In the third part the Bright Side of the Sun season preview series, we try to break down the overall talent on the roster, but become entangled in semantics along the way.

"Talent" is one of the trickiest basketball terms to pin down. The word doesn't retain quite the same definition in everyday life as it does when it carries over to hoops. If you were to attend a high school talent show, you might see something like a gaggle of 15-year-old girls performing a song-and-dance rendition of "It's Raining Men". And it might actually win.

Obviously on the basketball court, things are a bit different. "Talent" is typically reserved for players who possess natural-born physical ability -- like Dwyane Wade in his younger days, needing only two dribbles to go from the halfcourt line to the rim. Or Giannis Antetokounmpo, who resembles something that might have escaped from the Island of Dr. Moreau.

Typically, when it comes to basketball the word is not used to describe a player's fundamental skillset. For instance, one could say that Kyle Korver has a talent for shooting from long-distance, but since his prowess was assuredly developed over countless hours spent honing his craft, it doesn't quite apply. Had he been putting on shooting clinics at the tender age of five years, I suppose that would be talent?

According to the definition, yes. From Wiktionary.org:

talent (plural talents)

  1. (historical) A unit of weight and money used in ancient times in Greece, the Roman Empire, and the Middle East. [from 9th c.] [quotations ?]
  2. (obsolete) A desire or inclination for something. [14th-16th c.] [quotations ?]
  3. A marked natural ability or skill. [from 15th c.]
    He has the talent of touching his nose with his tongue.

Ah, that word "natural" ruins it for poor Kyle. I mean, his shooting is neat and all, but can he touch his nose with his tongue? Cause that's true talent, right there.

"Talent" is a common buzzword in the lexicon of scouts and analysts, and is often accompanied with a couple other terms.

Ceiling: This term is used to purport the idea that one knows when a player will stop improving. The idea is that when a player cannot improve any more, their head crashes into the proverbial ceiling, at which point they gradually decline until they get old and eventually retire. Even when a player might be only 19 years of age and is yet to play a single NBA game, you're bound to hear scouts and analysts establish where said player's "ceiling" lies.

Potential: This term is reserved for players who have "talent", and a high enough "ceiling" for significant growth, but haven't accomplished a damn thing. Often you will hear these types of players referred to as "prospects". Most teams have one or two of these players at the end of their bench. They usually don't receive minutes, but are kept aboard in the chance that they begin to reach their ceiling. Some teams, like the Philadelphia 76ers, stuff their whole roster full of prospects and even let them run around on the court.

The concept of a "ceiling", in particular, is rubbish.

The Pistons famously flushed what was one of the most valuable draft spots in recent history -- 2nd overall in 2004 -- on lumbering stiff Darko Milicic. Why? Because his ceiling was supposedly huge! Chad Ford said that "He's the real deal. He's really one of a kind. He runs the floor, handles the ball, shoots the NBA 3-pointer, plays with his back to the basket, so you can slot him in at the 3, 4 or 5."

Well hell, who would pass that up? Actually, that quote reminds me more of Dirk Nowitzki. How ironic then, that in 1998 people didn't think all that much of Dirk's ceiling. Some folks at Sports Illustrated figured his best-case scenario to be Keith Van Horn (who admittedly wasn't a bad player back in '98).

I doubt many people were that thrilled with the ceilings of Steve Nash or Paul Pierce upon their arrival to the NBA. They were both good at basketball, but didn't have that raw potential that equates to high ceilings. What folks tend to forget is that there are other ways to improve besides simply filling out the natural ability possessed as a teenager. Ceilings can be raised through honing the fundamental craft of playing the game. Therefore, since the whole idea of a "ceiling" is that it's a fixed limitation on a player's improvement, it's a meaningless term and I will not apply it to this Phoenix Suns team.

Getting back to that talent conundrum, I'm going to suspend the dictionary definition of the word -- in particular the "natural" part -- and asses this roster using a broader sense of the idea. Funny thing is, when I look at these players, I can't help but think that Ryan McDonough took a similar approach.

Let's get started.

Drafting Habits

When Ryan McDonough took over the duties of rebuilding the moribund roster inherited from the Lance Blanks regime, he was most identified from his time in Boston by guards Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley. After quickly acquiring Eric Bledsoe and drafting Archie Goodwin, his penchant for long-limbed, athletic two-way players was further solidified.

I had visions of a Suns team full of feisty waterbugs with freakish limbs, loping about and creating all forms of madness in the passing lanes and the open court. He also drafted Alex Len, a big man who could seemingly envelop the entire painted area with his expansive reach.

While actual basketball skills were yet to be realized, McDonough's Suns would be an endless tangle of appendages. It seemed that the idea was to fill up the court with length, then hopefully teach the tarantulas how to actually play ball at some later point.

Then the 2014 draft came, and McDonough threw a change-up.

