The national perspective of the Phoenix Suns going into the off-season was they needed to improve their front court depth and rebounding skill. Not many in the media considered (another) point guard...

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Alex Len and Nerlens Noel had forgettable rookie seasons. Len was severely limited due to ankle injuries while a torn acl completely shut down Noel. Now both players look to make an impact heading into season two... and gain ground on other big men from their draft class.

At one time there was building momentum that Nerlens Noel would be the number one overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft.

A torn acl derailed that possibility. Even though Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com tweeted after the injury that Noel would still go 1-3... he didn't. Instead Noel plummeted to #6 overall, one spot behind Alex Len.

If you think plummet is too severe of a word, consider the gap between $10.9 million (for Anthony Bennett) and $6.5 million (for Noel) in the first two guaranteed years of their rookie contracts. Or that through the first four years that gap distends to nearly $10 million ($24 vs $14.4). Or that Nerlens might be lining up with Kevin Love and LeBron James in Cleveland instead of shackled in the quagmire that is the current state of Philadelphia basketball.

Alex Len has been haunted by his own series of unfortunate events. Alex's problems began with a surgical procedure to repair a partial stress fracture in his left ankle in May of 2013. He followed that up with another surgery in July, which was classified as a "precautionary measure" to correct the beginnings of a stress fracture in his right ankle.

These injuries were major hindrances on Len's basketball activities in his rookie season. It started with no Las Vegas Summer League. Then Alex was only able to register about 30 minutes of playing time in the Suns first 32 games of the 2013-14 season as he was still rounding into playing shape.

Len ended up appearing in 42 games during the season, averaging 8.6 minutes per contest. He had season highs of nine points and 10 rebounds (in separate games) while only playing more than 19 minutes in a game once on the season. Not exactly a banner year for a number five overall pick.

Still, Len played in 42 more games than Noel did last season. Noel's first official NBA action didn't come until Las Vegas Summer League in 2014. Once he got on the court, however, Nerlens drew rave reviews on his way to averaging 13.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in five total games between the Orlando and Las Vegas Summer Leagues. Noel led the Orlando Summer League in blocks per game. Some felt that Noel was the most impressive player during the summer sessions due to plaudits such as these reported on Pro Basketball Talk...

His length and leaping ability make him an intimidating force in the paint. The guys on the Sixers bench were counting the number of shots Noel altered and said it got into double digits before they lost track.

Len, meanwhile, had his first Summer League curtailed by a right pinkie fracture in the team's first game. It was especially disappointing since the Suns gargantuan center had a solid, if not spectacular, showing with six points, six rebounds and two blocks. He also looked noticeably stronger, while still moving more fluidly.

What is especially discomfiting is that Alex's pinkie injury has extended into preseason games, as he suffered a new fracture in a different area of the same bone. Compound that with Len's description of the injury reported by AZ Central's Paul Coro...

"As soon as I landed, I thought it was the same finger," Len said. "It was still sore from before because it wasn't healed all the way yet."

I'm not sure what's worse, that the finger was still hurt three months after the injury or that he was playing with it injured and unprotected during the offseason in the first place... Len's status will be updated as soon as today, October 15th, but if he's still dealing with an injury lingering from July does it make sense he will be cleared to play again?

Noel has been able to participate in preseason games. The highlight so far was a 12 point, 11 rebound, four steal showing against the New York Knicks on Tuesday 10/14. Sure, it's preseason, but it's better than a bad line or a DNP-injury.

Suns fans are expectantly waiting for the return of Len, who is seemingly being counted on to at least play meaningful minutes as the team's backup center. His massive size and length still project him to be an indomitable force in the paint on defense... if he can stay healthy. Last season he tantalized in short bursts, even displaying flashes of aggression that mark the true presence of a dominant rim protector.

While Len and Noel have failed to launch their NBA careers, others in their draft class have not had similar issues. Steven Adams has already made a name for himself after an impressive run in the 2014 playoffs. Adams recorded his first postseason double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds in a close out game six win over the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference Semifinals.

