Phoenix Suns Power Rankings: Rating Every Player After First Six Weeks
The Suns are currently 10-9, good for third in the Pacific division and tenth in the Western Conference. Though their chances of actually making the playoffs may still be slim in such a deep, talented conference, this team has clearly exceeded expectations and continues to surprise their opponents around the league.
They are incredibly inconsistent, losing games to the Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings while winning others against the streaking Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets. This inconsistency is to be expected on such a young team. There will be some growing pains, but on the other hand, plenty of players, both prospects and veterans alike, are stepping up and contributing to the team's success as a whole.
And now, here is a power ranking of those players almost a fourth of the way into the season.
Outside the Top Ten
14. Emeka Okafor
The only reason an established veteran like Emeka Okafor is the last player on this list is because he is still inactive. Okafor, the 31-year-old center, is out indefinitely with a neck injury and will likely miss at least a couple more months.
If he does return to play some games at the end of the season (and possibly help the Suns make a playoff push), he could be an extremely valuable veteran presence. However, how exactly he will fit with the team is uncertain.
Okafor is still a great player when it comes to low post defense and rebounding, but how much playing time would he receive on a rebuilding Suns team? With players such as Miles Plumlee, Alex Len, Slava Kravtsov and even Channing Frye already logging minutes at center, Okafor may not receive 25-30 minutes per game like he did with New Orleans and the Washington Wizards.
Either way, the chance that Okafor stays with Phoenix for multiple years is slim, whether he plays this season or not.
13. Slava Kravtsov
There isn't too much to say about 26-year-old center Slava Kravtsov, as he has logged just 23 minutes in eight games this season. Although he may not reach his peak for a couple more seasons, Kravtsov does not have the ceiling of a player like Plumlee or Len. Therefore, Kravtsov will not be prioritized in the rotation.
As he showed in his 2012-13 campaign with the Detroit Pistons, Kravtsov is perfectly capable of blocking shots on defense and setting great picks on offense. He isn't a terrible player, but unless there is a major injury to one of the team's centers, he won't see an increase in playing time either.
12. Alex Len
Considering the fact that he has logged a total of 31 minutes in four games, it is still way too early to declare fifth overall pick Alex Len a bust. After all, NBA centers generally take longer to develop than guards and forwards.
If anything, health should be Len's primary concern.
He has sat out most of the team's games due to "ankle soreness", and also had multiple ankle surgeries over the summer. Len could still become a productive starting center at the peak of his career. Even if that does happen, the question is whether or not he will be durable enough to play more than 40 or 50 games each season.
Len's development will be slow, and it may be two or three years before we have a firm grasp on his potential and ceiling. For now, he will continue to play several minutes off the bench every once in a while, as long as he is healthy enough to suit up.
11. Ish Smith
Ish Smith received quite a lot of playing time while Eric Bledsoe was out, but now that the Dragic-Bledsoe backcourt is operating, he may revert back to his previous role as a bench warmer.
Smith never did much to impress coaches and fans while he was part of the rotation—he averaged just 2.6 points and 2.0 assists per game while shooting 31 percent from the field.
Unless various backcourt players continue to be plagued by nagging injuries, Smith will not see any additional playing time. In the team's last four games, he has logged a total of just three minutes. He may receive a few minutes in blowout wins and losses, but that could be all he gets to try and prove his worth to the team.
10. Dionte Christmas
Each year, there seems to be an inspirational basketball story to be found within the Suns' roster. Last year, it was P.J. Tucker's return to the NBA.
This year, it is all about Dionte Christmas.
Christmas, the 27-year-old rookie, has had quite a path to the NBA. After going undrafted in the 2009 NBA draft, he spent the next several years playing in Israel, Turkey, Greece, Russia, Italy and the Czech Republic. In the meantime, he kept trying to earn a roster spot on an NBA team by participating in summer leagues and training camps for the Philadelphia 76ers, Sacramento Kings, Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz, all to no avail.
Now, after yet another summer league with the Phoenix Suns, Christmas is finally an NBA player.
So far, his debut has been the high point of his career.
In 15 minutes against the Jazz on Nov. 1, Christmas put up nine points and four rebounds. He hasn't reached that level of production since, especially now that Dragic and Bledsoe are both healthy. Suddenly, Christmas is lucky to get five or 10 minutes each game.
Still, he is a capable spot-up shooter who can also run the floor and occasionally drive the lane. He isn't some fantastic secret weapon, and he may not be one of Suns' key players. However, he will continue to be an underdog story to root for throughout the season.
9. Archie Goodwin
In most cases, fans don't seem to support first-round picks who post shooting lines of 41 percent from the field, 10 percent from deep and 54 percent from the free-throw line, not to mention a player efficiency rating (PER) of 6.9 to boot.
