The Phoenix Suns began October with two roster openings and five players on non-guaranteed contracts. With the season less than a week away, the number of candidates is down to two. Deonte Burton, Terrico White, and Kyle Casey were all whittled away since training camp began in Flagstaff, and now only Henry Sims and Cory Jefferson remain. However, just because they are the last men standing doesn't assure either of a roster spot.
Update: reports have the Suns keeping Jefferson
The Suns have no need to rush this decision. Their roster doesn't need to be finalized until Oct. 26, so that gives Jeff Hornacek and his staff some extra practice time to evaluate the two remaining players. However, with six preseason games in the books, the decision makers were probably hoping one or both would have stood out more through their play.
Sims, who is looking to be Phoenix's emergency center, appeared in all six preseason games for the Suns, averaging 1.7 points and 1.2 rebounds while shooting 40 percent from the field. Jefferson, figuring as more of a power forward in an already crowded field, averaged 2 points and 1.4 rebounds over five games while shooting 44.4 percent. He also chipped in four blocks whereas Sims had none.
With such small sample sizes for Sims and Jefferson (29 and 25 total minutes respectively), it is hard to draw conclusions from their per game stats alone. Going by their per 36 numbers, Sims averaged 12.4 points and 8.7 rebounds and Jefferson averaged 14.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 5.8 blocks. For the sake of comparison, Jon Leuer's per 36 numbers were 19.9 points and 13.6 rebounds on 57.6 percent shooting this preseason.
By any metric, neither player seized the moment to make this battle interesting, but it is unlikely that Phoenix will release both and enter the season with the minimum of 13 players. So who will get the honor of modeling Clotherie suits behind the actual players? Jefferson outplayed Sims by a smidge and generally appeared more active in his court time, but Sims has the size (6-10, 248lbs to 6-9, 218lbs) that makes him valuable as a backup center. As well, Sims has a more established track record than the second-year Jefferson does.
If this decision comes down to on-court performance, Jefferson should receive the nod, especially if Hornacek saw enough from Leuer this preseason to feel comfortable giving him emergency center minutes. The nod goes to Sims if Phoenix deems the added size he brings to be more valuable.
Of course, the Suns could opt to bring both into the season. Neither is on a guaranteed contract and could be released at any time if the roster space becomes necessary. Phoenix is also likely watching the waiver wire to see if more appealing talent shakes loose. Already teams have cut loose power forward Josh Powell and centers Greg Stiemsma, Jordan Bachynski, and Mirza Begic. Of the group, Powell and Stiemsma have shown the most serviceability but none are far and away more tantalizing than what Phoenix already has (although adding a second Mirza to the mix has its appeal).
If the decision does come down to Jefferson or Sims, though, it is doubtful Ryan McDonough will lose sleep over it. Both figure unequivocally as emergency players on this team and, therefore, are eminently replaceable even if they make the squad. But I'm sure the lady who sews the names on the jerseys would like to know if she needs to order more Js and Fs for this coming season.