In T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis, the Suns have brought in a much different kind of youth than what was expected. Neither is particularly long or athletic. Neither were touted as having much defensive potential. They are both what can be described as "skill players", meaning they both have "knacks".

Warren has a knack for finding all sorts of silly ways to score.

Ennis has a knack for running an offense and managing a game.

Hold up, since when do the Suns draft young players based on things they are already capable of, rather than what they might hopefully someday soon be capable of? During pre-draft workouts, McDonough explained what they were looking for in a prospect:

Personally I like to get a feel for what they've been doing since their season ended.   We watched them practice during the season; we watched them play during the season.  We're trying to get a feel for what they've been working on, have they improved, what kind of shape they're in.

And so the plot thickens.

He didn't seem to be particularly concerned with how high a player's ceiling was. He seemed much more concerned with what they were doing to eliminate it. He professed many times before and after the draft that they will take whatever player they think will have the best overall career.

McDonough and his other half, Jeff Hornacek, are cognizant of the oftentimes dramatic arc that a player's career can have. It's rarely as simple as establishing a ceiling and then taking bets on whether or not the player will reach it, and this idea was practiced with the team's vets as well. The Morris twins both had quite wretched seasons in 2012/13, yet their team options were picked up in October before any tangible improvement could be shown on the court.

Wouldn't you know it, they improved.

2014/15: Rookies and Sophs

As of the dawn of the 2014/15 season, the young talent on this Suns team comes in the form of "potential" -- that unfortunate euphemism for "hasn't done a damn thing yet". Looking at them individually, each youngster on this team has at least one standout attribute that can, with a little luck, reward them with a long career in the NBA.

Alex Len has every tool one could ask for in an elite rim protector. He possesses a massive 7'1 frame, is light on his feet, can beat smaller players down the floor, and as he adds bulk will become an immovable object in the post. Looking at the shape the roster has taken over the last year and change, the path has been paved for Len to hopefully become the piece that brings it all together.

Archie Goodwin has all the makings of a two-way pest. On offense he is hell-bent for leather, slashing to the rim whenever he sees even a sliver of daylight. On defense he uses his quick hands to poke and slap and generally be a nuisance. He's the kind of guy you put in the game when you're trailing by 15 in the third. "Get out there and be obnoxious."

T.J. Warren has the ability to be a 20 PPG scorer one day. The guys scores in ways that seem to defy geometry -- creating angles and apparently bending the fabric of space to will the ball into the cylinder. He can get a shot off from any angle, off one feet, off two feet, off no feet, standing on his head, riding a llama, floaters, flippers, scoopers, it doesn't seem to matter. Factor in his high motor (seriously, who doesn't love a high motor?), and expect this guy to rain hellfire on basketball nets everywhere.

Tyler Ennis seems a bit mundane at a glance, but at a closer look it's easy to see this guy running a high-octane offense at some point. While he doesn't possess many athletic gifts, things like footspeed for instance, he has an innate ability to see plays develop and quickly pass ahead before the defense knows what hit them. He is also fearless and was known during his time at Syracuse for nonchalantly draining clutch daggers like it was just another day at the office.

Still, the problem with this crop of talent is that none of them have accomplished anything of note (obviously Warren and Ennis have yet to begin their careers), and furthermore, only Len figures to have guaranteed playing time in 2014/15.

While I do find it interesting that each of McDonough's draft picks have a special skill going for them (which in Len's case is just being huge and able to move well), expect the jury to be sequestered for quite a while yet before we really have an idea of the talent on hand.

What gives me hope is that they will be cultivated in a climate based on hustle and hard work, fostered by a group of veterans that have all been overlooked or counted out at some point.

The Role Players

Consistent with the nature of the youngsters on the team, the talent of the Suns' veterans can only be fairly measured in the special skills that they have each developed. Be it the inside/outside scoring of the Morris twins, the dunks and defense of Miles Plumlee, the microwave scoring of Gerald Green, or the 3 and D skills of P.J. Tucker, the role players on this team each have their own way of adding to wins, and uniquely so among their teammates. Hardly a single skill is redundant on this team, save for the ever-important 3-point shooting, which is a testament to the system of Jeff Hornacek.

Each player has developed a talent, and each talent has been maximized. This is where the "natural ability" part of talent is overrated and unnecessary. Shannon Brown had oodles of natural ability. Does anyone miss Shannon Brown? No. No one does.

The Rock Stars

Without question, the real talent of this Suns' team lies within Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas. These guys are the real rock stars of the team. They're going to get the headlines, they're going to attract the fans, and the team will go as far as they can take them. Each can do things on the basketball court that very few, if any, can.

Remember that business earlier about "ceilings"? If you need any further reason to disregard the entire concept, look no further than Goran Dragic. Not many people were impressed with Dragic's ceiling as prospect. If you check out his DraftExpress page, you'll see his best case comparison is Jason Hart. This guy has smashed through so many ceilings since then, I doubt anyone will be trying to build him another anytime soon. He is living proof that a basketball player can always improve, at least until their bodies break down.

