I am a diehard basketball enthusiast and online sports writer. I love writing about strategy and team management.
The Suns haven’t been competitive in the western conference since the Nash and Stoudemire era. The storied franchise that once was home to transcendent talents such as; Charles Barkley, Tom Chambers, Kevin Johnson, Steve Nash, and Amar'e Stoudemire has been competitively irrelevant since 2010. It is now 2018 and the eight-year rebuild process appears to have finally started to produce results for this franchise. The Suns loaded up on talent last night, could the 2018 draft be a turning point for this franchise? I think so. Before we look towards the future, we need to cover the young talent already in place.
"I'm done with not making the playoffs."
— Devin Booker
Suns Players Shining Bright
There are already a several young Suns’ players that have everyone excited; Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, and TJ Warren. These are three guys are players who fit into the long-term plans for Phoenix.
Devin Booker, in his third year, averaged 24.9 points per game and is the third youngest player to reach 4,000 points. The only players to score 4k points faster than Booker? Two guys, you may know, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. If Booker isn’t considered a star already, he sure is a star in the making.
Josh Jackson is one of the most athletic players in the league, this athleticism paired with a high defensive IQ and his visible love of competition makes him an underrated defender. Jackson can also score very well too. Jackson averaged 13.9 points per game in his rookie year even with limited playing time. Jackson’s potential ceiling is just as high as any young player in the league.
TJ Warren has been in the league for 4 years now and has made improvements to his game each year, he averaged just under 20 points per game this last season. Warren has been producing at a high level and can play an important role in a playoff team whether it be starting, or supplying valuable scoring off the bench.
Surprised by the hidden talent in Phoenix? Most people are. The lack of attention is mostly due to the star power of the western conference overshadowing these young players, the small market they play in, and the dysfunctional management. Soon this talent will no longer be “hidden.”
Below are some videos displaying the talent already in Phoenix and after that we will discuss how the Deandre Jordan, Mikal Bridges, and Elie Okobo will impact the Sun's success.
Josh Jacks 36-Point Game Vs. Warriors
Top Notch Draft Picks
The Suns came into the 2018 draft with the 1st overall pick, the 16th overall pick, and the 31st overall pick. Phoenix came out of the draft with Deandre Ayton(1), Mikal Bridges(10) and Elie Okobo(31). The Suns were able to acquire Bridges by sending their 16thpick(Zhaire Smith) and a 2021 first-rounder to Philly. This was a great draft for Phoenix, they got 3 players who can all fit into their current roster and make impacts right away.
Deandre Ayton was the biggest name going into the draft, everyone knew he was going first. Ayton is a physical freak; 7’1” tall with a 7’5” wingspan and weighs in at 260lbs, combine these measurements with his 45-inch vertical leap and you have a monster on your hands. Ayton put his impressive physique on display in the NCAA averaging 20.1 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 1.9 bpg(blocks) doing all this while making over 60% of his shots from the field and 73% of his free throws. Ayton has the physical ability to be a transcendent player in the league.
To put Ayton’s size and strength into perspective, let us compare him to other big men. Dwight Howard and Deandre Jordan weigh in at right around 260 as well. Howard and Jordan are widely considered two of the biggest and strongest players in the league, Ayton has this build as a rookie. I’m sure Ayton will only get stronger as he gets on a NBA workout/nutrition plan. Ayton uses this size and strength to score efficiently with his back to the basket and breaks to the rim with purpose. Ayton can also step away from the basket and knock down jump shots. Ayton shoots the 15 to 18-foot jump shot very consistently and when he steps outside the arc he knocks them down at about 34%. He won’t kill you from deep, but you can’t leave him alone either. Ayton’s impressive overall skill set will only improve throughout his time in the NBA and he has a seasoned veteran, Tyson Chandler, to show him the ropes. Ayton has all the tools to become an all-time great, only time will tell how good he can be.
