FanPost

Will the Suns be Wiggins bad in 2013/2014?

With the addition of Alex Len, Archie Goodwin, and Alex Oriachi, and the apparent retention of (so far) Gortat and Brown, Ryan McDonough has put his big, wet stamp on the Phoenix Suns and made a statement on how he views the future in the Valley, one that the "tank for Wiggins" crowd may not be appreciative of.

Looking at the future in light of the above moves, the reported return of Channing Frye, and the apparent refusal to trade for the sake of trading (again, so far), it seems that he is conceding nothing, but stating that the Suns from here on out will be taking a measured, patient approach to improving, and minimizing no asset, no matter how small.

I, like many others here, had my moments of puzzlement when Len was announced as the 5th pick, while Noel, Mclemore, and others languished on the board. I had actually expected to get Len, but that was more from a feeling that in Stern’s last year, that Noel, Dipo, McLemore, and Porter would be off the board, and we would get Len by default. I was curious to see if McDonough would surprise us with a McCollum, KCP or maybe Bennett pick, but it had never really occurred to me that we weren’t going with the apparent biggest need, a shooting guard of some kind. In fact, in the seconds between the announcement of Zeller and Len, I was sure that our FO had brilliantly executed a subterfuge worthy of Mission Impossible, by leaking rumors of "red flags" on Noel’s knee, and "bad workouts" by McLemore to ensure that they were there for the Suns. But given the subsequent pick, there is only one conclusion that can be drawn – that Len was their preferred target all along. So…why?

MMotherwell said (correctly, I believe) that Len is a guy that the numbers hate, and the eyes love. It’s generally acknowledged that Len's offense is better now, and has more upside than Noel. But his numbers at Maryland were not that impressive, and not really elite anywhere. So the decision wasn’t made based off of the new crowd of advanced stats that many (including me) are enamored of. Warp, P48, sabremetrics, APBRmetrics, PSAMS, efficiency – none of them rate Len all that high. He generally comes out of those evaluations as a safe, moderately productive big man that are always available. My personal favorite, Ed Weiland, rated Len as the 11th best player in this draft, saying "I see a decent NBA center prospect who is solid, but hardly the dominant type of college player who makes a big impact at the next level."

Hardly a ringing endorsement, but not a damning indictment, either. Weiland (and all the others) are based on hidden attributes in a players performance, and correlation how the college game translates to the pros. This data is widely available to all of us with access to the Intertoobs, and provide a different, if not necessarily better look at the prospects of a player.

But McD apparently is ahead of that curve, for better or worse. His thinking, judging by what he did and said, was that in a different system, with decent guard play, some time to develop under the three big man coaches we just hired, and the mentoring of Gortat, that Len could out-perform the numbers he put up in college. Maybe not this year, maybe not next – but given some time to build a system around him and surround him with complementary players, and the Suns would have a core player to build around for years to come. No one can disagree with that – yet. It will require several years to find out whether he was right or not. But it occurs to me that this is indeed why we hired him – to find diamonds in the rough, as he did with Rondo.

Player comparisons are popular here on BSotS – Noel is the next Camby or Chandler, McLemore is the next Ray Allen, Dipo is the next Dwyane Wade. These comparisons are mostly (all) BS. I think they tend to limit one’s thinking. McLemore has a near perfect jumper, much like Ray Allen’s – but he can’t dribble like Ray did, he doesn’t move without the ball like Ray did, and he sure hasn’t shown any of the cold-blooded killer instinct that Allen has demonstrated in year after year of his HOF career. Dipo may look like Wade physically, and have similar athleticism and measurables, but Wade can dribble and create his own shot, something that Dipo may develop, or not. Noel is an elite defensive player already, but he may or may not develop an adequate offensive game. I think all of these guys will turn out to be good, and maybe great, and I think for a couple of years, Phoenix fans will keep their pitchforks sharp and the torches burning – not to mention the assured continuing rosterbation.

