May 14, 2018, 12:34 am
To say the Suns were a bad basketball team would be embellishing their season. If you watched any number of Suns games in 2017-2018 you would catch a glimpse into the agony that the fanbase had to endure for the entire year. They finished dead last in the standings which means they hold the most lottery balls for a top-3 pick, but it’s going to take a lot more than that to turn this franchise around.
The season started off in quite possibly the worst way imaginable, losing to the Blazers on opening day by 48 points, a franchise worst. They lost their third game on October 21st by 42 points, which was the sixth-worst loss in franchise history and led to this iconic tweet from Eric Bledsoe on October 22nd. With the team showing zero effort on both ends of the floor and their best player sending out a distress signal, the Suns fired coach Earl Watson on October 23rd. With Coach Jay Triano stepping in, not much changed.
Bledsoe didn’t play another game for Phoenix after his tweet and was traded to Milwaukee in exchange for Greg Monroe and two draft picks. Monroe played well for the first six games, but Coach Triano had a carousel rotation where he would bench one of the three big men. There wasn’t much joy in watching the Suns this year as it was filled with lopsided losses, but two bright spots would be Devin Booker’s development and Josh Jackson’s ability to play alongside him.
On the day of the NBA trade deadline, the Suns traded a 2018 2nd rounder for Elfrid Payton who was in his last year of his contract. It was an interesting move to use a draft pick on a guy who would only play 19 games for the team, especially when you consider how coveted picks are these days. However, the Suns found that Payton and Booker were quite compatible during their short stint together. Although he is set to be a free agent this summer, point guard is the deepest position in the league which means Phoenix shouldn’t have to shell out too much to re-sign him if they choose to do so – also they still have Brandon Knight who is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in 2017.
At the end of the year, Phoenix finished with the worst offensive and defensive rating in the league. It was one of the most turbulent seasons in recent memory, but there is some hope heading into the 2018-2019 season. They’ll have the best crack at a top pick in the next draft and a new coach with 18 years of experience. Brandon Knight should make his return, they have T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson locked in for the next four years and a potential star in Devin Booker. Booker can sign a maximum extension this summer, but the Suns have missed the playoffs for eight straight seasons and that’s something that he’ll have to consider before signing away the next chunk of his career.
If you were unlucky enough to own any Suns players outside of Booker and Warren you would be familiar with the infuriating rotations in place. Alex Len, Tyson Chandler and Greg Monroe were the unlucky players rotating DNP-CDs. It was a bizarre situation which made no sense considering they had nothing to gain by playing Chandler.
There was also an inexplicable phase of the Suns playing Mike James over Tyler Ulis. To make things even more bizarre, the Suns made NBA history by signing James as the first two-way player to a full contract. Fast forward two weeks and they waived him from the roster. Now Ulis isn’t going to be the next big thing, but the Suns couldn’t even tank correctly. Any lineup combination that Coach Triano threw out was going to be bad, but he decided to give everyone a headache by constantly tinkering and playing veterans who have no future with the team over their younger players who could have showed the team that they had some long term value.
To his credit, Triano was working with one of the least talented rosters in the league, but when he let loose a bit at the end of the season we saw some bright flashes from their younger bigs. Given what he had to work with, the end result was expected from any coach in this position, but it’s the process of how things are getting done that matter more than the results when you’re a young team on the losing end of things.
Bring in coach Igor Kokoškov. Kokoškov has had 18 years of experience in the NBA, even spending 2008-2013 as an assistant to the Suns. Prior to being named head coach of the Suns, Kokoškov was praised by Jazz coach Quin Snyder in the development of their overachieving young core. Kokoškov was also the head coach of the Slovenian national team which won gold at EuroBasket 2017 – a team which had lottery pick Luka Dončić. Kokoškov’s relationship with Dončić could prove to be useful if the team has the opportunity to draft him.
The key for next season is to see how Kokoškov develops a promising young core of athletic wings. Booker’s shot selection has no limits which is a nasty habit developed on losing teams with no direction so it’ll be interesting to see if Kokoškov will try to reel him in a bit. Kokoškov will also deal with maximizing Josh Jackson’s borderline reckless playstyle. Coaching is a key component to taking the next step with a young roster and the Suns are desperate for Kokoškov to pan out as the last competent coach they’ve had was Alvin Gentry in 2013. His resume stacks up well, but now is the time for results.
ADP: 41 / 46 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 67/108 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 27/49 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 54
2017-2018: 34.5 MPG, 24.9 PTS, 2.7 3PM 4.5 REB, 4.7 AST, 0.9 STL 0.3 BLK, .432 FG%, .878 FT%
On a per-game basis, Devin Booker fared well in both 8- and 9-cat leagues compared to his ADP, but injuries and the tank derailed what would be considered a solid year from Booker. Missing 28 games sunk his overall value and he sat the last 11 games which could have spurned many owners in playoff formats. Booker hurt his left adductor in December which caused him to miss over two weeks. Later in the season he would suffer a right hand contusion which would shelve him for the final 11 games of the year. A contusion is a minor injury so if the Suns really needed Booker, he most likely would have been able to play.
