Power Ranking Every Key Phoenix Suns Player Before Season's End
As we edge toward the end of the regular-season schedule, the Phoenix Suns are still fighting for playoff position in the West.
Overall, there's no guarantee that they will secure a spot. In fact, the odds are against them.
However, even if they do finish as the ninth seed, the season can still be considered a massive success. This roster has achieved much more than any of the experts thought the team was capable of.
Since the last edition of power rankings two months ago, quite a lot has changed. While Eric Bledsoe was out, the Suns struggled to maintain a playoff seed in the West and eventually lost their spot to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Some players have player better recently, while others have been in a slump.
Here, we'll rank all of the key players on the roster, taking into account their entire body of work but also using expectations and recent play as tiebreakers where necessary.
10. Alex Len
Alex Len has had a strange rookie season, especially for a top-five overall pick.
After missing the first couple of months due to ankle issues, he has played a total of 33 games (with three starts). However, he's receiving just 9.1 minutes per game.
Even when he started when Miles Plumlee was injured, Len logged a total of 45 minutes in three games.
Now he's back to the bench and is a part of the rotation but just barely. Most games, the 7'1" rookie will receive five to 10 minutes of playing time at best.
Sometimes, that is more than enough time to showcase his talent. Against Boston, Len played some crucial minutes in the fourth quarter with other key players in foul trouble. In nine minutes, he put up six points, three rebounds and one block, and the Suns won 87-80.
But most of the time, he isn't able to make such an impact. His offensive game can simply be described as ungainly.
His defense and rebounding show more potential, as he is extraordinarily lanky. In fact, he averages 9.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes.
Even so, he looks a bit clumsy on both ends of the court. Perhaps that will change as he adds strength and experience.
9. Ish Smith
If Ish Smith could develop some range and learn to create his own shot, he would be a deadly offensive weapon.
He has all the other tools. He is a great passer and can run the offense in transition and score the fast-break layup or find the open man. He can defend and rebound very well.
With Bledsoe out, he became the backup point guard and took on a much bigger role. He didn't disappoint.
In February, he played 19.6 minutes per game. In that time, he averaged 6.8 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.2 steals and even 0.3 blocks. He also shot 50 percent from the field.
Those are great numbers. Smith, who had never been more than a third-string guard in his four-year career, effectively ran the offense and created for others.
He doesn't score many points, but his blazing quickness allows him to blow by defenders and make easy transition baskets. He is the perfect second-unit spark plug.
With Bledsoe back, Smith will once again be the third-string point guard and go back to playing about 10 minutes per game (if that).
However, perhaps his play this season has convinced general manager Ryan McDonough to pick up his team option (for about $1 million) in the summer and keep the athletic 6'0" guard around for another year.
8. Marcus Morris
Marcus Morris can often be overshadowed by his twin brother Markieff. After all, Markieff is the one whom some consider to be a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year.
However, Marcus' impact on the bench this year cannot be overstated.
He is shooting career highs all over the place: 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from deep and 77 percent from the free-throw line. He's putting up 16.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals per 36 minutes.
Overall, he has been relatively consistent this season. He has gone through a couple of hot and cold streaks but has also been a role player that the Suns can count on in most games.
And his shooting is clearly his most important asset. When Gerald Green went to the starting lineup, the Suns didn't have many great shooters in the second unit. Ish Smith and Alex Len are terrible three-point shooters, and Leandro Barbosa and Markieff Morris do not take those shots frequently.
But Marcus, on the other hand, has been a knockdown three-point shooter. He has made 85 threes this year, putting him behind only Goran Dragic, Channing Frye and Gerald Green. For comparison, Markieff has only made 26 threes.
And Marcus, like his brother, is also a great mid-range shooter. He constantly takes faceup or turnaround jump shots that are surprisingly effective. His ability to hit those jump shots just as well as All-Star forwards like LaMarcus Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki gives the Suns a fantastic option to use in half-court offensive sets. After all, they can't solely rely on sheer athleticism to win games.
Many people seemed willing to give up on the twins after last season. But now, both are proving their doubters wrong.
7. Channing Frye
In theory, Channing Frye is a starter for the Suns because he is a fantastic three-point shooter. Just his presence on the perimeter is enough to create space for Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe to attack the basket.
