What is the value of a penny? One cent? The unnecessary element in a 99c transaction in the state of Oregon? Think again...
There is a certain feeling that is unmistakable and difficult to shake off no matter the circumstances. When you have this feeling of an, unknown, but missing piece to the puzzle it eats at you until you can figure it out.
If you forget that actors name in that one movie you jump on the IMBD App and search until you find out. In a pinch Google searches make us all look and feel smarter than we probably are. This however is an unshakable feeling of loss that, until it is pinpointed to an origin, gnaws away at you like a dog on a bone until you get it back.
For the Phoenix Mercury in 2013 they had that feeling all year trying to figure out just what was missing.
They had their star back in Diana Taurasi, a rookie phenom in Brittney Griner, and a pair overqualified role players in DeWanna Bonner and Candace Dupree. That was good enough to get them to the Conference Finals, but then fell short as they were missing something. Missing someone...
What they were missing was leadership, fearlessness, 13.0 points per game, 3.0 rebounds per game, 2.6 assists per game, and 5.0 free-throw attempts per game as a starter.
They were missing their (lucky) Penny Taylor.
Statistical impact only begins to describe the former robin to Diana Taurasi's batman in this line-up. Over the years her game has regressed because of injuries and age, but Taylor is still the same impact player she was five years ago when the Mercury won their second title in three years. Her demeanor, attitude, and presence have been a major boost for the team in a uniform rather than in a suit.
While Taylor is no longer the robin for this team she has the ability to play that role when necessary, like Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat, doing what is necessary no matter what that means.
Then rising to the occasion when it matters the most.
"For me I'm not concerned about how much I do or how little I do," Penny Taylor on her role with the team. "At this point in my career I'm not concerned about scoring 20 points. It is all about helping in the right ways. I'm just playing a role and I am happy to do that."
Since being inserted into the starting line-up five games ago the Mercury are 5-0 on the season riding a five game winning streak (6-3 overall with her on the bench) and the team has found a gear to play with that suits them.
"She give us size, shooting, another play-maker, and on the flip side we put DB on the ball and she is guarding everyone," Taurasi on Taylor's impact on the entire team. "She is pretty much Scottie Pippen out there."
What happens with Taylor on the floor is more than points, rebounds, assists, and statistical impact on the court. She bonds the team together allowing Bonner to play great defense, Griner to have more one-on-one opportunities, Taurasi to get breaks in play-making, and Erin Phillips to come off the bench to lead the second unit. Her impact has fingerprints on every aspect of the game as Taurasi touched on with the change in Bonner's role.
After tonight's game barring unforeseen circumstances Taylor will have already doubled her minutes played in only 15 games so far this year from last year. The team made the conference finals with Taylor as a part-time player, part-time spectator and this year, the sky seems to be the limit.
Taylor is crashing at the rim, getting to the free-throw line, and playing like a vintage 2007 version of herself right now.
"I think I have always played that way and I think it kind of helps me with the injuries as well (laughs)..." Taylor assessing herself. "I do what I need to do. I'm better going to the basket and I've never been a mid-range player so this is pretty much what I have always done."
In a unique way Taylor is not allowing her injuries to scare her into a timid approach to the game, but flipping the script on common philosphy using the injuries as a rationale to play harder.
Like, what else can go wrong. I am just going to go play ball.
Penny Taylor is ballin' and the Mercury have found their Lucky Penny.
You either love him or hate him
SG/SF, 6'5, 230 lbs
2013 regular season statistics: 78 GP, 35.3 MPG, 49% FG%, 35% 3P%, 71% FT%, 13.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 4.6 APG
I'm going to get this out of the way right away. I love Lance Stephenson. I love the balance in his game. I love the unique way he plays. I love his heat checks. I love how he is a little too crazy to be trusted. I love all of it. With his free agency starting up on July 1st, could this insane person possibly fit on the Suns? Let's look into it.
The thing that makes Stephenson special and the first thing you want to look at with Lance is how well rounded of a basketball player he is. He led the NBA in triple-doubles with five last season. He was 1st in the NBA among all guards in rebounds per game with 7.2. He's in a small class in terms of his balance, as only Joakim Noah, Nicolas Batum, and Kevin Durant beat him in both assists and rebounds per game. He really works his ass off on the floor and he earns those merits with his rebounding numbers and with his defense. The Suns would highly benefit from Stephenson's balance, particularly in the bump he would bring in both rebounding and assist numbers for whatever position he replaced.
Defensively Stephenson extends that balance. He can guard three positions, and was partially responsible for some of Paul George's explosions against the Heat because Stephenson was able to give George a rest on defense by taking LeBron instead. His tactics are unique, as he likes to wave his hands around, establish contact, and just be a pest. He's long, and although he plays like an immature child at times, he really knows what he's doing and can shut some people down. It's impossible to shut down LeBron James, but I thought that some of the best defensive possessions we saw on LeBron in the entire playoffs came from Stephenson. Overall, I rate Stephenson as a good defender who will keep improving given his age.
