One of the big keys to the Phoenix Suns season will be to win the battle of the three-point plays.

When you didn't make the playoffs last year, you need to improve in a lot of areas. The Suns were good in some ways, but lacking in others.

We can debate the makeup of the roster all day long, and even the schemes the Suns employ. We can even suggest trades that would fill in every hole known to man and somehow make the Suns an 82-0 team without giving up any necessary players. You know who you are. You're already itching to jump down to the comments section to suggest a blockbuster.

But this article focuses on the current Suns roster, and identifies one way the Suns can improve without making any trades.

Some things we know for sure about the Phoenix Suns this season:

  1. The Hydra will make the Suns exciting and will win the battle of back courts on most nights
  2. The front court will be frustrating and will lose the battle of front courts on most nights

Breaking down the pluses and minuses of the front court is a long, drawn-out conversation. Today, I am going to focus on three-point plays, some of which are generated in the paint as shooting fouls on made baskets.

Last season, the Suns finished in the Top 15 on defensive efficiency (points allowed per possession) for the first time since the 2006-07 season. They did so not with a premiere shot blocking anchor in the middle, but with a three-point line defense that ranked #2 overall in the league.

The Suns allowed a lot of scores at the rim, but more than made up for it by winning the battle of the three-pointer.

Defending the three

When you are smaller than most of your opponents, you cannot expect to win by playing traditional defense. You're going to get beat up under the basket.

But games aren't won or lost under the basket any more. When the object is to score more points than your opponent, the key is to stop the shots that create the most points.

There are only two ways to score more than two points on a possession: making a three-point basket from behind the arc, and enticing a shooting-foul on a made basket.

The Suns were the second-best team in league at defending the three-point line (34.1%) while being 8th best overall in making them (37.2%). Overall, the Suns took 5.2 more threes than their opponent and outscored them by 9.1 points per game from behind the arc.

For the Suns to continue to have success this season, they will have to reprise that advantage. On the perimeter, the Suns bring back all of their regulars from last season, with only swapping undersized Ish Smith for undersized Isaiah Thomas.

And to that end, the Suns in the preseasons have defended just as well as last year (2nd in three-point defense) but have not shot the ball as well. You can throw preseason stats out the window, for sure, but still it's good to see consistency in scheme there.

Making the three

Despite losing Channing Frye to the Orlando Magic, the Suns return all four of their top three-point shooters from last season (Goran Dragic, Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker and Marcus Morris made 38.1 - 40.7%) and six of their top seven overall. They also added Anthony Tolliver who made 41% of his threes last season in Charlotte, which would have been tops on the Suns, and Isaiah Thomas who made 40% of his threes in Sacramento last year before hurting his shooting wrist in February.

The Suns were only 8th in three-point percentage last year, so it's not a stretch to assume similar or better results this season.

Committing shooting fouls - the other 3-point play

I cannot find a perfect stat for this, so bear with me. I wanted to find out where the Suns ranked last year on the other kind of three-point play - shooting fouls. Ideally, I wanted to know how many three-point plays the Suns converted versus surrendered last year via the shooting foul. Unfortunately, I could not find such a stat on a team level. Synergy used to have it but they have shut down public access as of October 1. But I got close.

Back in the mid-2000s, one of Mike D'Antoni's tenets for his Suns team was to commit the fewest fouls possible. In fact, the Suns regularly were in the bottom three of the league in fouls committed. His premise was sound: why allow the other team to turn a two-pointer into a three-pointer?

Where Phoenix struggled was committing way too many fouls. The Suns committed the 23rd-most fouls last season and were 23rd in opponent free throw attempts per offensive play.

These errors should be correctable. As Miles Plumlee gains experience, he will learn when and how to commit fouls and when to just allow the points. He will also get better at early positioning on defense, so he doesn't put himself into recovery mode that so often results in fouls. Unfortunately, Plumlee hasn't shown any progress in this area in preseason.

Also working against the Suns this season is the role Alex Len will play. The 7'1" Len is only 21 and has barely played in the past 18 months, so he is very likely to have a high foul rate this season.