Booker started the season off strong, hitting 45.3 percent of his shots from the floor in the first 25 games of the season before hurting his left adductor. This would regress by the end of the year, which was predictable considering his aptitude for taking poor shots. The real strides for Booker were in his playmaking abilities.
His AST% jumped from 16.3 to 24.4 with only a 1.0% increase in TOV%. The raw numbers went from 3.4 to 4.7 assists and the Suns have expressed a desire in having a playmaking point guard alongside Booker which may cap him out a bit, but he displayed a capability to run the point this season which may lead to more playmaking opportunities next year. This growth is notable because his defensive numbers haven’t increased at all and the advanced metrics dating back to college show that he’s on par with his projections on defense. Booker isn’t the most active participant on the defensive end and his 6’8″ wingspan is neither impressive nor underwhelming.
The first 25 games of the season, Booker was in the top-25 on a per-game basis because of his shooting and that will be the area that has the most room for growth in the upcoming season. We were bearish on him this season because of his poor efficiency, but with a new coach and potential additions to the roster, Booker may be able to break through his current ceiling with some tweaks to his shot selection. He’s shown the ability to shoot well for stretches and is still only 21 years old so there’s a real chance he could make another major leap next year.
ADP: 113 / 126 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 104/87 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 82/71 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 65
2017-2018: 33.0 MPG, 19.6 PTS, 0.3 3PM, 5.1 REB, 1.3 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.6 BLK, .499 FG%, .757 FT%
T.J. Warren was one of the most consistent players for Phoenix and is part of their young core as they signed him to a four-year, $50 million contract before the season began. He’s only 24 years old and bumped up his scoring average from 14.4 points to 19.6 while increasing his efficiency. Warren had a successful year, but his season was cut short with a sprained knee suffered on March 18th. He would miss the remainder of the season as the Suns were fine with rolling out their younger players while jockeying for a chance to get the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Warren plays with a high motor and is engaged on both ends of the floor and was one of the two players on the Suns you could trust on a nightly basis in fantasy hoops. He was drafted in the late-mid rounds in most leagues and his game isn’t versatile enough to warrant a pick higher than that. Outside of his high scoring and high efficiency, Warren doesn’t gather enough peripheral stats to boost him above anything other than a top-80 play.
He was assisted on all of his 3-pointers made this season and takes the majority (56%) of his shots within 10 feet of the basket. It works out though, as Warren is a strong finisher and makes solid cuts to the rim to get himself into that position to score. There is a lack of on-ball creation with him though which means his best bet for improvement is to add the 3-point shot to his arsenal as he only shot 22.2 percent from deep on 1.4 attempts per game.
ADP: 57 / 68 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 108/153 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 83/129 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 63
2017-2018: 28.7 MPG, 12.6 PTS, 0.4 3PM, 4.3 REB, 6.2 AST, 1.3 STL, 0.3 BLK, 0.493 FG%, 0.648 FT%
Elfrid Payton is a player who always flashes big fantasy potential, but has yet to deliver a full season’s worth of numbers that warrant his inflated ADP. His field goal percentage is top-tier for a point guard while he maintains solid assist and steal averages, but the lack of free throw and outside shooting always dampen his overall value.
He shot 43.0 percent on corner 3s with Orlando this season, but after being traded to Phoenix he was unable to connect on any of his attempts from that spot. It was only a 19-game sample and there was a chunk of games that he played without Devin Booker which meant that he was the only playmaker for the team, so it makes sense to see his catch and shoot numbers fall, but even on the Magic Payton was unable to display long term potential which led to him being traded.
We’ve seen the triple-doubles and the dynamic ability of Payton on offense. He’s a capable defender when engaged, but consistency is what separates goodness from greatness. On March 28th, Payton suffered left knee tendinopathy which caused him to miss the remainder of the season. He tried testing it a couple times in warmups, but the Suns were actively tanking and it didn’t make sense for Payton to rush himself back. The injury shouldn’t have any lingering effects on the upcoming season, but it’s something to keep an eye on. It may be a bit unfair to ask Payton to consistently perform when throughout his career he’s faced constant turnover regarding coaching, teammates and his role. He’s 23 years old so it’s a bit too early to give up on him now, but his next destination will be a make or break situation for the young guard looking to get himself back on track.
