While the national media and outlets of that variety are looking at the Suns chase for the 8 seed, most Suns fans and people closer to the team are more focused on what the youth of the team is going to bring for the rest of the season.
Brandon Knight (23) and Alex Len (21) are in the starting lineup already and Archie Goodwin (20) and T.J. Warren (21) are sporadically finding more playing time and will likely be featured much more the closer we get to the end of the season.
It's still pretty crazy to think about Eric Bledsoe (25) and the Morris twins (25) as the veteran leadership of this team, but that's where the roster stands for now. The progress of those three players is important, but the improvement of those four previous players mentioned is crucial to the future of the Suns.
Each of the four players should have an important role in the rotation as early as the start of next season and with that it's meaningful to look at what they can do in the NBA and what they can work on. Let's dig in.
Knight is the most interesting Suns player to analyze with his impending restricted free agency coming this offseason. Knight's a combo guard with basketball skills that are more suited to being off of the ball and playing the 2.
He shoots threes and moves around the floor very well, allowing himself to pickup space. The most famous clip of Knight associated with handles is Kyrie destroying him during All-Star weekend, but Suns fans are now getting acclaimed to Knight's own ball-handling displays.
That game winner against the Nets shows how ridiculously well Knight can control the basketball when it actually appears to be the opposite. The composure to sense space on the left and look so comfortable rising up for the bucket is impressive.
This is the best part of Knight's game besides his shooting. He can catch-and-shoot from deep and that's crucial for this team because of the hole that Isaiah Thomas' departure leaves (42%) in that department. He's currently shooting 39% in these scenarios (41% in MIL) and that's the best number in the starting lineup.
Knight's a good defender and maybe the most entertaining part of his arrival is seeing his disbelief in the way he moves around on defense compared to everyone else. This is only good for the Suns to get guys that actually talk on defense and take it 100% seriously. He makes mistakes, but the theme of this post is that he's still pretty freaking young.
The improvement for Knight comes with adding another element to his offense. He can really handle the ball and shoot, but what comes after that? Knight is obsessed with long 2's as we all groan simultaneously. Knight is shooting 10-30 from those spots this season and it seems to be the best byproduct of his handle.
Little things in that clip like adding the stepback when it wasn't completely necessary will make us all happier by October. Watching Knight do this gives everyone a greater appreciation of when IT used to consistently be really good at making theses shots or attacking the rim.
Before we get to attacking the rim, that next element of offense should be his playmaking, but it's extremely erratic. Knight will make a great pass and then a horrible pass 45 seconds later. There's no in-between with him.
That's a really simple pass and Knight even misses Bledsoe's feet. Consistency is a theme here and that's something you expect and hope for young players to gain with so much playing time at this age.
Finally, attacking the rim is the last area you could see Knight progress his game. He was shooting 52% there in Milwaukee, but is only at 44% in Phoenix. A number like that is one of the main reasons Knight is only shooting 38% in his 10 games here. Here is a really good example of the two sides Knight has shown as an attacker.
You are damn right I left in Whiteside being a punk (but Alex started it!) and Beasley cackling at it. Anyway, Dragic played great D on Knight and right at that point Brandon has to have the wherewithal to back out of that in transition. He doesn't and then Whiteside makes sure it's not going in. The next play though Knight makes such a pure floater and adjusts right away.
That's the thing you enjoy the most about watching Knight. That quick release and shots like that Brooklyn dagger and Miami floater are so pure that you expect great thing in the future.
As the great philosopher Rollin J. Mason once said, "come watch Alex Len play basketball!" Watching Len continue to impress and grow has been the highlight of this season. There's no need for such a long explanation for Len because his potential feels so high.
Len give you a little bit of this...
Sprinkled with some of this.....
And maybe the best is that he gives you this....
Len doesn't take any shit, he keeps getting better every game, and he shows off something new on the offensive end pretty much every week. There's no real way to go too in-depth on what he needs to work on because of how much of a delight this season has been for him. Foul trouble is a thing, but once again, he young. Let's just all enjoy the man.
Isn't it strange how familiar we are with Archie's pros and cons and he's only played 756 minutes in the NBA?
Archie's best strength is slashing and getting to the rack. He's quite honestly superb at it and any sort of ease we thought was going to go away with an increase in level of opposition was silly.
That sort of craftiness around the rim is spectacular and then he shows off the athleticism that makes you fall out of your chair.
Archie's so good at this already that he only needs a little bit more to his game and then he's homebound. Whether that comes from improving as a shooter (7-19 this season from three), defender, or playmaker (yikes), that's all he needs. He's the player out of these four who needs a bulk of playing time the most for experience and hopefully wee see that very soon.
I said this about Archie after Vegas; it's still too early to worry because of how young he is. The beginning of next season is when we can start to show concern about the other elements of his game, but the playing time he gets for the rest of this season will go a long way in eliminating that worry.
The most unknown of this four, T.J. has a lot of people watching this team very excited about his future. His future for minutes is the most unknown as well, with Marcus Morris and P.J. Tucker being a clear block for his playing time in the future and present. Regardless, if Warren plays like he did last night Hornacek will have no choice but to play him.
Warren's strength is scoring the basketball in just about any way possible.
That's 17 easy points in 18 minutes. TJ's efficiency (53 FG%) and energy (3 ORB per 36) are so welcome to this team. His cuts to the basket and activity on the boards is exactly what this rotation needs. Those two skills alone are enough to warrant a spot in the rotation right now.
His improvement will have to come on the defensive end and still retaining offensive efficiency once defenses force him to shoot. Possessions like this against the Cavs give you a ton of hope.
The basics might not be there, but that's the type of defense I never thought Warren could play in the NBA. Instead of being a specialist like Knight and Goodwin are currently, Warren might belong in a group with Len in that we should be ready for a lot more.
That's what Suns fans have a right to be excited about.
There are two things worth going over here. The first is that Hornacek is really going to struggle finding four players of this age group a ton of playing time. That's a struggle in any capacity, even when the team is out of the playoff race. The slow build since the trade deadline towards playing time for Goodwin and Warren is evidence of that. You shouldn't expect Goodwin and Warren to each be playing 20+ minutes a game by April, but you should expect them to see the floor much more.
Those four players will continue to bring optimism to the Suns future and that's not even going over the rest of the slightly older core, Reggie Bullock, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and the Suns own future first-round picks. Some fans might be disappointed by missing the playoffs, but the main takeaway should be that this is a rebuild that is still underway and the Suns are setting themselves off for a great payoff.