The Morris twins, as well, have high foul rates despite having a lot more NBA experience. As they enter their fourth seasons, each should be expected to reduce their foul rates this year.

If the Suns can somehow finish in the middle of the pack on shooting fouls committed, they can stop shooting themselves in the foot so much this season.

Drawing shooting fouls

Back in the mid-2000s, the Suns would prefer to convert their own three-point plays than watch the other team do it. In those days, PF Amare Stoudemire was a master at drawing shooting fouls on the pick-and-roll.

These Suns of 2014-15 have no one like STAT. Yet these Suns do have three point guards who thrive at drawing shooting fouls on drives to the rim from the perimeter. Overall, the Suns were a respectable 13th overall last season in free throws attempted per offensive play. Considering the Suns disadvantage in size, it's a testament to Dragic and Bledsoe's, as well as Markieff Morris', fearlessness driving into the teeth of the defense.

This year, the Suns have added Isaiah Thomas who is good in his own right at driving to the rim and drawing fouls along the way.

All three of the Hydra were among the league's Top 13 players with the most drives per game, Top 14 in team PPG on drives and Top 16 on personal PPG on drives, per These guys create points in bunches.


Three out of four ain't bad. The Suns are:

  • Really good at stopping three-pointers
  • Pretty good at making them
  • Okay, and getting better, at drawing shooting fouls
  • Really bad at committing shooting fouls

The Suns will likely continue to focus on both kinds of three-point plays this season and it will be one of their keys to the season. Between the long-range bomber offense and the Slash Brothers, or Slash Triplets, or Hydra, they will continue to score in bunches.

Where the Suns need to improve is on the defensive end. They need to maintain their effectiveness in defending the long bombs while also reducing their foul rate at the rim.

Teams are going to score at the rim. They just will. The Suns are not the biggest team in the NBA nor the stingiest defense.

They just need to stop making matters worse by committing shooting fouls. The Suns are an aggressive defense. Fouls will happen. Layups will be given up.

Just don't make it a three-point play.

Will the Suns' reliance on their guards to provide the bulk of the scoring be an issue this season?

If the Phoenix Suns showed anything during the preseason, it's that they have the deepest, and likely the most dangerous guard rotation in the NBA.

In fact, their best three players, Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and Isaiah Thomas, all play the same position.  But the great thing about the Suns' system is that they run an offense in which both guards share the duties of bringing the ball up the court and facilitating the offense.

Phoenix also experimented with the three-guard line-up which also proved successful.  In fact, having Dragic-Bledsoe-Thomas on the court together against the Utah Jazz spurred a 9-4 run to help them overcome an 89-88 deficit, and close out a victory late in the fourth quarter.

In addition to the three point guards, the Suns have also mixed in a heavy helping of Gerald Green off the bench. And once again, Green is proving to be an offensive spark plug...bolstering both his teammates and the fans with high-flying dunks and three-point shooting.

The Four-Headed Monster?

All in all, the Suns finished the preseason with a record of 5-2.  Who were their top scorers?  Yep, you guessed it.  Bledsoe was 1st (15 ppg); Thomas was 2nd (14.1 ppg); Dragic was 3rd (12.4 ppg); and Green was 4th (12.3 ppg).

However, as great as that is for the Suns guards, it does raise some questions as to the balance of the offense.  It certainly isn't normal that the four highest scorers on the team are all guards.  In fact, I looked at the stats around the league just to make sure, and found that no other team had all guards in their top four.

In fact, only the Pacers had four guards among their top five scorers as the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th highest during the preseason. Even then, this would almost certainly be different if Paul George were playing.

So what does this all mean?  Well, no one really knows...yet.

One thing that stands out though, when looking at the numbers, is that the Suns are obviously getting excellent production from their back-court.  But their front-court?  Not so much.

Let's Look At The Numbers

In order to try to make this as realistic as possible, I looked at the top 10 players according to the minutes they played, which happens to be the same 10-man rotation most likely to play in the regular season as well.

Of those ten players, the total points scored per game, on average, was 92.6.  Of that total, the guards accounted for 53.9 points per game, and the forwards and centers accounted for 38.7.

