20130422_ter_an4_600

The Phoenix Suns' vaunted training staff is highly touted for their preternatural medical prowess, but it was German necromancers who resurrected O'Neal's career. Jermaine underwent a blood-spinning therapy, known as Regenokine, which had Jared Dudley tweeting that O'Neal looked five years younger. So how did the rejuvenated O'Neal fare on this season's report card?

Judging O'Neal based on his counterparts on the Suns

O_neal_medium

O'Neal came into the season as a bit of an unknown. His career seemed to be tapering towards its inexorable end, but reports of renewed vigor and vitality gave fans hope that he could be a productive backup. He was.

At times, O'Neal even outplayed starter Marcin Gortat (and obviously Haddadi). There isn't a stark contrast between their numbers, but that further illustrates how well O'Neal actually played. The only areas where Gortat held a significant advantage were turnovers and FG%. Jermaine was able to partially compensate for relinquishing control of the basketball at a higher rate by blocking nearly one extra shot per 36 minutes. Although Marcin's FG% was nearly four points higher, their true shooting percentages were much less disparate (Gortat .543, O'Neal .538) due to O'Neal's vastly superior FT%.

At this point in his career O'Neal is a backup dictated by the necessity of a reduced workload, but if he could actually go for 30+ minutes a night he could probably still start in the league (for a crappy lesser team like the Suns) based on his numbers. Especially in a league plagued by a lack of effective centers.

Grade: A-

Judging O'Neal based on previous seasons

O_neal_2_medium

The new O'Neal looked more like the old O'Neal than the caricature that needed to be put out to pasture. Besides minor nagging injuries Jermaine managed to stay healthy throughout the season while easily posting his best numbers in several years. This is quite impressive to me since 34 year old players rarely accomplish such a feat.

Grade: A-

Judging O'Neal based on centers leaguewide

Out of 96 centers listed on Basketball-Reference.com O'Neal graded out quite favorably.

These categories O'Neal ranked in or near the top third. *All numbers per 36.

  1. 34th in rebounds
  2. 20th in points
  3. 11th in blocks
  4. 5th in FT%
  5. 35th in assists

Other areas weren't quite as roseate.

  1. 52nd in FG%
  2. 54th in win shares
  3. 78th in turnovers (ouch)

But two of those areas are still in the top 60, meaning he would rank out as a low end backup. Although his profligate nature with the basketball dropped him into the bottom third in turnovers, this was the only area where he graded out very poorly. Overall, I think a compelling argument can be made that O'Neal was one of the best backup centers in the league.

Grade: B+

Overall Grade: A-

It was refreshing to finally write a review on a player that didn't have an underwhelming or execrable season. Jermaine provided everything a backup center is expected to and more. He was a Sun who actually exceeded expectations. But it could also be argued that O'Neal is the type of player that might help a team win a game or two so they finish in fourth instead of third and move down to fifth instead of winning the lottery like the Cleveland Cavaliers. Totally hypothetical scenario.

While I wouldn't be terribly upset with O'Neal returning, which is possible based on his effectiveness from the Suns' perspective and being able to stay healthy and contribute from Jermaine's, I would prefer for the Suns to go young and O'Neal get a chance to play for a better team in his waning career.

The Phoenix Suns officially hired Jeff Hornacek as their 16th head coach in franchise history on Tuesday, making the team’s 1986 second-round draft pick another player who later became the...

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Lester

First reported by Paul Coro of azcentral.com, the Suns hired two front office guys to unspecified front office roles to supplement McDonough and current Director of Player Personnel John Treloar. Now the Suns have a large contingent of scouts to evaluate the Suns' most important period of drafting since the 80s.

Ronnie Lester

Ronnie Lester, 54, was the Assistant GM in LA for 10 seasons after 14 years as a scout and front office member. His contract, along with at least 20 other Laker personnel, was not renewed when it expired during the 2011 lockout. Lester was a lifer with the Lakers, and was very disappointed when the Lakers cut so many ties in 2011.