ADP: 111 / 121 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 190/244 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 238/305 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 77
2017-2018: 25.4 MPG, 13.1 PTS, 0.7 3PM, 4.5 REB, 1.5 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.4 BLK, 0.417 FG%, 0.634 FT%
Josh Jackson started the first three games for the Suns and we immediately saw all of the flaws that experts pointed out on draft day. He was able to knock down five triples and gather five steals during that stretch which highlighted his multifaceted game, but the shot selection was putrid as he went 11-for-30 from the field and 8-for-17 at the line in his first three games as a pro. The Kansas product was touted as an athletic wing that had strong instincts on defense and his steal and block rates have translated well to the NBA. He finished the season with eight consecutive games with at least two steals or more which showcased his disruptiveness on that side of the floor. Jackson averaged 1.6 steals and 0.5 blocks after the All-Star break and delivered some big lines for fantasy owners.
Some highlights (points-rebounds-assists-3s-steals-blocks) were:
- 36-6-4-2-2-1 60.9% FG
- 29-7-4-1-2-2 56.3% FG
- 20-7-5-0-1-4 52.6% FG
We were also treated to some horrid shooting splits when Jackson just thoughtlessly fires away. Jackson went 0-for-13, 0-for-7, 3-for-12 and 1-for-8 in just a handful of games, but there were many more like that.
You can see the potential in fantasy and reality by watching a couple games of Jackson’s games from March when he was much more comfortable running on both ends on the floor. He was also more selective with his shots, hitting 45.5 percent of his shots from February until the end of May. Although he was smarter about which shots he took, Jackson isn’t a threat from deep and his free throw shooting is something he struggled with all season.
We knew about the strengths and weaknesses of Jackson heading into this season, but what he showed in the last two months should have fans seeing the glass as half full as he doesn’t lack confidence and had a relatively healthy season. We’re not expecting him to make huge strides in his shooting for next season as most players take a couple seasons before they can smooth out all of their rough edges, so next season we’re going to see if he can continue to take smart shots.
If Jackson can play more under control on offense and keep up his shooting splits from the back half of the year, we’re looking at a top-120 player with major upside if he ever bumps up the free throw shooting.
ADP: 82 / 110 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 187/206 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 220/243 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 72
2017-2018: 21.2 MPG, 7.7 PTS, 0.7 3PM, 5.4 REB, 1.1 AST, 0.7 STL, 0.9 BLK, 0.423 FG%, 0.607 FT%
Marquese Chriss is a name that will incite an ambivalent reaction from most people and for good reason. Chriss has the physical gifts necessary to flourish in the league and has dazzled us before with some impressive multi-cat lines, but he struggles staying on the floor because of his poor basketball I.Q.
This season he played the same amount of minutes but saw no major statistical improvements and the on court shenanigans might have gotten worse. He’s constantly bickering with his coaches on the sidelines and his hot temper on the court combusted when he threw a cheap shot at Ricky Rubio which got him ejected in March.
The issues with foul trouble are still present and his body language is mostly disengaged. It might be a result of the environment the Suns have cultivated over recent seasons, but there is some warranted concern with Chriss’ ability to be a plus contributor in this league.
He ended the season with eight consecutive starts and played fairly well in those games, but those games can’t erase the other 64 which gave fantasy owners headaches. Chriss hasn’t turned 21 yet and a new coach known for developing young talent is stepping in so there may be hope for him to turn it around in his third year and you’ll be able to get him dirt cheap next year as his stock is at rock bottom.
Chriss will find himself in a position battle against the likes of Dragan Bender and Alan Williams to start training camp and for now there’s no clear cut favorite.
ADP: 140 / 141 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 176/172 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 188/184 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 69
2017-2018: 20.2 MPG, 8.5 PTS, 0 3PM, 7.5 REB, 1.1 AST, 0.3 STL, 0.8 BLK, 0.566 FG%, 0.683 FT%
Alex Len has already stated that he’s most likely going to leave the team during free agency which would benefit both sides. He just completed his fifth season in the league and since his second season, he hasn’t seen any statistical improvements. This is partly due to the situation that he’s in, but also because the game has shifted towards favoring quicker and more athletic bigs.
Len has put together some decent games when given run and has shown the ability to block shots at a rate that would suffice for fantasy owners, but the rotations in Phoenix killed any chances of him putting a solid stretch together. Because of his tendency to park inside the paint on defense, Len gets run off the floor by teams that like to employ small ball strategies or by teams that play a majority of their games without a traditional big. The market won’t be huge for Len, but he’ll surely find a place somewhere as a backup. His role won’t change much, but the consistency might add some value to his game.
ADP: 118 / 137 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 260/262 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 195/204 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 46
2017-2018: 25 MPG, 6.5 PTS, 0 3PM, 9.0 REB, 1.1 AST 0.3, STL, 0.5 BLK, 0.647 FG%, 0.623 FT%
The Suns only have one year left of Tyson Chandler, who they signed to a four-year, $52 million contract when he was already 32 years of age. There isn’t much left of Chandler’s game except rebounding as he’s far too slow to keep up with the young guns of the league on defense. He was still able to average an impressive 9.0 rebounds, but at what cost?
