s high 2016 lottery pick. The Suns also own Cleveland’s first round pick this year, but that should come at the very end of the first round, which is rarely fertile territory, but also nothing to be squandered. The world does not need reminding that Draymond Green, an All-Star starter this year, was a second round pick.

Jennifer Stewart/USA TODAY Sports

The Suns do have some promising youngsters. Booker has the look of a top future player, with executives around the league comparing him with increasing frequency to Klay Thompson at the same age. Coincidentally, he competed against the newly-crowned three-point champion in the contest at this year’s Toronto All-Star Game in Toronto. 

This comparison holds up nicely from a statistical basis as well: Klay averaged 12.5 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 0.7 steals on an effective field goal percentage of 52% (and 41.4% from downtown) in 24.4 minutes a game. Similarly, Booker is averaging 10.7 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 0.5 steals on an effective field goal percentage of 49.2% (and 38.3% from downtown) in 24.1 minutes a game. While Booker loses out just barely in just about every category, the ‘genetic makeup’ of similar players is obvious in this comparison.

If Booker can develop into a “poor man’s” Klay Thompson, then the Suns will have done quite nicely for themselves at the back end of the 2015 lottery. TJ Warren was also making strides in his second season, but will now miss the rest of it with a broken foot, as if the Suns needed any more bad news. And in an unrelated case of bad judgement, management curiously decided to stunt Alex Len’s development — who looks like he can become quite a capable big — by signing Tyson Chandler in an ill-advised, semi-deluded pursuit of LaMarcus Aldridge.

There are a series of moves that would appear to be no-brainers for the Suns moving forward after they internally accept the idea of hitting the re-set button once again. The Suns have tried to before, but stumbled into a happy surprise with Isaiah Thomas and Goran Dragic before moving both without any clear alternative besides Bledsoe. 

Since Bledsoe is certainly the stronger backcourt member, and Booker looks to be his long-term complement at shooting guard, it would appear as though Knight is the odd man out. Indeed, the numbers back up this claim as well. 

Bledsoe is averaging 20.4 points, 4 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 2 steals with an effective field goal percentage of 50.2% (37.2% from three-point range) in 34.2 minutes. He is performing admirably under a very high work load. Knight, on the other hand, is averaging 19.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 1.3 steals with an effective field goal percentage of 48.4% (33.3% from three-point range) in 36.3 minutes. In other words, under a similar minutes burden, Knight is doing less to prop up the rest of the offense (as noted in lower assist totals), scoring about equally to Bledsoe but on a much lower efficiency, and not holding up on the defensive end nearly as well as his backcourt mate. 

Despite being a fairly new experiment, the recently re-signed Knight should be traded, provided that the Suns can get good value in return on a dismal front office decision. Were the Suns to receive a godfather offer of sorts for Bledsoe, and really trust Knight, the team could potentially keep the other backcourt member. They are both young and locked up long-term, and both could potentially fit alongside Booker in the future.

Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

It would be beneficial also to use Chandler’s signing as an asset the team can get some return on, even at ten cents on the dollar. Despite the length of the 33 year old’s contract (three more seasons), if the Suns could have acquired a mid-late first round pick for him in a trade to a contender at the deadline, they should have.

The Suns should continue to look at such a move again in the future, especially as he continues to age and depreciate in value. The move would also serve to open up minutes and valuable experience for Alex Len, who the Suns should not be giving up on so soon.Tanking is the only realistic option if the franchise hopes to improve, along with focusing on young, homegrown talent and shrewdly acquired assets as they move into the future. 

The final step of this plan probably involves taking a hard look at Ryan McDonough and the rest of the front office, and hiring Steve Nash as the head coach. Other best possible choices could include Tom Thibodeau and Jeff Van Gundy, although both are linked to almost every attractive head coaching vacancy these days.

The good news is that Phoenix has a compelling blend of young talent and strong assets. The Suns’ war chest would certainly be stronger with the juicy Lakers’ pick this year, even if the Suns had already given up on Ennis and Plumlee (picks 18 in 2014 and 26 in 2012, respectively), but what’s done is done. And who knows? Maybe Brandon Knight will shock the world and become a pass-first point guard that develops into the next generation’s Chris Paul, however unlikely an outcome that is. 

Edited by Joe Sparacio, William Ledy, Ben Moore, Jacob Greenberg.

SQuiz
Who is the Suns leading scorer in points per game this season?
Created 2/28/16
  1. Brandon Knight
  2. Eric Bledsoe
  3. Tyson Chandler
  4. Devin Booker

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