Suns-pc

While the Suns are talking about playing faster, and dreaming of a two-headed point guard pushing the ball down the court with ferocity, it's vitally important to have guys who can take and make the 3-pointer or jumper in the lane when the defense collapses on the ball handler.

In fact, the best fast break attacks are those that legitimately threaten the kick out 3, forcing the defense to hesitate before collapsing on the guy driving to the hoop.

Enter Caron Butler, who made nearly 40% of his 3-point attempts last season in a late-career renaissance as his own speed and agility decline after 11 years in the NBA.

"I'm just envisioning Eric and Goran pushing the ball up the court, creating those 4 on 3, 3 on 2 opportunities," Hornacek said at the press conference yesterday. "Caron's knocking down 3s and jumpshots, our bigs rolling to the basket."

Butler's best shooting percentages last season were from the corner 3 and elbow/wing 3, with his highest conversion rate earliest in the shot clock (55% when shooting in the first 10 seconds). With Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe handling the ball, Butler was used primarily as a catch-and-shoot guy by the Clippers. More than 80% of his shots were assisted.

In the half-court, Butler also provides an ability to take and make jumpers late in the clock, as his 54% conversion rate in the last 3 seconds of a shot clock attests (per 82games.com). The Suns really missed Grant Hill's ability to make a shot when the offense broke down last season, and now Butler can provide some semblance of that.

"When I was with the Celtics," McDonough said. "We had our good runs in the playoffs and he was a guy we were constantly trying to acquire. He made the All-Star team a few times and he's a great example for the young players in terms of how to be a pro, how to conduct yourself. So we're thrilled to have him as part of the Suns."

But before you get your hopes up too high, a 27 year old two-time All-Star isn't walking through that door. Butler is 32 years old now and showing his age. His lateral movement is dissipating, making him a turnstile on man-to-man defense. So Butler has adjusted.

Where Eric Bledsoe is a great on-ball defender who sometimes gets lost in team defensive concepts, Butler has made himself into a quality team defender who helps the overall results more than any individual accomplishments. The Clippers were nearly five points (per 100 possessions) better defensively with Butler on the floor last season.

As well, Butler's offense is declining as the years pile up. He is no longer a 20 ppg scorer who can fill it up from anywhere, fitting better as a 10-15 supplemental jump shooter these days. My brain wants to compare him to Vince Carter (the Mavs' Carter, not the Suns'), who provides veteran presence and occasional scoring outbursts for a Mavericks team that needed it.

What the Suns want from Butler is his leadership, and setting an example for the young kids. With the exodus of veterans Jermaine O'Neal and Jared Dudley already and the potential loss of Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola as well, the 2013-14 Suns might be in need of a good locker room presence.

"I'll just continue to do what I always have been doing throughout my career," Butler said of his expectations this season with the Suns. "Setting an example on and off the court - arriving to practice early and leaving late, talking to guys about basketball, life, family, everything, and just keeping the guys determined and dedicated and disciplined throughout the process. Just being a big brother and a shoulder that they can lean on.

"It's kind of being an extension of Coach in the locker room, being a guy that guys can come to and just vent out to and just help the process in the transition of changing this whole thing to a winning culture around here."

There was a great rift in last year's team that hindered any kind of development the front office hoped to see through a myriad of changes. The veteran leaders did not lead. They did not demand the attention of the youngsters, who appeared to believe they'd already arrived and didn't need to learn about how to be a pro.

"They taught me how to conduct myself on and off the court," Butler said of veterans he had around him when he was young. "They taught me about being a professional at all times and every time you walk out in this world, every day is a job interview. A good name is better than any silver or gold and that's something that I have."

Hopefully Butler's leadership, along with that of Hornacek's staff, will be more effective this season. He certainly knows how to crack a joke at the right moment.

"It was rather flattering to find out that the guy had a man-crush on me for so many years," Butler said of McDonough's long history of following Butler's game. "So once I found that out, I was extremely excited. Just coming here, he told me he had been following me for many years and what he expected out of me and I was definitely ready for that challenge."

Butler, for his part, doesn't simply want to be a locker room leader and coach. He is on the last year of his deal paying $8 million per year, and wants to earn another multi-year NBA contract that's becoming more and more elusive for declining players.