In some contrast, Bledsoe is the embodiment of natural ability. At a stout 6'1, 190 lbs and with a 6'7.5 wingspan, he can shut down players five inches taller than him. If that wasn't enough, he can also leap for dunks and blocks, and is strong enough to finish plays through contact with ease. Basically, he's Nightcrawler from the X-Men.

If all that wasn't enough to give opposing backcourts night tremors, Isaiah Thomas was brought on board to keep the attack in full motion at nearly all times. Although he was cursed with a diminutive 5'9 stature, Thomas was blessed with an embarrassment of talent packed inside that tiny frame. No one can stop and start quicker than he can, and like the rookie Warren, he has a multitude of funky shots in his arsenal to rack up the points.

The Verdict

Giving a fair assessment of the Suns' talent is not an easy task. I just spilled over 2,200 words from my brain and I still don't feel like I have a better idea of the talent level on this team than I did when I started. The youngsters are all question marks -- every last one of them. They all have varying degrees of natural ability, but as the veterans on this team can attest to, it can be a long, hard journey before ability is translated into impact. Some of these guys' careers have already been dead before.

It's hard to rank the talent on this team in the upper echelon of the NBA due to one simple factor: They lack both a top-flight prospect and a true star player. Most teams at least have one or the other.

When the 2012/13 season collapsed under years of stagnation, it was impossible not to entertain visions of Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker in a Suns uniform. I doubt many would trade the progress made in 2013/14 for that shiny prospect, but the hole is still there. Len or one of the other youngsters may indeed fill that hole at some point in the near future, but there is no young talent on this team that seems to be begging to breakout at this point.

However, if there is one thing to be counted on when it comes to young players, it's that something will always surprise you. Whether it's a good something or a bad something, there is no telling. And in the case of Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker, sometimes a player has to come all the way back from the dead before turning talent into impact.

Be patient with the young guys. Give them time. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside.

Enjoy watching them grow. Even in Bakersfield.

In the third part the Bright Side of the Sun season preview series, we try to break down the overall talent on the roster, but become entangled in semantics along the way.

"Talent" is one of the trickiest basketball terms to pin down. The word doesn't retain quite the same definition in everyday life as it does when it carries over to hoops. If you were to attend a high school talent show, you might see something like a gaggle of 15-year-old girls performing a song-and-dance rendition of "It's Raining Men". And it might actually win.

Obviously on the basketball court, things are a bit different. "Talent" is typically reserved for players who possess natural-born physical ability -- like Dwyane Wade in his younger days, needing only two dribbles to go from the halfcourt line to the rim. Or Giannis Antetokounmpo, who resembles something that might have escaped from the Island of Dr. Moreau.

Typically, when it comes to basketball the word is not used to describe a player's fundamental skillset. For instance, one could say that Kyle Korver has a talent for shooting from long-distance, but since his prowess was assuredly developed over countless hours spent honing his craft, it doesn't quite apply. Had he been putting on shooting clinics at the tender age of five years, I suppose that would be talent?

According to the definition, yes. From Wiktionary.org:

talent (plural talents)

  1. (historical) A unit of weight and money used in ancient times in Greece, the Roman Empire, and the Middle East. [from 9th c.] [quotations ?]
  2. (obsolete) A desire or inclination for something. [14th-16th c.] [quotations ?]
  3. A marked natural ability or skill. [from 15th c.]
    He has the talent of touching his nose with his tongue.

Ah, that word "natural" ruins it for poor Kyle. I mean, his shooting is neat and all, but can he touch his nose with his tongue? Cause that's true talent, right there.

"Talent" is a common buzzword in the lexicon of scouts and analysts, and is often accompanied with a couple other terms.

Ceiling: This term is used to purport the idea that one knows when a player will stop improving. The idea is that when a player cannot improve any more, their head crashes into the proverbial ceiling, at which point they gradually decline until they get old and eventually retire. Even when a player might be only 19 years of age and is yet to play a single NBA game, you're bound to hear scouts and analysts establish where said player's "ceiling" lies.

Potential: This term is reserved for players who have "talent", and a high enough "ceiling" for significant growth, but haven't accomplished a damn thing. Often you will hear these types of players referred to as "prospects". Most teams have one or two of these players at the end of their bench. They usually don't receive minutes, but are kept aboard in the chance that they begin to reach their ceiling. Some teams, like the Philadelphia 76ers, stuff their whole roster full of prospects and even let them run around on the court.

The concept of a "ceiling", in particular, is rubbish.

The Pistons famously flushed what was one of the most valuable draft spots in recent history -- 2nd overall in 2004 -- on lumbering stiff Darko Milicic. Why? Because his ceiling was supposedly huge! Chad Ford said that "He's the real deal. He's really one of a kind. He runs the floor, handles the ball, shoots the NBA 3-pointer, plays with his back to the basket, so you can slot him in at the 3, 4 or 5."

