The Phoenix Suns used the D-League Bakersfield Jam to stretch out their young players’ legs in the past few seasons, but now they’ll be able to utilize the minor league teams to an...

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PHOENIX — Winning teams need a perimeter defensive stopper. The position is essential to any team with NBA championship aspirations. Just look at a few of the swingman from the eight teams...

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Over the course of the last few years, the NBA and the NBA Development League have grown closer and closer together as the D-League has shifted towards more of a true minor league model.

In the past, a handful of NBA teams shared affiliation with a single D-League club. For example, the Suns - along with a couple other NBA teams - have been affiliated with the Albuquerque Thunderbirds (now the Canton Charge), Iowa Energy, Bakersfield Jam over the last few years.

However, more and more teams have begun buying into the D-League - literally - as several teams have entered into one-to-one affiliations, whether it be through a total takeover of ownership or through hybrid affiliations.

According to Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic, the Suns will be following suit.

The Suns are building a farm.

Much like how Reno serves as the Diamondbacks' Triple-A minor-league affiliate, the Suns will start a hybrid affiliation with the D-League's Bakersfield franchise this year.

In an agreement that is expected to be finalized next week, the Suns will finance and run the basketball operations of the D-League franchise while Bakersfield's ownership will continue handling business operations, community relations and other non-basketball functions.

The Suns will become either the 15th or the 16th team (depending on when the Orlando Magic and Erie Bayhawks finalize their deal) to enter into a single affiliation with a D-League team. The Suns and Magic will join the Memphis Grizzlies (Iowa Energy), Boston Celtics (Maine Red Claws), Detroit Pistons (Grand Rapids NBA D-League Team), Houston Rockets (Rio Grande Valley Vipers), Miami Heat (Sioux Falls Skyforce) and Sacramento Kings (Reno Bighorns) in hybrid affiliation. Eight other teams - the Cleveland Cavaliers (Canton Charge), Golden State Warriors (Santa Cruz Warriors), Los Angeles Lakers (L.A. D-Fenders), New York Knicks (Westchester NBA D-League Team), Oklahoma City Thunder (Tulsa 66ers), Philadelphia 76ers (Delaware 87ers), San Antonio Spurs (Austin Toros) and Dallas Mavericks (Texas Legends) - will own and operate their own affiliates.

That leaves only the Los Angeles Clippers, Utah Jazz, Toronto Raptors, Atlanta Hawks, Portland Blazers, Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Bobcats, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, Washington Wizards and New Orleans Pelicans without single affiliations. The Maine Red Claws Fort Wayne Mad Ants (the reigning D-League champions) and Idaho Stampede are the only remaining unaffiliated D-League teams.

In the past, the Suns have used the D-League sparingly, sending down under-played rookies for a couple stints to get some game action. However, with a single affiliation, they can - and should - do so much more. Control of a D-League team gives the Suns the ability to put their people into place at the GM and coach positions and make sure the team is run how they see fit. It can serve as a testing ground for ideas and concepts Jeff Hornacek and Ryan McDonough cook up. It allows the team to better develop young players they see potential in.

The poster child for this kind of partnership is the Houston Rockets' affiliate the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. The Rockets have turned the Vipers into a super version of themselves as they've installed a system that encourages a ton of 3-pointers as well as shots around the rim, and almost entirely removes mid-range shots. Check out their shot chart from a February article on Grantland:

Vipers_shotchart_medium

There are plenty of players who have come from the D-League to make an impact at the NBA level, and control over a team can only help the Suns to find and develop more of those late bloomers and hidden gems. The most recent example of this again comes from the Houston Rockets and Rio Grande Valley Vipers, as Troy Daniels spent most of the season in the D-League before joining the Rockets for the playoffs and making some big time shots in the first round.

The D-League can be a valuable tool for developing their own draft picks as well. With two raw rookies heading into their second year as well as up to four picks in the 2014 Draft, this could be a valuable partnership for the Suns.

The league is shifting towards a 30-team, single-affiliation minor league, and once that happens it will create more opportunities for both the NBA teams and the young players trying to make it in the league. Could we eventually see an expanded draft and other rule changes to go along with it? Only time will tell.

This is a smart move by Phoenix, and there really is no downside. It shows the organization is willing to take advantage of any of the assets at their disposal to create a winning team.

In what has turned out to be a bridesmaid season, the Phoenix Suns have added yet another 'just missed it' to the list as Markieff Morris finishes 4th in the Sixth Man of Year voting.

Despite having the most double-doubles off the bench, producing the most double-digit scoring efforts off the bench and leading the league in total bench points by more than 100, Markieff Morris finished only fourth in the Sixth Man of the Year voting, an award for players who make their living coming off the bench in place of a starter.

