The Biggest Training Camp Mysteries for Phoenix Suns

Sam CooperCorrespondent IIIOctober 4, 2013

Gerald Green will be fighting for a starting spot on the Suns this season.
Gerald Green will be fighting for a starting spot on the Suns this season.Fernando Medina/Getty Images

Training camp may be officially underway, but the Phoenix Suns still have a lot to figure out about their roster and identity before the 2013-14 NBA season commences.

With 18 players on the roster right now, the Suns will have to cut at least three before the new season begins. This will create an extremely competitive atmosphere in training camp, as players look to either receive more minutes in the rotation or simply make the final cut for the 15-man roster.

But it isn't just the last spots that these players are fighting for. Though we have a rough idea of what the starting lineup may look like, there will be a battle over those spots. For example, who will start at small forward? Currently, the Suns have several players all capable of starting on the wing, but the answer to this question will not come until after training camp. 

Now, here are some of the biggest training camp battles to watch.

Who Starts at Small Forward?

If the Suns had kept Caron Butler after the Eric Bledsoe trade, this would be an easy decision. Butler, the two-time All-Star, averaged 10.4 points and 2.9 rebounds in just 24 minutes per game last season for the Los Angeles Clippers while shooting a fantastic 39 percent from three-point range.

But now that Butler has been traded to Milwaukee, there are three main players in contention for the starting spot.

The first one is P.J Tucker. After five consecutive seasons overseas, the 2006 draftee returned to the NBA last season and started 45 games for the Suns. He averaged only 6.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, but almost immediately became a fan favorite due to his hustle, rebounding, work ethic and both perimeter and post defense. 

Standing 6'5", the 28-year-old is capable of playing shooting guard, small forward and occasionally even power forward. He was consistently trusted to guard the opposing team's best offensive talent on the wing.

In fact, according to statistics compiled by, Tucker forced a variety of NBA superstars (including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant) to shoot just 73-for-183 when matched up against him. That is just 39 percent from the field. But when the same stars faced other matchups on the Suns, they shot 70-for-132 (53 percent). 

Clearly his defense is unmatched by any other player on the roster. However, if the Suns want a more offensive-minded starting small forward, P.J Tucker is not the answer. Instead, they could go with six-year NBA veteran Gerald Green.

This will now be Green's seventh NBA team, and the 27-year-old is looking for a more permanent home. On the court, he won't provide the same physicality or toughness that Tucker does.

However, one only has to search his name on YouTube to see that Green is one of the most athletic players in the entire league. With his vicious, emphatic dunks, he could become a fantastic pairing for Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe on the fast break. Though Tucker is also capable of running the floor, placing Dragic, Bledsoe and Green in the same lineup would surely enhance the fans' viewing experience.

Additionally, Green is the superior shooter over Tucker. He has shot 35 percent from deep for his career, attempting 2.4 threes per game. Tucker, on the other hand, has shot just 22-of-70 from three-point range in 96 career games.

With two outside shooting threats at both forward positions in Gerald Green and Markieff Morris, the Suns would have the proper spacing required to allow Dragic and Bledsoe to attack the basket and Marcin Gortat to dominate the post. Such efficient spacing may not come as easily in an offensive starting unit that includes P.J Tucker.

And finally, the last option is Marcus Morris. Morris is neither a better defender than Tucker, nor is he necessarily a better shooter than Green. He does have the ability to stretch the floor about as well as Green does, but he doesn't possess the same speed or athleticism, and he may have trouble keeping up with other small forwards on defense. 

On the other hand, pairing the Morris twins together in the starting lineup would only have a positive effect on the on-court chemistry. Plus, since Marcus Morris is 24, you could argue that the Suns should be placing the most emphasis on developing his game in the midst of this rebuilding process. 

Only time will tell how this battle plays out. But right now, you could make a case for all three of these players.

Which Guards Will Survive the Cut?

As of now, it is safe to say that Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, two franchise cornerstones, will obviously be on the roster when the season starts. And in addition to them, prospects Kendall Marshall and Archie Goodwin, plus veteran guard Shannon Brown, will all have a spot on the roster.

But after that, there is a tight race for the last one or two open spots in the backcourt. Among the players competing for spots are Dionte Christmas, Ishmael Smith, Malcolm Lee and James Nunnally. 

Ish Smith was acquired by Phoenix about a month ago in the Caron Butler trade. The 25-year-old point guard now has three years of NBA experience, with the Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State WarriorsOrlando Magic and Milwaukee Bucks.

He never really blossomed in any of those environments, and has never played more than 10.3 minutes per game. Also, his shooting percentages are not pretty, as his career field-goal percentage is just 37 percent.

Thus, the chances that he makes the team are not looking great, especially since the Suns already have three capable point guards. There is always a chance, however.

Next up is Dionte Christmas, a 27-year-old who has never played a single minute in the NBA.

The reason he's being strongly considered right now is because he was a key contributor for the Suns in the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 10.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 20.1 minutes per game. He can play either guard position and has shown a great knack for scoring (shown in a video of his 41-point performance against the Olympiakos below). 

Malcolm Lee can be considered more of a prospect than the other two, as he is only 23 years old and still has plenty of years before he reaches his ceiling. Although he may never be a starter or a superstar, the Suns would be able to help him develop as a player in hopes of seeing him become a reliable role player.

However, Lee would be a big project for the team's training staff. He has played only 35 games in two NBA seasons due to injuries. He has had two surgeries done on each knee and one on his hip in a span of just two years.

The final player competing for a spot in James Nunnally, a D-League player who was added to the training camp roster just a few days ago. 

At 6'7", he is really much more of a small forward than a guard, but could play some minutes at both wing positions. For the Bakersfield Jam last season, Nunnally shot 41 percent from downtown while averaging 10.3 points in just 19.7 minutes per game. 

In the summer league for the Miami Heat, he shot 17-of-27 from downtown—an astounding 63 percent—while putting up 13.0 points and 2.7 rebounds in 19.6 minutes per game.

He has drawn comparisons to players such as Danny Green, and could potentially be a great spot-up shooter off the bench for a team that finished 28th in three-point field-goal percentage last season. 

Even if one or two of these players make the team, they are unlikely to log many minutes. However, there is always that chance of finding a diamond in the rough by inviting a player to the preseason.

Perhaps that's what General Manager Ryan McDonough is hoping to find in players such as Christmas and Nunnally.


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