But player comparisons can be informative, too, if they aren’t too broad. Given Len’s admiration and attempted emulation of Duncan, I went looking for similarities between Duncan’s game and what there is to look at in Len’s game. And there are comparisons. Len’s footwork is similar in a lot of ways. He is unspectacular on some of his shot attempts in the way that Duncan often is, choosing the safest and most efficient path if available (albeit not as often). But honestly, in watching Spurs footage, the comparisons I came up with may surprise you (they did me). I see more Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in him than Duncan. Some of Len’s slithery moves around the basket remind me of them. He has moves that Scola uses – a lot. He shows some of that rudimentary craftiness that Noah and Varajao execute so well. He’s not polished at it – yet – but he has demonstrated that he has those moves, and can get better at them. It’s even more intriguing, because he’s so much bigger than those guys. And it’s those kind of moves, 3 or 4 years down the road, that can not only make the Suns a better regular season team, but a team that can genuinely compete for a title.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about this in the last season or so. I, like so many others, want to compete for a title. I’ve studied past title winners, and I know that the most important ingredient is at least one big star, and a lot of complementary pieces around him playing their roles, with a couple of role players achieving moderate stardom at some point in the season. Len fits into this profile – not as a sure fire star, but as someone who can do a lot of things well – like Duncan. Not that he will be as good as Duncan – far from it. Duncan is a bona fide star who can "do stuff" even when the opposition takes away the strongest points of his game. It remains to be seen whether Len has the mental makeup to do that, but with his length, size, athleticism, and quickness, Len has enough tools to attack the basket in a lot of different ways. The questions will be around his development, mental toughness, and BBIQ. I don’t know what he’s got in those areas, but I believe McDonough does. He put his chips on Len, obviously calculating that he will show continued and steady improvement in his post-up game, his left hand, his hook shot, his face up game, and his jump shot on the offensive end, and will continue to grow (along with his huge frame with open growth plates) on the defensive end, gaining bulk and strength to enhance his already strong defensive skills.

I wanted a sexy SG. I wanted to watch Victor Oladipo play. No matter what we did for the next few years, I know that watching him play would be infinitely fun and gratifying. I had researched quite a few of the guys available at 30, using the advanced stats available to me, but I totally missed Archie Goodwin. Again, numbers hate him, but the eyes love him. Of course, me and Mr. Google went looking after the pick to find out what we got, and I think it gives a lot of insight into what McDonough plans to do for the Suns in the future.

Goodwin is an 18 year old shooting guard who can’t shoot. Great. We already have a couple of those – maybe more than a couple. And again, we left a lot of guys on the board who had already demonstrated that they could do things that Goodwin can’t yet do. But, like the Len pick, more nuanced analysis reveals what McDonough’s priorities are.

Oladipo and McLemore, and to a lesser extent, McCollum and KCP, evidenced much more polish to their game. But O and McL are weak at ball handling, McCollum isn’t that athletic or big, and KCP is a raw ball handler, as well. Most "experts" think that Goodwin made a mistake in coming out this year, and that if he had stayed at Kentucky and developed an additional year could have possibly been a top ten pick in next year’s loaded draft. Well, I submit to you that we just made our first lottery pick in 2014.

Goodwin is a tad bit bigger than O and McL, as quick as Oladipo, much more aggressive than McLemore, much more athletic than McCollum. The real knocks on him were low fg percentage and inconsistency. But DX evaluations point out that he has a really inconsistent and low release point, even on his FT’s, and that a late season adjustment improved his shooting quite a bit. For the last eight games (sans Noel) of last season, as he raised his release point (showing that he’s still capable of adjusting and learning, he shot 50% (45-90).