This means that the guards scored 58.2% of the points per game, and everyone else scored only 41.8%.

But is this really a cause for concern?  After all, if your best players are all guards, you would naturally want them to do most of the scoring.

But Wait, There's More...

Looking closer at the numbers, the top 10 players took an average of 69.3 shots per game.  Of those shot attempts, the guards took 53% of the shots, and the forwards and centers took 47%.  This is a much more balanced distribution than the scoring numbers would suggest.  So what is going on?

Well, if you haven't already figured it out, the difference is in the efficiency.

It's not that the Suns aren't trying to spread the ball around on offense, it's that their guards are substantially outperforming the other positions when it comes to making their shots.

The guards averaged 49.8% shooting from the field throughout the preseason.  The forwards and centers averaged only 39.8% (when you take out Alex Len's only two shots that he attempted and made in one game).

This is especially concerning when you consider that the forwards and centers are normally shooting the ball much closer to the basket on average, and they should actually have a higher field goal percentage because of it.

A Look At The Competition

Take the Golden State Warriors, for instance, who also have one of the best back-court duo's in the league, and are probably the most similar team to the Suns overall.

The guards on the Warriors accounted for 52% of the scoring, compared to 48% for the forwards and centers.  That alone is a substantial difference from the Suns.

In addition to that, the guards averaged 50.6% from the field, and their forwards and centers averaged 58.7%.

This shows that the Warriors were very balanced offensively this preseason, and although their guards scored more points, their forwards and centers were more efficient inside and made the most of their opportunities when they got their touches.

Uncharted Territory

The Suns are embarking on a brand new experiment this season that could rival the Seven-Seconds-or-Less, Mike D'Antoni and Steve Nash system, that brought the fast-paced, high-scoring style of offense to the league.

But will it be as successful?  Could it be even more so?

That remains to be seen.  I certainly don't think the Suns mind the guards taking the majority of the shots or scoring the bulk of the points offensively.

After all, the main priority of the Suns' big men will be to defend the rim and rebound. But at the same time, the Suns have to be able to convert high-percentage shots at and around the basket without relying so heavily on the guards to carry the load.

The data shows that they are trying to get the other players involved in the offense, but that they just haven't been nearly efficient enough when given the opportunity.

Of course, that could certainly change.  Markieff Morris had a slow start to the preseason, but played much better in the finale against the Jazz.  Last year, Keef was the fourth-leading scorer, and averaged 13.7 points per game, while shooting 48.6 % from the field.

If the Suns can get that type of production from him, plus solid defense and rebounding from the center position, I see no reason why they can't make this work.

Not only that, but things could even out now that the exhibition games have ended--with the rotations becoming more static, and the focus more on execution than experimentation.

Still, this will definitely be something to keep an eye on as the regular season gets underway.

Finishing 33-33 and out of the playoffs for the second consecutive year, the 2011-12 Phoenix Suns were not a particularly memorable squad. But that season featured the last great performance of certain future Ring of Honor and Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Steve Nash. He made the All-Star team and nearly led the league in assists.

Steve Nash's final two Suns seasons, post-Amar'e, missing the playoffs and looking like a shell of their former "7 Seconds or Less" selves, were difficult for many fans to take after the thrills of the high-scoring, championship-contending teams of the mid and late '00s.

Personally, I found enjoyment in the 2011-12 team. After a slow start, a less than awe-inspiring starting lineup of Nash, Jared Dudley, Grant Hill, Channing Frye and Marcin Gortat proved to be extremely effective. Nash and Gortat executed a deadly pick and roll game, with Frye and Dudley providing floor spacing, and Hill wing defense. That five-man group produced +13.4 points per 100 possessions over opponents.

Unfortunately, the slow start, a weak bench and late injuries to Hill and Frye doomed the Suns to the lottery again.

That season was also my first as a front page writer here, and I posted on a regular basis, which may be a reason I hold fonder memories of it than most. I was fully engaged and invested in that team.