Well hell, who would pass that up? Actually, that quote reminds me more of Dirk Nowitzki. How ironic then, that in 1998 people didn't think all that much of Dirk's ceiling. Some folks at Sports Illustrated figured his best-case scenario to be Keith Van Horn (who admittedly wasn't a bad player back in '98).

I doubt many people were that thrilled with the ceilings of Steve Nash or Paul Pierce upon their arrival to the NBA. They were both good at basketball, but didn't have that raw potential that equates to high ceilings. What folks tend to forget is that there are other ways to improve besides simply filling out the natural ability possessed as a teenager. Ceilings can be raised through honing the fundamental craft of playing the game. Therefore, since the whole idea of a "ceiling" is that it's a fixed limitation on a player's improvement, it's a meaningless term and I will not apply it to this Phoenix Suns team.

Getting back to that talent conundrum, I'm going to suspend the dictionary definition of the word -- in particular the "natural" part -- and asses this roster using a broader sense of the idea. Funny thing is, when I look at these players, I can't help but think that Ryan McDonough took a similar approach.

Let's get started.

Drafting Habits

When Ryan McDonough took over the duties of rebuilding the moribund roster inherited from the Lance Blanks regime, he was most identified from his time in Boston by guards Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley. After quickly acquiring Eric Bledsoe and drafting Archie Goodwin, his penchant for long-limbed, athletic two-way players was further solidified.

I had visions of a Suns team full of feisty waterbugs with freakish limbs, loping about and creating all forms of madness in the passing lanes and the open court. He also drafted Alex Len, a big man who could seemingly envelop the entire painted area with his expansive reach.

While actual basketball skills were yet to be realized, McDonough's Suns would be an endless tangle of appendages. It seemed that the idea was to fill up the court with length, then hopefully teach the tarantulas how to actually play ball at some later point.

Then the 2014 draft came, and McDonough threw a change-up.

In T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis, the Suns have brought in a much different kind of youth than what was expected. Neither is particularly long or athletic. Neither were touted as having much defensive potential. They are both what can be described as "skill players", meaning they both have "knacks".

Warren has a knack for finding all sorts of silly ways to score.

Ennis has a knack for running an offense and managing a game.

Hold up, since when do the Suns draft young players based on things they are already capable of, rather than what they might hopefully someday soon be capable of? During pre-draft workouts, McDonough explained what they were looking for in a prospect:

Personally I like to get a feel for what they've been doing since their season ended.   We watched them practice during the season; we watched them play during the season.  We're trying to get a feel for what they've been working on, have they improved, what kind of shape they're in.

And so the plot thickens.

He didn't seem to be particularly concerned with how high a player's ceiling was. He seemed much more concerned with what they were doing to eliminate it. He professed many times before and after the draft that they will take whatever player they think will have the best overall career.

McDonough and his other half, Jeff Hornacek, are cognizant of the oftentimes dramatic arc that a player's career can have. It's rarely as simple as establishing a ceiling and then taking bets on whether or not the player will reach it, and this idea was practiced with the team's vets as well. The Morris twins both had quite wretched seasons in 2012/13, yet their team options were picked up in October before any tangible improvement could be shown on the court.

Wouldn't you know it, they improved.

2014/15: Rookies and Sophs

As of the dawn of the 2014/15 season, the young talent on this Suns team comes in the form of "potential" -- that unfortunate euphemism for "hasn't done a damn thing yet". Looking at them individually, each youngster on this team has at least one standout attribute that can, with a little luck, reward them with a long career in the NBA.

Alex Len has every tool one could ask for in an elite rim protector. He possesses a massive 7'1 frame, is light on his feet, can beat smaller players down the floor, and as he adds bulk will become an immovable object in the post. Looking at the shape the roster has taken over the last year and change, the path has been paved for Len to hopefully become the piece that brings it all together.

Archie Goodwin has all the makings of a two-way pest. On offense he is hell-bent for leather, slashing to the rim whenever he sees even a sliver of daylight. On defense he uses his quick hands to poke and slap and generally be a nuisance. He's the kind of guy you put in the game when you're trailing by 15 in the third. "Get out there and be obnoxious."

T.J. Warren has the ability to be a 20 PPG scorer one day. The guys scores in ways that seem to defy geometry -- creating angles and apparently bending the fabric of space to will the ball into the cylinder. He can get a shot off from any angle, off one feet, off two feet, off no feet, standing on his head, riding a llama, floaters, flippers, scoopers, it doesn't seem to matter. Factor in his high motor (seriously, who doesn't love a high motor?), and expect this guy to rain hellfire on basketball nets everywhere.

Tyler Ennis seems a bit mundane at a glance, but at a closer look it's easy to see this guy running a high-octane offense at some point. While he doesn't possess many athletic gifts, things like footspeed for instance, he has an innate ability to see plays develop and quickly pass ahead before the defense knows what hit them. He is also fearless and was known during his time at Syracuse for nonchalantly draining clutch daggers like it was just another day at the office.