Goodwin has the ability to create his own shot, something that is of paramount importance late in games and in the playoffs. The key will be if he can make those shots. Not only McDonough, but Hornacek seems to think he can – eventually. He already, at 18 years old, has far superior handles to the other 4 guys I’m comparing him to here. What I think we’ll see from Goodwin in the first three years will be a lot of brilliant plays, a lot of ill-advised plays, a lot of bone-headed plays, and a lot of moaning, wailing, and cloth-rending from the BSotS crowd. McDonough won’t care. He has a vision, and he has evidenced that he is gambling on not only these guys succeeding, but succeeding in a way that makes us a title contender. If he’s right, he will prove that he’s a genius, maybe the best GM of the next decade. If not – well, the torches are burning and the pitchforks are sharp.

That assessment doesn’t even factor into the profession that the FO sees Goodwin as a PG. In my mind, that could be a way to light a fire under Kendall Marshall, which will be a good thing, regardless of whether Goodwin plays PG or SG, or whether Hornacek goes with some 3 guard sets. I don’t think that they are giving up on Marshall – I don’t share the opinion that Marshall is a lost cause. But I think his rope just got a year shorter. Looking long term, in 2014-15, both of the Morris twins and Marshall have team options, and I think are under pressure to perform this year. No matter what we think of them, McD sees them as assets, but will expect progress and development in order to stick around.

While I don’t know much about Oriakhi, he strikes me as first, a defensive stud with enforcer abilities, and second, someone to throw a good scare into the Morri. At least, that’s what I hope that McD and Hornacek believe. That will be fun to watch as the season progresses, and I think he sticks with the team for that reason, and was why Haddaddi became expendable.

In my opinion, Philly had the best draft. They got a whole lot for a very good, but inefficient player in Jrue Holiday. For their 11th pick, they got a potential overall first pick (who won’t play his first game til mid-season), and what will probably be a pretty decent pick from New Orleans next year (only top 5 protected). Holiday, Davis, Robin, Gordon, and Anderson will make this team a threat to compete for a low-seed playoff spot, with Vasquez and Gordon as very tradable assets who could bring back some good value. But Philly will suck badly this year, and probably compete with Boston for the worst record in the NBA. Charlotte will be there, too, I suspect – they always are. I honestly don’t think we’ll be worse than any of those teams. And while I think we will spend a lot of time evaluating young players, I don’t think Hornacek is going to stealth tank. We are likely going to field a team that starts Gortat, Frye, Dudley, Tucker, and Dragic, and that’s a team that could win some games. We showed the ability to beat some very good teams last year without Gortat and Frye – no reason to think that we’ll be worse with them. Frye has proven his worth as a difference maker, and I think there will be a lot less confusion and uncertainty in our rotations starting mid-season. So who will we be worse than?

The Lakers are a big question mark. If they don’t return Dwight Howard, they’ve pretty much said they will play out the season with what they have, which could be decent, or could be pretty bad. Kobe will be returning from an Achilles tear, Gasol is unhappy, Nash is a year older, MWP has opted to stay, making him (or Gasol) an amnesty candidate. They could suck – a lot, and easily be worse than us.

I think Utah could be pretty bad, too – they have a lot of talent, and had a great draft, but they will be losing Milsap and Jefferson, and while I think that’s the right move, I don’t think it makes them better this year. They will be a pretty good team in the next couple of years, though, and could surprise this year. I think we will be worse than them, but not by a whole lot.

Orlando is a team that has shown it’s not afraid to tank, but they may have gotten too good too fast to really compete for the Wiggins sweepstakes. Don’t underestimate them, though – they know the value of tanking for a good draft pick. They could still be worse than us.

All of this is posited without the benefit of knowing what will happen in free agency, or who will be injured, of course. But to not put too fine a point on it, I think we will be in the mix of teams like Detroit (who had a good draft), Cleveland (who also had a decent draft), Milwaukee, and Dallas (Howard or bust). Honestly, looking at it right now, it’s hard to imagine us being in the top 5 again, barring (non-Stern) luck in the lottery. And if we do get the pick from MN, it will be 14th or worse, which is still very good with that crop of talent. Getting that pick may have gotten a lot less likely with Shabazz being picked, but in reality, it will depend a lot on the return of Pekovic and health. They could be pretty good – or not. If they aren’t, we may be in the Love lottery instead of the Wiggins lottery – I can’t imagine Love staying there if they miss the playoffs again.

