One of the biggest (no pun intended) changes to the Phoenix Suns roster in 2016-17 is at the power forward position.
Last season, the Suns rolled out a plethora of players to man the power forward position, including many names who are no longer on the team; such as Jon Leuer, Mirza Teletovic, Kris Humphries, Cory Jefferson, and the disgruntled one himself, Markieff Morris.
This year, Phoenix has built themselves a new stable, almost from scratch, including veteran and fan favorite Jared Dudley; and two promising rookies, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. In fact, the only returning player who may see some time at that position is P.J. Tucker.
This brand new core of forwards will pair up with the same trio at center from last; Tyson Chandler, Alex Len, and Alan WIlliams, in order to form the Suns' front court this season.
Suns fans pretty much know what to expect from both Dudley and Tucker, but how will the Suns be able to manage the power forward rotation in order to help the team win, while still helping to develop the talented, but still very young Bender (18) and Chriss (19)?
And why draft two young players so high at the same position?
Luckily, the Suns seem to have a plan.
Our own Dave King was able to secure an exclusive interview with Ryan McDonough who elaborated on that very conundrum, with some very candid responses.
I would say the two guys we got in the lottery are so unique, so versatile, that we don’t view them solely as one-position players. I understand how most people look at them primarily as power forwards, but with Dragan’s shooting ability and ball handling ability, passing ability, we think we’ll be able to play him some at the small forward position. With Marquese, his ability to blocks shots, rebound, play above the rim, finish lobs, we think we’ll be able to play him some at center.
While both Bender on Chriss are power forwards, on paper, they couldn't be more different in their strengths and skill sets. It seems that McDonough's plan for both of these young players will be to get them time not only subbing in at power forward, but at small forward sometimes for Bender, and center sometimes for Chriss, which will give them opportunities to play on the floor at the same time, together.
This versatility to play multiple positions seems to be not only a stregth, but a focus of the Suns going forward.
If you have guys who can play multiple positions, especially mobile bigs who can switch, that was one of the things that was really important to us. We think with Tyson Chandler, Alex Len and now those two guys, as they develop, we’ll have one of the biggest, longest teams in the league that’s also pretty athletic that’s able to switch along the perimeter to contain guards. A lot of NBA offenses are designed to create those mismatches. If we can minimize our disadvantage on the mismatch, and make it a strength of ours, we view that as a good thing.
We all know how the Chandler & Len Twin-Towers experiment played out last season (I'll spare you any revisiting). However, the goal of finding the right players to fit that kind of versatility shouldn't be dismissed. Gone are the days of traditional players who play traditional positions in the NBA...today's league is much more dynamic.
McDonough continued in describing Dragan Bender's game...
He moves very well laterally. He runs the floor very well. He’s pretty unique for a 7’1" guy. One of the things we do is historically study measurements - height, weight, wingspan and all that. He’s pretty much identical to Tyson Chandler coming out of high school. Tyson’s a little more vertical than Dragan, but Tyson didn’t have Dragan’s ball skills. That’s a unique player.
It's pretty obvious that McDonough has been a fan of Dragan, and was likely one of the loudest voices in the war room on draft night singing his praises. But that doesn't mean that he doesn't think Chriss can be a key player and a significant assett to this team, either. In fact, he seems to love the idea of pairing them together and developing both of them simultaneously.
However, he certainly understands the potential ramifications and drawbacks of trying to push them to do too much, too soon. They've seen first-hand with Alex Len how a player with a lot of skills can get stuck not fully developing any one of them.
That’s one of our key focuses for this season and the off season, is having a multiple year progression for these guys. I feel like with Alex we asked him, maybe, too much too soon or threw too much at him too quickly and expected him to pick up all of it as he goes. With Dragan, Marquese, Tyler, we’re going to pick a few things, say 3-5 things, we want them to be better at in April than they are today. And if they pick it up quicker than that, that’s great, then we’ll add a few more. If its taking longer, then maybe we’ll back off.
Dragan and Marquese are two of the four youngest players in the league. They need to get stronger. The natural temptation is just to try to get better at everything. What we are trying to focus on is whats going to be their role for us, and then once we figure that out after training camp and a few preseason games, what can we get them better at quickly to help us and not necessarily expect them to be good at all things. They’re not going to be good at all of them.
And this may just be the key...patience. While I think that both Dragan and Chriss could have bigger roles on the Suns this season than many fans anticipate, I think McDonough realizes that trying to get them to do too much, too early, could easily backfire.
The good news is, the Suns can afford to be patient with both of them...they are playing with house money this season. Low expectations for now, and high hopes for the future. With that in mind, they should feel comfortable taking their time with these young and talented prospects, and help develop them the right way.
Here's what the two young power forwards both had to say about their experience scrimmaging against the rest of the team so far, and how they see themselves fitting:
More to come soon from Suns Media Day...Stay Tuned!