Still, the problem with this crop of talent is that none of them have accomplished anything of note (obviously Warren and Ennis have yet to begin their careers), and furthermore, only Len figures to have guaranteed playing time in 2014/15.

While I do find it interesting that each of McDonough's draft picks have a special skill going for them (which in Len's case is just being huge and able to move well), expect the jury to be sequestered for quite a while yet before we really have an idea of the talent on hand.

What gives me hope is that they will be cultivated in a climate based on hustle and hard work, fostered by a group of veterans that have all been overlooked or counted out at some point.

The Role Players

Consistent with the nature of the youngsters on the team, the talent of the Suns' veterans can only be fairly measured in the special skills that they have each developed. Be it the inside/outside scoring of the Morris twins, the dunks and defense of Miles Plumlee, the microwave scoring of Gerald Green, or the 3 and D skills of P.J. Tucker, the role players on this team each have their own way of adding to wins, and uniquely so among their teammates. Hardly a single skill is redundant on this team, save for the ever-important 3-point shooting, which is a testament to the system of Jeff Hornacek.

Each player has developed a talent, and each talent has been maximized. This is where the "natural ability" part of talent is overrated and unnecessary. Shannon Brown had oodles of natural ability. Does anyone miss Shannon Brown? No. No one does.

The Rock Stars

Without question, the real talent of this Suns' team lies within Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas. These guys are the real rock stars of the team. They're going to get the headlines, they're going to attract the fans, and the team will go as far as they can take them. Each can do things on the basketball court that very few, if any, can.

Remember that business earlier about "ceilings"? If you need any further reason to disregard the entire concept, look no further than Goran Dragic. Not many people were impressed with Dragic's ceiling as prospect. If you check out his DraftExpress page, you'll see his best case comparison is Jason Hart. This guy has smashed through so many ceilings since then, I doubt anyone will be trying to build him another anytime soon. He is living proof that a basketball player can always improve, at least until their bodies break down.

In some contrast, Bledsoe is the embodiment of natural ability. At a stout 6'1, 190 lbs and with a 6'7.5 wingspan, he can shut down players five inches taller than him. If that wasn't enough, he can also leap for dunks and blocks, and is strong enough to finish plays through contact with ease. Basically, he's Nightcrawler from the X-Men.

If all that wasn't enough to give opposing backcourts night tremors, Isaiah Thomas was brought on board to keep the attack in full motion at nearly all times. Although he was cursed with a diminutive 5'9 stature, Thomas was blessed with an embarrassment of talent packed inside that tiny frame. No one can stop and start quicker than he can, and like the rookie Warren, he has a multitude of funky shots in his arsenal to rack up the points.

The Verdict

Giving a fair assessment of the Suns' talent is not an easy task. I just spilled over 2,200 words from my brain and I still don't feel like I have a better idea of the talent level on this team than I did when I started. The youngsters are all question marks -- every last one of them. They all have varying degrees of natural ability, but as the veterans on this team can attest to, it can be a long, hard journey before ability is translated into impact. Some of these guys' careers have already been dead before.

It's hard to rank the talent on this team in the upper echelon of the NBA due to one simple factor: They lack both a top-flight prospect and a true star player. Most teams at least have one or the other.

When the 2012/13 season collapsed under years of stagnation, it was impossible not to entertain visions of Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker in a Suns uniform. I doubt many would trade the progress made in 2013/14 for that shiny prospect, but the hole is still there. Len or one of the other youngsters may indeed fill that hole at some point in the near future, but there is no young talent on this team that seems to be begging to breakout at this point.

However, if there is one thing to be counted on when it comes to young players, it's that something will always surprise you. Whether it's a good something or a bad something, there is no telling. And in the case of Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker, sometimes a player has to come all the way back from the dead before turning talent into impact.

Be patient with the young guys. Give them time. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside.

Enjoy watching them grow. Even in Bakersfield.

It seems like the Dragic brothers will both be at media day on Monday. According to this tweet by Arizona Republic beat writer Paul Coro, Zoran Dragic is expected to arrive in Phoenix tonight and...

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The ratings of the full roster have now been revealed. The Suns field 4 players in the Top 100, but no players in the Top 30.

2K Sports is currently in the process of releasing the ratings of all players that will be featured in the upcoming NBA 2K15 title, and while they have not as of yet released all of the ratings, the entire Phoenix Suns roster has been revealed.

First, the good news. The Phoenix Suns roster features 4 players in the Top 100: Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Isaiah Thomas and Miles Plumlee. All three points guards are rated over 80, a particularly distinguished feat in this iteration of the popular basketball game, which will see only 17% of the players in the game ranked over 80 and will see just 4 players over 90.

The bad news is that not a single Sun was ranked among the Top 30 players in the NBA. Goran is rated highest, with an 84 overall rating, which puts him at 33rd overall.  Other guards in this general region of the rankings are Deron Williams (84), Lance Stephenson (84), and Manu Ginobili.