There is a lot of history waiting to be written, starting at 12:01 AM on Monday morning. But I think it’s safe to say that we don’t have to worry about the following teams competing for the worst record in the league:

Miami, Chicago, Brooklyn, NY Knicks, Indiana, Houston, Memphis, San Antonio, Denver, OKC, Golden State, MN, or the Clippers. That’s 13 teams we will be worse than for sure (barring injuries). With the 5 that I think we’ll be better than (Philly, Boston, Lakers, Orlando, and Charlotte), that gives us a range from 6-17 with our draft pick. Our competition will be Sacramento, New Orleans, Toronto, Cleveland, Atlanta, Washington, Dallas, Portland, Utah, Milwaukee, and Detroit.

In the East, we have :

Atlanta :

Losing (presumeably) Josh Smith, Pachulia, Korver, and Devin Harris (all UFA’s), and Teague (an RFA), a lot of movement could happen. They still have Horford, a relatively young stud, to build around, but they could commit to a youth program and do some epic sucking for the Wiggins sweepstakes. Stay tuned.

Toronto:

With a returning core of Lowry, Gay, and Fields, and some potential assets in Bargnani and DeRozan, this could go either way. I’m betting they make some moves, compete in the East, and surprise some people.

Cleveland:

Who the fuck knows, right? They could be good, they might suck. I think they compete, and are better than us. But who really knows? It’s Cleveland.

Washington:

They should definitely be better than us. Wall, Porter, Ariza, Beal, Nene, and Okafor will be fun to watch, and should do well in the East.

Detroit:

There’s some serious competition here. A nice young frontcourt, some nice picks, but Calderon potentially leaving could enter them into the suck for Wiggins sweepstakes. It will depend on how aggressive they are in FA – win now, or go young? I’m betting they go young and try to out-suck us.

WEST

Dallas:

Who the fuck knows? Dwight Howard, or bust, it looks like. My bet is that they lose out on Dwight, dump salary, and out suck us in epic fashion.

Sacramento:

They’ll be good. McLemore gives DeMarcus some spacing, new ownership, new coach, re-energized fanbase – fringe playoff team.

Lakers:

I don’t think they keep Dwight. I don’t think they bring back MWP, and I don’t think they’ll be very good. But how sucky will a hobbled Kobe and aging Nash let them be? Could be interesting. I think they’re better than expected, and still slightly better than us – but there is a wide range they could end up in.

New Orleans:

Jrue Holiday will make them better immediately. Not much better, but Davis will be better than he was last year, and Gordon could be the X-factor – playing well, staying healthy, or maybe returning some good players in a trade. I think they made a really bad trade for the long term, though – I think Philly ends up with a late lottery pick next year. Still, better than us.

Portland:

Does LMA stay or go? I think he plays out his contract and then bolts, unless they do a trade for a real center. They have a lot of good young assets, but I don’t think that keeps LMA there. Still, they might be better than us – probably, maybe?

Utah:

Promising core, very good draft, exciting young team. Some good FA moves could make them a fringe playoff contender or a young developing team that’s a couple of years ahead of us – I still think better than us.

So:

I’m (totally) guessing that the lottery order looks like this at the end of next season:

1 Boston

2 Philly

3 Charlotte

4 Lakers

5 Orlando

6 Atlanta

7 Dallas

8 PHOENIX

9 Milwaukee

10 Detroit

11 Portland

12 Sacramento

13 Toronto

14 Utah

We could drop lower – we could end up higher. We could end up a lot higher, for three reasons:

The Frye factor:

IF Channing returns healthy, he should be very healthy and very energized. I can’t imagine our training/medical staff taking the slightest chance on him playing if his enlarged heart isn’t completely healed – it was due to a viral infection, and should be totally gone with little likelihood of recurrence. His twice recurring shoulder dislocation has been surgically repaired, meaning that there is no reason to believe it will recur – surgical repair returns the subject to the condition as if he had never had a dislocation, and he’s had an additional year for it to heal. The one thing he was able to do with the enlarged heart was to practice set shots non-strenuously – so I expect him to shoot very well right out of the gate. That will improve our spacing tremendously, and make us a much better and more effective team. Frye shooting better from outside will make Goran, Dudley, and even Tucker shoot better from outside, and make Gortat and Len much more effective inside.