That mean streak in Len Suns fans have seen glimpses of is pretty much how Adams comports himself on every single play. Being truculent and nettlesome are calling cards for the rugby player turned NBA center. Adams is also having an exceptional preseason as he is averaging 18.7 points per game through three games while converting on 24 of 28 field goal attempts (.857). If he can add the dimension of a passable offensive game to his bruising style of play Adams can be a very effective player in the league for a very long time.

After all, the 21 year old Adams is actually slightly younger than Alex Len.

Besides Adams there were several other big men that gave their teams reasons for optimism last season.

Kelly Olynyk (#13) 70 games played, nine starts, 1,400 minutes, 8.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.

Gorgui Dieng (#21) averaged 12.2 points and 12.0 rebounds per game in 15 starts to close out the 2013-14 season.

Mason Plumlee (#22) 70 games played, 22 starts, 1,275 minutes, 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.

But none of these players seems to be dripping with potential like Len and Noel, two players that will likely be linked throughout their careers based on the propinquity of their draft position.

A potential coup for the Philadelphia 76ers, who drafted a ball hawking defensive dynamo after he slipped due to injury concerns.

A possible I told you so for the Phoenix Suns, who feel they got the best player in the draft. He still might be, too, considering what a rare breed well built 7'1" mobile two players are. Just think of how many are presently playing in the league... it shouldn't take you very long.

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Len and Noel have yet to accomplish anything substantive in their brief NBA careers. As it stands now, wouldn't Adams offer more security in a backup role to Miles Plumlee than either of these two? Would Plumlee actually be the backup in that scenario on opening night?

One way or another, this season should be telling for the fifth and sixth picks from the 2013 NBA draft. Both still have the capability to be excellent players at this level. Unfortunately, they will need to overcome their respective obstacles of brittle bones and a flimsy frame that sabotaged their rookie seasons.

Because the biggest question facing these players entering the 2014-15 season is whether Glass Joe and Gumby can stay healthy.

Poll
Who will have the better NBA career?

  0 votes | Results

Alex Len and Nerlens Noel had forgettable rookie seasons. Len was severely limited due to ankle injuries while a torn acl completely shut down Noel. Now both players look to make an impact heading into season two... and gain ground on other big men from their draft class.

At one time there was building momentum that Nerlens Noel would be the number one overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft.

A torn acl derailed that possibility. Even though Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com tweeted after the injury that Noel would still go 1-3... he didn't. Instead Noel plummeted to #6 overall, one spot behind Alex Len.

If you think plummet is too severe of a word, consider the gap between $10.9 million (for Anthony Bennett) and $6.5 million (for Noel) in the first two guaranteed years of their rookie contracts. Or that through the first four years that gap distends to nearly $10 million ($24 vs $14.4). Or that Nerlens might be lining up with Kevin Love and LeBron James in Cleveland instead of shackled in the quagmire that is the current state of Philadelphia basketball.

Alex Len has been haunted by his own series of unfortunate events. Alex's problems began with a surgical procedure to repair a partial stress fracture in his left ankle in May of 2013. He followed that up with another surgery in July, which was classified as a "precautionary measure" to correct the beginnings of a stress fracture in his right ankle.

These injuries were major hindrances on Len's basketball activities in his rookie season. It started with no Las Vegas Summer League. Then Alex was only able to register about 30 minutes of playing time in the Suns first 32 games of the 2013-14 season as he was still rounding into playing shape.

Len ended up appearing in 42 games during the season, averaging 8.6 minutes per contest. He had season highs of nine points and 10 rebounds (in separate games) while only playing more than 19 minutes in a game once on the season. Not exactly a banner year for a number five overall pick.

Still, Len played in 42 more games than Noel did last season. Noel's first official NBA action didn't come until Las Vegas Summer League in 2014. Once he got on the court, however, Nerlens drew rave reviews on his way to averaging 13.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in five total games between the Orlando and Las Vegas Summer Leagues. Noel led the Orlando Summer League in blocks per game. Some felt that Noel was the most impressive player during the summer sessions due to plaudits such as these reported on Pro Basketball Talk...

His length and leaping ability make him an intimidating force in the paint. The guys on the Sixers bench were counting the number of shots Noel altered and said it got into double digits before they lost track.

