S : Best in the game (LeBron James)

A+ : Right on heels of best player (Kevin Durant)

A : Top 5 player

A- : Top 5 at position/Potential All-NBA players

B+ : All-Stars

B : Good starters/fringe All-Stars

B- : Good starter

C+ : decent starter

C : fringe starter/bench player

C- : good bench player

D+ : average bench player

D : Fringe rotation player

D- : bad player

F : not NBA caliber

Factors: production+efficiency+talent (emphasis on this year but whole career taken into account)

*Note: There is no specific order within each tier.

Tier 1 (A)

- Chris Paul

Chris Paul is clearly the top point guard in the game in my opinion and one of the best players in the entire league.

Tier 2 (A-)

- Russell Westbrook

- Derrick Rose

- Tony Parker

- Deron Williams

Deron Williams probably doesn't belong in this category after his years with the Nets, but I'm not giving up on him just yet.

Tier 3 (B+)

- Stephen Curry

- Kyrie Irving

- John Wall

- Rajon Rondo

With the exception of Rondo, this is a group of really talented up-and-coming point guards that are going to be total studs in their primes.

Tier 4 (B)

- Mike Conley

- Ty Lawson

- Damian Lillard

- Goran Dragic

- Kyle Lowry

- Steve Nash

- Jrue Holiday

These are really good players. Some of them are on the way up, some of them are on the way down, but they're all right on the edge between solid starter and All-Star consideration. They all have their flaws
most players do.

Tier 5 (B-)

- Ricky Rubio

- Jeff Teague

Rubio really need to become a better scorer before he makes the jump to a higher tier.

Tier 6 (C+)

- Greivis Vasquez

- George Hill

- Jeremy Lin

- Kemba Walker

Good, solid players, but nothing special.

Tier 7 (C)

- Raymond Felton

- Nate Robinson

- Jarrett Jack

- Andre Miller

- Jose Calderon

- Steve Blake

- Reggie Jackson

- Jameer Nelson

- Mario Chalmers

- Mo Williams

- Brandon Jennings

- Darren Collison

- Eric Bledsoe

- Devin Harris

- Kirk Hinrich

All these players can start if they need to, but they'd be best coming off the bench on a good team.

Tier 8 (C-)

- Isaiah Thomas

- J.J. Barea

- Ramon Sessions

- Beno Udrih

- C.J. Watson

Solid back-up point guards.

Tier 9 (D+)

- Norris Cole

- Sebastian Telfair

- D.J. Augustin

- Patrick Beverley

- Brian Roberts

- Jimmer Fredette

- Pablo Prigioni

- Cory Joseph

- Eric Maynor

Decent back-ups. They all have their strengths.

Tier 10 (D)

- Shaun Livingston

- Jamaal Tinsley

- Mike James

- Earl Watson

- Charles Jenkins

- Nando De Colo

- Daniel Gibson

- A.J. Price

These guys can fill in as a back-up depending on how the rest of your roster looks.

Tier 11 (D-)

- Derek Fisher

- Marquis Teague

- Kendall Marshall

- Tony Wroten

You probably don't want these guys playing many minutes for your team.

Tier 12 (F)

- Ronnie Price

- Nolan Smith

- Chris Duhon

- Darius Morris

Bad, bad basketball players.

And there it is. What do the Bright Siders think of my first batch of grades/rankings/tiers?

Eric Bledsoe entered this offseason as perhaps the most sought-after trade prospect that has yet to really prove anything. Thanks to limitless athleticism and a variety of jarring plays he has made...

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

Actually... maybe wheel and deal isn't the most glowing praise for the recent moves. It actually has a negative connotation based on Old West gambling (roulette and cards) and generally implies an underhanded, exploitative action. Sorry Ryan. I was looking forward to dropping this scintillating bit of knowledge, for at least some of you, but when I did it shattered. Sad face.

Now that the Suns have up to three first round picks in the 2014 draft, McMiracle has his work cut out for him to acquire the other 27.