For those of you who weren't around then, or anyone who wants to take a walk down memory lane, here are a few of the Nash pieces I wrote then. They're all more meaningful than anything I could write about him now that he's been gone so long.

Steve Nash, Greatest Phoenix Suns Player Ever

Members of the staff wrote tributes to Nash to celebrate his 38th birthday on February 7th, 2012. I used the occasion to stake my claim that Nash is the greatest ever Suns player.

When he returned to Phoenix from Dallas, the Suns were a 29-53 team, with the 21st rated offense in the league. In his first season back, 2004-2005, the Suns won 62 games with the NBA's best offense, making the Western Conference Finals only to lose to the eventual league champion San Antonio Spurs. Another 60-win season, two 50-win seasons and two more conference finals appearances followed as Nash won league MVP twice.

Then, like a boss, Nash went out and hit the game-winning shot that night.

Suns Win Shootout in Indy, Down Pacers 113-111

The Suns dug themselves out of an early season hole to make a push for the #8 playoff seed with strong play in late February and March. On March 23rd, they exploded for 113 points against the vaunted Pacers defense (sound familiar?), as Nash dished 17 assists. Remember that Gortat led the Suns in scoring that season behind the effectiveness of Nash's pick and roll game with him.

The Suns and Pacers played a good old-fashioned shootout tonight, with the Suns prevailing 113-111. Steve Nash added another masterpiece to his ever-growing collection with 17 assists and 12 points, Grant Hill showed he loves playing in Indianapolis with a season-high 22 points, and Marcin Gortat came up strong in his duel with All-Star center Roy Hibbert, scoring 23.

Steve Nash Doesn't Want to Be Traded, National Media Need to Get Over It

One of the less pleasant parts of Nash's final season was the constant trade rumors, even though Nash and Babby both repeatedly stated he wouldn't be traded. I did not like this. I did not like it one bit, and got nice and ranty one Friday afternoon in March of that year.

Most importantly, Nash says he wants to honor his contract and fulfill his commitment in Phoenix. What the hell is it with so-called experts who pretend they know his situation and motivations better than he does? On last night's post-game, analyst Dennis Scott called Nash "too loyal" and that the Suns "owe him" a trade. Those sound like the words of a man who isn't loyal enough, or who has no clue what loyalty is.

And before anyone even thinks of telling me, "But Ray, he ended up on the Lakers, so you were wrong." No. Surely, we can all tell the difference between a player under contract requesting a trade, and a free agent leaving his previous team when they've already signed his replacement, right?

Steve Nash as a 40 Year Old Point Guard: Why Not?

Hey, I'm not a doctor or trainer. Who knew a piece of luggage would do him in? Also, I think now is a fair time to debate Nash vs. Stockton.

All of which is to say that, while what Nash will attempt to do is rarely achieved, it's not unprecedented. Nobody can tell the future, especially with regards to injuries, but there are no obvious reasons he can't continue his current level of play for at least another couple of seasons.

I enjoyed watching Nash play more than nearly every athlete in my lifetime as a sports fan. It was watching a master craftsman at work.

When he left for the Lakers, it stunned and disappointed us all, but then I think we understood it was a.) for the best and b.) not his fault since the Suns clearly didn't want him any more after drafting Kendall Marshall and signing Goran Dragic as a free agent.

Now we have Archie Goodwin and another pick on the way, and we'll always have the great memories of Steve Nash as the brightest Sun of all.

The Suns waived Earl Barron today

Today, the Phoenix Suns made what is likely to be the final move to their roster before the start of the NBA season, by waiving 7' 0" center Earl Barron.

Barron, a seven-year NBA veteran, was a training camp invitee who signed with the Suns on Sept. 26th.  Earl was given the opportunity to help fortify the center position behind Miles Plumlee and Alex Len.  Barron's competition for the 15th and final spot on the roster was also the other player hoping to be the team's third center, Shavlik Randolph.

The advantage for Randolph coming in, is that he was already signed to a guaranteed contract of $1.22 million for the season, so if Earl was planning on unseating him, he would have to make a big statement.

In the first few preseason games, Barron did just that.  In his best game, he scored 10 points on 5/8 shooting from the field and grabbed 13 rebounds against the Houston Rockets.