Eric Bledsoe comes in at an 81 overall,putting him at 53rd. Other guards in his range include Joe Johnson(82), Bradley Beal (81) and our very own Isaiah Thomas, who is graded out at an 80 overall, good for the 60th spot in the rankings.

Miles Plumlee is the next highest rated Suns player, with a rating of 78. This puts him 97th on the list. Rated similarly are Joel Embiid (77) and Thad Young (78).

Next up are Gerald Green and Markieff Morris, who both were rated at a 78 and fall at 108th and 110th, respectively. In their general neck of the woods are Nick 'Swaggy P' Youn (78) and Jared Sullinger (78).

PJ Tucker comes in next, with a 76 overall rating and a ranking of 140th, which puts him right in the neighborhood of Tobias Harris (76) and Evan Turner (76).

At 75 overall, Marcus Morris is ranked 183rd, similar to Tayshaun Prince (75) and Khris Middleton (75). Anthony Tolliver comes in at 73, ranked 239th and falling right between Ed Davis (73) and Cody Zeller (73).

TJ Warren is graded out at a 72, good for 282nd on the list, while Tyler Ennis is given a 71 putting him at 303rd. Other rookies in that range include Zach LaVine (72), Gary Harris (71) and James Ennis (70).

The next Suns to appear are Archie Goodwin (69) and Alex Len (67). This continues a trend of low evaluations of players from the 2013 Draft Class. In roughly the same boat as Archie and Alex are Shabazz Muhammad (67), Otto Porter (68) and, almost inexplicably, ASU's Carrick Felix (68), who played all of 38 minutes last season.

The lowest rated Sun is our resident bench warmer extraordinaire, Shavlik Randolph, who's 64 overall rating ties him for the worst overall rating, with elastic-armed rookie Bruno Caboclo of Brazil.

There you have it. Overall, the 2K Sports team seems to believe the Suns have a team stacked with good, but not great talent. While one can argue with small placement differences, the overall ratings of Suns players seem fair and relatively balanced.

The full ratings list should be completely released sometime in the next 3-5 days. The game is set to release October 7th in the US.

In the second part of our preview series, we look at the coaching staff. Coach Hornacek has always been open about what the team needs to improve.

The Phoenix Suns coaching staff, led by rookie Head Coach Jeff Hornacek, exceeded all expectations last season. Not only did the newly-formed group have surprising success in the win-loss column, they helped a number of players exceed their career numbers by a landslide.

Hornacek hired Jerry Sichting to help devise an offense that was better than expected, and Mike Longabardi came over from Boston to help scheme a passable defense. Mark West and Kenny Gattison worked with the big men, and break out players Markieff Morris and Miles Plumlee had the best seasons of their careers.

"There is genuine teaching going on at a level we never had," Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby said before last season began. "Jeff, first and foremost, has a great way of communicating with the kids. He's a teacher. And his staff has been teaching. I come down here and I'm just sort of amazed at the level of teaching that's going on now that didn't exist before.

"And he's not just paying lip service to it. He genuinely enjoys it."

The proof was in the pudding, if the pudding is wins and progression from year to year.suns-year-over-year-progress

*data per basketball-reference.com

The Phoenix Suns improved in nearly every single category from 2012-13, and that was AFTER the team was gutted for youth in the offseason. Three starters from the 2012-13 season - Jared Dudley, Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola - were traded for younger players, and the team got a lot better anyway. One of the more experienced NBA teams was transformed into the second-least experienced NBA team last season, and the team got a lot better anyway.

Much of that is thanks to Jeff Hornacek and his coaching staff. Sure they can get better. Being just inside the top 10 in some categories is not the top of your mountain as a coaching staff. Just being passable on D is not good enough either.

But getting your team to 48 wins after being predicted to win 21 is enough to get you second place in the Coach of the Year voting. Especially after the team did exactly what you said they would do before the season started.

2013-14 season recap

A year ago, our own Jim Coughenour got a unique, exclusive interview with new Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek. Hornacek had been on the high-scoring, resurgent Suns team in 1988 that went on to multiple Western Conference Finals appearances in five years after bottoming out in early 1988.

"What did we average last year?" asked Hornacek when asked if the Suns could exceed 102.9 points per game, which was met or exceeded by only five teams in 2012-13. The Suns averaged 95.2. "Over 102.9, we would hope we can get there. If we can get there I think that's a good start for us in our first year. So, hopefully, I would say yes."

The Suns more than had a good start, averaging 105.2, good for 7th in the league in pure scoring. That's 10 more points per game than the season before. Most of the roster was turned over, but none of them had been reliable scorers in their careers.

