The Phoenix Suns, members of a league ruled by stars, thrived this past season as teamwork helped them to 48 wins. Even with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe quickly turning in a dynamic backcourt...

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The NBA Combine officially kicks off today, May 14th, with player interviews, but the real action starts tomorrow and goes through the 16th. Here is how you can watch, what you can expect to see, and who you should pay attention to.

What: NBA Draft Combine

Where: Chicago, Illinois

When: May 14th - May 16th

Watch: Interviews (May 14th on NBATV), Drills/Testing (May 15th-16th ESPNU & ESPN2)

Schedule of Events:
Date Time (Arizona) Channel Online
5/14 10am -12pm (Player Interview Special) NBATV N/A
5/15 7am - 9am ESPNU WatchESPN
5/15 10am - 12pm ESPN2 WatchESPN
5/16 7am - 9am ESPNU WatchESPN
5/16 10am - 12pm ESPN2 WatchESPN

The NBA Combine is the yearly event where 60 of the top NBA prospects get to interview with teams, compete in drills, and submit to physicals and athletic testing.

This year is no different, however, it will be without at least three of the top prospects:  Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Joel Embiid who have chosen to forgo the combine in favor of meeting with individual teams.

This probably won't affect the Suns though, as it's extremely unlikely that Phoenix, who is currently slotted 14th in the lottery, could end up with a top three pick in order to consider any of them.  However, two other potential Suns' draftees also announced they will miss the combine due to ailments:  Adreian Payne (sickness/mono) and Mitch McGary (back problems).

Although the international presence at the NBA Draft Combine is sparse, you will have a chance to see many of them in action as well at the Adidas Eurocamp in Treviso, Italy on June 7-9.

Still, the vast majority of the players who will be considered by the Suns will be in attendance.  Here's a look at the schedule and the full list of players, along with indications of which players could be in the Suns range in the first round of the coming draft.

Participants:
Player Name
College

Jordan Adams

UCLA

*Kyle Anderson (Draft Preview)

UCLA

Thanasis Antetokounmpo

D-League

Isaiah Austin

Baylor

Jordan Bachynski

Arizona State

Cameron Bairstow

New Mexico

Khem Birch

UNLV

Alec Brown

Green Bay

Jabari Brown

Missouri

Markel Brown

Oklahoma St.

Deonte Burton

Nevada

Jahii Carson

Arizona State

Semaj Christon

Xavier

Jordan Clarkson

Missouri

Aaron Craft

Ohio State

DeAndre Daniels

Connecticut

Spencer Dinwiddie

Colorado

*Cleanthony Early (Draft Preview)

Wichita State

Melvin Ejim

Iowa State

*Tyler Ennis (Draft Preview)

Syracuse

Dante Exum

Australia

C.J. Fair

Syracuse

*Aaron Gordon (Draft Preview)

Arizona

*Jerami Grant (Draft Preview)

Syracuse

*P.J. Hairston (Draft Preview)

D-League/UNC

*Gary Harris (Draft Preview)

Michigan State

Joe Harris

Virginia

*Rodney Hood (Draft Preview)

Duke

Cory Jefferson

Baylor

Nick Johnson

Arizona

DeAndre Kane

Iowa State

Sean Kilpatrick

Cincinnati

Alex Kirk

New Mexico

*Zach LaVine (Draft Preview)

UCLA

Devyn Marble

Iowa

*James Michael McAdoo (Draft Preview)

North Carolina

*K.J. McDaniels (Draft Preview)

Clemson

*Doug McDermott (Draft Preview)

Creighton

Jordan McRae

Tennessee

*Shabazz Napier (Draft Preview)

Connecticut

Johnny O'Bryant III

LSU

Lamar Patterson

Pittsburgh

*Elfrid Payton (Draft Preview)

Louisiana-Lafayette

Dwight Powell

Stanford

Julius Randle

Kentucky

Glenn Robinson III

Michigan

LaQuinton Ross

Ohio State

Marcus Smart

Oklahoma State

Russ Smith

Louisville

*Nik Stauskas (Draft Preview)

Michigan

Jarnell Stokes

Tennessee

Xavier Thames

San Diego State

Noah Vonleh

Indiana

*T.J. Warren (Draft Preview)

North Carolina State

Kendall Williams

New Mexico

C.J. Wilcox

Washington

*James Young (Draft Preview)

Kentucky

*Patric Young (Draft Preview)

Florida

What to Watch:

Besides watching the players identified above, who fit needs for the Suns and could also fall in their range, the combine will give lesser known players, and those from smaller schools, a chance to compete with the big boys, and possibly make a name for themselves and help boost their stock.

The players compete in drills individually, along with other players in their position group.  They also go through physical testing and measurements which help teams identify players with special attributes, and also those with potential red flags.