Lester worked next to Mitch Kupchak for a decade as they rebuilt and reshaped the Laker team around Kobe Bryant that won two championships, and was the "loudest voice in the room" when the Lakers took chubby high school C Andrew Bynum the #10 pick in 2005. Lester scouted Bynum personally that year, and told Kupchak there's no way they could pass him up if he was still available when they drafted.

The supremely talented Bynum helped the Lakers win two rings as he earned a max contract extension as one of the three best centers in the game. Bynum was traded to the Sixers in the deal to acquire Dwight Howard last year, a year after Lester was cut out of the picture. Bynum, still only 25 years old, is now a free agent with major health and commitment issues.

Other than Bynum, the Lakers' drafts were hit and miss during his tenure as leader of the scouting staff for 10 seasons. Draftees with solid NBA careers:

  • first rounders (none higher than #19) Brian Cook, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Javaris Crittendon, Toney Douglas
  • second rounders Luke Walton, Ronny Turiaf, Von Wafer, Patrick Beverly

None but Bynum were stars, but only Bynum was drafted higher than #19 overall.

Lester has not worked in the NBA since being let go by the Lakers in 2011.

Pat Connelly

Pat Connelly graduated college in 2002 and was in the Wizards front office for the past seven years, starting as a scout. He was promoted to Director of Player Personnel three years ago when his brother - the prior Director of Player Personnel - was hired away from the Wizards to become the Assistant General Manager of the New Orleans Hornets. His rapid rise and contingent of brothers holding various sports front office roles sound quite similar to the career path of McDonough himself.

Generally speaking, to get a person out of their current contract requires either (a) a mutual parting from his current employer ("Thanks for taking him!") or (b) a promotion.

Last week, new Suns GM Ryan McDonough said that hiring anyone currently under contract was a dicey proposition because they are so ingrained in their own team's draft preparations. Connelly's forte, per the Wizards media guide, was college and international scouting, along with analytics and salary cap management. He wasn't the top personnel man in Washington. They have a large contingent of titles in the basketball operations group, including a Vice President of Player Personnel to whom Connelly had reported.

Connelly was never the biggest voice in the room, and has not been credited with any one draft pick. The Wizards have drafted high for years, and since he became Director of Player Personnel the Wizards drafted a huge bust in Jan Vesely at #6 before taking Bradley Beal at #3 a year ago.

Small front office of "Master Evaluators"

When he was hired, Ryan McDonough was clear in his vision to follow the blueprint of the Celtics front office, which is smaller than most. He wanted only a few lieutenants who were master evaluators - who would scout at all levels, who would be able to compare and contrast a current NBA player to a draft prospect to an NBDL player to a guy toiling in Europe.

Now he adds Lester and Connelly to the existing staff led by current Director of Player Personnel John Treloar.

Looks like the Suns have hit another couple of ground rule doubles to supplement the two home runs they've already smacked out of the park (McDonough and Hornacek). Lester and Connelly have solid NBA front office experience and can only help.

Stay tuned for official announcements on all the latest hirings, including Hornacek's staff.

169072527

There was all the glitz, all the glamor, and all the appeal of a home opener that a team could ever possibly ask for. Every ideal circumstance on the checklist was being marked off of the list.

Local celebrities were in the house in Larry Fitzgerald as well as former Phoenix Suns players Grant Hill and Jason Richardson where there to support the home team. This was a Nationally televised game on a holiday where everyone had the opportunity to be home and watch with an electric crowd loudly supporting their team. A returning star in Diana Taurasi and the next star in Brittney Griner in uniform ready to perform against her rival peer Elena Delle Donne also illuminated the atmosphere. Everything was lined for not only a spectacle, but for a successful season debut to boot.

The only thing not checked off was a victory. That escaped them, tonight.