Special thanks to Tom Lewis from Indy Cornrows for putting up with me joining us for another pedestrian brilliant episode! You are not just a man, Tom, but in fact THE man. Trust me, I fact checked this on the internet.

Follow the action and his work at www.indycornrows.com as the Pacers have their eyes set on an NBA championship next season. Tom is also on twitter - @indycornrows and facebook - facebook.com/indycornrows.

Phoenix Suns Podcast Episode 32 Tom Lewis Interview


Let's start with a trivia question: which Phoenix Suns team in the last four seasons played the highest number of young players in its regular rotation?

Was it the 2012-13 Suns team that went 25-57 season, worst in the West and their third consecutive year out of the playoffs, who spent most of the second half of their season with the sole purpose of going young?

Or, was it the 2009-10 Suns team that went 54-28 in the last hurrah of a storied mid-decade run of six consecutive winning seasons, led by 36 year old Steve Nash and 34 year old Grant Hill?

What exactly is "young" anyway?

Well, "young" is a subjective term. I realize that. For the purpose of this article, I'm going to consider a player "young" if he played the season at 24 years old or younger.

In the most simplistic terms, players 25 years of age or older in the NBA are unlikely to become a much better player than they already are (on a per-minute basis). Sure, there are exceptions. Steve Nash went from a 28-year old middling starter in Dallas to the league MVP in Phoenix at age 29. But for every Steve Nash, there are at least 100 NBA players who don't improve demonstrably after age 24 unless their previous struggles were due to injury or lack of opportunity.

Let's use an example. Most would agree that the Morris twins, who played last season at age 23, are close to their apex as NBA players. Even those who think they can get better would wholeheartedly agree that it needs to happen this season or it never will. This season, they will play at the age of 24.

But if you don't agree with my highly arbitrary subjective logic, just bear with me. Deciding where to draw the line is actually immaterial to the impact of this article. Wherever you draw the line, the Phoenix Suns were old last year compared to other lottery teams.

Let's go with "young" being 24 years of age or younger during the majority of the season in question.

The 2012-13 Phoenix Suns

Last year's Suns were the second oldest non-playoff team in the NBA (second to Dallas), but right in the middle of the pack of the entire league. (as of games in early April 2013)


If it looks awful to you, it is. Only Dallas made the Suns look baby-faced by comparison. As you can see in the chart, the Suns were one of only three lottery teams without a top-ten pick in the last decade (Dallas, Orlando). Generally, once you're in the lottery and getting top-ten picks, you're likely to stay there a while.

Dallas continued on the Suns' treadmill last season, playing an old roster just enough to finish barely outside the playoffs. Orlando, on the other hand, tanked like a futhermucker. They went from deep playoff capable to second-worst in the entire league in less than 12 months, thanks to turning Dwight Howard into a bevy of young talent. The Lakers had already traded their picks to Phoenix, so they had to sign up Philly (and Denver) to fork over the necessary young talent. A year later, only Orlando has anything of value to show for the big trade. Ouch.

The Suns are somewhere between Dallas and Orlando, even a year later. But at least now they are closer to Orlando, where they belong, until the next big star hits the Valley.


Back to the trivia question: which Phoenix Suns team in the last three seasons played the highest number of young players in its regular rotation - the 2009-10 Western Conference Finals team or the 2012-13 Worst in the West team?

The fact is that the 2009-10 Suns team played more young guys in their rotation than last year's Suns. Yes, I'm talking about the 2009-10 Suns team that won more games in their last 35 attempts (28-7) than last year's model did in 82 (25-57). Ouch.