Len, meanwhile, had his first Summer League curtailed by a right pinkie fracture in the team's first game. It was especially disappointing since the Suns gargantuan center had a solid, if not spectacular, showing with six points, six rebounds and two blocks. He also looked noticeably stronger, while still moving more fluidly.

What is especially discomfiting is that Alex's pinkie injury has extended into preseason games, as he suffered a new fracture in a different area of the same bone. Compound that with Len's description of the injury reported by AZ Central's Paul Coro...

"As soon as I landed, I thought it was the same finger," Len said. "It was still sore from before because it wasn't healed all the way yet."

I'm not sure what's worse, that the finger was still hurt three months after the injury or that he was playing with it injured and unprotected during the offseason in the first place... Len's status will be updated as soon as today, October 15th, but if he's still dealing with an injury lingering from July does it make sense he will be cleared to play again?

Noel has been able to participate in preseason games. The highlight so far was a 12 point, 11 rebound, four steal showing against the New York Knicks on Tuesday 10/14. Sure, it's preseason, but it's better than a bad line or a DNP-injury.

Suns fans are expectantly waiting for the return of Len, who is seemingly being counted on to at least play meaningful minutes as the team's backup center. His massive size and length still project him to be an indomitable force in the paint on defense... if he can stay healthy. Last season he tantalized in short bursts, even displaying flashes of aggression that mark the true presence of a dominant rim protector.

While Len and Noel have failed to launch their NBA careers, others in their draft class have not had similar issues. Steven Adams has already made a name for himself after an impressive run in the 2014 playoffs. Adams recorded his first postseason double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds in a close out game six win over the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference Semifinals.

That mean streak in Len Suns fans have seen glimpses of is pretty much how Adams comports himself on every single play. Being truculent and nettlesome are calling cards for the rugby player turned NBA center. Adams is also having an exceptional preseason as he is averaging 18.7 points per game through three games while converting on 24 of 28 field goal attempts (.857). If he can add the dimension of a passable offensive game to his bruising style of play Adams can be a very effective player in the league for a very long time.

After all, the 21 year old Adams is actually slightly younger than Alex Len.

Besides Adams there were several other big men that gave their teams reasons for optimism last season.

Kelly Olynyk (#13) 70 games played, nine starts, 1,400 minutes, 8.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.

Gorgui Dieng (#21) averaged 12.2 points and 12.0 rebounds per game in 15 starts to close out the 2013-14 season.

Mason Plumlee (#22) 70 games played, 22 starts, 1,275 minutes, 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.

But none of these players seems to be dripping with potential like Len and Noel, two players that will likely be linked throughout their careers based on the propinquity of their draft position.

A potential coup for the Philadelphia 76ers, who drafted a ball hawking defensive dynamo after he slipped due to injury concerns.

A possible I told you so for the Phoenix Suns, who feel they got the best player in the draft. He still might be, too, considering what a rare breed well built 7'1" mobile two players are. Just think of how many are presently playing in the league... it shouldn't take you very long.

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Len and Noel have yet to accomplish anything substantive in their brief NBA careers. As it stands now, wouldn't Adams offer more security in a backup role to Miles Plumlee than either of these two? Would Plumlee actually be the backup in that scenario on opening night?

One way or another, this season should be telling for the fifth and sixth picks from the 2013 NBA draft. Both still have the capability to be excellent players at this level. Unfortunately, they will need to overcome their respective obstacles of brittle bones and a flimsy frame that sabotaged their rookie seasons.

Because the biggest question facing these players entering the 2014-15 season is whether Glass Joe and Gumby can stay healthy.

Poll
Who will have the better NBA career?

  638 votes | Results

San Antonio doesn’t exactly push its players to play for every game they’re paid. The cost of rest likely had to do with a 2014 championship, so it’s not surprising the Spurs are...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

In this edition of Bright Side of the Sun's 2014-15 season preview, we chow down on the Phoenix Suns' wings.

Dividing the Suns' roster into traditional basketball positions can be tricky under the unorthodox system of Jeff Hornacek. With a lineup employing dual playmaking point guards, plus the Channing Frye role (played this year by Anthony Tolliver) which really deserves it's own designation, the wing positions have been somewhat marginalized.