Coach Triano would bench Chandler every third game because he needed rest, which meant that he would rotate Greg Monroe and Alex Len in accordingly. Chandler’s best days are far behind him and it’s still uncertain as to whether or not the Suns will play him next year because they won’t bring Len back. If the Suns don’t add a young big that can eat some minutes at center, Chandler may have another year left of being a rebounding specialist.
ADP: 140/N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 180/193 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 247/272 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 82
2017-2018: 25.2 MPG, 6.4 PTS, 1.4 3PM, 4.4 REB, 1.5 AST, 0.2 STL, 0.6 BLK, 0.386 FG%, 0.764 FT%
Bender’s second year was much more promising than the first, but that says more about how bad his first year was than anything else. In his rookie season, Bender logged more than 20 minutes only 10 times. This season he logged over 30 minutes in 24 games. Coach Triano had little choice but to put their big Croatian out on the floor and what Bender showed was a mixed bag.
His 3-point range is as advertised, hitting 36.6 percent of his triples, but overall his field goal percentage is hampered by his inability to get to and finish at the rim. He shot 57.5 percent within three feet of the basket and was only 31.3 percent from 3-10 feet of the hoop. Bender’s block rate is encouraging and when paired with his accuracy from deep and he has an interesting stat set that oozes fantasy potential, but he needs to start attempting more shots near the rim to increase his overall efficiency. This year he had nearly double the 3-point attempts (322) than his 2-point attempts (162). He’s already had some big games and right now he shows more potential than teammate Marquese Chriss. What he does this summer and how coach Kokoškov plans to develop him are going to be defining moments for his career.
ADP: 140 / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 201/241 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 235/288 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 71
2017-2018: 23.3 MPG, 7.8 PTS, 0.5 3PM, 1.7 REB, 4.3 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.0 BLK, 0.388 FG%, 0.831 FT%
This season there was an opportunity for Ulis to carve out some real fantasy value after Eric Bledsoe was traded, but he was leapfrogged by Mike James (and then Isaiah Canaan) on the depth chart. James may have been the better player for certain stretches, but Ulis has more potential long term and it would have been wise for the Suns to develop him.
He’s undersized at under 6’0″, but he plays tough and can rack up the dimes when given time. The weakness in his game is that he doesn’t have a consistent outside shot. When he was given unlimited leash during the last 10 games of the year, Ulis proved that he could be productive, rating as the No. 56 player in 8-cat leagues. He averaged 15.3 points, 1.3 3s, 3.1 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.3 blocks on 44.7 percent shooting. His upside will be limited next season as Devin Booker and Brandon Knight will be the primary ball handlers. This season would have been his best bet to produce big numbers, but it was limited to small spurts.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 224/212 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 282/273 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 79
2017-2018: 20.5 MPG, 8.8 PTS, 2.3 3PM, 1.6 REB, 0.6 AST, 0.3 STL, 0.0 BLK, 0.403 FG%, 0.875 FT%
Daniels was essentially given to the Suns as the Grizzlies needed to clear space on their roster, but he proved to be a valuable floor spacer. He’s a marksman from deep, averaging 40.1% on 3s for his career and he knocked down 2.3 per game which has some streaming appeal. Beyond that, there isn’t much to his fantasy game. Daniels is turning 27 next season and will be playing in his final year of his contract. The best case scenario is that he’ll be a streaming option again.
ADP: N/A / 143 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 450/460 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 321/366 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 5
2017-2018: 14 mpg 4.0 PTS, 0 3PM, 4.4 REB, 1.6 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.2 BLK, 0.388 FG%, 0.666 FT%
Big Sauce missed the majority of the season because of knee surgery, but he was one of the more promising bigs on the roster. He looked good for a player coming off a major surgery in his short stint this year so there’s some promise heading into next season. Williams plays hard and smart so there’s a chance he’ll break into rotational minutes and the Suns signed him to a three-year deal last summer, showing they have faith in his abilities. Watch how he fares in Summer League and what Kokoškov has to say about him to get a feel for what his role will be.
There is a lot that needs to be patched up for this Suns team, but the first order of business is to get everyone healthy. Brandon Knight should be on track to return and Alan Williams has recovered from his knee surgery. Devin Booker and T.J. Warren should also be on the floor to start the season so the Suns should already be in better shape just by having their starters healthy. The next thing to do is to get quality minutes from their bigs and to have a set rotation with defined roles. Juggling around DNP-CDs is an easy to way to ensure none of your players get into a rhythm. Kokoškov will also have to set up an offense which can increase the efficiency of their best player, Devin Booker. If Kokoškov can groom any of his bigs to run a two-man game with Booker or Knight it would be the cherry on top. Any other progression past that would be a bonus.