2009-10 - THREE guys under 25 made the top TEN in minutes per game. Record 54-28

  • Jared Dudley, 24, 6th in minutes per game (24.3 per game for 82 games, 1 start)
  • Robin Lopez, 21, 7th in minutes per game (19.3 per game for 51 games, 31 starts)
  • Goran Dragic, 23, 8th in minutes per game (18.0 per game for 80 games, 2 starts)

2012-13 - TWO guys under 25 made the top TEN in minutes per game. Record 25-57

  • Markieff Morris, 23, 7th in minutes per game (22.4 per game for 82 games, 32 starts)
  • Michael Beasley, 24, 8th in minutes per game (20.7 per game for 75 games, 20 starts)
  • 3 others under 25 played a grand total of 1,221 minutes (Mook, Marshall, Garrett)

Before you raise your hand to ask, the answer is no. No, the Suns did not do any better in the "youth" department during Nash's last two seasons either. In 2010-11, the same three young guys played top-ten minutes, and in 2011-12 Robin Lopez lost all his minutes and didn't even qualify for the top ten, while Dragic played terribly and got traded at the deadline. At least, 2011-12 brought us Markieff Morris.

*Sidenote: Jared Dudley only counted as "young" for the purposes of this article in 2009-10, becoming a "veteran" in subsequent years. Fits, doesn't it? Dudley did not improve his per-minute numbers. He just got more of them until last season.

Inside the numbers

Lack of quantity

The Suns biggest problem in the past decade was lack of quantity of draft picks, coupled with holding onto their aging veterans for longer than they probably should have.

Thanks to only two first-round picks in three years from 2010-12, and those each being #13 overall, the Suns had little homegrown talent to develop.

Lack of quality

Last summer, the Suns tried to address the lack of quantity of young players, so they worked hard to bring in new, young blood all the way through the trade deadline. The Suns acquired the #2 overall pick in 2009, #5 overall in 2010 and #14 overall in 2011.

But while the youth they brought in checked the boxes on paper, the players themselves were wholly underwhelming.

Here's the biggest punch in the gut: not one Suns player 24 years old or younger has played starters minutes in Phoenix since 2007 (when Stoudemire, Diaw and Barbosa were all 24 years old). Since then, the best any young player has done was 6th best on the team in minutes per game.

That's a long time since the Suns have had a starting quality young talent in Phoenix, hombres.

The new, "young" Suns

*Note: ages in this section are for the majority of NEXT season, so you'll see a lot of guys listed one year older than you thought they were.

If nothing else this season, expect to see at least one young player (Eric Bledsoe, 24 next season) play starter minutes each night for the first time since 2007. In addition to Bledsoe, the Suns have several other young players who might crack the regular 10-man rotation.

The way I see it, it's a good bet that at least FOUR of the SEVEN* guys under 25 next season will be in the Suns' top ten player rotation: Eric Bledsoe (24), Archie Goodwin (19), Markieff Morris (24) and Marcus Morris (24).

*Malcolm Lee is 24 next season, but nothing has been said of Lee by the brass so I assume he's gone soon. Alex Oriakhi is not yet signed to a contract. Miles Plumlee, Diante Garrett and Michael Beasley all turn 25 before next season starts, so they don't count as "young" for this article.

This is a big year for Bledsoe and the Morrii. They will be playing next season at age 24, the point at which most players become who they are in the NBA. At the end of the 2012-13 season, we will be pretty confident what we have in these three players for the rest of their careers.

The remaining young players, Goodwin, Alex Len (20) and Kendall Marshall (22), will get a chance to play but would only get big minutes if they show great progression in training camp. Goodwin won a lot of trust from Hornacek in Summer League, so I think he's got the leg up on those other two for a top-ten spot in the rotation.

But to expect all as SIX of these guys to be top-ten players in terms of minutes per game is a tough task unless the Suns do further purging (which they might). But watch out - sometimes you get what you wish for. Only one NBA team had 6 of their top ten players under 25 years old last year (sorted in order of win total).

Why didn't the worst NBA teams play even more young players big minutes? That's twofold. For one, not many teams even had that many NBA caliber players under 25 to throw out there.

For another, it's about playing the right way, per Amin Elhassan (formerly in the Suns front office, now a scout and journalist for ESPN Insider).