Hornacek has eschewed the traditional SG/SF lineup in favor of putting an extra serving of speed and ball-handling on the floor in the form of an additional point guard, and thus minutes at the wing position will be scarce in 2014-15. It creates a small problem, then, considering that the Suns boast a handful of players at this position that can make excellent cases for increased court time.

This handful of players represent a different characterization than the rest of the roster. The point guard trio of Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas will provide most of the scoring. The frontcourt consists of young big men that the Suns are somewhat counting on to continue to improve this season.

The wings, in contrast, are led by super role-players P.J. Tucker and Gerald Green -- two veterans who have seen their NBA careers die once already, and play with the intensity of men that have nothing left to lose. They'll be pushed for minutes by youngsters Archie Goodwin and T.J. Warren, and Marcus Morris figures to be splitting time here as well.

Quite the crowded house. Who will get the lion's share of the minutes? Will the youngsters find a way to steal a rotation spot by season's end? Only the next 82 games will answer these questions -- in the meantime, here's all you need to know about this eclectic batch of wings and how they figure to be used on this team.

The Corners

By now the secret is out among NBA teams. The corner three is the most efficient place to shoot from the floor outside of layups and dunks, and this revelation has not been lost on Hornacek. 27.3% of the Suns' three-point attempts came from the corner -- the 7th-highest such percentage in the league. They converted at a 40.4% clip, good for 8th overall.

With Dragic, Bledsoe and Channing Frye doing most of their damage from the middle of the floor, the corners were largely left to the wings -- namely Tucker, Green and Marcus.

Tucker developed a niche from the corner pocket, which accounted for 87% of his 191 attempts from deep. He converted 41% of his corner shots, giving him just enough scoring ability in a Bruce Bowen sort of way to become the everyday starter at SF. This development really cannot be overstated. With a new found usefulness on offense, the resulting increase in minutes saw Tucker's win shares jump from 2.9 in 2012/13 to 6.1 last season.

Green didn't attempt as many corner shots as Tucker, given that his offensive repertoire is much more versatile, but when he did find himself open he was cash money. He nailed 46% of his 138 attempts from the corner pocket, contributing greatly to his career-high .585 TS%.

Marcus Morris represents an outlier in the theory of corner 3PA's, actually shooting a lower percentage (.373) from the corners than he did overall (.381).

The Defense

Here is where Tucker outshines his colleagues, and frankly it isn't even close.

Both Green and Marcus are passable at defending the wing on their best days, and on their worst days are a liability. Goodwin and Warren both have potential to be plus defenders, Goodwin with his 6'10 wingspan and Warren with his high motor, but in the meantime Tucker will again be relied upon heavily to stymie the opponent's best scorer.

The Suns as a team allowed 30% of their opponents' field goal attempts to come within 3 feet of the rim. That was the 8th worst mark in the league. The 7 teams that were worse than the Suns in this regard all missed the playoffs.

They also surrendered the 5th most free-throw attempts. Again, all the teams with worse marks than the Suns missed the playoffs. There is a pattern here.

Due to the better-than-you-think interior defense of Miles Plumlee and Channing Frye, the Suns were 16th in the NBA in FG% allowed within 3 feet (.639). This is also a number that needs to improve (are you reading this, Alex Len?), but considering the onslaught of field goal attempts at the rim that the Suns interior defenders faced it's hard to place much blame on the big guys.

The Suns did allow an opponents' 3FG% of only .341, second only to the Clippers league-wide. However, chasing opponents off the three-point line is only a workable strategy if one can avoid chasing them all the way to the rim.

Not all of this rests on the shoulders of the Suns' perimeter defenders. The team rebounded only 73% of their opponents' misses (9th worst in the league) which surely led to plenty of putbacks at the rim. However, all this is meant to highlight the impact of one P.J. Tucker.