And if Frye is left open from deep, he will make the defense pay.
However, his season has been a series of hot and cold streaks. He is the opposite of consistent. And when he fails to convert those three-point attempts, he doesn't have a great set of secondary skills (such as defense and rebounding) to fall back on.
For a while, he was torrid. In January, he averaged 14.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while shooting 42 percent from downtown. He became the scoring option that the team needed to win games without Bledsoe.
But since January, Frye has steadily declined. In February, his scoring average dipped to 10.9 points per game, and he shot 40 percent from the field and 33 percent from three-point range.
And so far in March, he has shot just 39 percent from the field in nine games. He is scoring 9.7 points per game—his first month this season when he has failed to average double-digit scoring numbers.
He will heat up again at some point; there's no doubt about it. The question is: When will that happen? If Frye can't be relied on as a scoring option, should he continue to start over Markieff Morris in the future?
This is what Jeff Hornacek will ultimately have to decide. If both Frye and Morris are still on the roster next season, they could be in a constant battle for the starting spot.
6. Miles Plumlee
Miles Plumlee has been one of the biggest surprises of the season for Phoenix.
It is amazing that a player who logged a total of 55 minutes in his rookie season could become a starting center on a team that is fighting for a playoff spot.
And overall, Plumlee has done well. He's averaging 11.9 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per 36 minutes, which indicates that he could be a starting-caliber center for many years.
However, like Frye, he is going through a rough stretch. Over the past couple of months, he has gradually lost minutes in the rotation to Alex Len and Markieff Morris.
Despite technically being a starter, Plumlee has played just 19.8 minutes per game since the All-Star break (14 games). And over that span, he has put up 5.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game on 47 percent shooting.
His slump is understandable, because this is his first season as a major part of an NBA rotation.
Still, while he shows potential, there's no indication from his current play that he can ever be a star. So, will he continue to be the team's starting center in the future? Or is there a chance that Alex Len eventually takes his spot?
Of course, there's also the possibility that the Suns bring in a superior center through free agency.
Plumlee's great season has guaranteed a future with this franchise. But what his role will be remains to be seen.
5. Markieff Morris
While Frye and Plumlee have struggled, Markieff Morris has stepped up.
In 16 games since the All-Star break, he has averaged 17.1 points and 6.4 rebounds in 29.1 minutes per game while shooting 52 percent from the field. That is an astounding 21.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per 36 minutes.
Overall, the third-year player out of Kansas has been fantastic. He is averaging a career-high 13.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, and his superb play off the bench has made him a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
This season, Markieff became a much more efficient player. His three-point percentage rate (the percent of total field-goal attempts that are three-point attempts) has gone down from 28.4 percent in 2011-12 to 13.1 percent now. Essentially, he stopped taking so many threes that he couldn't convert at a high rate.
And as a result, his field-goal percentage has skyrocketed from 40 percent two years ago to 48 percent now.
Markieff is still taking plenty of mid-range shots, but those can be very effective. He seems committed to an offensive game that includes mid-range faceup shots as well as a series of moves to perform in the low post.
He can rebound, and even his defense is improved. Markieff is clearly stronger than he was when he entered the league.
He has such great chemistry with his twin brother, but perhaps in the next one or two years Markieff will make the jump to the starting lineup for good. Unless the team looks at other options in free agency, I believe that Markieff has the potential to be an above-average starting power forward.
It is always said that big men take longer to develop. Now that the organization has been patient with the Morris twins, they appear to be blossoming.
4. P.J. Tucker
P.J. Tucker is the epitome of hard work, hustle and toughness. He may not be a star player, but he is the heart and soul of this team.
After spending so many years overseas, he doesn't seem to take a single NBA game for granted. By now he has a reputation around the league as a scrapper and lockdown defender, and he takes every opportunity he gets against elite offensive players as a personal challenge.
It doesn't matter if he's matched with LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony. As long as he is on the court, Tucker will make the opposition work for every shot attempt. They may score their 20 or 25 points, but the question is: How many shots do they need to get there? And how much will that take away from their offensive flow?
