It's no secret that with the limited roster space available, the Phoenix Suns are likely looking to add another big man first and foremost. With Channing Frye out for at least this season, the Suns are down one versatile big who could not only stretch the floor on offense and help rebound on defense, but also play both the power forward and center positions as well.
In order to help fill this void, the Suns are trying out three big men; Ike Diogu, Solomon Jones and Luke Zeller. While the odds-on favorite, Ike Diogu, has already been covered in a previous article, it's time we looked a little more closely at the other two roster hopefuls who may have a better shot at making the team than most realize.
Solomon Jones is a 28-year-old, 6-foot-10, 230 pound PF/C who has spent the last six years playing with four different teams. Originally drafted in 2006 with the 3rd pick in the 2nd round by the Atlanta Hawks, Jones has yet to find a true home in the NBA.
Let's take a look at his stats over his career thus far:
As you can see, Solomon Jones fits the definition of a journeyman, and has been relegated to mostly back-up minutes no matter where he played. His numbers have been consistently average as a reserve player in limited minutes, so what you see is what you get. Jones' career high in points is 14 which he has notched twice, and his career high in rebounds is 10 which he has reached three times.
Jones actually had his most productive season thus far in New Orleans last year, where he averaged more minutes and more points than ever before. Even with his increased minutes, he was also more effective as well, averaging his highest Per 36 point total of 11.3, and a respectable 7.5 rebounds in those hypothetical minutes as well.
Jones' biggest strengths are his length (7-foot-4 wingspan), his free-throw shooting (over 80% his last three seasons), and his quick-leaping ability allowing him to beat his man to the ball. Jones also has a fairly reliable mid-range shot and a nice, high release on his shot which allows him to shoot over his opponents. Jones's biggest weakness is his size. He's too small to match-up against most centers, and too slow to guard more quick and agile power forwards. Jones has put on some weight since entering the league and he certainly has the length to match up well against opposing big men in the low post, but he still doesn't have the strength to hold his position or back his man down, nor the skill or footwork to help him offensively.
Luke Zeller is a 25-year-old, 6-foot-11, 245 pound center who can stretch the floor. Zeller is the brother of Kendall Marshall's college teammate and first-round draft pick Tyler Zeller. No, not the younger brother who was also a top freshman prospect for Indiana last season, that's Cody. Luke Zeller is actually the oldest of the three brothers and the one you've probably never heard of before (unless you're a big-time college basketball fan). Despite his relative anonymity, Luke Zeller played four years at the University of Notre Dame from 2005-2009 before spending the past two seasons in the D-League.
Here are his stats over the past two seasons:
Although Zeller shares the same last name as his two younger brothers, he shares very few similarities beyond that. Luke is primarily a jump-shooter who struggles to score, defend and rebound in the post. However, if there is any team in the NBA who he could possibly succeed with, it's probably the Suns. Zeller shot the ball at 41% from the field and 36% from three over his past two seasons on the D-League. With the absence of Channing Frye, Zeller could provide valuable depth and could help the Suns stretch the defense on a reserve basis.
Luke Zeller had a noticeable start to his NBA preseason try-out with the Suns in his first live action against the Portland Trailblazers. Zeller tallied 5 points on 2-5 shooting, 2 assists, and 1 rebound in his 11:52 appearance ... and showed his ability to score from deep going 1-1 from beyond the arc. Time will tell if Zeller will continue to show that he can be productive in limited minutes, but he will also have to prove that he is not a liability on defense as well.
Both Solomon Jones and Luke Zeller certainly have his work cut out for them to be able to make the final roster ahead of Ike Diogu, who has shown himself to be a more well-rounded player and also has a higher ceiling than either of these two. The advantage that both Jones and Zeller have is that the Suns are more likely than before to keep more than the minimum 13 players this season because of their new-look roster, and their need for more depth after the loss of Channing Frye.
Still, while there's a chance the Suns may end up keeping two additional big men, it's very unlikely they decide to keep all three. Ultimately, it will come down to how well they play in preseason, and which player can fill the biggest need..