Stephenson has a complete playmaking package when it comes to having the ball in his hands. He's very good at getting to the rim. At 230 pounds he's able to bounce off of defenders very well and is a good enough ball handler to make the moves he needs to get inside or make the pass to the open man. He's a maniac in the open court, as he gets to top speed quickly and can finish so well if he needs to. Stephenson shot 58.4% on drives last season, a number only topped by LeBron James, Manu Ginobili, and Kevin Durant. This complete package he has as an attacker is why there were moments in the playoffs like Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals where head coach Frank Voegl just let him take over, which resulted in Stephenson having 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists.
The inconsistencies for Lance scoring are when he's not moving. For players who played at least 70 games and took at least 2 catch and shoot field goals per game, Stephenson was 112th out of 117 players, shooting 33.6% in those situations. On strictly three-pointers, Stephenson was slightly better, shooting 34.4% in those catch and shoots from deep. That's still in the bottom half of the NBA under those parameters though so it's nothing to get excited about. For comparison, P.J. Tucker shot 39.5% in that situation, so it would definitely be a step down in three-point shooting if that was his "spot" in the lineup. His overall number for 3P% on the year was 35.2%, which is a little bit below league average. It's the weakness in his game but he's still got a lot of his career left to improve it.
Stephenson was always a crazy man on the court. He does things like this in a 1-on-4 fast break, did this to Tony Allen, has assists like this, and sometimes celebrates like this. It escalated though, as Stephenson's worldwide showcase of his antics this postseason had his profile and disapproval higher than ever.
Look, the fact is that you either love it or I hate it. I find it hilarious and entertaining for the most part (Norris Cole swipe was just moronic), and when he does these things it means he's playing at full confidence and that's when everyone is the most effective. He clearly made it his mission to get into LeBron's head during the ECF's, and even if you hated it you can't deny that it got to LeBron in some ways. Whether it was shoving Lance off of him continuously, getting question after question about it in the media, or feeling a breeze come through his left ear, LeBron knew he was there and was at the very least extremely annoyed by it. That's the way Lance operates.
As far as the effect it has on a basketball team, that's highly debatable. He was doing this while working for Larry Bird for goodness sake, so you can argue about the extent it goes to. The team that winds up signing Stephenson is going to have to know that these little tidbits are always going to be around, and while it's highly wise to knock down on the more serious ones, sometimes you just have to let Lance be Lance.
This is where it gets interesting. Both P.J. Tucker and Eric Bledsoe are restricted free agents. If one of them gets overpaid drastically, Stephenson could fit into either position. It's much more of a question mark with Bledsoe returning over Tucker, because that would have three starters who need the ball in their hands consistently to be the most effective. The biggest appeal for me outside of Stephenson's balance is that he is only 23 years old. He's already one of the most unique players in the NBA and could still grow in so many ways.
There's no doubt that Stephenson is a mega-risk because nobody knows how he would act outside of the Larry Bird cushion and nobody knows if he could still play this well outside of Frank Vogels' cushion. In my opinion, if you are ready to take that risk, he is easily a good enough basketball player to take that risk and has a lot of potential still given his age.
Now the question becomes are the Suns that team? Even being a Lance fanatic, I don't think so. That answer is under the assumption that the Suns bring back both Tucker and Bledsoe. If Bledsoe leaves, that is a big hole both at shooting guard and in overall talent on the roster. Lance would be the best replacement available in my opinion. If Tucker leaves, it's not a good fit with how much Bledsoe and Dragic already need the ball. Adding in the risk factor makes it seem pretty incomprehensible. Once again though, he's a pretty good basketball player right now and that potential sure is enticing. I just don't think it's enticing enough for a 48 win team on the rise.
We've covered most of the big name free agents, but sometimes the success of a team's off-season isn't determined by the sexy signings but the value signings. Who might some of those values be this year?
While most of us are hoping for a big splash in free agency this season (CarBron? LeBrelo? K-Lo? K-Bron?), the historical odds are in many ways stacked against us in those endeavors. While we have or will cover those big name free agents, it is also important to look for diamonds-in-the-rough. Good off-seasons are as often defined by the value free agent signings a team makes as the big name signings.
The Suns find themselves with a relatively full roster, particularly at the guard positions after the Draft. This story will focus on the three positions that seem most likely to have open roster positions: SF, PF and C. This article is not connected to any actual rumors, but is just a brief mention of guys the team might be targeting or considering outside of the big names.