Better Shooting

"We put certain drills out there, certain routines for these guys," he said. "We have great coaches, all guys that have been around the league for a while that can help each one of our players improve their shooting. It's up to them, also, to put up that effort."career-year-TS

"We go by the fact that you want to shoot that game speed shot," Hornacek said. "A guy that comes to the gym and shoots 500 shots in a lazy fashion, he's just wasting his time. If you're going to come to the gym and shoot extra shots, we want them to be game speed. If you shoot 100 of them at game speed, it's going to be more beneficial than the 500 at a slow pace. Our coaches will harp on that. We'll push the guys to really put themselves in the positions they would be in a game while they're practicing."

Efficient Offense

"I think with our guys, with Goran and Eric at the point guard, we have two guys who can get the ball and really go with it. We have to have shooters. I think that guys like Caron Butler will really add to the ability to spread the floor and get down the court and get open shots. Hopefully Gerald Green and other guys that we have that can shoot the ball can help this."

Butler was traded before the season started, but Channing Frye returned from the shelf to help Marcus Morris and Gerald Green provide a lot of three-point shooting to spread the floor.

efficient-offense

The Suns had no inside threat to start the season, so Hornacek devised an offense that created a lot of shots in the paint from the guards on dribble drives off the pick and roll. Back when Nash was the PG, the pick-and-roll resulted in pocket passes to Amare or kick-outs to the three-point shooters. But now, the Suns tapped the strength of their best players to create a two-pronged attack predicated on the pick-and-drive or pick-and-pop.

"Obviously you have to find that balance when it gets out of control, when they're taking bad shots," Hornacek said. "That kind of stuff you learn in practice. We go over and over that in practice to allow the guys freedom but teach them what shots are good and what shots are bad. Of course you can't fast break every time down the court because there are out of bounds plays and time outs, so that's when you really have to have the execution of a half-court offense. That's where you need to find the balance."

The Suns did not have a low-post threat last season beyond the occasional success of Markieff Morris, which was a true godsend late in the year. Coach Hornacek often commented on the lack of pure scoring under the basket, but worked around it all year to win most of the wars while slightly losing those battles at the rim.

Defense

"First, of all you have to play some defense," Hornacek told Jim last year. "If you can get stops and have teams take bad shots or create turnovers, then you can really fly up and down the court."

The Suns hired the Celtics defensive guru Mike Longabardi, who figured out a scheme to play to his guys' strengths (quickness) and mask their weaknesses (strength).

The Suns really excelled and wreaking havoc. Dragic, P.J. Tucker and Bledsoe played hounding defense on the perimeter when healthy. Miles Plumlee did a great job early and late in the year of opportunistically defending the rim. He's no DeAndre Jordan, but he's a passable rim protector on the weak side. Channing Frye provided passable post defense, and Markieff and Marcus Morris got their hands into passing lanes. All in all, enough to get by.

opportunistic

The Suns did lose the battle on second-chance points, but not by as much as their roster suggested. To only lose that metric by 1 point a game is a win as far I as I am concerned.

Fast Breaks

"You have to have guys that can run. If you have slower guys then it isn't going to work. You need to have guards that can really push the ball and distribute. That hasn't changed since basketball has been played."

And push they did. The Suns led the league in fast break points.

And that's what Jeff's Suns did when he and Kevin Johnson played the Bledsoe/Dragic roles for that highly successful run in the late 80s and early 90s. It's not all about getting layup on the break. It's taking the best shot overall, and not hesitating to take when it's there.

"If you get out and run the break," he said. "[coach] Cotton Fitzsimmons always told me if I have an open shot from 18 feet out when it's one on four then go ahead and shoot it because that's the best shot we're going to get in our regular offense in terms of being open like that. I think there's value that when you push the ball and get open looks then hopefully you shoot higher percentages."

What he learned

"You learn a lot," he said at the end-of-season presser. "As coaches we need to look at things, what we didn't do very well. How we handled certain situations. I could have an idea of letting things go at the end of the game because that's what my teams always did that I played on, trying to figure out your guys that you have does that work the best or should you call timeouts."

Sure, he could get better at managing the game. He let them play a lot when as young players they might have benefited from a timeout. But Hornacek was coaching on the court all game long. During every timeout, he's talking to players about what they did and what they could do better in the future.

Early in the preseason, Markieff Morris wasn't yet convinced to get into the post yet on offense when the play was bogging down. He hung on the three-point line waiting for a kick-out that never came. As he ran back down the court, Horny yelled to get on the block as Morris put his hands out to plead his case that he was open. By the time the season started, Morris had learned the lesson and ended up with his best professional season of his career.

"It was a growing process for me also, seeing how it went," Hornacek continued, reflecting on the season. "What worked and what didn't. Practice time. Do we practice these days? Looking at our records after certain days off, seeing did we practice too hard the day before. We'll try to improve for the coming year."

Challenges for the 2014-15 season

At different points in the summer, coach Hornacek has mentioned several areas the Suns need to improve in the coming season.

Developing the bigs

"Development is important," defensive assistant coach Mike Longabardi said in July, just before the Summer League. "We need to make sure these guys are getting better and are ready to play come November. That's whats most important."