However, he was not able to sustain his production over the entire preseason the way he needed to, and Shavlik Randolph answered back shortly after with an impressive game of his own against the Los Angeles Lakers, in which he showed of his three-point shooting range...including a clutch shot to help the Suns win in overtime.

In the end, the Suns chose to keep their guy who was already under contract for the season.  But it isn't just because of that.

In addition to his improved shooting range, Randolph has also proven to be reliable enough to play at both the four and the five, and always hustles on both ends of the floor.  His versatility as a player, ability to spread the floor, and energy on both ends of the court were probably the most substantial factors in the decision to keep him over Barron.

With this move, the Suns are now at 15 players, the maximum they can keep on their regular season roster.  This is likely the last move they will make before the start of the season, but that doesn't mean they won't continue to look for opportunities to continue improving their team during the season either.

If the Suns were able to keep a 16th player, I have little doubt they would have kept Earl Barron on the roster for now.  However, there simply isn't enough room, and someone had to go.

Good luck, Earl.

Back again, in this article we break down the Power Forward position!

Last year, to much fanfare, our own Jacob Padilla broke down his letter grades and rankings of players at each of the positions in the NBA. This year, I'm going to do the same thing, but with two twists.

The first rankings, of the Center position, can be found here.

First, I am going to introduce a slight empirical element to this grading system. Instead of going entirely by the gut, I will base at least part of my grades on a composite ranking scale that takes into account a players ranking on four aggregate statistics from the 2013-14 season that all have slightly different emphases: Win Shares per 48 (from, ESPN's Real Plus/Minus, PER, and PoP48 (from This hopefully adds a little objectivity to the analysis. (Note: because there are players who didn't play last year, the rankings cannot be entirely based upon this.)

Second, I am taking a cue from the great Bill Simmons, who invites commentary from the infamous Cousin Sal in his NBA rankings columns, and inviting commentary from my friend and Suns junkie Julian Gottlieb. Whereas I rely on statistics to inform my grades, Gottlieb will provide gut check evaluations.

The grading system will remain roughly the same as last season:


S: Best in the Game (LeBron James)

A+: Second Best in the Game (Kevin Durant)

A: Top 5 Player

A-: Top 5 at the Position

B+: All-Star Caliber

B: Above Average Starters/Fringe All-Star Caliber

B-: Above Average Starters

C+: Average Starters

C: Fringe Starter/Bench Player

C-: Good Bench Player

D+: Average Bench Player

D: Fringe Rotation Player

D-: Fringe NBA Player

F: Soon to be Puerto Rican League All-Star!

NOTE: Order within the grades does not mean anything.

I am evaluating the Power Forward Position today (link takes you to the publicly viewable Google Sheets page for all position raw rankings).

A: Top 5 Player

Kevin Love (2.5)

Kevin Love is a Top 5 player right now. This for some reason is a divisive question, but I feel fairly strongly that this is true. His combination of a floor stretching shooting touch and a solid rebounding ability is entirely unique in the NBA right now, at least among players who do either well enough to get consistent minutes. The rankings also show Love as clearly a notch above his competitors: he falls out of the Top 2 in only one statistic, Real Plus/Minus, where he places 6th.

A-: Top 5 at Position

Tim Duncan (6.5); Blake Griffin (7); Anthony Davis (7.5); Serge Ibaka (8.25); Dirk Nowitzki (9.25)

Amazingly, two players in the discussion for Top 5 at the position are two of the oldest players on the list: Dirk and Duncan. These guys both had very good seasons last year, though I think Dirk's is slightly more impressive. Duncan benefits from a phenomenon I've started to notice that I am going to call the Extremes effect. Teams at the far end of the wins distribution see a bump in the performance of their players, even if objectively those players might not truly have been as good as the stats bear out. Duncan benefited tremendously from being on the Spurs. That isn't to say he isn't still a great player; it just helps explain how, even though he looked a tad slower and played fewer minutes, he still grades out as among the best.  Davis, Griffin and Ibaka are, with Love, the future of the position. Theoretically, any of the three could make the move up to Top 5 in the NBA, but if I had to put my money on who might do it this year, its Anthony Davis. He's an absolute monster on the court.