As such, some players listed will not participate in all the activities and physical testing.  But for those who do, we will get a better understanding of what they can contribute to the team, and how they stack up against their peers.

After entering into a one-to-one affiliation with the Bakersfield Jam, the Phoenix Suns have much more opportunity to deepen their team with prospects like Zoran Dragic.

The Phoenix Suns breathe fire with a Dragon who is affectionately called 'Gogi'. Is it time to bring his lookalike brother, affectionalely called 'Zoki the Lionheart' onto the team as well?

Zoran Dragic, the 25-year old younger brother of Goran, is ready to join the NBA this next year. He will not participate in Summer League, but he does not want to join an NBA team for next season.

We don't expect the situation to resolve easily, as [Zoran] Dragic doesn't want just to travel overseas, but to be a significant member in team which will sign him. At this point he's concentrated in the playoffs of the Spanish league and after the end of the season he ‘ll go undergo a hernia surgery. He'll be out of action for about one month and then ‘ll take part in the preparation of Slovenia for the upcoming FIBA World Cup. So he'll not risk playing in the summer league like he did in the past.

-- Eurohoops.net

Zoran is an exciting player whose moves are reminiscent of brother Goran, but he is a bit of a tweener. At 6'5" he is a swingman, but cannot drain the 3-pointer with regularity (28% shooting in Spanish League) and does not rack up assists (only 1.1 per game there).

He shot the ball much better in 22 Euroleague games - 35.4% on three-pointers - and even passed it better (1.6 assists per game), but made a lower FG% overall (45% vs. 52% in the Spanish league).

In both leagues, Zoran is a part-time player (18.1 min/game in Spanish League vs. 22 min/game in Euroleague).

Reasons why Zoran would be a good addition to the team:

  • He is brothers with the Suns' most important re-signing after this summer is over
  • After bringing in Dionte Christmas (25) and Ish Smith (25) to round out the bench, GM Ryan McDonough shows a propensity for guys who fit Zoran's profile.
  • Dragic would not cost much - he makes only $300K per year in Europe, with a team option to extend for two more seasons unless he's bought out ($500K) for an NBA contract
  • He has not been a full-time player, so likely would not demand minutes (a key trait for the bench players)
  • He is brothers with the Suns' most important re-signing after this summer is over
  • His signing would be a public relations dream - 'Gogi and Zoki', the 'Dragon and the Lionheart', 'four guys, two faces' (with the Morris twins)

Zoran does not have a clean, projectable rotation role with the Suns. But because the Suns now have their affiliation with Bakersfield you can expect a lot more movement between teams (NBA to D-League) from the bottom of the Suns roster to keep guys fresh.

Also, as the season wears on, we've seen that coach Hornacek prefers veterans to rookies for the all-important 10-minute cameos in a playoff race. Zoran has several years of important experience in Europe, and could provide more punch from the bench than Dionte Christmas last year.

It appears to be a win-win for the Suns. Very little risk, but a high reward.

I'd like to invite our Slovenian friends to weigh in on where Zoran would fit on the Suns.

Here's a video made by our own Rude Corona:

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.

The Phoenix Suns announced that head scout Bubba Burrage will be the GM of their D-League affiliate, and that veteran coach Nate Bjorkgren will coach the team that will install the Suns' offense and defensive systems.

The Phoenix Suns join 14 other NBA teams in entering into a one-to-one business relationship with the Bakersfield Jam, where the Suns will run all basketball operations while team owners run the business side.

The Suns have assigned Head Pro Personnel Scout Bubba Burrage as the Jam's General Manager. Burrage, with 21 years in NBA front offices in various positions. was one of a handful of the many staff who survived the turnover last summer. Burrage has been head pro scout for three years now. Burrage will continue his scouting duties while running the basketball operations of the Jam.

To coach the team, the Suns have hired long time D-League coach Nate Bjorkgren. Bjorkgren led the Iowa Energy to win their division last year and was in the D-League Finals the year before with the Santa Cruz Warriors.

"[The hybrid model] provides an important opportunity for us to enhance the development of our young players," Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby said. "For example, by implementing the Suns' style and system of play in Bakersfield, we can make the NBA D-League experience seamless for our players. Bubba and Nate will help make this another important step in our focus on player development."

The Suns have rarely used the D-League in recent years - just sending Diante Garrett, Kendall Marshall and Archie Goodwin down for short stints over the past three seasons.

It is a nice change of pace to see the Suns invest more in the D-League. Hopefully, they will use the Jam more now as a true player development tool, not only for young NBA players but also to find more players like P.J. Tucker and Gerald Green who developed their skills outside the NBA.

With several first round draft picks in future years, and a pair of under-21s on the current roster, the Suns might just be able to shuttle players back and forth more often for game seasoning.

I thought Archie Goodwin and Alex Len could have used more time in the Suns' own system with less pressure to perform and more opportunity to succeed.

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