"I train hard in the offseason and there are certain things I want to be able to show and display out on the court," he said. "So I'll definitely have that opportunity here."

Even at his age, Butler is still better than 10 points per game for a team that needs his offense. And really, 32 is not that old. Jermaine O'Neal revived his career in Phoenix at age 34. Grant Hill and Steve Nash played at a high level through their late 30s. Recently re-signed and promoted Aaron Nelson needed a new challenge, and now he has one in Butler.

So while the press conference itself was a little subdued in terms of energy, I got the impression that both Butler and Bledsoe were excited to join the Suns, provided the culture is receptive to a winning mentality.

"We're going to bring a winning culture to this organization," Butler said. "And I'm really excited about this challenge ahead of us."

With every non-playoff Western team improving this offseason (Blazers, Kings, Pelicans) or at least trying to tread water (Lakers, Mavericks), the Suns have little hope for a vast improvement in wins next season. But that's not the primary goal. The primary goal is fixing the culture and attitude among all the players, setting them in the right direction and developing the kids into real NBA players.

Butler can only help in that regard.

Eric_bledsoe_suns_press_conference

Eric Bledsoe is a Phoenix Sun. If I had said this just a couple weeks ago, people would have called me crazy. And they would have been correct, considering that Bledsoe was a Clipper back then. However, as of today, Eric Bledsoe is officially a member of the Phoenix Suns.

The Suns introduced the two newest additions to the team in a press conference this afternoon. We were able to hear from Lon Babby, President of Basketball Operations, Ryan McDonough, General Manager, and Jeff Hornacek, Head Coach, just how they plan to utilize their newest toys. The players themselves also shared their thoughts on being in Phoenix and how they plan to fit into the team's roster.

Eric Bledsoe's Basketball Position

The shinier of the two new toys is undoubtedly Eric Bledsoe, a dynamic 23 year-old basketball player ready to embrace the opportunity Phoenix will give him. Notice how I called him a "basketball player" instead of a "point guard" or "shooting guard" - that is exactly how Eric referred to himself when our very own Dave King asked him which of the two backcourt positions he is the best fit with:

"I'm a basketball player. You put me at the 5, I'm going to try to play the position the best way I can. So whatever position Coach Hornacek decides to put me in, I'm going to play it the best way I can."

I'm a basketball player. You put me at the 5, I'm going to try to play the position the best way I can. -Eric Bledsoe

Eric Bledsoe just wants to play basketball. That's great news for Suns fans. To Marcin Gortat and Alex Len - look out, you may have some competition for minutes.

Opportunity in Phoenix

On his feelings about landing in Phoenix, Bledsoe shared, "I was excited. First of all, I honestly didn't know where I might end up. I thought I was kind of going to Orlando but this opportunity came and I'm excited to get this thing started. I'm just ready to get started." Bledsoe also noted that he is excited about the opportunity he will have to showcase his skills on a broader palette than he had in Los Angeles:

"It's definitely a plus for me. Unfortunately, I couldn't play as much as I wanted because I was playing with an All-Star. Now, Ryan has confidence in me and I have full confidence in myself. We're going to make some big things happen here so it's a blessing."

Playing with Goran Dragic

Bledsoe enters a Suns team that already has an established point guard in Goran Dragic. However, he is excited to be a part of new Head Coach Jeff Hornacek's plans to implement a fast-paced offensive system that emphasizes transition scoring, noting that he and Dragic could be a formidable duo. Asked about his fit with such an offensive system, Bledsoe had this to say:

"It fits in great, especially with me. I'm a transition type of guy and it'll make it a lot easier having Dragic, who can also control the game. Like I said, I'm just ready to get started."

Jeff Hornacek echoed those thoughts by describing his plans for a backcourt of Dragic and Bledsoe:

"As a coach, I'm just envisioning Eric and Goran pushing the ball up the court, creating those 4 on 3, 3 on 2 opportunities, Caron's knocking down threes and jumpshots, our bigs rolling to the basket, I think it's a great addition to these two guys."

