Offseason player rankings are pure speculation. Garbage in = garbage out. What one person uses as criteria to rank a player is totally different than what someone else may use. Ranking just on points per game gives an unfair advantage to those who played the most minutes, no matter how good or bad their was. Yet PER unfairly gives stat-stuffers an advantage, regardless of minutes played. Using WAR or VORP can be skewed to the team they played with as well.
But what's interesting about the SI.com Top 100 players list is that the same two writers have been ranking players for years now, allowing for a little year-over-year trending to see how the Suns fair in offseason rankings each September as they head into a season.
Just from this comparison alone - made by SI's Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney - we see that the Suns are rising up the "respect" charts for player rankings. No matter what Ben and Rob say, subjective rankings such as these are always skewed to recent media coverage. Why else would Kobe Bryant still have been listed as a Top-50 player last year? Or why else would Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward all make Top 40 this year after the Jazz were relatively ignored for half a decade?
Still, it's interesting to see how Suns players are ranked by these folks year over year.
2013-14 SI Top 100 Ranking - 2 Suns make the list
The Suns were coming off their worst season (25-57) since their inaugural campaign. If they hadn't hired Ryan McDonough to breathe a little fresh air into the franchise, they might have been ignored altogether on a list like this. But McD acquired probably the best bench player in the league and made several other moves to suddenly put the Suns into a positive light.
Entering the season, new acquisition Eric Bledsoe began the year ranked in the Top 100, coming in at #95 despite not ever being a regular NBA starter.
Bledsoe has star potential with his rare package of strength, speed and agility, but at the moment his talents are a bit too solvable to rank any higher than this. His tenacious on-ball defense, quickness off the dribble and furious cutting can be weaponized properly in the right situation, as was the case last season with the Clippers. But without ideal supporting parts (as will be the case this year in Phoenix), Bledsoe's somewhat limited court vision and inability to shoot off the dribble become more problematic. He'll surely improve in time, and he's already made gains as a spot-up shooter. But his shortcomings will be in play in the interim, even as Bledsoe still gets plenty of mileage out of kineticism alone.
The Dragon, Goran Dragic, coming off a 14 and 7 season, was ranked #88 overall. The compliments were of the back-handed variety, but Dragic's coming-out party resonated with the judges.
Though not quick or skilled enough to be a spectacular player, Dragic has the off-the-dribble resources to act as a solid lead guard. His game is grounded in peculiarity; Dragic surprises both opponents and teammates with his offbeat moves off the dribble. But it's through that unique timing that Dragic is able to stutter and squirm his way to the basket -- the area of the floor that most defines his value. Once Dragic gets deep enough into the paint, every deke and fake becomes especially effective, allowing him open passing lanes, clean looks inside and an opportunity to draw fouls. That skill enables him to make up for some iffy shooting off the bounce and generally slow-footed defense, though not to a degree that would justify a higher ranking than this.
No other Phoenix Suns made the Top 100 produced by SI.com entering the 2013-14 season. Remember, the team wasn't even supposed to be more than a 20-win team.
Former Suns in the Top 100 include Matt Barnes at #97, Shawn Marion at #92, Amare Stoudemire at #85, Joe Johnson at #59 and Steve Nash at #54.
2014-15 SI Top 100 Ranking - 3 Suns make the list
After the Suns big 48-34 record, Dragic and Bledsoe jumped up the list into the 30s, while newcomer Isaiah Thomas came in at #90 overall.
They gave Thomas credit for putting up his numbers (20 and 6 in Sac), but discounted them because the Kings won so few games.
Meanwhile, the Slash Brothers ran right up into the 30s. Dragic jumped from 88 to #35, while Bledsoe jumped from 95 to #33. Bledsoe's big jump was the most surprising. He was ranked higher because his wide variety of skills could translate better to a wider variety of teams. They were quite effusive about Bledsoe's ability to play any role a team needed, including both off the ball and on. But most of all, his defensive acumen makes him of the best guards in the game.
Unfortunately for the Suns, all three of their Top 100 players still in a Suns uniform played the same position. Even worse, they WANTED to play the same position. All they all had good reason. The Suns traded two of the three at the trade deadline.
Former Suns in the Top 100 for the 2014-15 season included Boris Diaw at #100, Robin Lopez at #82 and Joe Johnson at #51. Barnes, Marion, Stoudemire and Nash all dropped out.
2015-16 SI Top 100 Ranking - 4 Suns make the list
A year later, two of the Suns' Top 100 from the prior year are on different teams. Yet the Suns recovered well. According to this list, the Suns still have more players in SI's Top 100 list this year than either of the prior years.
The best part is that after two years of only having point guards make the SI Top 100, the Suns now have a center and power forward on the list as well as two starting (point) guards.
Eric Bledsoe is still ranked as the Suns' best player, at #33 overall according to these guys. He still has the same flaws he's had for years but still has such a tool belt of skills he's impossible to ignore.