"One of the most nuanced elements of tanking," Amin said. "Is the art of being bad without learning bad habits; without it, you are stuck in a vicious cycle of bad basketball."

Even the youngest of the young, New Orleans with SIX of their top ten players under 25, had to mix in some veterans to keep order in the clubhouse.

But won't those veterans drive up the win rate? Uh no. Just look at the Suns, who won only 25 games despite playing giving big minutes to older veterans without a big upside. But if you have the right veterans, they can set the proper tone for the kids to follow.

"There definitely needs to be culture setting from your leadership (ownership, front office, coaching)," Amin continued. "And it needs to be consistent, and consistently applied. But beyond that, successful team cultures almost always feature a 'champion of the cause' from inside the locker room aka players policing their own.

"That policing doesn't necessarily require a vet playing 30 minutes a night, but his voice can certainly be diminished if he is racking up DNPs. Younger players need to be able to respect the vets for not only their sage advice, but also for the fact that they can bust your [expletive deleted] on the court if need be."

The Suns need to play their young guys, but they can't force feed them into the lineup ahead of better players who happen to be vets. Jared Dudley lost some influence last season because he was losing minutes to the very guys who needed a kick in the pants. Yet the veterans who kept their minutes (Gortat, Dragic) failed to step up to the lead the team either.

There needs to be a pecking order that includes respect. At this point, the culture setting on the 2013-14 Suns is going to have to come from Jeff Hornacek and his band of merry assistants. On the court, the only leader-type players on the roster are Caron Butler, Channing Frye and Goran Dragic.

Beyond that, it's a daycare center.


When the Phoenix Suns added Luis Scola to the roster last year it was in a last ditch effort to compete despite losing leaders Steve Nash and Grant Hill. All season the coaches struggled with how to use Scola and the team did not compete.

Now Scola is Indiana bound and the Bright Siders have takes. They have lots of takes...

Tenth Topic: Five Questions on the Remainder of the Off-Season

1. Breaking the Ice: What are your thoughts on the acquisition of Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green and a 2014 first round pick for Luis Scola?

Jim Coughenour: When the Suns acquired Scola last season it didn't make sense to me. Adding a veteran presence who is a starter isn't the norm for rebuilding teams. Maybe Scola helped the Suns to a couple wins that moved them down in the draft order... But, IF Len was their first choice it doesn't hurt there. Now the team has flipped Luis for a first round pick in a stacked draft class. I still don't agree with the philosophy... Still, all's well that ends well.

Dave King: This trade was all about the future. The Suns needed to get Scola to a playoff team. He's a guy so used to winning he has no interest in riding out a three-year rebuild. He just doesn't belong in Phoenix. To turn him into a coveted 2014 first round pick is a bonus, given that he's a 33 year old backup at this point. Getting two other players in the deal was the cost of doing business, though Plumlee at least might be a serviceable backup.

Kris Habbas: If it were 2007 this would be a HUGE trade for the Suns, but with hindsight that might have been a disappointment even then. Green is a great athlete that progressed as a basketball player under the Indiana Pacers staff last year and add a first round pick (likely between 25-30) then this ends up as a good, slightly above average trade for the Suns.

Richard Parker: This is a very good trade for both teams. A deal like this is all about the relative value of assets. Scola is worth much less to this Suns team than he is to a Pacers team that wants to legitimately compete for a championship next year. Getting a 1st round pick for him is tremendous value, in my opinion. Having to take on Green's contract for two years is a slight annoyance, but a 1st rounder is worth adding $2.5M to 2014-15 payroll. Win-win-win deal (for Phoenix, Indiana, and definitely for Scola).

Sean Sullivan: Assets, assets, and more assets! It made a lot of sense for Indiana and it certainly made a lot of sense for Phoenix as well. The additional 2014 pick was definitely the showcase of the trade for the Suns. However, Miles Plumlee was also the 26th pick in the draft just last year, and could be another young asset this team specifically targeted in the deal. As for Green, he was the cost of making the deal happen...nothing more.

