With the start of the NBA season about a month away, the Suns are now in full training mode. Alvin Gentry has some decisions to make as he learns which players work well together and just how much each of his players should be used.
Right now, the Suns already have four of the five starting spots set. Dragic, Beasley, Scola and Gortat will all definitely be in the starting five for the team this season. But at shooting guard, the starting job is still anyone's game.
Shooting guard is by far the team's weakest position, and it's pretty clear that the Suns will take a look at some of next year's top free agents and draft choices to strengthen the position. But for now, they have three main guys competing for minutes, and there is no clear choice as to which one should start.
Let's break down the three candidates.
After being re-signed over the summer, Shannon Brown returns to the desert for another season. Last year, Brown posted a career-high 11 points and 2.7 rebounds a game in just 23.7 minutes per game.
Brown was paid to score, and that's exactly what he did, even if it wasn't always pretty. He attempted more than ten shots a game coming off the bench for most of the season and shot just 42 percent from the field. He did connect on 36 percent of his three point attempts, but he jacked up more than three treys per game and took a lot of poor shots.
Where Brown really differs from his teammates is in his athleticism. Unlike teammate Jared Dudley, Brown has the ability to excite or quiet crowds with his fantastic dunks and could form a great athletic duo with Michael Beasley in the starting lineup. Brown is extremely dangerous when cutting to the basket, he just doesn't always use that skill enough.
Although Brown played most of the season on the bench, he was given the opportunity to start 19 games near the end of the season. In those games, he averaged 15.8 points and 3.7 rebounds a game, and both his field goal and three point percentages went up significantly.
Brown isn't exactly the most efficient player, but the team would certainly score a lot at an up-tempo pace with him in the starting lineup.
Dudley is now 27 years old, somehow making him one of the oldest players on the team. He may only have five years of NBA experience, but he could prove very useful in a sixth man role as a veteran to the younger bench players. At the same time however, it might be very worthwhile to insert him into the starting lineup.
Dudley started 60 of his 65 games played last season, posting career highs in almost every statistic across the board. He averaged 12.7 points and 4.6 rebounds a game and shot 38 percent from three-point range.
Unlike Brown, Dudley is a very efficient player. He doesn't take many bad shots. Despite the fact that a third of his field goal attempts came from behind the arc, he still shot 49 percent from the field all season, a better mark than plenty of forwards in the league. Also, Brown may take a lot of threes, but he's primarily a driving player. With Dragic and Beasley as other more athletic players who like to drive to the basket, having Dudley out on the wing or in the corner to shoot threes could be a great idea.
Dudley himself has even said that he's developed good chemistry with other starting players, specifically Luis Scola. As he told AZCentral.com, "The more I play with Scola, the better. He’s very similar to me. We think. We already have a good chemistry down.”
If Dudley can help Scola adjust and be a good asset to the team, then putting him in the starting five becomes a fantastic idea.
And all that isn't counting the fact that Dudley has been absolutely dominant in training camp. In Saturday's scrimmage, he knocked down all eleven of his field goal attempts and finished with 31 points and six rebounds.
His veteran presence could be used on the bench, but he's efficient, works hard, he's one of the team's better defensive players, and he apparently already has developed chemistry with the new acquisitions. That should be enough to make Dudley the front runner for the job right now.
All right, so including Johnson in here might just seem silly to some of you, but he shouldn't be ignored. Though he's only been in the NBA for two seasons, he technically does have more starting experience than the other two guys.
In 65 games last year, Johnson averaged just six points and 2.7 rebounds in 23 minutes a game. His shooting percentage may look awful, but it went up significantly post all-star break last season, and his three point percentage went from 21 percent to 41 percent after the All-Star break.
In addition to heating up near the end of the year, he's looked great in training camp. In two different scrimmages a few days ago, Johnson caught on fire, scoring eight of his team's ten points in one scrimmage and all ten in the other.
Johnson may not be the greatest offensive player, but he's been surprising good on defense so far in his career. The starting five currently lacks any great defensive players, and so putting Johnson in the starting lineup to play 20 minutes a game as a defensive stopper could work out really well. And in addition to that, it would allow both Shannon Brown and Jared Dudley to play off the bench and provide a scoring spark for a second unit that just lost Channing Frye.
Though it seems highly unlikely that Johnson will be given the job, it is an option that should probably be considered.
These three guys are all different and can be used in a lot of ways. Jared Dudley is a pretty good defensive player and a very efficient and deadly shooter from behind the arc. Shannon Brown is more of an athletic, driving guard who will keep the pace up-tempo and interesting. Finally, Wesley Johnson can be used as a defensive stopper, and would allow for Dudley and Brown to play off the bench and transform the team's second unit into possibly one of the best in the league.
Over the next month, expect Alvin Gentry to experiment with different lineups during the preseason and try to figure out who works best with the other starters.
So far, Dudley has made a very strong case for himself to take the starting spot, but the race is far from over, and any of the three guys can still take the position before the season starts.