Mikal Bridges, fresh off his second national championship in three years will be taking his talents to Phoenix. The Suns traded up to grab him, with good reason. Bridges brings defense, ability to shoot the 3, and a winning mentality. The 6’7” wing has a wingspan over 7ft long, allowing him to guard multiple positions. Bridges averaged over 17 points a game in college and shot the 3-ball at 43%. Bridges’ ability to catch and shoot, as well as, come off screens will help his game translate to the NBA. This 2-time national champ only cares about winning, something the Suns haven’t been able to recently. Bridges will be able to bring that mentality of a champion to Phoenix. Bridges may not have as high of a ceiling as some of the other players in this draft class, but he has the capability to contribute as a three and D wing right away.
Elie Okobo has been playing professionally in France for three years now. The Suns snagged him with the 1st pick in the second round. This was a steal for Phoenix. Okobo shot 40% from deep last year and excels with shooting off the dribble. Okobo has a tight handle and can dribble through congested areas on the court. Okobo has underrated vision. Being the primary scoring option for his team, his assist numbers aren’t a good representation of his vision. Okobo does a great job setting up his teammates, leads them to the open spots and has great judgment when running the offense. Okobo will need to fill out his frame over his first couple seasons but can contribute right away, despite being a second round pick. Okobo will be able to ease in the NBA game because he’s surrounded by scorers who will have no problem handling the ball. With Tyler Ulis on the roster already he will need to earn his minutes, but he has the game and experience to be a contributing player off the bench and eventually start.
Looking Towards the 2018-2019 Season
The Suns now have a solid young core that can grow together and become competitors in the NBA. A lot of youth and much left to prove, but the Suns' line-up has tons of potential:
This lineup has scoring all over the court. Jackson and Warren are long, athletic players who know how to score without the ball. Booker will run the show, he can score in many different ways and can create for others. Ayton can score with his back to the basket, play the pick and roll, face-up, and even knock down jump shots. Tyler Ulis has the skill set of a prototype point guard. Ulis has great vision and an unbelievable IQ on the court, his one shortcoming would be his size (5’9”). Notice how all of these players are threats from deep, this floor spacing allows for these players to play to their skill sets. Open spacing always helps scorers like Booker, he will have space and freedom to be a high scoring playmaker for this team. The spacing also opens plenty of alleys to the lane for Jackson and Warren to attack the basket. This lineup gives Ayton plenty of space to score in the lane and to be creative with his pick and roll options.
No team is complete without a bench. Brandon Knight, Mikal Bridges, and Tyson Chandler will all be able to contribute off the bench. Mikal Bridges will be able to rotate in smoothly with the starting lineup, Bridges’ game allows him to fit in easily with most offenses. Bradon Knight’s combo guard skill set allows him to come off the bench at either point guard or shooting guard and contribute scoring and playmaking. Tyson Chandler may be well past his prime, but he still can contribute rim protection and rebounding. All of this being said; the Phoenix Suns will need to upgrade their bench.
I expect the Suns to use their cap space to acquire some veterans that can help teach and mentor this young core. Tyson Chandler will be able to help form Ayton. Chandler was once the big, strong center who could jump out of the gym. The Suns hope Ayton becomes more of a star than Chandler, having Chandler around as a mentor will help Ayton grow into the superstar he has the potential to be. The Suns need to add veteran leaders in the backcourt and on the wing. They have great talent they just need to be shown how winners handle themselves during the offseason, in games, in practice, and in the locker-room.
The Suns' young players are ready to win and willing to work. Devin Booker has even said “I’m done with not making the playoffs,” and went on to explain “I’m serious. This is probably my last year ever not making the playoffs. If that’s putting pressure on myself, I’m going to take this summer and work that hard so that it doesn’t happen again.” This quote is a good sign for the Suns. Booker knows this is his team and what he needs to lead them and drag them to the post-season if that’s what it takes. Booker’s quote also sets a high standard for his teammates, in regards to how hard they need to work this offseason. The Suns' future is bright, but the jury is still out. The western conference is loaded with talent and the Suns need to make sure that as their players come into their primes they put themselves in a position to be successful. All we can do as fans is; sit back, hope for the best, and watch the situation unfold.
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