NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – Phoenix Suns
David Yapkowitz takes a look at the Phoenix Suns’ summer as Basketball Insiders “Grading The Offseason” series continues.
After taking a brief hiatus last week, this week we return with our “Grading the Offseason” series here at Basketball Insiders.
The summer has flown by and training camp inches closer with each passing day. We’ll soon get to see the actual results of each team’s offseason, but until then, we’ll give our breakdowns of every team’s roster moves and what we believe that entails.
Next up in our series is the Phoenix Suns.
The Phoenix Suns finished last season as one of the worst teams in the NBA. They appeared to be in line for a pretty good draft pick, but as fate would have it, they ended up dropping a few spots later in the lottery.
Despite the Suns’ futility, there were some bright spots believe it or not. Deandre Ayton quietly put together one of the best rookie seasons in the past couple of years. He averaged a double-double with 16.3 points per game and 10.3 rebounds while shooting 58.5 percent from the field. He may not have received the same media attention as a few other rookies did, but he looked worthy of being the No. 1 overall pick and future franchise building block.
The Suns also saw improvement from their star guard, Devin Booker. Booker has gotten better every year he’s been in the league, and this past season was no different. He put up 26.6 points per game, dished out 6.8 assists, and shot 46.7 percent from the field, all career-bests to this point. He and Ayton looked like they have all the makings of being one of the next star wing/big man combos in the league.
They also got a career-year from Kelly Oubre Jr. who was acquired from the Washington Wizards this past December. He put up 16.9 points per game, 4.9 rebounds and shot 45.3 percent from the field. After the All-Star break, he led the NBA in steals at 2.1. He emerged as a legit wing player who plays both ends of the court, and a key piece of the Suns future.
Since Ayton didn’t receive much attention as the No. 1 pick, neither did the Suns’ other lottery pick, Mikal Bridges. Bridges also had himself a relatively quiet, but solid rookie year. He started 56 games for the Suns while also playing in all 82. He showed an ability to score, but where he was really impressive was on the defensive end. He ended up being one the best defenders in last year’s rookie class.
The Suns wasted no time after the season ended with getting their offseason underway. Almost immediately following the regular season ended, Phoenix fired Igor Kokoskov after only one season as head coach. Kokoskov was initially hired by former general manager Ryan McDonough who was let go before the season began.
They eventually hired Monty Williams as his replacement. Williams has been a highly regarded assistant, and had a tenure as the head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans before, helping them reach the playoffs. It will, however, be the fifth different head coach for the Suns in the past five years.
Perhaps the biggest need for the Suns heading into the offseason was at point guard. They seem to have addressed that issue for the time being with the signing of Ricky Rubio. Rubio has long been one of the better playmakers in the league, and he’ll help take some of the ball-handling pressure off Booker. The Suns have lacked a true point guard for a while and now they finally have a guy who can get everyone the ball.
They also made some additional free agent moves that may not look like much initially but could end up being decent additions. At some point, you can’t just keep on adding more and more youth to a team. You have to have a good mix of youth and veteran players, and the Suns added one in Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky has been one of the better three-point shooting big men in the NBA and could provide a nice compliment to Ayton at times in the frontcourt.
Another free-agent addition they made was bringing in Cheick Diallo who can also bolster their frontcourt depth. Diallo is still relatively young, and he did show flashes of being a capable rotation player in the league during his time with the Pelicans. Richaun Holmes was a solid backup last season, but he has since signed with the Sacramento Kings. Diallo could potentially fill that role.
They also agreed to terms with undrafted free agent Jalen Lecque. Lecque was originally committed to NC State, but later withdrew his commitment and opted to test the NBA draft waters as opposed to playing college basketball. He’s a very raw, but very intriguing prospect.
He’ll see most of his minutes in the G League, but he has the potential (the dreaded “P” word) to be a really good NBA player. Summer League isn’t always indicative of NBA success, but he really shined for the Suns, especially defensively.
The Suns also made a bit of a splash when it came to the draft. Whether or not that was good thing remains to be seen, but they ended up trading down in the draft while acquiring Dario Saric from the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Saric was actually a solid pickup. He should begin the season as the starter at power forward alongside Ayton. With Ayton being more of a traditional type center who can play in the post, Saric is a floor spacer who has range out to the three-point line. He’s still a young, developing player too.
With the pick they traded down for with Minnesota, the Suns selected Cameron Johnson from North Carolina. The Johnson pick was a bit of a head-scratcher to some. Due to injuries and transferring from Pittsburg, he was a bit of a late bloomer who ended up having his best season as a senior at UNC.
Johnson was a very good shooter, however, and that should translate immediately to the NBA. Johnson struggled at times in college as a defender, but he does have the potential to clean up some of that and mold himself into a capable defender at the NBA level.
Phoenix was also able to add some more frontcourt depth, as well as guard play, on draft night in a trade with the Boston Celtics. The Suns sent out a first-round pick to Boston in exchange for Aron Baynes and a pick that became Ty Jerome.
Baynes is a rugged defender and rebounder and will likely be the first big off the bench for the Suns. Jerome isn’t likely to see much playing time right away, but he is an intriguing prospect who has good playmaking skills and can shoot the ball. Some seasoning in the G League would do well for him as a rookie.
The Suns last major offseason move was trading Josh Jackson and De’Anthony Melton to the Memphis Grizzlies for Jevon Carter and Kyle Korver. Jackson, a former lottery pick, hasn’t shown the type of development you’d expect from a former No. 4 overall pick.
Melton was a bright spot for the Suns, but they have other players likely ahead of him in the depth chart. Carter provides the Suns with immediate help at point guard. He’s a tremendous ball-hawk defensively and should see minutes right away in the rotation. The Suns ended up waiving Korver.
Phoenix filled one of their two-way contracts with Jared Harper from Auburn. Harper is a slashing playmaker who had a good summer league.
PLAYERS IN: Ricky Rubio, Dario Saric, Frank Kaminsky, Cheick Diallo, Aron Baynes, Cameron Johnson, Jalen Lecque, Ty Jerome, Jevon Carter, Jared Harper
PLAYERS OUT: Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton, Dragan Bender, T.J. Warren, Jamal Crawford, Troy Daniels, Richaun Holmes, Jimmer Fredette
The Suns didn’t have too bad an offseason. Sure the lottery didn’t yield the high draft pick they were expecting, but they managed to make something out of it. Some pundits might have questioned the Johnson pick, but he looks like he can contribute now, at least when it comes to shooting the basketball. The trade also yielded a young, starting-caliber forward in Saric.
Their point guard woes should also be settled, at least for now. Development is the name of the game for Phoenix this season. There are some nice potential building blocks on the team and it’ll be Monty Williams’ job to get them all to buy in and unleash that potential.
Phoenix has been in the lottery for some time, it’s now time to show the fruits of that labor.
The Western Conference is going to be tough, but all the Suns should expect is to be competitive while continuing to develop the young talent on the roster.
OFFSEASON GRADE: C+
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