Eric Bledsoe is a point guard, unless you'd rather him be a shooting guard. A shot creator, unless you'd prefer that he be a cutter. A counter to opposing ballhandlers, unless he's needed to lock and trail elsewhere. That elasticity is rooted in truly remarkable athleticism. A 6'1" guard shouldn't be able to bend between positions and responsibilities so easily as Bledsoe does, yet in the case of a miniature bulldozer who moves like a blur, most traditional rules seem not to apply.
There might not be a point guard in the league who can match Bledsoe physically. His advantage is most evident on defense, given that getting a step on the 25-year-old guard takes a full possession's work and powering through him is all but impossible. Bledsoe has the strength required to fight through screens in any top defensive assignment and the speed to close the gap that follows. There's no shedding him once he's locked in.
Based on total defensive impact (individual matchup, disruption of an opponent's progress, control of the passing lanes, help responsibilities, rebounding, etc.), Bledsoe ranks as one of the top guards in the league. His offense is also oddly understated for a lightning-quick guard putting up some impressive numbers. Only 16 players in the league matched Bledsoe's scoring output (17 points per game) at the same true shooting (55.5%) or better last season. Every guard among them (Harden, Curry, Irving, Lillard, Paul) except Bledsoe was an All-Star.
Tyson Chandler, just signed last month, still gets tons of credit as a difference-maker at center despite being 33 years old by opening night. He is ranked #36 this year after entering last year at #39 and being #27 the year before that.
Chandler is the kind of teammate any competitor would love: fiery, relentless and deeply disciplined. The worst that can be said of Chandler is his play sometimes teeters with nagging injury. Playing the way Chandler does brings its share of strains and tweaks, the sum of which can tax a terrific two-way center to lesser form.
Otherwise, Chandler's team is guaranteed a player very comfortable and quite effective within the role he's asked to play. Defense remains his calling card. Any coach in the league could find comfort in the notion of Chandler commanding the back line of the defense. His help will be punctual and informed by the scouting report. His post defense will be physical and irksome. Chandler will be quick off the ground to challenge any shot in his vicinity and still rank among the best rebounders in the league (last season he finished sixth in offensive and defensive rebounding rate).
And somehow Chandler might be even better on offense. Scoring itself has never been Chandler's forté. Where his presence pays off is in its gravity—the effect that Chandler has when rolling down the middle of the lane or lurking on the baseline. Those who stray from him risk a lob to one of the NBA's best finishers, often at an angle no other defender could disrupt. Any other option would involve bailing on defensive principles when they ought be in effect. Chandler knows just where to be to force defenders into difficult decisions on a second-by-second basis. In doing so, he stretches the value of his dunks and athleticism to their absolute limit.
Markieff Morris joins the list for the first time. Morris came into his own in 2013-14, but didn't even make the Top 100 "snub" list like Frye and Green did, let alone the Top 100. This year, he's jumped all the way to #64 by these guys.
The 25-year-old Morris is, at heart, a brash gamer: he's missed just four games during his four-year career, and he seeks the ball in clutch situations, ranking fifth in the NBA in points scored during the final minute of a one-possession game. A tough all-around cover for defenders due to his combination of mobility and strength, Morris relies heavily on his comfort in the mid-range and perimeter to generate his scoring opportunities, but he can also create a shot for himself in one-on-one situations and overpower smaller defenders going to the basket.
Morris graded out well defensively last season, ranking sixth among power forwards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus, and his frame suits him well here too: he's physical and competitive enough to make post-minded fours work for their points, and yet he's quick and agile enough to track players out to the arc.
Hey maybe this ranking will help his trade value?
Also on the list is Brandon Knight, acquired at the trade deadline, at #79 overall. He's a large step back from Dragic, according to these guys, but he's still a Top 100 player and ranks higher than Isaiah Thomas.
Expectations should be fairly low for the Suns after their off-season overhaul, giving Knight, 23, plenty of time to get comfortable. A skilled pick-and-roll playmaker with dependable range and enough passing instincts to get by, Knight makes sense as an on-ball initiator and off-ball floor-balancer next to Bledsoe. That theory must become a reality this year. Defensively, Knight must do a better job at the point of attack, and it's about time for him to translate his solid physical tools and quickness into better defensive numbers. Last season, he ranked outside the top 50 among point guards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus, and Michael Carter-Williams, his replacement in Milwaukee, bested Knight's defensive rating after the trade. If things break right and Knight returns to good health, he should be in the mix as a top-15 point guard by the end of the season.
That's four players in the Suns' starting lineup that at least a pair of national writers conspired to name "Top 100" players in the NBA.
Sure, Morris might not play for the Suns in 2015-16 (and I've lobbied as much) but they should be able to get some kind of value for him. The key is just how much, OR whether Morris can bury the hatchet and come back to the Suns with open arms.
Former Suns on the list include Isaiah Thomas at #88 overall, Robin Lopez at #84, Marcin Gortat at #63, Goran Dragic at #42 overall. Boris Diaw dropped off the list after being weighed down by a sluggish 2014-15 campaign.
While these rankings are pure speculation, it's interesting to see how players are viewed year over year when using the same criteria applied by the same media members.
The Suns have more top end talent at one time than prior years, according to these guys. That is, until we see what Morris is traded for.