Morris received the second-most third-place votes, but otherwise was 3rd to 4th best candidate for Sixth Man of the Year for most everyone outside the Phoenix metro area.

On one hand, you might think the Suns should win a collective award for being in the running for so many awards this season as they surprised the league with a 48-34 record. But even then, the Suns would miss out to the Spurs or Clippers anyway.

  • Most Improved (Goran Dragic): 1st (WINNER!)
  • Coach of Year (Jeff Hornacek): 2nd
  • Executive of Year (Ryan McDonough): 2nd
  • Sportsmanship (Channing Frye): 3rd
  • Sixth Man of Year (Markieff Morris): 4th
  • Most Improved (Gerald Green): 4th
  • Most Improved (Markieff Morris): 10th
  • MVP (Goran Dragic): 16th

It seems that coming up short of the playoffs has been a death knell for voting in every award outside the 'Most Improved', which is generally open to players outside the playoff picture as a pat on the head effort.

These other awards are apparently reserved for the big boys who make the playoffs.

Manu Ginobili finished 3rd in the voting which looks like another lifetime achievement award for the Spurs. After RC Buford wrested the Exec award for signing Marco Belinelli and doing nothing else, and Gregg Popovich won the coach award, now Ginobili finishes ahead of Morris.

Manu Ginobili put up 12.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists in just under 23 minutes per game this season - all but the assists being less than Morris produced. Ginobili also missed 14 games, while Morris only missed 1 (suspension on opening night).

Taj Gibson finished 2nd in the voting, but it should have been he or Morris winning the thing. Gibson is a wonderful defensive player and pulled down more rebounds than Morris, while still averaging double digits in scoring.

Jamal Crawford was the winner, but more than half his points were scored as a starting player and he barely came off the bench for half the season. Giving this award to Crawford is a slap in the face to those players who spent the entire year doing what the award was created for: COMING OFF THE BENCH!

If the award was meant for guys who had seasons like Crawford's, it would have been called "NBA PART TIME STARTER OF THE YEAR".

Here's a look at some of the shooting guard and small forward prospects prior to the NBA Draft Combine later this month, whom the Suns may be able to choose from with their 14th pick in the coming draft.

With the uncertainty surrounding P.J. Tucker's future as a Phoenix Sun, as well as entering in to Gerald Green's contract year, the small forward and shooting guard positions will certainly be areas of interest come draft night.

Here are some of the shooting guard and small forward prospects that the Suns will be keeping a close eye on in the coming draft combine that could be potential candidates for their 14th pick.

14th Pick

Gary Harris, SG

6'4", 210lbs, 19 years old, Michigan St.

Gary_harris_medium

(Click to Enlarge - Stats Courtesy of ESPN)

Strengths: Excellent Slasher and Finisher, High Motor, Attacks the Basket, Efficient Mid-range Shooter, Good Defender

Weaknesses: Three-point shooting declined this season

Gary Harris will likely be a top 10 pick when it's all said and done, but as of right now he is mocked anywhere in the top 14...so I'm giving the Suns a chance at him.

Harris is a game-changer.  He plays with energy and hustle on both ends of the court and can absolutely take a game over when he gets going.  I've noticed that his play can be a little streaky at times, but when he gets hot, he catches fire.  Defensively, Harris plays with the same intensity as he does on offense, and has great fundamentals and b-ball I.Q.  He is also very coachable and plays well within a system.

His biggest drawback is that he still hasn't perfected his shooting from beyond the arc.  He is a much more natural scorer from inside of 20 feet, though his shooting touch and fundamentals lead me to believe he could certainly develop this aspect of his game.

If he's somehow still available at 14, he would be extremely difficult for the Suns to pass up.


Nik Stauskas, SG

6'6", 205lbs, 20 years old, Michigan

Nik_stauskas_medium

(Click to Enlarge - Stats Courtesy of ESPN)

Strengths: Excellent Shooter, Versatility, Ball-Handling, Shoots Well On or Off Ball, Quick Release on Shot

Weaknesses: Not a Great Defender, Average Athlete

Nik Stauskas has risen up the mocks due to his strong season at Michigan and his ability to shoot the ball at high-efficiency at anywhere on the court.  Not only is he a great catch-and-shoot player, but he is also effective at knocking down shots off the dribble, and possesses good ball-handling skills.

One of Stauskas's most intriguing skills is his shooting from beyond the arc.  He has true NBA range, and shoots the ball at an extremely high percentage from three.  But he's not limited to just that, he can also score at the basket and weave through traffic to create for others as well.

