As many of you know, the Suns recently entered into a single-affiliation relationship with the Bakersfield Jam, meaning they oversee and fund all of the Jam’s basketball operation. For a young team like the Suns who, barring any trades, are about to get a lot younger through the draft, this partnership allows a lot of flexibility in determining how they manage their personnel. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits the Suns stand to enjoy through their partnership.
Flexibility in the Draft
Anybody who has seen video of a guy like Clint Capela can’t help but to salivate over his massive wingspan and athleticism. But that doesn’t necessarily translate to the NBA right away. A word that gets thrown around as the draft approaches is "upside." If everybody’s predictions about "upside" came true this year, then we’d be looking at about three or four new LeBrons coming into the league this year, and maybe a couple Kareems. However, the simple fact is some of these prospects will pan out and some of them won’t. Having a system in place that allows the Suns to draft very raw, talented prospects increases their draft range and lets them gamble a little based on potential.
Grooming of Players
The Suns’ system in the NBA is fairly unique, with their two slashing point guards and up tempo offense. It can be tough for a player fresh out of college to adapt to a style like that. But having the Jam run the same style of offense gives the Suns the chance to get draftees some experience in a lower-pressure environment. Aside from giving players a chance to adapt to a system, the affiliation gives the Suns the opportunity to simply give minutes to the guys who need them. If you’re like me, it was painful to watch Archie Goodwin and Alex Len sit the bench night after night. Making it worse was the fact that Archie tore up the D-League in his time with the Jam, giving fans all the more reason to want to see him play. The simple fact is, coaches on a winning squad like the Suns simply can’t afford to develop guys in the middle of a playoff push, but the Jam affiliation gives Coach Hornacek the chance to keep young, talented players’ confidence up with solid minutes in the D-League.
Grooming of Coaches
To me, an underrated part of the Jam affiliation is the opportunity to give coaches a chance to prove themselves worthy of the NBA, as well as get valuable experience with NBA caliber players. Currently, there are 19 coaches in the NBA who have D-League roots, highlighting the growing trend of the growing synergy between the D-League and the NBA. The Suns get the chance to hop on the bandwagon and groom coaches who fit into their system, whether they end up being assistants, or somewhere down the line, the head coach of the future.
Finally, let’s take a look at one the most successful NBA franchises, the Spurs. Why are they so successful? Obviously a large part is their future Hall of Fame coach, Greg Popovich. Another chunk of their success stems from their ability to draft and stash European players like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, and Tiago Splitter. Manu Ginobli didn’t even sign with the Spurs until a couple of years after he was drafted. The Jam affiliation gives the Suns some ability to bring those types of players to the US and start to develop them in the Suns’ style of basketball. Overall, joining the growing trend of hybrid D-League affiliation allows the Suns to start to foster a true basketball culture that has been missing in recent years.