Gottlieb's Gut Check

Dirk is due for an inevitable decline in production, but his tenure through the 00's has been an impressive one. Where does Dirk rank among the NBA's best foreign players? Well, if the US Virgin Islands doesn't count (and it doesn't), I have him second behind Hakeem. His former cowboy comrade Nash makes a strong case as well, but the decline since his back-to-back MVP seasons has been, well, difficult for this Suns fan to watch. I also struggle placing him above Patrick Ewing, but Ewing, a Jamaican native, spent most of his childhood in the States and Dirk's got a ring over him. In any event, he's clearly the best European player of all time.*

*Honorable mention to Detlef Schrempf and Pau Gasol, and obligatory reference to Drazen Petrovic, because Geoff made me.

B+: All-Star Caliber

Kenneth Faried (15.5); Al Horford (16.25)

I was conflicted about these two guys for different reasons. Faried is an energy guy. I think he is a notch below the guys above because he doesn't truly excel in anything. But if he can manage to transition his play from the FIBA World Championships onto the court, he could start to put himself in that conversation. The concerns about Horford are all injury related. When healthy, I think he is probably in the conversation for Top-5 at the position. When is a big question, though.

B: Above Average Starter/Fringe All-Star Caliber

Paul Millsap (19.5); LaMarcus Aldridge (19.75)

These guys both skip a few players ahead of them because of their quiet potential to impress. If their teams are successful, they are likely to get a lot of the credit, and rightfully so: these guys are both Top 10 offensive threats, according to the PER metric. If the success comes, so too likely will come the All-Star votes. Millsap is the most likely to see some regression, although the smart money seems to be on Aldridge's team to be more likely to fall below expectations.

Gottlieb's Gut Check

By Geoff's metric, LaMarcus is a bit underrated. I think he's top shelf. He put up career bests in rebounds and points last year. The guy put up 26.2 ppg in the playoffs last season and knocked off Houston in what proved to be the most exciting series. Oh and he made a guest appearance on Portlandia. He's trending up.

B-: Above Average Starter

David Lee (17.25); David West (18.5); Terrence Jones (19.75)

Lee and West are pretty safe placements here. They are long-time members of this club who have seen their peak days gone by. Of the two, West is perhaps more likely to make a case for being bumped up a tier since he will get more touches this season with the Paul George injury. Jones is a bit of an outlier. Last season was something of a coming out party for the 22 year old player out of Kentucky. Playing next to Dwight and Harden, he forms the third of what is likely to emerge as a new Big 2 and 1/2. That doesn't mean Jones is likely to regress at all. I think, considering he will still be the beneficiary of defenses over-covering on Dwight and Harden, his numbers are actually likely to increase.

C+: Average Starter

Amir Johnson (20.5); Kris Humphries (25); Markieff Morris (27); Ryan Anderson (28.25); Josh McRoberts (31.25); Patrick Patterson (32.25); Zach Randolph (32.5); Thad Young (48.25); Julius Randle

The biggest outlier here is Thad Young, who I believe was a victim of the Extreme's effect. Across every position, players on the 76ers grade out worse in the metrics than subjective analysis would lead you to believe. In his new home in Minnesota I expect him to revitalize and thrive. A case could be made for Amir Johnson in the group higher, based entirely on his aggregate ranking, but I expect both him and the Raptors to regress a bit this season. McRoberts I boost just a tad because he is going to be playing with a significantly better team, which should see his numbers increase. A surprisingly low ranking comes in for Zach Randolph, but like West and Lee above, he's a guy who saw his peak production years pass him by a few years ago. He's still a very productive player who would start on a good number of teams, but he's not better than average at this point. Randle shouldn't be a controversial slot-in here: he's going to poach minutes from Carlos Boozer right away, and he is pretty clearly better than Ed Davis. He is also going to be relied upon to score, which should keep him in the discussion for Rookie of the Year.