2. Scola brought back two contracts that add up to his money, but at different positions. How does this affect wins and losses this season?

DK: No impact. The Suns were projected, with Scola, to win the fewest games in the West by most people. That will still be the case without him.

KH: Well, in 262 games Green has a total win share of 4.1 meaning that he does not move the needle in wins and losses. I like the idea of Green as the back-up two/three to come in and provide athleticism, but he is not a shooter, play-maker, or individual scorer; all of which are glaring holes. On the positive side he is a quality defender and elite athlete. LOB CITY!

RP: It definitely makes the team worse. Scola's a vet that only would have taken minutes from younger guys on this rebuilding squad and add a few wins. No one wants that. Now, we have two guys that will probably be entertaining (and frustrating) to watch but will really not contribute much to the team's overall success.

SS: I don't think it helps, nor hurts the teams' chances of tanking winning. This was all about clearing the contract of a veteran player who could be much more useful on another team, and getting some value for him in return that can help the Suns continue their rebuild.

JC: Positively... or do I mean negatively? I think that this makes the team worse, which is good because a high lottery pick next year is imperative. Stockpiling meaningless wins to move from 3 to 7 is lunacy. At the very best, or worst?, the team is no better than last season's incarnation... pending Frye's contribution.

3. Overall the team seems to be looking to get more athletic no matter the cost in terms of shooting, skill, or other sacrifices... Is this a wise strategy?

DK: Got to start somewhere. That's where Houston started - stockpiling assets regardless of position - and it eventually worked out for them. However, other teams haven't had as much luck doubling up positions. We'll see, but I think McD will put together a solid team within 12 months.

KH: Long-term that is a wise strategy, but in the short term it is going to lead to some tough basketball for the eyes. If Channing Frye returns and plays to form then he is the only shooter on the roster higher than 35.2% career. having solid interior scorers and attacking point guards is borderline useless with no shooters to space the floor.

RP: While the team has definitely gotten more athletic and and worse at shooting, I think that's just a byproduct of the asset game that McDonough is playing. The lack of shooting honestly won't matter during this season since we seem to be headed towards a high 2014 draft pick. Shooting is easier to develop, especially with an expert shooting coach leading the way, than athleticism or pure talent. It's also easier to find in free agency.

SS: This team has desperately needed some youth and athleticism for many years now. I think it's a great strategy for the time being, as many of these younger players can still develop their skills in other areas. Not to mention, the Suns can always address other skill sets that they still find themselves lacking in with the multitude of draft picks that they have lined up for the future.

JC: I think the moves have been more focused on moving pieces that don't make much sense at the Suns' current station and acquiring youth and draft picks. I'm not sure if these moves are dictated by athleticism or whether that's just based on the best available packages. The Suns have stated they want to run, so these moves should help implement that philosophy. I think the wisdom involved is dictated by the results. The Rockets have seemed to garner success with a strategy that might be similar to McDonough's endgame.

4. This has been a spectacularly active off-season so far with time for more moves and changes... What are your thoughts to date?

KH: The team has accomplished a lot of really good things and have more assets in a three month window than they were able to do in a three year window. Despite having better assets three years ago, Ryan McDonough (McMiracle) has put his reputation to work and churned out a young, athletic, roster that now has potential going forward.

RP: I am very pleased with the way the Suns' summer has turned out. The team has gotten significantly younger for the future and has continued to stockpile assets. I really do believe that they have the assets required to be part of the next big deal when a disgruntled superstar wants out of his current team. Meanwhile, the Suns can continue to develop our the guys, aim for a high 2014 pick in a stellar class, AND have great cap flexibility in the future. I like this team's future.

SS: I couldn't be happier. It's hard to believe how much has already changed in the one month that McDonough has taken the reigns. It will still be a while before we can accurately measure just how effective these trades were in making the Suns better...but you can at least see they have already made the team younger and given the team the opportunity to acquire assets which can be used to further improve the team going forward; as long as they draft or trade for the right players.