However, Archie Goodwin appears to be an exception. But why is it that he has won the affection of Suns fans?
To put it simply, he brings an incredible amount of energy to the arena. Even if he isn't shooting particularly well, almost every Goodwin field goal is a highlight—whether it be a breakaway dunk or an athletic layup in traffic. And after these plays, you can see the excitement on Goodwin's face.
The 19-year-old's aggressiveness and athleticism already make him a solid player. Now, if he could just develop a better jump shot (he has shot 2-of-20 from deep this season), he could truly become a lethal offensive weapon.
8. Marcus Morris
Markieff Morris won the Western Conference Player of the Week award, and for that he should be praised. However, it would be a shame to forget about the other twin, 6'9" Marcus Morris, who has clearly been fantastic as well.
This season, Marcus is posting career-high numbers across the board, averaging 10.5 points and five rebounds per game while shooting 46 percent from the field and 42 percent from downtown. In fact, he has made the third-most three-pointers on the roster and is one of the main reasons the Suns have had such great offensive spacing.
Additionally, his rebounding seems to have improved.
He is now grabbing 7.9 rebounds per 36 minutes and has a total rebounding rate of 12.6 percent. Those numbers aren't particularly eye-popping, but for a guy who plays 59 percent of his minutes at small forward, the stats are still impressive.
Morris is not expected to be a starter anytime soon. However, he is proving that he can be a fairly consistent offensive weapon. In the future, he could most definitely be one of the better role players on any NBA team.
7. Markieff Morris
Markieff Morris, just like his brother, has been having a career year.
In 18 games, he has taken on the role of sixth man for this Phoenix team.
He plays 25.7 minutes per game, puts up 12.2 points and grabs 5.8 rebounds per contest while shooting 48 percent from the field and 38 percent from beyond the perimeter.
Markieff is a changed man, and he has clearly been at his best this season when he attacks the basket. He has attempted only 16 threes in 18 games, which is just nine percent of his total field-goal attempts. Last season, threes counted for 20 percent of his shots.
However, on offense, Markieff (and Marcus, too) still settles for long, contested jumpers. Though both twins have been relatively lucky with those isolation shots so far, it would be better to see Markieff develop more of a post game that he can use to get to the basket rather than relying on outside jumpers.
Still, Markieff is averaging 17.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals per 36 minutes, and you can't complain about those numbers. Perhaps it won't be too long before the third-year prospect can steal the starting power forward spot away from veteran Channing Frye.
6. Miles Plumlee
The fact that Miles Plumlee went from bench warmer to successful starting center in one season is incredible. Through 19 games, he is averaging 12.3 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per 36 minutes.
Plumlee is making himself useful on both ends of the floor, blocking and altering shots on defense while scoring through post moves, bank shots and putbacks on offense.
His production over the past few weeks is slightly down, but this can at least partially be explained by a decrease in playing time. Over his last 10 games, Plumlee averaged just 26.6 minutes per contest and exceeded 32 minutes in just one game. He is also frequently rested by head coach Jeff Hornacek in the fourth quarter.
Now that the secret is out and Plumlee is no longer a complete unknown, what he must do in order to hold onto his starting spot and remain productive is to keep developing.
He is already a seasoned prospect, and he has displayed some very nice post moves. Nevertheless, if Plumlee continues to rely on the same right-handed hook shots too much, he will be perceived as more of a one-dimensional player who can easily be stopped by opposing defenses.
In the NBA, you can never stop learning and improving your game. Every player, whether they are 18 or 38, has to continually evolve, and those who refuse to do so will be out of the league before long. If Plumlee can continue expand his array of offensive moves and become more versatile in general, he should guarantee himself plenty of playing time even with the return of Okafor.
5. P.J. Tucker
P.J. Tucker has quickly become one of the most accurate corner three-point shooters in the league. After taking a total of 70 threes last year, he's already taken 48 this season (with 43 of those coming from the corner). He's made 22 of his 43 corner threes (an astounding 51 percent), and only Trevor Ariza, Klay Thompson, Wesley Matthews and Martell Webster have made more.
Of course, that amazing three-point shooting is now in addition to going after the 50-50 balls, grabbing offensive rebounds and playing lockdown defense. He will almost never lead the team in scoring or rebounding, but he is a versatile player who can do a bit of everything.
That is what makes him such a valuable player to the Phoenix Suns.
4. Gerald Green
Given that Gerald Green shot 37 percent from the field and 31 percent from deep last season with Indiana, he wasn't considered the prize of the Luis Scola trade. At the time, he seemed to simply be an extra contract thrown in who wouldn't have much of a role with the team.
However, injuries to Bledsoe and Dragic allowed Green to start 12 games in the backcourt, and he really stepped up.
In those 12 starts, Green averaged 15.8 points and three rebounds in 32.1 minutes per game while knocking down 45 percent of his shots and 39 percent of his threes.