The most obvious focus this summer has been on the development of the team's big men. The Suns have said that Markieff Morris will likely start this season next to Miles Plumlee. Last year, Keef was the backup to Channing Frye but Frye left for Orlando.

The Morris brothers, Miles Plumlee and Alex Len all spent nearly the entire summer in the valley, working out at the arena and with the trainers. Reports are that all are bigger than last year, but they each need to develop new skills to grow as players.

Miles Plumlee is working on scoring from the low block. GM McDonough said it was one of his failings last year that he couldn't find a paint scorer for Hornacek. Plumlee spent his 6-game Summer League stint hoisting hook shots and mid range jumpers with little success. But last summer, P.J. Tucker had the same problems with his three-pointer. It was during July, August and September that Tucker realized success that would last the whole season. Can Plumlee find the same with his scoring?

The Suns season, in my opinion, hinges a lot on Miles Plumlee's availability. It doesn't even matter if he improves - he just needs to stay healthy. While the Suns have plenty of depth to get by at the other positions, if you take Plumlee out of the picture who's left? Alex Len as the starter? Earl Barron? Markieff Morris? None are 30+-minute-a-night answers in 2014-15.

Let's talk Alex Len. From April to early July, Len made a lot of progress. He gained a lot of mass (I'd say muscle, but you know some of it had to be water weight he'd lose once games started), topping out at 260 before SL started.

"He does look good," Longabardi said right before SL. "He's put the time in with Nelly, Cowboy all those guys in the training staff mafia. And he's put his time here with Mark and Kenny. And he wants to be good. He's feeling more comfortable. He's playing a lot more free and easy, which is good. Hopefully, that will continue."

But then he got injured (pinkie finger) in the first SL game, which ruined a lot of development time. Before that he'd made great progress and he's been back playing ball for much of September.

"I see the most improvement from our center position. When I watch Miles Plumlee and Alex Len, I see different players than we saw in April. Those guys have improved a lot individually."

--GM Ryan McDonough to FoxSports910 this week

Markieff Morris is another key to a good season for the Suns. While they signed Anthony Tolliver to take some of Channing Frye's minutes as a stretch four, it's Markieff Morris that Hornacek has already tabbed as the starter.

Keef and his brother Marcus Morris have been lifting weights all summer to get stronger, so they can share the PF position in 2014-15. Mook will be more of the stretch four, while Keef will be the big man who plays on the block like he did last year. Where Keef needs to improve is his post defense, rebounding and to become a threat from the three point line to open up the lanes for drivers.

"Markieff I think will have a big year for us."

--GM Ryan McDonough to FoxSports910 this week

Improving the defense

Coach Longabardi led the defensive scheming last season to get a group of under-experienced players to produce an above-average defense. Lacking a true rebounder made it difficult finish defensive possessions, as evidenced by the net negative on second-chance points (shown above), but the Suns competed.

"We have to be more physical," Hornacek said this summer. "We have to really be more solid on the rotations. Not having the breakdowns, especially defensively. To beat the big teams, you can't have 20% of the time going ‘oh yeah I forgot my rotation' or ‘my bad'. It's got to be in that 95-100% you're doing the right thing. You look at these top teams, they are in the right rotation all of the time."

The Suns return most of the same players from last season. Only Isaiah Thomas and Anthony Tolliver (and maybe Zoran Dragic?) are new to the rotation. So a second year of teaching the defense should result in better accountability from the team.

"We will push these guys to play defense," coach Hornacek said. "The old Phoenix Suns, that's always the talk with ‘no defense' but we'll emphasize defense. I think the guys are going to have to scrap and play hard.

"A high percentage of defense is effort. If you put the effort in you can get away with things. That what I did when I was playing. I wasn't the greatest defender, but if you put the effort in you can do a decent job."

Distributing minutes

"We talked about it," he said of courting Isaiah Thomas this summer while wanting to bring back Eric Bledsoe. "We talked about how it was going to affect peoples' minutes, how we would play it.

"But again we still go into training camp with the guys that are here and are going to play. We feel it just gives us another weapon if something happens with Eric or Goran with injury, and not lose a beat."

Definitely, Thomas gives them a high-caliber insurance in case of injury. Additionally, Gerald Green is back, Archie Goodwin is a year older and Zoran Dragic is a lion heart. But not everyone will be happy, once the games start. Everyone will want their share.

"I think they will all be affected a little bit," Hornacek said. "Like we did last year, when guys are going good they will be in there. We've explained it to them that some nights you're going to have it, some nights other guys are going to be hot and you're going to ride with them and maybe that game you don't play as much. The next game you might be the hot guy and you play some more.

"Our guys were good about that last year. It makes it easier on us coaches that they understand that and respect that. They know that's the best chance we have for winning, the hot guys staying in, and they cheer for each other and that's what's great."

More than anything, it will be Hornacek's job to make sure they all stay happy.

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