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Center of the Sun 1/11/16: Where some of the Phoenix Suns' youngsters have improved, and some haven't

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The Phoenix Suns' 2015/16 season must go on, according to league stipulations, however there only remain three points of interest for Suns fans as the organization careens helplessly towards another lottery season:

  • The progress of Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Alex Len and Archie Goodwin (more or less in that order)
  • The February 18th trade deadline
  • Draft position!

The staff here at Center of the Sun will be keeping you up to date on any developments within this criteria, and we'll kick things off with a midseason progress report of the team's young nucleus. Really, it's just an excuse to talk about Devin Booker.

*All stats are from Basketball-Reference.com

Devin Booker

Booker's fast-tracked rookie campaign continues to be an impressive one, and not just because he's the youngest player in the NBA. After posting his most recent career high of 21 points during the defensive debacle in Sacramento, he registered his first double-double with 17 points (7-13, 3-5) and 10 boards at home versus Charlotte.

Some might view it as petty to point out that Frank Kaminsky, drafted ahead of Booker in June, went 1-8 in 23 minutes in that same game, so I won't do that.

Booker followed that up with a 16 point, 6 rebound effort in a loss to Miami, stealing the show at one point in the third quarter as he dueled with future first-ballot HOFer Dwyane Wade. Alas, Gerald Green's stankface easily outswaggered everyone in the building, but it still produced a tingly feeling in the guttiwuts to see such confidence from the rookie.

Of course, his young age has also been accompanied by some growing pains. While the whippersnapper is still shooting an elite 45.6% from 3 on the season, in his eight starts he has shot only 3/20 from distance -- most likely a case of some rookie jitters at opening tip.

His defense has been ... let's say adventurous ... as well. Booker is sporting a team-worst 110 Defensive Rating, while the team's DRtg is an acrid 111.5 with the rook on the floor (compared to an only slightly musty 106.6 with him on the bench).

However, he has the tools to become at least passable as a defender at some point. His size, IQ and competitiveness all bode well for his future on the defensive end, although his stunted wingspan and somewhat slow feet might always be problematic.

T.J. Warren

Is there any player in this lost season that does what he does better than Warren?

The sophomore forward has scored the third-most points on the team (behind Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe, who is out for the season) as he has expanded his funky midrange game to the 3-point arc (39.7% on 1.5 attempts per game) while pumping up his usage and production substantially from his 40-game cameo as a rookie in 2014/15.

Warren's USG% has climbed from 17.8 last season to 20.3, and his PER has jumped from 14.0 to 16.9. He eventually will need to find a way to draw a foul every now and then (only 2.9 FTA per 100 possessions), but he makes up for this with a microscopic TOV% of 6.3. The next lowest rate on the team is Mirza Teletovic, who urgently fires the ball at the basket nearly every time he touches it, at 9.2.

Like any player who hangs their hat on scoring, Warren is going to have some off shooting nights. Look no further than his recent 0-3 night against the Lakers and 1-6 outing against Miami. But when a player treats every possession with as much care as does Warren, the effect of a few clunkers is greatly mitigated.

He doesn't need quite as much work on the defensive end as Booker, but he isn't exactly a plus on that end at this point (109 DRtg). It would also be agreeable to most Suns fans to see more than 5.3 rebounds per 36 minutes from a frontline player. But Warren's mix of efficient scoring and a bare-minimum of turnovers are about the closest thing to consistency this team has achieved.

Alex Len

Which brings us to third-year center Alex Len.

Len's career arc since being drafted fifth overall in 2013 has been an enigmatic combination of promising peaks and expansive plateaus. Just when it looks like the big man has turned himself into a two-way force, he settles back into an offensive lull.

Len scored in double-figures in five consecutive games in early December, but has posted four scoreless games in his last six outings. He's using more possessions this season (17.7 USG%, compared to 13.7 last season) but is far less efficient, posting a TS% of only .514 and a FG% of .458 -- pretty low marks for a 7'1 giant.