C: Fringe Starter/Bench Player

James Johnson (21.25); Drew Gooden (24.5); Jeff Adrien (25.5); Chris Copeland (27); Draymond Green (29.25); Taj Gibson (32.75); Ed Davis (37.5); Pau Gasol (42.25); Ersan Ilyasova (61); Nikola Mirotic; Damjan Rudez

Lakers fans and the Mike D'Antoni Sucks card carrying club members would never let you believe it, but Pau Gasol was part of the problem in LA last season. Pau's offensive efficiency stats have been way down both of the last two years, and last year in particular he just wasn't putting in the defensive effort night in, night out. If he continues that way in Chicago, there could be problems between him and Coach Tom Thibodeau. Johnson and Adrien both had late blooms to their career, putting up career best years. In my mind, Adrien's was more impressive, since he did it with the Bucks, somehow escaping the Extremes effect. Draymond Green is quietly making a great case that he should be getting more minutes, perhaps at the expense of underperforming teammate Harrison Barnes. The versatile Green came in 12th in both PoP48 and Real Plus/Minus, and was only held back by a particularly unimpressive 12.7 PER. Considering the massive improvement in his shooting percentages last season, I expect him to continue to improve and make a strong case for the starting forward position beside David Lee. I expect Ersan Ilyasova to rebound this season, as he was likely a victim of the Extremes effect. The two Europeans fall here because, at least in theory, they are seasoned professionals who were brought over to compete for a starting spot. I am likely underrating Mirotic, who has played pretty well in pre-season, and overrating Rudez, who has played pretty abysmally, but this seems a fair first ranking for them.

Gottlieb's Gut Check

Well, he doesn't have much to hang his hat on numbers wise, but opportunity knocks in Indiana. Unfortunately, Solomon Hill has not looked menacing enough to threaten him for minutes, and Copeland has a big shot this upcoming year (unless they make a move before the trade deadline).

C-: Good Bench Player

Nick Collison (30.5); Tyler Hansbrough (35); Boris Diaw (35.5); Steve Novak (36.5); Jeremy Evans (38.5); Tristan Thompson (42); Tobias Harris (42); Channing Frye (42.25); Jared Sullinger (42.75); Hedo Turkoglu (48.25); Mirza Teletovic (50.75); John Henson (51.75); Thomas Robinson (53); JJ Hickson (53.5); Cody Zeller (58); Mike Scott (63.75); Adreian Payne; Jarnell Stokes; Noah Vonleh

Nick Collison and Boris Diaw fans are probably screaming that these players are criminally underrated, but I am again going to make the claim that they are unwitting beneficiaries of the Extremes effect. Both of these guys play on teams that require them to play very niche roles; take them out of their niche, and I am convinced they would perform significantly less well. Thomas Robinson, Mike Scott and Cody Zeller may all seem to be over-ranked, but I contend that, as single skill guys (rebounding, floor stretching and transition scoring, respectively), these three guys represent very valuable bench players, in a similar mold with Tyler Hansbrough and Hedo Turkoglu. John Henson likely suffered from the Extremes effect. Of the rookies, I believe Stokes has the greatest likelihood of moving up, as he is the most likely to see extended playing time if Gasol and Randolph cannot stay healthy (a very real concern).

D+: Average Bench Player

Jon Leuer (37.5); Trevor Booker (37.75); Matt Bonner (37.75); Anthony Tolliver (39.5); Amar'e Stoudemire (43.5); Ryan Kelly (55.75); Quincy Acy (56.75); Carl Landry (60); Luis Scola (63.75); Carlos Boozer (66.25); Donatas Motiejunas (66.5); Jeff Green (70); Ivan Johnson

A few of these guys (Bonner, Scola, Boozer, Landry, Amar'e) are past their prime guys who have sunk to just average bench player status. Bonner grades out better likely due to the Extremes effect. Leuer, Tolliver and Motiejunas are stretch guys who could see their value increase with more exposure this season. Booker is likely the beneficiary of the Extremes effect: no one who watched him play last season could realistically claim he looked as good as the aggregate stats make him out to be. Jeff Green is a bit of an outlier. To see a starter fall this low, even on a bad team where the player is likely susceptible to the Extremes effect, is pretty bad. I've never thought much of Green, personally, but this is lower even than I would have thought. Expect to see Quincy Acy a lot in a Knicks uniform this season. Friend and BSOTS contributor Bryan Gibberman seems to think he's likely to beat out Amar'e for playing time this year.

