May 6, 2016, 10:00 am
The Phoenix Suns entered the 2015-16 season as a team glimmering with promise, and ended it limping to the second worst record in the Western Conference. The team was hamstrung by injuries and chemistry crises, ultimately moving on from head coach Jeff Hornacek in February. Hoop Ball’s Post-Mortem series takes a look at what happened in Phoenix.
It’s odd to think about now, but we are only 10 months removed from the Suns looking like a team on the rise. Last offseason they re-signed Brandon Knight, lured Tyson Chandler away from Dallas and became a legitimate player for LaMarcus Aldridge. Even when Aldridge spurned them in favor of the Spurs, the Suns looked primed to make a real run at the playoffs in (what looked at the time like) a stacked Western conference. Pundits and fantasy analysts alike were intrigued by the idea of both Eric Bledsoe and Knight attacking off the dribble, and the notion that Markieff Morris could evolve into a legitimate playmaker at power forward was tantalizing.
What a difference a season makes. Instead of evolving into a whirring pace-and-space machine, the Suns were undone by injuries and behind the scenes drama before their season had a chance to start. Markieff Morris demanded a trade in August (rumored to be the end result of the Suns’ decision to trade his twin brother, Marcus, to the Pistons earlier in the offseason). The ensuing decline of his relationship with the organization eventually led to Markieff being shipped to Washington at the trade deadline.
Even more damaging were the injuries that plagued the Suns. Bledsoe, the team’s best player and closest approximation of a true star, missed 51 games with a torn meniscus in his left knee, while Knight only played in 52 games as he battled nagging groin injuries throughout the year. The Suns ultimately finished 27th in offensive efficiency and 25th in defensive efficiency, as they simply weren’t able to overcome their injury woes.
There were glimmers of hope as the season ended, however. After a rocky start to his tenure, interim coach Earl Watson (who was named the team’s permanent head coach on April 19th) was able to rally the team to a 9-24 finish despite the decimated roster. Moreover, rookie Devin Booker responded impressively when he was forced into the starting lineup and Alex Len made progress over the season’s second half.
Hornacek’s performance this season is tough to evaluate. The Suns’ struggled mightily, but why they under-performed — and what Hornacek could have done differently — is more difficult to pinpoint. He clashed with Morris, and consequently buried one of the team’s better young players deep in the rotation. Additionally, Hornacek struggled to carve out a consistent role for Len, whose development suffered as a result.
Conversely, prior to Bledsoe’s injury both he and Knight were off to impressive starts. Hornacek seemingly recaptured the two point guard magic that had made the Dragic-Bledsoe backcourt so effective two seasons prior. The Suns had real issues, and Hornacek certainly shares a good portion of the blame, but it does feel like he lost his job in part because of devastating injuries that were outside of his control.
Next season, Earl Watson will get a chance to mold the Suns’ current roster into the team he envisions. Watson seemed to have the buy-in of his players, as the lame duck Suns still competed on a nightly basis well into March. How he is able to move forward with a healthy Bledsoe and Knight could be one of the more intriguing stories of next season.
ADP: 26/34 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 174/190 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 16/24 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 31
For 31 games Bledsoe outperformed his own lofty standards, establishing himself as a solid second round pick in both eight and nine category leagues. He shot well from deep and was an absolutely terror in transition. Bledsoe was dynamic running the point, and feasted on undersized opponents when teams tried to scheme to stop Brandon Knight. The Suns went a respectable 12-19 with Bledsoe on the floor, but finished 11-40 without him.
Obviously 31 games isn’t much of a sample size, but in averaging 20.4 ppg, 6.1 apg, 4 rpg, 2 spg and 1.5 3pg Bledsoe pushed his game to a new level. He shot better from the floor and scored a full three points more per game during the opening months of the season, all without seeing an increase in minutes.
The issue with drafting Bledsoe based on his per game stats, of course, is that he lost the final 51 games of the season to a torn meniscus, his second injury of this type in three years. In 2014-15, Bledsoe played all but one game and finished as a second round value in 8 category leagues, but it’s hard to ignore knee issues in guards who get by on their explosiveness.
The positive news is that Bledsoe was able to have his meniscus repaired rather than removed, a decision that likely cost him more time in the short term but should reduce future complications. Bledsoe’s upside is as high as any guard outside of the top-3, meaning he may well be worth the gamble at the end of the second or early third round this fall.
ADP: 56/53 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 102/144 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 41/72 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 52
Knight missed 30 games while dealing with various groin ailments throughout the season, but also showed signs of growth in his first full year with the Suns. He posted career highs in both points (19.6 per game) and threes (2.3 per game) despite splitting ball handling duties with Bledsoe. In fact, Knight’s counting stats looked impressive across the board, as he chipped in 5.1 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.2 steals each game as well.
The injuries have become a real concern, however, as Knight has now played 75 or fewer games in each of his past five seasons. He hasn’t suffered any cataclysmic injuries that should hamper him going forward, but the pure volume of nagging issues will give potential owners some pause in October.