JC: Very optimistic. McDonough's moves have have been somewhat tempestuous, but I haven't had a problem with any of them. Glad to see some legitimate change after the stasis over the dark age overseen by Lance Blanks. Although... credit from last summer may seem appropriate since the Goodwin pick was acquired before McMiracle appeared on the scene. Ryan still had to nail the pick, and there's at least potential that he may have. Once Gortat is off the roster I think this will easily be the best summer in several years.

DK: So far, this offseason earns an A in my book. Every move is made with a purpose and has brought back needed future assets. The Suns had the flexibility to eat the contracts Butler, Lee, Green and Plumlee to net Eric Bledsoe for Dudley and a 2014 first rounder for Scola. Nice haul, with credit to both Babby/Sarver and McDonough.

5. Should the team look to make more moves? Are there any more moves to be made?

RP: Definitely. A team like this should ALWAYS looks to make more moves. While a big deal to land a star might not present itself for a while, the team should focus on smoothing out the roster a bit by getting rid of some of the clutter. A 2-for-1 or 1-for-none type deal to get rid of a player or two the team doesn't need would really help. Obviously, more trades to add to the asset pile should also be pursued.

SS: There are plenty of moves left to be made...the Suns are far from a finished product at this point. I believe the roster is still in flux and there are some necessary moves that will need to be made to ensure that the team maximizes their current assets. When those moves will come? Who knows...but I think they will.

JC: Gortat.

DK: Definitely more moves have to be made. There are 16 guys under guaranteed contract, with 7 of them 25 or older on a rebuilding team. On top of that, only two young players (under 25) have previously earned regular minutes in the NBA (Bledsoe and Kieff).

KH: If teams field offers for Marcin Gortat when he is medically cleared, yes. Other than Gortat the teams assets are more in the players that they recently acquired.

6. BONUS: With the team moving on from veterans like Jared Dudley, Luis Scola, and Jermaine O'Neal how do they replace the leadership on the roster? Also, final thoughts on The Luis Scola Era in Phoenix?

SS: I think you let the leadership position occur organically with a younger team like Phoenix. We are not in the position to where we need that leader in order to compete for a championship right now...so why not let the players figure it out on their own? Certainly nobody saw Jared Dudley as the future locker room leader when he was acquired from Charlotte...we may have another guy ready to step up and take on that role. As for Scola, I thought he was the consummate professional here in Phoenix. You could tell the losing bothered him, and I'm happy to see him go to a team like Indiana where he can help them compete.

JC: Hornacek will play a big role in this. It would be great if Dragic can take on more of a role in this facet. Frye can be a sage mentor as well. Scola was a mistake that ended up working out well. I wasn't a fan of his game in Houston, but grew to appreciate him here. He tries to play the game the right way (except for egregious flopping).

DK: All three are in a better place now on deep playoff contenders, and the Suns got assets for two of them. Good for them, and good on the Suns. Scola was a great guy and a model for the kids to follow, but he just didn't connect with any of the kids professionally last season. Coaches loved Scola, though, and his effort will be missed.

KH: I felt bad for those three in particular this past season. All three have been around, won games, and should have been on a contender, but that didn't happen. Now all three have a realistic chance to make an appearance in the NBA Finals in 2014 so good for them. I will be rooting for them.

RP: Although the current roster doesn't seem to have a true leader, some of the leadership lost during this youth transformation can definitely be replaced. Caron Butler mentioned his role as a leader and mentor and seems to embrace it. PJ Tucker can even be a vocal leader on the court. I also look for Dragic to make strides in that department this season. As a rebuilding team gets younger, it definitely loses some of the poise and savvy that vets like Dudley and Scola provide, but the point is for the young stars to eventually develop those exact characteristics to go with their immense talent. Scola was very professional during his tenure in Phoenix and will be missed. I wasn't a fan of his before he arrived here but definitely am now. Mostly, I'm glad that he will be able to contribute on a contender next year, just like Dudley on the Clippers and O'Neal in Golden State.

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