Gottlieb's Gut Check

It was painful to see the Suns let go of one of our best power forwards in team history (behind Sir Charles and Connie Hawkins), but it is hard not to have a bit of schadenfreude for the Knicks after seeing the value they've gotten from him. Totally unrelated: do you get drunk off wine baths? Now that Amar'e has discovered his Hebrew roots, is the wine manischewitz?

D: Fringe Rotation Player

Elton Brand (39.75); Jarvis Varnado (41.5); Reggie Evans (54); Dante Cunningham (56.5); Derrick Williams (63.75); Darrell Arthur (72.25); Ekpe Udoh (72.75); Brandon Davies (73.75); Shawne Williams (78.667); Andrew Nicholson (82); Aaron Gordon

Let me start off with an aside: I love Jarvis Varnado. I really, really hope he makes a roster. Varnado is an unbelievably good shot blocker. This is his only marketable skill. Yet he's very proficient at it, coming behind only Cole Aldrich and Rudy Gobert in Block Percentage. Another aside: Derrick Williams has been woefully mismanaged as a young player. I think from a pure skill viewpoint, Derrick Williams is an NBA player. In the proper situation, I think his confidence and psyche could be salvaged. However, Sacramento likely isn't that place. Andrew Nicholson saw one of the most complete offensive collapses I have ever seen in a young player, losing almost a full 10% on his shooting percentages. That being said, there were small signs of improvement in other areas: he rebounded better and turned the ball over less. If he can regain even half of his lost scoring touch from the 2012-13 campaign, it seems likely he will be moving up in the rankings. Shawne Williams and Brandon Davies both likely suffered from the Extremes effect, but they were both pretty bad in a large minutes sample. While I think Aaron Gordon has a lot of potential, I think it is going to be a rough year for him, and I think he is going to play like a guy who shouldn't see minutes for Orlando.

D-: Fringe NBA Player

Greg Smith (43.5); Robert Covington (44.25); Brandon Bass (45.5); Kenyon Martin (49.75); Jonas Jerebko (51.75); Lavoy Allen (52.75); Luke Babbitt (57.75); Glen Davis (62); Shavlik Randolph (63.75); Rashard Lewis (65.5); Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (66.75); Udonis Haslem (69.25); Kevin Seraphin (74.25); Arnett Moultrie (85.25); Arinze Onuaku (89); Erik Murphy (89.25); Dwight Powell; Cory Jefferson; Johnny O'Bryant III; Patric Young; Grant Jerrett

I might be a tad harsh on Brandon Bass here, but this is the last year of his contract, and approaching 30, it seems likely he is going to have trouble getting a contract next season. Lavoy Allen and Arnett Moultrie are both probably both more valuable than this. Lavoy Allen saw all of his metric stats improve during his time with the Pacers, highlighting the negative impacts of playing for the 76ers. I hope Jonas Jerebko manages to get another contract after his expires this off-season. He was once a very exciting player to watch. However, his play style and lack of explosiveness after his knee injury a few seasons ago means this seems increasingly unlikely. Of the rookies, I think Cory Jefferson has the highest likelihood of seeing significant minutes this season. He played very well in the Summer League, and the Nets are thin in the front-court, meaning he is likely to get playing time.

F: Future Puerto Rican League All-Star!

Travis Outlaw (74.5); Charlie Villanueva (74.75); Lou Amundson (78.667); Antawn Jamison (87)

Outlaw, Villanueva, Amundson and Jamison are all guys who are past their prime. Jamison, at 38 and with 16 years experience, was at least once an All-Star caliber player. Outlaw, Villanueva and Amundson have had relatively long careers, but they were never all that skilled. Their past-their-prime selves are even less skilled.

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