Offseason Work Ethic

Much like the way he identified himself as "a basketball player," Eric Bledsoe revealed that he is focusing on improving all aspects of his game during this offseason, stating that he is working on "everything." Suns fans will be pleased to know that Caron Butler also shared that Bledsoe was in the gym within hours of arriving in Phoenix yesterday. Butler had VERY high praise for his counterpart:

"He (Eric) is an explosive, dynamic guard who has "superstar" written all over him. I think he's just going to come here and put everyone on notice. I think he's going to put the sports world on notice. He's a relentless worker. The second he arrived yesterday, he was in the gym. That's the attitude and approach he's had all offseason and I think he's going to be great this year and years to come."

Eric is an explosive, dynamic guard who has "superstar" written all over him. I think he's going to put the sports world on notice.-Caron Butler

Caron Butler's compliments of Bledsoe, along with the praise Babby, McDonough, and Hornacek all showered on him, is exciting news for Suns fans. Regardless of whether or not he truly could become a "superstar," it's nonetheless exciting to have a young, high-demand commodity that holds great promise.

Only time will tell what's in store for Eric Bledsoe, but he is ready to embrace the opportunities and challenges he faces in Phoenix and has already hit the ground running. I, for one, am tremendously excited to see the Suns' new two-headed offensive machine led by "basketball players" Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.

Stay tuned for more coverage of the Phoenix Suns' introductory press conference of Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler. Bright Side of the Sun will continue to produce plenty of content and news with the speed of the Suns' new starting backcourt!

PHOENIX — “I’m in!!!” After reading the two-word tweet from fellow teammate and six-time All-Star Chris Paul on July 1, Eric Bledsoe knew what that meant for his basketball...

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The Familiar Faces

Diante Garrett

Diante Garrett was on this team a year ago and used that opportunity to earn a contract with the Suns. He managed to keep his roster spot all season and is back again to convince the Suns to guarantee his salary for another year.

Garrett is a 6-foot-5 do-it-all style point guard. He has good size and court vision, can get in the lane on offense and rebound the ball, has potential defensively but still needs to work on his jump shot.

Although Garrett was on the roster last year, he was stuck behind a bunch of other point guards and never really got the chance to play or prove himself. Unfortunately, that will likely be the case again this season and I'd be surprised if the Suns didn't cut him before the season starts.

Archie Goodwin

The 29th overall pick in this year's draft is probably the main attraction on this year's team for most Suns fans with Alex Len still recovering from ankle surgery. This will be the first time Goodwin steps on the court in a Suns jersey and the first time for him to show Planet Orange what he can do.

Goodwin is an athletic 6-foot-5 guard who's game is all about getting to the rim. His jumper needs a lot of work but his ability to blow by defenders and play tough defense on the other end still allows him to be effective.

Kendall Marshal

Kendall Marshall missed the first couple of Summer League games last season as a rookie and struggled once he did get on the court. However, Marshall did finish strong with a double-double in his final game. I wrote during the Summer League last year that Marshall had a long way to go, and that proved to be true as he struggled throughout his rookie season. Vegas will give us, and Hornacek, an opportunity to see how much Marshall has improved from a year ago.

The thing to keep your eye out for with Marshall is his aggressiveness and comfort level when attacking off the dribble. In order to be an effective distributor, Marshall has to be a threat to get in the lane and score. This is a big summer for Kendall.

Marcus Morris

This will be Mook's first Summer League with the Suns after arriving via a midseason trade last season. Marcus was mostly a 3-point shooter for Houston and had a solid stretch once he arrived in Phoenix before getting benched by Lindsey Hunter.

Morris needs to show that reliable 3-point stroke, an ability to defend on the perimeter and improved finishing as a slasher. He'll probably play mostly on the wing, although we might see him at the four as well.

Markieff Morris

Keef was a force in Vegas last year, ending up as one of the top scorers and rebounders in the entire event. However, even as he was dominating games he struggled to finish plays and hit shots. Offensively, Markieff needs to show one thing this summer: efficiency.

Alex Oriakhi

  • Rookie PF/C out of Missouri/UCONN
  • 6-foot-9.5, 258 pounds, 7-foot-3.75 wingspan, 9-foot standing reach
  • 11.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 63.9 field goal percentage, 25.8 minutes per game as a senior

Oriakhi is the third of the Suns three rookies and was taken with the 57th overall pick. He's a big body whose interior defense and rebounding helped lead the UCONN Huskies to a national championship in 2011. Oriakhi is a decent athlete with good mobility and strength who can hold his own defensively and on the glass and can finish around the rim.