These bottom of the barrel players come in all shapes and sizes. In particular, I focused on guys that fit 3 criteria:
1) Under 30
2) Likely to sign a less than MLE level contract
3) Considered underachievers but flashed signs of talent beyond their performance
With those considerations out of the way, lets get to the players.
Photo Credit: Chris Humphreys, USAToday
Measurements: 6'9 (7'3 wingspan), 216 lbs.
2013-14 Summary: Potentially the most well known player on this list, Aminu spent last season on the Hornets, where he saw his minutes decline slightly with the signing of Tyreke Evans. Despite slightly less playing time, Aminu put up a practically identical season to the year before, with Per-36 Averages of 10.1 pts, 8.7 rbds, 2 assts and 1.5 stls on 47.4% shooting. He graded out at .182 in the WP48 metric from boxscoregeeks, which puts him at 51st in that metric rating, just a few spots behind our own PJ Tucker.
Player Profile: Aminu has been something of a disappointment since coming into the league in 2010 out of Wake Forest. He has never developed a consistent offensive game, and his shot from outside 15 feet is broken, though perhaps not irredeemable. He works best cutting off the ball to the basket, but realistically he isn't a strong offensive option. Aminu's real calling card comes defensively and on the boards. At 6'9 with a huge 7'3 wingspan, Aminu has been a fairly dominant rebounding presence as a SF, and his length allows him to really impact opposing players' shots. In 2013, he was the 6th best defender of the pick and roll in the NBA, surrendering only .55 points per possession in pick and roll scenarios.
Suns Fit: Aminu is something like a middle class man's PJ Tucker, but significantly younger at only 23. A comparison might be useful on this point.
In many ways, Aminu resembles last season's PJ Tucker, with an even more underdeveloped 3 point shot. While this is potentially troubling, there is reason to believe that Aminu might be able to salvage that shot, as he shot almost 32% in his first season in the league on a higher volume of shots per game. Considering Aminu is likely to not command quite as high a salary as PJ and is 5 years younger, he may be a realistic alternative to the Suns' free agent fan favorite.
Photo Credit: Justin Ford, USAToday
Measurements: 6'6 (7'1 wingspan), 232 lbs.
2013-14 Summary: After going undrafted, Thomas spent the majority of the season in the D-League, with short stints on the Magic and the Sixers that produced 37 minutes of game time. In the D-League, Thomas put up very respectable numbers, but the D-League is always something of a crapshoot.
Player Profile: Thomas is a potential guy. He came into college a highly recruited freshmen, and after underperforming his freshman year he returned, only to even farther underperform. Thomas has the size and athleticism to play at this level for the most part, but the biggest questions about him from scouts were outside shooting and ball handling. His shooting numbers in the D-League suggest he may have dealt with the shooting problems, but his ball handling still looks shaky, and his rebounding needs to improve. He is still only 21, however.
Suns Fit: Thomas would potentially fill a Dionte Christmas like role for this team - he's a guy who could be brought onto the team, play in garbage time minutes and benefit from being on an actual NBA roster. While he mostly dominated at the D-League level and might not benefit from another full season at that level, he is a guy who could go to the D-League on rotation with some of the other young roster guys when he is not active.
Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch, USAToday
Measurements: 6'7 (7'2 wingspan), 236 lbs
2013-14 Summary: Adrien emerged onto the NBA scene this season with a bang after 3 seasons of ho-hum level play. What was different? While Adrien had always provided defense, hustle and grittiness, he never really put anything together offensively, and as an undersized 4 without an outside shot, this proved difficult for him. Last season, however, the offensive game came around: Per-36, Adrien averaged 13.5 pts and 11.5 rbds, as well as a block and a steal. He also put up the 13th highest WP48 number of the last season, which speaks to his defensive chops and rebounding skills.
Player Profile: Adrien is an old school PF in a modern day SF's body. At just a hair under 6'7, he relies on his athleticism, rebounding and grit to keep him in the league. He's never going to wow with his offensive play, but he is legitimately impactful on the defensive end, particularly on the perimeter, and his rebounding far outstrips most other players at his position.
Suns Fit: If Channing Frye leaves, the Suns are going to need a backup at PF (unless they intend to play TJ Warren at that position). While Adrien doesn't project as a replacement for Channing's offensive production, he might prove a good complement to a second unit featuring TJ Warren at SF - while the roster would be small, Adrien's defense focus and rebounding would counter Warren's deficiencies in that area.
Measurements: Jerrett - 6'10 (7'2 wingspan), 232 lbs ; Kelly - 7'0 (7'0 wingspan), 228 lbs
2013-14 Summary: Jerrett spent 2013-14 in the D-League, where he put up respectable numbers, shooting 36.4% from deep and averaged 15 pts and 6 rbds per game. Kelly, in contrast, spent most of his injury-limited season on the devastated Lakers, where he saw good playing time. Kelly put in a decent performance, shooting 33.8% from 3 and contributing 8 pts and 3.7 rbds per game.
