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Phoenix Suns to target shooting this summer

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As the players cleaned out their lockers, the Phoenix Suns front office and coach pointed out a lot of areas the Suns need to improve next season.

"I feel like we need a little more size, a little more rebounding. We need better shooting on the wing. More leadership," said GM Ryan McDonough.

That's a lot. And not just one guy, either. Don't expect the same roster back next season. The Suns will be aggressive, as McDonough tries to prove he can build a team.

One of the areas of necessary improvement is shooting, which head coach Jeff Hornacek expounded upon.

"We have two guys who can really penetrate, really good on pick and rolls," Hornacek said of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. "We need some shooting. If you have shooters to go with those main guys who can really penetrate, its tough. How do you guard it?

"Just look at the Clippers from last night. They've got shooters all over the place. They've got a guy who can go to the rim and catch lobs, a point guard who can break down pick and rolls and they basically get whatever they want. We just need to try to add some of those pieces."

The Suns had many of those pieces last year and the first half of this year. Last year, the primary outcome of the usual pick-and-roll was either pick-and-drive or pick-and-pop, with occasional lob to the roller. This year, the team shifted more to pick-and-drive than pick-and-pop, and still excelled.

What's been a constant is the penetrating point guard talent. Last year, Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic ran the pick-and-drive and pick-and-pop quite well. This year, Bledsoe and Dragic were joined by Isaiah Thomas, who helped mask the loss of shooting/spacing talent by being an uber-efficient scorer in his own right.

But the team's outside shooting has declined precipitously. What started with the loss of Channing Frye this season was exacerbated by the loss of Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas at the deadline - the Suns lost their three-point shooting edge.

Let's look at the numbers.

2013-14 Season (Bledsoe, Dragic, Frye)

  • 8th best offense per 100 possessions
  • 4th in three-point attempts
  • 8th in three-point %
  • 7th in effective field goal % (weighted for threes)
  • 7th in true shooting % (weighted for threes and FTs)

2014-15 First half (Bledsoe, Dragic, Thomas)

  • 7th best offense per 100 possessions
  • 5th in three-point attempts
  • 9th in three-point %
  • 5th in effective field goal % (weighted for threes)
  • 6th in true shooting % (weighted for threes and FTs)

2014-15 Second half (Bledsoe, with a dash of Knight)

  • 28th best offense per 100 possessions
  • 18th in three-point attempts
  • 30th (LAST) in three-point %
  • 26th in effective field goal % (weighted for threes)
  • 27th in true shooting % (weighted for threes and FTs)

It was only when the team's best scorers were traded and/or injured (Brandon Knight) that the offense went completely off the rails since late February.

Should we chalk that ugliness up to Brandon Knight's injury alone? Or is the problem bigger than that?

Knight will provide quality three-point shooting in the lineup, but they are still missing the wing shooters to make the offense hum.

Where will that shooting come from?

At guard, the Suns in-house options are Archie Goodwin (who will never be a great shooter) and Gerald Green (who is a yo-yo). Can those two fill in the Suns gaps next year?

Making matter worse, from the floor-spacing perspective, is that the Suns small forwards P.J. Tucker, Marcus Morris and T.J. Warren made only 30% of their three-point attempts in the second half, and even when they are hot they don't shoot well enough on threes to command tight defense.

The Suns need reinforcements. They need an upgrade somewhere along the lineup and on the bench that is a consistent three-point threat on a big minutes.

The improvement will have to be via trade or free agency, and could spell the end of a Suns tenure for one or more of Tucker, Mook, Goodwin and Green.

What money do the Suns have?

At most, it's nearly $22 million.


But the Suns won't be flush with $22 million in cash this summer unless they renounce rights to free agents Knight and Wright (and Green and Thornton of course).


Just to keep the huge cap holds on the Brand*n's this summer while they test the free agent waters would leave the Suns less than $4 million under the projected $65 million cap. Keep the hold on Knight only, and that available space rises to more than $13 million. Dropping all of them brings the number to $22 million, but they then you're treading uphill.

Available shooting guards this summer include Jimmy Butler (Bulls - restricted), Khris Middleton (Bucks - restricted), Danny Green (Spurs), Wesley Matthews (Blazers), Manu Ginobili (Spurs), Lou Williams (Raptors). The Suns might this route if they lose Knight, or if they trade Bledsoe. Otherwise, ignore this list.

The top small forwards are talented, but mostly restricted free agents: Butler again, Kawhi Leonard (Spurs - restricted), Draymond Green (Warriors - restricted), Tobias Harris (Magic - restricted).

There are a lot of veteran shooters too, like Chase Budinger and Mike Dunleavy, but that would be Plan B. Don't be surprised if the Suns go down the offer-sheet path first, then fill in veteran shooting second.

To make a big restricted free agent offer without giving up Knight's rights, the Suns would have to renounce Thornton, Green and Wright. The only downside of letting Wright's right go is that the Suns would not be able to offer bigger raises or a 5th year in that case, but Wright likely would not command those extra perks anyway.

Stay tuned, Suns fans.

The Suns are about to start a game of chess with these moving parts.

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