On the plus side, his 104 DRtg is the best on the team and he still pulls down a healthy 10.8 boards per 36 minutes. At 22 years old, Len still has time to round out the rest of  his game, but it is nearing the point where fans might have to accept that he's a good backup center that can step into the starting lineup when needed -- not the next Marc Gasol.

And that's OK -- some of the guys drafted before Len haven't even figured out how to be a decent backup yet.

Archie Goodwin

While Goodwin is still barely drinking age, he is halfway through his third season in the league and virtually every hole that was present in his game as a raw prospect still exists with bells on. He lacks the court vision, decision-making and handles to play the point, but his unsightly jumper makes it difficult to play him off the ball, where his only NBA skill (attacking the rim off the dribble) is weakened.

A career .203 shooter from deep, he is somehow managing to shoot a career-worst .169 this season on only 12 attempts. Exacerbating the situation, his jumper doesn't get any better when he moves in closer. He has hit only 6 shots from 3 feet and beyond on 30 attempts -- exactly 20%.

In fact, for Goodwin's career, he has hit only 48 out of 201 shot attempts that weren't at the rim -- 23.9%.

Yikes.

One thing Goodwin can do is get to the line, as he is drawing a robust 8.7 freethrow attempts per 36 minutes, but his freethrow shooting has plummeted to a career-worst 59.6%. He also seems to have a lot of trouble discerning when not to drive, as his minutes on the floor are often punctuated by wild forays into a crowded paint.

21 is still very young, but it was reasonable to hope that his development as an NBA player would have moved beyond the infantile stage at this point.

It hasn't.

Tank Watch

The Suns currently stand at sixth place in the upside-down standings, as the Pelicans and Timberwolves still stubbornly refuse to start winning games. Since beating the Kings and moving to 8-8 on November 27, the Wolves have gone 4-18 to surge all the way to fourth place.

Meanwhile, the Pelicans have played some semi-decent ball of late, but that hasn't put a dent in their stellar 1-11 start to the season. They still have Anthony Davis for the time being, and Alvin Gentry didn't sign on for a rebuilding project, so look for them to start winning more games and losing some footing in the standings as the season wears on.

The Brooklyn Nets, currently in third place, just fired their head coach, Lionel Hollins, "reassigned" mastermind Billy King, and should be doing their damnedest to auction off Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson and really anything else on that roster that bears a pulse before the February 18th deadline.

Lots to keep an eye on in Brooklyn.

On the Horizon

The Suns embark on a three-game roadtrip beginning Tuesday night in Indiana. Their Magical Misery Tour of former disgruntled players continues in Boston on Friday night, where everyone's favorite Third Wheel, Isaiah Thomas, will surely be looking to score a ton of points and cast plenty of scowls at the Suns' bench, who is most likely numb to such shenanigans at this point.

The Suns close out the week on Sunday afternoon in Minnesota, where they can make up some good ground in the upside-down standings against a Wolves team that should probably be playing better than they are.

Bonus: Who's throwing shade at the Suns this week?

Stop me if you heard this one, but it's former Suns fan-favorite Marcus Morris who is throwing shade this week, via Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:

"Being in Phoenix, I never really knew what my role was, I don’t think nobody did,"

This is interesting, because during the last two seasons, Marcus seemed to have one of the more defined roles on the team. He would consistently get 15-25 minutes a game, launch threes whenever he was open, do the crouching-dribble-into-contested-pullup-jumper thing at least twice, and grab no more than a handful of rebounds.

If anyone had a consistent role in Phoenix, it was Marcus Morris.

Morris also returned fire re: Sarver's already-infamous 'millenials' comment:

"He don’t know what he’s talking about. He doesn’t even know basketball. He just owns the team. He don’t know nothing of what he talks about. We just let that type of stuff breeze [past], laugh at it because it’s funny."

Yep, if there's one thing the Morris twins are known for, it's for letting stuff just breeze on past.

And of course, no Morris twin interview is complete until they remind you that they are from Philadelphia:

"We’re from Philadelphia, man. This ain’t tough. Sometimes things don’t work out in your favor; you stay strong and feel blessed."

Don't we all, Marcus.

Don't we all.