Early on the Mercury struggled to score with only nine first quarter points, but it was the lack of a defensive presence in the second that sealed the teams' eventual fate. In that quarter the Sky scored 39 points to balloon their lead to 24 points at the half. Most of those points came with Griner on the bench with three fouls after head coach Corey Gaines rolled the dice on his new star not getting into further foul trouble. She did, which resulted in the second quarter outburst.

The battle between the rookies became more of a strategy session between the coaches as Griner was not able to get into a rhythm while Delle Donne methodically picked apart the defense with her 22 points.

Griner did a good job in the second half when the game was out of hand. She was able to get the ball on the block to post, turn-and-face, and score 15 points to go with her 6 rebounds and 3 blocks in the second half. Her performance in the second half was more of an indication of the player Griner can be on the defensive end changing shots even when not in a position to block them.

This was the type of game that the league as a whole needed even though the "Next Big Thing" did not come out on top.

Eyes were on the league and Griner delivered with two emphatic dunks late in the game giving her the leagues fourth and fifth dunks ever. Those plays will be on Sports Center tonight and all week as they were historic dunks. Already, just 27:25 into her career Griner has the most dunks individually in the leagues history and those were just the generic sprinkles on top of the icing, on top of the cake.

Delle Donne was impressive in her own right with the way she was able to score in a multitude of ways, which was highlighted by a three-point bomb to end the first half, sealing the Mercury's fate.

The problems for the Mercury are not in defending Delle Donne, but rather regaining that offensive chemistry that Coach Gaines had a few short years ago. Balancing the offense will help the defensive woes the team displayed in this singular game. Most of the Sky's offense came from the Mercury missing shots and turning the ball over. When the shots are falling the defense is easier execute with Griner in the middle and the length presented by DeWanna Bonner and Candice Dupree.

Overall the play in the second half had more positives than negatives. In those two quarters the Mercury outscored the Sky 48-46 with Taurasi and Griner combining for 28 points shooting 62.5% from the field.

Now the pressure is off. All of the "will the Mercury go undefeated" questions are off the table and they can go out as a team to try and be the best team they can be. That is the most important lesson from tonight's game. The Mercury no longer have sole pressure on themselves, Griner can be dominant, and this team has more positives than negatives coming out of a 22 point loss.

20130223_jrc_ah2_402

While the prospects and likely draft picks at the beginning of the NBA draft are fairly easy to predict with relative accuracy, the forecasting of the later picks can be much more murky, with so many more variables to account for, as well as the increase in overall parity among the bulk of the remaining players.

This year is no exception. The list of potential game-changing players in the coming draft is very short, but the overall pool of talent is very deep; with plenty of quality players who could fill various roles and make meaningful contributions to the teams who draft them.

Most of the attention has been directed toward The Phoenix Suns' 5th overall pick in the draft, and for good reason. This will be the Suns' earliest pick in over two decades, and they will have an opportunity to draft an exciting young player who could help bring this team back to relevance.

However, the Suns will not only be picking 5th, but also 30th in the first round as well. And as our own Dave King so eloquently stated, it's that second first-round pick that could be the key to the draft.

Here is a look at some of the prospects that attended the NBA Draft Combine earlier this month, whom the Suns could be choosing from with their second first round pick.

Measurements:
Name Height W/O Shoes Height With Shoes Weight Wingspan Standing Reach Body Fat Hand Length Hand Width

Reggie Bullock (SF)

6' 5.75''

6' 7''

199.8

6' 8.75''

8' 6''

6.95

8.5

9

Allen Crabbe (SG)

6' 5.25''

6' 6.25''

197.4

6' 11.25''

8' 7.5''

4.65

8.25

8.5

Jamaal Franklin (SG)

6' 4''

6' 5.25''

190.8

6' 11.25''

8' 7.5''

8.25

8.5

8.25

Tim Hardaway Jr. (SG)

6' 4.5''

6' 6.25''

199.4

6' 7''

8' 5''

6.05

8

9.25

Ricky Ledo (SG)

6' 4.75''

6' 6''

197.2

6' 7.25''

8' 6.5''

10.25

8.5

9.25

Deshaun Thomas (SF)