As a second round pick, Oriakhi has to earn a contract. To make the team, he'll need to show a lot of the same qualities P.J. Tucker did last year. And speaking of Tucker...

P.J. Tucker

P.J. Tucker is the biggest success story from last year's Summer League team (and that includes lottery picks Morris and Marshall). His hustle and defense caught the eye of the coaching staff and earned him a contract, and now he's heading into the second year of that contract. Tucker may not play a ton as he doesn't have a whole lot to prove, but he has agreed to participate.

The NBA Hopefuls

Thomas Abercrombie

  • 26-year-old wing from New Zealand
  • 6-foot-6, 210 pounds

I don't really know anything at all about Abercrombie. He's a scoring wing who has played in the Australian NBL and has represented New Zealand in international competition. He's apparently a pretty good shooter.

Chris Babb

  • Rookie guard out of Iowa State

  • 6-foot-5, 225 pounds
  • 9.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 38.2 3-point field goal percentage as a senior

Babb is a 3-and-D type player. He's a respectable 3-point shooter that took five threes per game as a senior (the Cyclones led the NCAA in 3-pointers if I'm not mistaken) at a 38 percent clip. However, Babb's real value is as a lock-down perimeter defender.

Dionte Christmas

  • 5th year guard out of Temple
  • 6-foot-5.5, 211 pounds, 6-foot-9 wingspan
  • 9.3 PPG, 42.9 FG%, 40 3FG%, 100 FT%, 4.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, 2.7 TPG, 1 SPG, +11 in his first three games with the Utah Jazz in the Orlando Summer League

Chrsitmas is a Summer League veteran. This will be his third year competing in the NBA Summer League, and the Suns will be the fifth team he suits up for between the Orlando and Las Vegas summer leagues since going undrafted in 2009. Last season he played for the Boston Celtics in Orlando and Las Vegas, and he made the Celtics training camp roster before being one of the team's final cuts before the season started. He also made a couple other NBA rosters but has yet to play in an NBA game.

Christmas is a scoring guard with a strong body and plenty of confidence, and it seems like GM Ryan McDonough likes the guy (based on the Boston connection).

Jake Cohen

  • Rookie power forward out of Davidson
  • 6-foot-10, 235 pounds
  • 14.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 49.7 field goal percentage, 38.8 3-point field goal percentage, 25.6 minutes per game as a senior

Cohen is a decorated player from Davidson having been named Southern Conference Player of the Year the last two years and Southern Conference Freshman of the Year in his first season. He's a big guy who can knock down a jump shot and has range out to the 3-point line.

Arinze Onuaku

  • 4th year big man out of Syracuse
  • 6-foot-9, 275 pounds
  • 12.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, 56.4 field goal percentage in 23.7 minutes per game with the Canton Charge of the NBA D-League last season

Onuaku is a big body and a rebounding specialist. He inhales rebounds on both ends of the court. He has a wide body, is very strong and just has a nose for the ball. However, he doesn't bring much more than that.

Final Tally

This year's roster has two point guards (Marshall, Garrett), three shooting guards (Goodwin, Christmas, Babb), three small forwards (Mook, Tucker, Abercrombie) and four big men (Keef, Oriakhi, Onuaku, Cohen). Overall, its much better than last year's roster with a ton of point guards and forwards. With the talent and veteran experience on the Summer Suns roster, Phoenix has an excellent chance to win the inaugural Ls Vegas Summer League Championship.

The Schedule

Pool Play

Game 1: Saturday, July 13 at 5:30 p.m. PST vs. Portland (Damian Lillard, Meyers Leonard, Thomas Robinson, Will Barton, C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe)

Game 2:Monday, July 15 at 3:30 p.m. PST vs. Minnesota (Shabazz Muhammed, Gorgui Dieng, Lorenzo Brown)

Game 3: Tuesday, July 16 at 5:30 p.m. PST vs. Memphis (Tony Wroten, Jamaal Franklin, Jannis Timma, Donte Green, Vander Blue)

Bracket play begins on Wednesday, July 17.

The NBA Skills Market model is an analysis of the current market value of specific skills, abilities, and achievements for NBA players. For the second year in a row, I’ve built this model and...

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