30 Teams in 30 Days: Phoenix Suns

Additions: DeAndre Ayton, Trevor Ariza, Mikal Bridges, Ryan Anderson, Elie Okobo, Richaun Holmes, De’Anthony Melton

Subtractions: Marquesse Chriss, Alex Len, Tyler Ulis, Brandon Knight

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Isaiah Canaan/De’Anthony Melton/Elie Okobo (Steve Nash if he wants to come out of retirement)
SG: Devin Booker
SF: Josh Jackson
PF: Trevor Ariza
C: DeAndre Ayton

Key Bench Players: TJ Warren, Dragan Bender, Mikal Bridges, Troy Daniels, Tyson Chandler

 

The only locks in this starting lineup are Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton at shooting guard and center, respectively. First year head coach, Igor Kokoskov, could even experiment with Devin Booker at point guard, as no point guard on the current roster is a starting caliber player. Kokoskov could opt for rookie Mikal Bridges or veteran TJ Warren on the wings or choose Ryan Anderson as the starting power forward. Phoenix has a solid young core in Booker, Ayton, and second-year wing Josh Jackson plus a role player in Mikal Bridges. If Dragan Bender starts to live up to his 4th overall draft status, the Suns could be well-stocked for their future.

 

Star shooting guard, Devin Booker is entering his fourth season in the NBA and is still yet to reach his 22nd birthday. Coming off a season in which he averaged 24.9 points on 43.2/38.3/87.8 shooting, Booker will continue to operate as the Suns’ number one option on a team that lacks shot creators. He is turning into one of the greatest young scorers in the NBA today, as well as one of the top shooting guards in the league. The only thing holding Booker from becoming a top-five 2-guard is his subpar defense. He is currently behind players like James Harden, Victor Oladipo, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Demar DeRozan, and maybe even Donovan Mitchell and Bradley Beal. It’s hard because all of those players play on teams with much better talent, but all of them, outside of Harden and DeRozan, are above-average defenders. Booker will once again lead Phoenix in scoring and will contend as a top-10 scorer in the NBA once again (was 10th last season), but his efforts will be in vain, as the Suns have close to a zero percent chance at making the playoffs.

 

For the first time in his career, Devin Booker has a player capable of being his sidekick. That is number one overall pick, Deandre Ayton out of Arizona. At 7’1, 250 lbs with a 7’6 wingspan, Ayton is a monster of man, even at NBA standards. In his lone year in the Pac-12, the Bahamas native averaged 20.1 points on 61.2/34.3/73.3 shooting along with 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. Add in the fact that he often played out of position as a power forward to accommodate center Dusan Ristic and his numbers look even stronger. As a center, Ayton can score from all three levels on the low block, from midrange, and from deep. College basketball analysts and experts pointed at Ayton’s defensive deficiencies during the predraft process. But once again, he played out of position while guarding smaller power forwards. In the NBA as a full-time center, his physical tools and strength will allow him to be at the very least an average defensive center. With his tools and skills, it is very realistic to see him join Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, and DeMarcus Cousins as the best centers in the NBA very soon. He is on the short list of players competing for Rookie of the Year.

 

The Suns’ point guard situation is a real problem. Only three years ago, they had all three of Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, and Eric Bledsoe on their roster. Now they are left with rookies Elie Okobo and De’Anthony Melton, and the undersized and inefficient (and former Process 76er) Isaiah Canaan. Throughout the Jimmy Butler situation, Phoenix wanted to work out a three-way deal that would land them a starting point guard, but recent talks with the Miami Heat have stagnated. Okobo and Melton both have a lot of upside at 20 years old, as they are both bigger guards with strong physical tools. The France native Okobo was taken with the 31st overall pick in the 2018 Draft after enjoying a breakout season with Pau-Orthez in the top division of France last year, averaging 13 points and 5 assists while shooting 39.4% from three and playing tough defense. Melton, on the other hand, was deemed ineligible to play his sophomore season at USC last year while being investigated by the NCAA for receiving illegal benefits from financial advisers before being drafted by the Houston Rockets with the 46th pick in the draft. He was later acquired in the deal that brought Ryan Anderson to Phoenix. Melton is a defense-first guard who is a capable playmaker, but lacks a consistent perimeter shot. Like I said, both of them have potential but neither of them are starting point guards as they stand right now.

 

Without a legitimate starting point guard, it is difficult for a team to be competitive, especially in the Western Conference with players like Steph Curry, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook running the show. The Suns had a great offseason, adding Ayton, Mikal Bridges, and Elie Okobo through the draft, trading for Ryan Anderson, Melton, and Richaun Holmes, and signing Trevor Ariza. With Josh Jackson and Dragan Bender presumably improving over the offseason, this is a much better Suns team then we have grown used to since Steve Nash’s exit from Phoenix. While improved, this is still a roster that cannot contend for the postseason. With former GM Ryan McDonough now out of the picture with three-time NBA champion James Jones now serving as interim GM, this will be a season for the front office to fully assess what they have on the roster and how to continue rebuilding for the future. Who knows? Maybe LeBron James will want to join his buddy Jones for another Finals run.

 

Picture Courtesy of NBA Quick Report

*For yesterday’s article on the Philadelphia 76ers, click here

Up next tomorrow: Portland Trailblazers

 

Mike Johnston

Glenside, PA

University of South Carolina ’21

Twitter: @mjohnston0880

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