Prospects Versus Pros: Where should the Phoenix Suns focus their efforts?

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns are trying to balance their prospects and professionals, and they must get it right to contend.

If you are reading this, know that it was transferred from mind to interwebz with less than 10 days to go until the juggernaut that is the 2014 NBA Draft. You know, the best draft since Bron / Wade / Melo and a draft so good it's being whispered about in comparison to the *legendary* class of 96.

The Phoenix Suns, currently, have many picks in this upcoming draft, and there has been much discussion about what any particular Suns rookie would mean for the team. A lot of the time, their arrival seems to mean the beginning of the end for a contributing veteran already on the team.
In almost all cases, this would be a grave mistake.

The "balance" of power

With the help of the all powerful number-crunching demon that is RealGM, I ran some numbers and came up with some interesting "must haves" in order to be crowned NBA Champions from the last 10 years. Also, what it took to make deep runs over that same stretch of time, and put it against where the Suns sit right now.

I took in-game stats out of the formula in order to get a deeper feel into certain things a team needs without the blur of hard numbers. These are the 4 main items I found most interesting.

  • Average Age (TEAM)
  • All-Star players per team
  • Most Valuable Player on Championship Team
  • All-NBA players per team

These vital requirements not only paint a bigger picture as to what sort of players you have on your team, but they also show that you possess many players who can do important things for your team in different areas.

THE CHAMPIONS, (over the last 10 years)

  • Average Age, (Team): 29 (28.7)
  • All-Star players: 2, (2.1)
  • MVP on Championship Team: 1 in 5
  • All-NBA players per team: 2 (1.6)

What this shows, is that while you definitely want young players who contribute, you aren't going to be using too many of them at the same time. In fact, you're probably only going to be rotating 2 or 3 players under the age of 25 and only one of those are going to be playing vital / significant roles for the team, (Sup Leonard!?).
It also shows that while the young sexy prospect has his place, once the ball is rolling towards contention, you're going to want need those players on the team who are already in their prime, with a high understanding of what the coaching staff wants out of them in order to succeed.

DEEP PLAYOFF RUNS: LAST 10 YEARS, (Conference Finals, Finals Loser, Champion)
This list expands on the 10 championship teams, and adds the conference finals winners, losers, as well as NBA finals losers.

  • Average Age, (Team): 28
  • All-Star players: 2, (1.9)
  • MVP on Championship Team: 1 in 5
  • All-NBA players per team: 2 (1.6)
  • Not much change here. The age takes a dip here as the Oklahoma City Thunder show up as the exception, (Average Age: 25). The formula doesn't change, however. Stars, veterans in their prime years playing specific roles, and just enough youth playing roles from vital to none at all.

    Clearly, there is a bit of a blueprint here. The Suns are aware of it as well. General Manager Ryan McDonough has been asked several times about his near-infinite number of draft picks over the next few years. This answer, which has been reported from various sources including Bright Side, and seems to sum it up best.

    "It's unlikely we'll draft eight (first-round) guys over a three-year stretch. It's really hard to win that way and also the roster spots are limited. You only get 15, so you can't I don't think (have) more than half your team be either first, second, or third year players and also try to be competitive and make the playoffs and advance in the Western Conference."

    YOUR PHOENIX SUNS, (As of right now)

  • Average Age, (Team): 26, (26.4)
  • All-Star players: 0
  • MVP on Team: 0
  • All-NBA Dragons Player: 1
  • This team is a lot younger than that, truthfully. Okafor never suited up, and Leandro Barbosa probably won't be back. Both players are 31. Shavlik Randolph is 30, and Dionte Christmas is 28. Another couple of players who could very well be banished into the NBA abyss next season.

    On the flip side, the team already has two major developmental projects going on with Archie Goodwin, (19) and Alex Len, (21). Alex, especially, was drafted to play a significant role on the team moving forward and must show that he can take the torch currently being held by Miles Plumlee, (25).

    Addition by subtraction is hard

    It seems easy to say that the Suns can draft either a Gary Harris, (19) or a Nik Stauskas, (20) and have that player replace a veteran like Gerald Green (28) without missing a beat.
    It seems easy to say that the Suns could replace either member of #Dragonblade, (24 / 28) if they had to, by trading up and grabbing Marcus Smart or using 14 / 18 to draft Elfrid Payton, (both 20).
    It seems very easy to replace Channing Frye, (31) with the potentially versatile stretch-4 Adreian Payne, (23).

    Those pros all play vital roles for the Phoenix Suns as they sprint towards contention. All those prospects mentioned above are maybe's right now. Would they truly be able to come in and continue the rush towards the post-season gates and into the championship rounds so easily?

    Markieff Morris' evolution is happening as we speak. It took 3 years, (and 3 coaches), along with a very respectable work ethic on his part to get to where he is right now. He could be that youngster on the team ready to contribute heavily moving forward.
    I mention him because the Suns are going to need a few more players ready to contribute right away. Keef is there now. The team doesn't need many more developmental projects. I'd say one more premier addition via the draft, (1 high 1st and then a late pick getting work in the D League).

    Free Agency & Trades

    In order to keep the balance, I actually expect Phoenix to be active far more in this area than in the draft in terms of acquiring players that actually are on the roster come opening day.
    This is the only way the team is going to acquire a superstar along with those types of players who understand the game a bit more and can contribute to a playoff push right away.

    Hey, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills just helped the San Antonio Spurs win another title. They're good players who know their roles and can execute. Phoenix is in a position to acquire the same types of players to strengthen their core.

    Managing the future, not being enslaved by it

    It is not a bad thing to bring in players who are going to be able to help you in 2 or 3 years time. I'm not saying go out there and Highlander all but one of your prospects. There comes a point where you have to hitch your wagon to a few kids, let them develop, and spend the rest of your time constructing a team that can actually help you in the here and now.

    This way, you could also be settling your current prospects in the sense that they aren't constantly seeing young guys coming in and they can focus all of their efforts on improving instead of worrying about whether or not they're about to be replaced.

    Achieve balance; find increased success

    It's an exciting time with the draft coming up, sure. The Suns can be as active as they want on the day, but in the end they need to come away with perhaps one draft-obtained stud and a few more seasoned professionals who already know how to play the NBA brand of basketball.

    If the team brings home, and keeps a few prospects, don't expect to see much improvement. History says it just won't happen.

    Unless you're drafting lights-out like the OKC Thunder.

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