6' 5''

6' 7''

219.8

6' 10''

8' 8''

9.1

8

8.75

Jeff Withey (C)

6' 10.75''

7' 0.5''

221.8

7' 2''

9' 2.5''

8.65

9

9.75

The players that stood out to me most here was Jamaal Frankiln and Allen Crabbe, who both had very impressive wingspans. Franklin is known as an explosive and athletic scorer is college, and did it all for San Diego State averaging 17 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists last season. His measurables only help his case to make a successful transition to the NBA. Crabbe, while not quite as athletic or explosive as Frankilin, is also a big-time scorer (averaged 18.4 ppg) and a better shooter, and helped ease the fears of him being undersized.

Jeff Withey is the lone big man on this list and will most likely be gone by the time the Suns make their second selection, but he would be a steal with a late first pick if he's somehow still available.

Results:
Name 3/4 Court Sprint Time
Lane Agility Time
Modified Time
Standing Vertical
Max Vertical

Reggie Bullock (SF)

3.31

11.33

3.3

31

36.5

Allen Crabbe (SG)

3.32

10.67

3.1

30.5

36

Jamaal Franklin (SG)

NULL

NULL

NULL

NULL

NULL

Tim Hardaway Jr. (SG)

3.25

10.68

2.93

31.5

37.5

Ricky Ledo (PG/SG)

3.32

10.72

3.16

27

33.5

Deshaun Thomas (SF)

3.53

12.94

3.38

28.5

32

Jeff Withey (C)

3.47

12.49

3.29

26.5

29

Tim Hardaway Jr. was the most impressive in the agility scores out of this list of prospects. Hardaway had the fastest times in every drill except for one, and also the highest vertical jump. the only unknown is whether or not Franklin could have given him a run for his money if he was able to participate. He was sitting out with a sprained ankle, but his speed and athleticism is one of his greatest attributes, so you have to wonder.

On the flip side, Deshaun Thomas struggled in the agility drills and confirmed the lack of speed and quickness that scouts have seen from him all year at Ohio St. This is no suprise...but Thomas can also shoot the ball very well and did so at the combine, so I doubt it hurts his stock too much. Unrelated to this but worth mentioning, Thomas also made news by refusing to give the Spurs his phone number and email address...I like the kid already.

Another noteworthy player, Ricky Ledo, the high school phenom who we've been waiting to see after being ruled ineligible to play during his freshman year at Providence, came in with one of the highest body fat percentages among the players in attendance. However, he didn't look any different from what I've seen of him before, so maybe this is just his natural weight. From what I saw of him in the drills he still looked pretty good, so it's hard to say if he was affected or not.

Conclusion:

One thing you've probably noticed is the number of shooting guards and small forwards...and yes, that's just how this draft is very deep on wings. This isn't really an issue for a team like Phoenix though. With so many holes to fill, the Suns could easily justify taking a wing with both of their first round picks if they happened to be the best player available. And if guys like Franklin, Crabbe, and/or Hardaway are still there by the time they make their second pick, the Suns would be hard pressed to pass them up unless another more coveted prospect unexpectedly falls to them.

It's also worth mentioning that I left out quite a few international prospects who have been mocked in the late first round, but who did not attend the combine. Players such as Sergey Karasev (SF), Giannis Adetokundo (SF), Lucas Noguiera (C), and Livio-Jean Charles (PF) have been mocked to the Suns but have no combine numbers to compare with the rest of the prospects, so they didn't make the list. However, any one of these players could certainly be in the mix for Phoenix once the draft rolls around.

In the end, the Suns will have a shot at getting another very talented prospect with their 30th pick in the first round. Any one, or even several of these players could end up being a diamond in the rough. This is where the Suns will rely on their scouting and new GM Ryan McDonough to make the most accurate prediction. There will of course be unforeseen risers and fallers just like every other year that the Suns will likely have to make last second decisions on, but this list at least provides an idea of who the Suns could be looking at with their second pick next month.

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