There have been some premature projections of T.J. Warren or perhaps Marcus Morris horning in on Tucker's minutes at small forward, but Tucker was probably the biggest reason that the Suns' defense in 2013/14 was just good enough to put the team in the playoff picture. As shoddy as the numbers above are, imagine what they might look like without 81 games from Tucker. If they want to end their four-year playoff drought -- and they really, really do -- shoring up the defense in the paint will go a long way to improving their win total from last season. Logically they will need their best defender on the floor to hound opposing wings and blow up pick-and-rolls for this to happen.

In short, don't expect anyone to take minutes away from P.J. anytime soon. You've seen what happens when one tries to take a loose ball away from him, right?

Rebounding

Yet another area where Tucker outshines his peers. Of all the Suns players to get at least 500 minutes of court time last season P.J. came in 4th on the team in rebounds per-36 (7.6) and TRB% (11.9). In contrast, Green was saved by Goran Dragic and Leandro Barbosa (only 368 MP) from being the worst rebounder on the team, grabbing 4.2 boards per-36.

Marcus Morris rebounding adequately for a SF last season, grabbing 6.4 rebounds per-36 -- a small notch below Channing Frye. Considering how much time he spends manning the 4, improvement would be welcome in this category. As a wing, however, his rebounding is a plus.

The real shocker here was Archie Goodwin, who nabbed 5.9 rebounds per-36 -- easily the best among the guards on the team. He accomplished this feat in only 533 total minutes of court time, which could very well make this an aberration, but perhaps it portends to the all-around player Goodwin is hoped to become.

Scoring

The Suns will again look to Gerald Green to provide a scoring punch in 2014/15, but likely will not rely upon it quite so much as they were forced to when Eric Bledsoe was lost for half a season. Green responded emphatically to the increased role and was perhaps the biggest surprise on a team full of them, but with the added depth in the backcourt, expect a slightly reduced role for him this time around.

Despite iffy handles and suspect shot selection, Green proved capable of scoring from everywhere on the court, and in all kinds of crazy fashions. Can Green reach his stellar shooting numbers from the prior season, when he nailed 40% of his 3's and was the team's second leading scorer per minute?

The good news for the Suns is, they might not need him to.

Keep an eye out for Marcus Morris as well. The combo forward reportedly spent all summer in the gym with his bro, and will need to keep his nose to the grindstone if he wants to avoid losing minutes. He showed some versatility last season, scoring efficiently from the midrange as well as hitting a stellar .381 from 3. It remains to be seen where Mook will get the bulk of his minutes, but look for him to show off a few new moves in 2014/15.

Goodwin and Warren both have the potential to be microwave scorers off the bench. In the four games in which Goodwin played at least 19 minutes, he scored 17.2 PPG on a combined 27/38 from the field. Warren has produced extremely well during his floor time in summer league and preseason, but alas the Suns are shooting for the playoffs and the young guns will be hard-pressed to steal minutes from the veterans entrenched ahead of them.

Intangibles

Tucker and Green are the embodiment of the newfound culture in Phoenix. The Suns shocked everyone en route to their 48-win season in 2013/14, and it was through sheer hustle and energy that they were able to notch so many wins despite being outmatched on paper against many teams. Tucker battles for every loose ball and rebound as if it's the last lifeboat on a sinking ship. Green sets the crowd on edge every time he steps onto the floor, and wears his heart on his sleeve during every minute. Goran Dragic might the heart and soul of this team, but Tucker and Green have been the fire.

It sets a high bar for the young wings on this team, and don't be surprised if Zoran Dragic is the one to steal minutes for much of the same reasons.

Outlook

The cohesiveness of this Suns team has been attainable in large part due to the fact that every player knows their role. There is no better example of this than their wings. While the young guns indeed possess tantalizing potential, this part of the floor is held down by the veterans until further notice.

If anyone wants to steal minutes from P.J. Tucker, they'll have to make a case for the team to keep it's best defender and one of it's best rebounders on the bench. It shouldn't be much easier to supplant Green either, provided that he continues to provide the luxury of a player that can take the game over at any moment.

Perhaps next season will be about Goodwin, Warren and/or Zoran stepping into the spotlight, but this team is looking to make noise in 2014/15. They'll need Tucker and Green for this to happen. Defense, corner 3's, microwave scoring, rebounding ... combine the two and you have an All-Star player.

Personally, I wouldn't bet against them.

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