The biggest knock on Stauskas is his limited defensive ability, which may be exposed to a greater extent in the NBA.  Still, he shows good awareness on defense and rotates well, so he's not a complete liability on that end.  All in all he will be an intriguing prospect for the right team looking for more offense and perimeter scoring.


James Young, SF

6'7", 215lbs, 18 years old, Kentucky

James_young_medium

(Click to Enlarge - Stats Courtesy of ESPN)

Strengths: Natural Scorer, Great Size & Strength, NBA Body, Athletic, Gets to the Rim, High Ceiling

Weaknesses: Not a Great Three-Point Shooter, Below average defender

James Young has the most upside of any of the wings currently projected to be drafted in the lottery, and already has the type of game to fit into most NBA systems.  Young is a long, athletic, scorer who can get to the basket and also shoot the ball pretty well inside the arc.

Although his long arms and athleticism help him defensively, he hasn't shown very solid defensive fundamentals or an understanding of how to play within a system.  This could certainly improve with time though, and I think he has all the tools to become at least adequate in this regard.

Young showed a lot of progress through the year, increasing his importance to Kentucky's young team and helping the team advance in the tournament as well.  In fact, Young probably had the most impressive dunk of the entire tournament...with a savage throw down on two UCONN defenders during the championship game.  Although Kentucky lost the game, Young was definitely one of their bright spots with his 20 points and 7 rebounds....showing that he has the ability to step up in the spotlight.

Young is a very talented prospect who could continue to rise after the combine.  If he is available when the Suns pick at 14, he would certainly be a major consideration.


Rodney Hood, SF

6'8", 215lbs, 21 years old, Duke

Rodney_hood_medium

(Click to Enlarge - Stats Courtesy of ESPN)

Strengths: Excellent Shooter/Scorer. NBA Range, Good Size, NBA Ready, Athletic

Weaknesses: Not a Great Defender, Lower Ceiling

Rodney Hood was one of the better scorers in college basketball this season, and did it on a team who already had one of the best prospects overall, Jabari Parker.  There were many games where Rodney Hood actually stole Parker's thunder, and became the go-to scorer for the offense.

Although Parker certainly projects to be a better overall NBA prospect, Hood also showed a great deal of potential to impact the game with his lights-out shooting and ability to get to the rim.  Hood can score from anywhere on the court, and does so consistently and efficiently.

Hood's biggest knock is his lack of intensity on defense.  It appears he has the tools, but just doesn't play with the same energy as he does offensively.  He has also dropped a bit in the mocks lately, possibly due to his performance in Duke's last game of the season in which they lost to Mercer in the tournament.  Although he was great all season, he had a rare off-night, going only 2-10 from the field.  This shouldn't really affect him much when it's all said and done though, he has shown what he can bring to a team, and I expect him to be picked somewhere in the late lottery or the late teens.


Kyle Anderson, SF

6'9", 230lbs, 20 years old, UCLA

Kyle_anderson_medium

(Click to Enlarge - Stats Courtesy of ESPN)

Strengths: Unique Skill Set, Very Versatile, Great Size, 7'2" Wingspan, Great Passer & Court Vision, Good Rebounder

Weaknesses: Not Very Athletic, Lacks Quickness, Not a Good Defender, Lacks Strength

Anderson is an interesting prospect.  He has so many tools and skills, and yet he has quite a few red-flags as well.  He is tremendously skilled...and has the skillset of all 5 positions rolled in to one, at least to some degree.  He can shoot off the dribble or off the catch, he can dribble and pass like a point guard, he can rebound like a power forward, and he has the wingspan of a center.

So why isn't he a top-5 prospect?  Well, let's start with his nickname, "Slo-Mo".  Although it's meant to be an endearing term from his teammates, it adequately describes Anderson's speed and tempo at which he plays.  He isn't explosive at all, or athletic.  He is very deliberate in his movements and plays with a smooth, but controlled pace.  That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but how well will he translate to the NBA without the elite speed and athleticism of other wings?

Despite his wingspan, he isn't a good defender, and lacks the quickness to stay in front of his man.  He is too slow to guard most threes, and definitely lacks the strength to guard fours. Still, he's an intriguing prospect to say the least, and because of his polarizing traits, he could realistically be drafted anywhere from the mid lottery to the late first round.


Coming Soon

This is part one of the wings preview.  I'll be posting part two with some of the other players that the Suns will be looking at with their 18th and 27 picks tomorrow.

With as many as three first round picks available, the Suns have a lot of choices to make.  Who do you like out of this group, if anyone?  Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Poll
Which of these players, if any, are you most interested in the Suns selecting with their 14th pick in the draft?

  397 votes | Results

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