Knight wasn’t all roses on the court, either. His shooting reached its lowest mark in three seasons at 41.5%, and he posted a career high 3.4 turnovers per game (enough to cause a thirty spot swing between his eight and nine category finishes on a per game basis). Knight’s ability to contribute well in all the traditional guard categories is impressive, but he also brings significant baggage with him, especially in formats that emphasize turnovers.
ADP: 140 / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 142/173 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 159/199 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 74
Booker had two knocks on his game coming out of Kentucky: a willingness to settle for jump shots and erratic ball handling, and both tendencies showed in his rookie season. As a starter Booker shot just 41.2% from the floor and averaged nearly three turnovers per game. As a result, he finished outside the realm of relevance in nine category, standard leagues.
But Booker’s finish on the player rater hides much of what he accomplished as a rookie. Over the season’s final two months (when the Suns were without Bledsoe and – at times – Knight) Booker put up impressive numbers, averaging 21.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.6 threes, 0.8 steals, and 0.6 blocks. That type of multi-category production from the shooting guard spot is difficult to find, and Booker flashed the potential to become a fantasy starter as yearly as next season.
ADP: 108/139 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 99/102 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 133/134 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 82
Tucker was promoted to the starting lineup in December and finished a surprising 99th on the player rater in eight category leagues. A finish inside the top-100 may surprise fantasy players, as he averaged just 8.0 points, 6.2 boards, 2.2 assists, 0.8 treys, 1.3 steals and 0.2 blocks per game. Tucker’s value was a product of not hurting your fantasy squad more than actively helping, as he played all 82 games and only averaged 1.4 turnovers in 31 minutes per contest.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 139/127 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 166/157 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 79
Teletovic was one of the Suns’ few healthy rotation players in 2015-16, and he flashed some nice versatility in 21.3 minutes per game. Averaging 12.2 points, 3.8 boards, 2.3 treys, 0.4 steals and 0.3 blocks, Teletovic proved a useful source of threes with the ability to chip in across the board. After going undrafted this season Teletovic is now firmly on the standard league radar, and could be a value next season if he sees the 27.2 minutes per game he played over the last two months of the season.
ADP: N/A / 150 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 235/217 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 174/147 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 47
Another Suns’ injury casualty, Warren played just 47 games in 2015-16 as a broken foot shut him down in early February. Even on a per game basis he struggled to maintain value in standard leagues, offering scoring but little else. Warren finished with averages of 11 points, 3.1 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.6 threes and 0.8 steals, and next season will have to compete for minutes with both Booker and Tucker. Despite his low end contributions when he played this season, Warren probably doesn’t have the upside to be considered on draft day in 2016-17.
ADP: 106/76 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 156/161 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 154/161 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 66
After (once again) reviving his career in Dallas in 2014-15, Chandler was disappointing during his first year in Phoenix. He missed 16 games with various hamstring, back and shoulder ailments, and showed signs of age, posting his lowest field goal percentage in six years. Chandler’s counting stats took a hit too, as he averaged just 7.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 0.5 steals and 0.7 blocks. He wasn’t particularly harmful to your fantasy team, but at 33 it looks like Chandler’s days as a must-own player in fantasy are behind him.
ADP: 140/146 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 150/179 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 185/219 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 76
All the ingredients are there for Len to emerge as a double-double machine on a nightly basis, but he shot as poorly as any seven-footer I can remember in 2015-16. Despite averaging 12.5 points, 10.1 boards, 0.5 steals and nearly two assists per game over the season final three months (when he finally earned consistent playing time), Len shot a truly horrendous 39.9% from the floor. Moreover, his blocks per game regressed from 1.5 in 2014-15 to just 0.8 this year. All told, Len’s upside remains tantalizing, but he must take another step forward before he can become an important fantasy asset.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 189/177 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 187/176 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 67
Leuer got more opportunities this season and showed flashes of solid play, but he still couldn’t break on to the standard league radar. Averaging 18.7 minutes, 8.5 points, 5.6 boards, 0.6 treys, 0.6 steals and 0.4 blocks per game, he showed some good versatility from the power forward position, but he’ll need to take another step forward in order to be relevant in most fantasy leagues.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 221/222 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 211/210 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 60
Price wasn’t a fantasy factor in all but the deepest of leagues, averaging just 19.5 minutes, 5.3 points, 1.6 boards, 2.4 assists on 38.4% shooting from the field. Given his limited minutes, though, he was a solid contributor in threes (1.1) and steals (1.2). Price is a free agent this summer, and his next landing spot will do a lot to determine if he is worth owning as a specialist in 2016-17.
With a bit of injury luck the Suns could be among the league’s most improved teams next season. Bledsoe and Knight remain a potent backcourt, and it will be telling to see how Booker and Len continue to develop. In all likelihood the Suns will also add a top-5 pick, and have doubled down on Earl Watson to be the coach to guide them back to the postseason. Throw all these ingredients together and the Suns could be among the most intriguing young team’s to follow in 2016-17.