Player Profile: Both of these guys are young, prototypical stretch 4s. Jerrett is the younger of the two (he just turned 20), while Kelly is more seasoned (23) and played in the pressure cooker at Duke for a full 4 years. Both players have a legitimate outside shot, though the mechanics of Jerrett's shot are...unconventional. Of the two, Kelly is the better all around player right now - he has a higher basketball IQ, and seems to better understand how to use his body to convert. Jerrett, however, is likely a better long term prospect - he's a better athlete, younger, and possesses a little bit stronger of a frame (if a bit smaller).
Suns Fit: These two project as direct replacements for Channing Frye's skill set, but neither is likely to be able to step right in and fill in for Channing. Both would provide an outside shooting touch and an ability to stretch the defense, something that is often necessary with the Suns' two-point guard style. Of the two, Kelly would be the most likely to have an immediate impact.
Measurements: 6'11 (7'0 wingspan)
2013-14 Summary: It was another developmental year for Vesely, who was traded midway through the season to the Denver Nuggets. He played decently, showing improvement on the defensive end and as a rebounding presence. His Per-36 stat-line of 9 pts, 9 rbds, 2.5 stls and 1.5 blks isn't flashy, but it does show signs of improvement
Player Profile: Widely considered one of the biggest busts in recent memory, I think Vesely was put in a position to fail in Washington. When you compare the way he was used in Europe to in Washington, the mismanagement becomes more apparent: gone were his three point attempts (just gone; it isn't that he wasn't making them, he never took them) which, though they were inconsistent, forced European defenders to respect his shooting ability and cheat up, allowing him the chance to get past them. Also gone were his cuts to the basket - in his last season in Europe, he was drawing between 5-7 FT per 40, while in Washington that number was down to 2. I don't see Vesely developing as a great offensive power, but I think with proper management to help build up his offensive confidence, he provides a defensive presence (he had 1.4 DWS despite playing only 776 minutes) and a rebounding ability, in conjunction with a good amount of athleticism, that should allow him to find his way.
Suns Fit: This is a swing for the fences on a pitch-out type situation. Vesely likely isn't on the radar for really anyone - the belief is he'll be heading back to Europe to rebuild his shattered psyche. But there is a reason Vesely was a lottery selection - at just under 7 feet tall but with athleticism more comparable to a SF, he offers a unique set of physical skills. Coached properly and managed correctly, Vesely could provide a rebounding presence off the bench that the second unit might need.
Measurements: 6'10, 240 lbs
2013-14 Summary: Ayon put in another quiet but solid season with Atlanta.
He suffered an injury that limited him to just 26 games (in tandem with an unwillingness by the team to use him), and is considering returning to play in Europe.
Player Profile: Ayon is not a flashy player - he is the epitome of a bench player. He doesn't have a dominant skillset, but is a fairly efficient scorer, a more than passable rebounder, a decent man to man defender and a willing and capable passer out of the high post. At 28, Ayon is what he is - a reserve big man. But he brings a unique amount of experience as the driving force behind the Mexican national team and a player who has played in Europe and bounced around the NBA for a few years.
Suns Fit: The Suns have a hole at the center position (SLAVA!!!!) that will likely be filled and should be filled. The two guys currently on the roster have 3 NBA seasons between them. Ayon would provide a veteran presence for the bench that might be lacking if we lose Tucker and/or Frye.
Photo Credit: Casey Sapio, USAToday Sports
Measurements: 6'11 (7'5 wingspan), 236 lbs.
2013-14 Summary: Aldrich played for the Knicks last season, but only appeared in 46 games for a total of 333 minutes. What stands out about Aldrich is that he performed significantly better towards the end of the season. In fact, Aldrich produced back to back double-doubles in his last two games, and produced a double-double in every game he appeared in over 20 minutes.
Player Profile: Aldrich is, again, an underachiever. A lottery pick, he's never played more than 400 minutes in a season. This is particularly interesting because Aldrich has flashed signs of solid potential before. A big body, Aldrich is a very solid rebounder, a low usage but decent efficiency finisher, and a respectable shot blocker. At 25 and after 4 years in the league, he may have reached his potential, but he can offer a team a useful, and playable, third big off of the bench.
Suns Fit: This free agent gets the Bryan Gibberman seal of approval. The team needs a third big, and Aldrich is going to be had on the cheap. The Suns could do much worse than Aldrich off the bench - an undrafted free agent might not be ready to handle real playing time in worst case scenarios, but a more established player might chafe at being played behind Alex Len, who is likely going to struggle this season. Aldrich is likely going to be glad to have a roster spot.