His rebounding has been even more impressive. Tucker, at 6'5", is often there to bail out a frontcourt that has struggled with rebounding all season long. Since the All-Star break, he has averaged 7.7 rebounds per game.
He is also one of only two players to grab at least 6.5 rebounds per game despite being 6'5" or shorter. The other is Lance Stephenson of the Indiana Pacers.
And of course, Tucker's main offensive asset is corner three-point shooting. He is shooting 40 percent from deep this season, with all but a few of those makes from the corner. He has established himself as a true "3-and-D" player.
He is a restricted free agent this summer, but it is imperative that the Suns keep him. In the summer of 2012, they essentially found their starting small forward for almost no cost. His hustle, defense, rebounding and three-point shooting cannot be easily replicated.
3. Gerald Green
When Eric Bledsoe was injured, the Suns needed another scoring option to aid Goran Dragic, as he could only carry the team so much.
For a while, Frye was fantastic. And Markieff Morris had some great games as well.
However, Gerald Green is clearly the player who stepped up the most.
He seamlessly transitioned from his sixth-man role into the starting lineup and began dominating the opposition. In 45 games as a starting shooting guard, he averaged 17.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
And since the All-Star break, he has been unstoppable. He has scored 20.4 points and grabbed 4.3 rebounds per game while shooting 44 percent from the field and 40 percent from deep. One of those games was a 41-point outburst (a career high) against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Now, Green has returned to the bench with Bledsoe back. But that does not mean he will lose value.
Having three players averaging at least 10 points per game on the bench (Green, Markieff, Marcus) makes the second unit terrifying for opposing teams. And although Green is no longer starting, he should still receive 25-30 minutes per game.
That is more than enough time to wreak havoc on the defense. Green takes some low-quality shots, but he can also swing the momentum in the Suns' favor by making several baskets in a short amount of time.
2. Eric Bledsoe
Eric Bledsoe is back. That's great news for Suns fans, as it means there's still hope for a playoff appearance this year.
In his first four games back, he shot 40 percent from the field while averaging 14.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game.
Those are definitely solid stats. The shooting could be more efficient, but Bledsoe needs time to adjust.
When he's at full strength, he can be a huge asset offensively and defensively. His quickness and athleticism allow him to stop opponents from getting to the rim, and his perimeter defense could drastically help a Phoenix defense that has struggled since January.
On offense, he can either attack the basket or shoot the outside jumper. And in transition, he is nearly unstoppable.
For now, Goran Dragic still appears to be the best player on the team. But Bledsoe is not far behind.
He is a restricted free agent this summer, but it's safe to assume that the Suns will match almost any offer for the talented young point guard. Within a few years, the hope is that he can emerge as an All-Star player.
It seems as though the organization is committed to a Bledsoe-Dragic backcourt of the future, at least for now.
1. Goran Dragic
In a few years, when rising young star Eric Bledsoe is in his prime and Dragic has entered his 30s, he may no longer be the star of the team.
But for now, he's obviously the first option.
Dragic is having a career-best season, and he must be given credit for the Suns' success. When Bledsoe was out, Dragic carried the team on his back and was able to sustain a winning record despite being surrounded by role players.
This year, he's averaging 20.4 points, 6.0 assists and 1.3 steals per game while shooting 51 percent from the field and 41 percent from three-point range. He has been one of the most efficient guards in the league, and many thought that he was deserving of an All-Star appearance.
On offense, Dragic can attack the basket, hit the mid-range jumper or spot up from behind the three-point line. He can also create opportunities for teammates, usually by driving the lane and then dishing out to the open shooter on the perimeter. That strategy is what makes the Dragic-Frye pick-and-roll so dangerous.
On defense, he is a solid on-ball defender who can force turnovers. Bledsoe is the superior defender, but Dragic is no liability. He works hard on both ends of the court.
Most importantly, he has proved that Bledsoe's arrival will not take away from his overall value. Dragic has a place on this team in the future and should not be traded simply for the purpose of "tanking." No matter Bledsoe's potential, if he proves to be relatively injury prone in the future, the Suns will be forced to keep Dragic in order to compete.
Goran may be the older guard, but he seems to make his teammates much better. Given his bargain of a contract, he could be considered one of the most valuable guards in the NBA.
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