The Hornacek/McDonough Culture factor:

I think Hornacek will be patient – for the first 30-40 games. But this guy isn’t tanking. We will play the players that give us the best chance to win, and we will learn to play hard and fast. There might be a reset at the trade deadline, if we trade Gortat, Dudley, Scola, or even Frye to contenders, and that is probably the best the "tankers" can hope for, but I would also say that they won’t go if what comes back doesn’t make us better. I don’t think either Hornacek or McDonough are "two steps forward, one step back" kind of guys – I think they’re "always inch forward" kind of guys. I don’t think McD is worried that he won’t be able to bring back Gortat if he wants to and he thinks that makes us a better team going forward – we do, after all, need at least two centers, and Gortat is a good one. I don’t think he will undervalue any asset – even Shannon Brown, and I think he factors in every detail – $1.75 million is a lot of money on a salary cap, and can be the difference between an average and elite free agent. And I think they both want to build a winning culture, and guys like Gortat and Dudley and Tucker and Frye are very valuable in that aspect.

The Spurs vs. OKC model:

It seems to me that McDonough views the Spurs as a superior model, and Babby likes the OKC model. The Spurs model is patience, undervalued talent, loyalty, and longevity. The OKC model is patience, undervalued talent, and some luck. (too soon to tell about longevity). Both are good models – but the Spurs is (at least so far) superior. The Spurs have competed at a high level since they selected Tim Duncan in the very weak 1997 draft, where the only other all-stars were Tracy McGrady and Chauncey Billups. They added Ginobili with the 57th pick in 1999, and added Tony Parker (drafted 28th) in 2001. And, along with Popovich, they stood pat, acquiring complementary role players as they needed them and building a culture of trust, loyalty, and excellence. This last year, they came within 4 seconds of another title by adding Kawhi Leonard (15th pick in 2011) Tiago Splitter (28th in 2007) and Danny Green (undrafted) to the mix. They have rarely had to make long term concessions to the salary cap, have scouted and stashed brilliantly, and nobody leaves unless they want them to.

OKC, on the other hand, had to give up James Harden in favor of the salary cap, and it hurt them. They are still reaping the benefits of the stockpile of assets they accumulated over the years, having the luxury of drafting 12th and 32nd (after a couple of trades) this year, and they have Dallas’ first rounder next year (which could be pretty damn good). It’s a good model, but the test will be on the loyalty and longevity end. I think they win in the long run, but it seems to be a less sustainable model than that of the Spurs. So much of it depends on fortune… stay tuned.

Loyalty and Longevity – what does that mean, anyway? It means hometown discounts. It means stability. It means salary cap flexibility. You don’t hear Parker or Ginobili or Duncan saying "Well, we all know it’s a business" while they’re cleaning out their lockers. You could make the similar case for Boston in the Garnett years, too – a lot of guys gave up millions to be part of that winning culture. It seems to me that Len and Goodwin might just be that kind of player to not chase the last buck in favor of the organization that believed in them. There was a lot of lip-service given to "culture" during the Blanks era (but not by Blanks, whose lips seldom moved). All of that was totally trashed last summer, and with it the best part of the 2010 season – chemistry. It needs to be rebuilt, with all of our roster spots occupied by talented players with one thought in mind – winning it all, over and over. I think we have a good start.

Postscript:

I haven’t posted here in quite a while – I still read the articles, and appreciate the writing, though. I’ll contribute as much as I can, as long as the discussions remain positive and constructive.

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