Since returning to the bench, his production has been down and he has even been in a cold streak for these last two games. But that is simply the nature of Gerald Green that Suns fans will experience all season long. One night he will make five or six threes, and the next he will shoot 1-of-10 from the field.
This inconsistency can be painful to watch, but when Green is hot, he is practically unstoppable. He can be the team's best spot-up shooter as well as a ridiculously athletic and emphatic dunker on offense.
With Dragic and Bledsoe back together, we will see how Green performs in a bench role. However, the hope is that he can become a spark off the bench, and perhaps share the sixth man role with other bench players such as Marcus and Markieff Morris.
3. Channing Frye
Channing Frye had a very rough start to the season, and for a while it seemed as if he might never return to form after recovering from an enlarged heart. Through his first eight games, he exceeded seven points just once, and he averaged 6.1 points and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 32 percent from the field.
Fortunately, it seems that his cold streak was just a matter of shaking off some rust, because right now, Frye is on a hot streak. Now, in his last 11 games he has put up double-digit scoring numbers nine times, and is averaging 14.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and one block while shooting 56 percent from the field and 48 percent from downtown.
As always, Frye is one of the best in the league at creating space on offense by drawing the defense out to the perimeter. He is currently eighth in the league in above the break threes, knocking down 32 of his 76 attempts (42 percent).
Additionally, Channing Frye and Goran Dragic make a fantastic pair. For 22.6 minutes of each game, those two share the court with each other. And when they do, the Suns score 105.1 points per 48 minutes while shooting 49 percent from the field and 39 percent from deep. Also, they average a +/- of 7.3 over their opponents.
On the other hand, when Bledsoe and Frye share the court, the Suns shoot 46 percent from the field and 33 percent from deep, and they average 97.7 points per 48 minutes with a +/- of -2.5
Obviously, other factors must be considered, such as the three other players who are on the court at those times. But even so, Channing Frye seems to benefit from playing with a passing guard like Dragic, which isn't really a surprise.
2. Eric Bledsoe
Through 13 games, Eric Bledsoe has proved that he is a fantastic scorer.
He scores 18.8 points per game while shooting 49 percent from the field. He can easily drive to the basket, he is crafty around the rim, he is a decent shooter, and if he plays the passing lane and comes up with the steal, he can run from one end of the court to the other in the blink of an eye for the fastbreak opportunity.
But the question remains, is Eric Bledsoe capable of running Jeff Hornacek's offense?
When Bledsoe was out for several games and Dragic took over running the point, a couple of things became evident. The pace of the game was quicker, and the Suns began to average both more points and more assists per game with Bledsoe out.
Ball movement has been a bit of a problem for the Suns this season, as they are 26th in the league in assists. And even though he has been an incredible scorer, some of the blame there must be shifted to Bledsoe.
Green, Tucker and Frye are all spot-up shooters, and they really don't run many isolation plays. Dragic does need the ball in his hands on offense, but he is also a far superior passer than Bledsoe and can create both for himself and for others.
Bledsoe, however, tends to run isolation plays from the top of the key and ultimately shoot low-percentage shots. That is clearly not what the Suns want to do. They want to run, but even if they don't have that opportunity and are forced into a half-court offensive set, they certainly don't want to settle for isolation plays.
Bledsoe has to learn to take advantage of the copious shooters on this team.
When he drives to the lane, even if the layup opportunity is taken away, he usually has someone open on the perimeter. Bledsoe is a great rising young star, but right now he doesn't look like the best "point guard" on the team.
1. Goran Dragic
As of now, Goran Dragic is the best backcourt player on this team.
Will that still be the case in three years, when Dragic is 30 and Bledsoe is 26? Probably not.
However, Dragic is on a huge hot streak, and he must be given credit for the Suns' success while Bledsoe was out.
Over his last nine games, he is averaging 21.2 points, 7.7 assists and one steal per contest while shooting 52 percent from the field and 37 percent from beyond the perimeter. Those are All-Star numbers, despite the small sample size.
On offense, he can attack the basket, hit the mid-range jumper or spot up from behind the three-point line. He can also create easy opportunities for teammates, especially by driving the lane and then dishing out to the open shooter on the perimeter.
On defense, he is a solid defender who can force turnovers, and in some cases even block shots.
Dragic is proving that Eric Bledsoe's arrival will not take away from his production. He is still an extremely valuable player to this team, one who should not be traded in the near future simply for the purpose of "tanking".
In fact, if the Suns decide that Dragic and Bledsoe cannot coexist, the team will have to think long and hard about which guard they wish to keep.
Dragic may be older, but he seems to make his teammates much better, and considering his bargain of a contract, he could be the one that management chooses. For now at least, Dragic is still the team's leader.