We’ve been talking about this concept called #TheTimeline lately, meaning that the Phoenix Suns are not building a roster to win 40 games this year but rather are focusing on building a roster to contend for a championship long-term starting with perennial playoff contention starting in 2019 or 2020.
By that logic, the Suns should be contenders by 2021. To be contenders by 2021, they should have a few good players. And at least one player who would make an All-NBA team, right?
Let’s see whether national prognosticators view the Suns current roster as strong enough to make those leaps.
As you know, the Suns roster currently boasts a trio of recent Top-5 picks (Alex Len, Dragan Bender, Josh Jackson), several other recent lottery picks (Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss) and a youngish star in Eric Bledsoe who won’t turn 30 until the 2019-20 season.
Certainly, the roster will change dramatically in the next three to four seasons, but the question is whether the Suns have the proper foundational pieces in place right now to build a future contender around?
Let’s start with a process of elimination.
Len: Not a foundational piece
The oldest of the Suns’ recent Top-5 picks, Alex Len, is about to sign his qualifying offer to play his 5th season with the Suns and then become an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Len was the 5th overall pick in 2013 in a restrospectively terrible draft.
- First overall pick Anthony Bennett was released after two seasons and was out of the league until signing a non-guaranteed deal with the Suns. He will likely start the season in the G-League.
- 2nd pick Victor Oladipo has already been traded twice and is at best a complementary starter,
- 3rd and 4th picks Otto Porter and Cody Zeller got big extensions this summer but have a ceiling as career high level role players,
- 5th and 6th picks Alex Len and Nerlens Noel (who was traded for a bag of beans at the deadline) just signed their 5th year qualifying offers and will become unrestricted free agents next summer,
- 7th pick Ben McLemore was outright released this past summer and will now play for less than in QO would have paid him,
- 8th pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was basically let go this summer by Detroit for nothing, though he did sign a lucrative one-year balloon deal with the Lakers,
- 9th pick Trey Burke is now out of the league...
While there have been some excellent players to come out of that draft (C.J. McCollum, Giannis, Rudy Gobert, etc.), the consensus top prospects have largely been as disappointing as Len or more.
Warren - good role player, but not a foundational piece
After a surprisingly good 2013-14 season, the Suns dropped to the worst lottery pick in what was a much better draft than 2013.
After three season, we pretty much know what we have in T.J. Warren.
Warren, taken 14th overall in 2014, fits the “usability” mold that the 2013 Draft offered at the 2-4 spots. Tony Buckets profiles as a high-level role player, or possible 4th-5th starter, on a good team.
That’s great and entirely necessary on contending teams, but he’s not a foundational player around whom an entire franchise can revolve.
Chriss and Bender - too early to call, but odds are low
While it’s quite possible that either or both of Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender can develop into NBA stars based on their raw potential and athleticism, neither player has shown those signs on a consistent basis yet.
They likely profile, at best, more like Warren, Oladipo, Porter and Zeller types - great role players and/or complementary starters on good teams.
To be honest, it’s more likely they flame out than become undisputed NBA stars. So let’s not put these two in the “foundational” category at this point.
Josh Jackson - too early to call, but odds are rising
While it’s too early to call on Jackson, since he hasn’t even played a single NBA game yet, he profiles with a much more likely high ceiling than all but one other player on the Suns roster.
SB Nation published it’s “Top 101 of 2021” this week, and predicted that Jackson will be one of the Top 40 NBA players in the league by that time, coming in at #34, one spot behind the (then 31 years old) Draymond Green.
These guys ranked Jackson almost 10 spots better than #3 pick Jason Tatum, by the way.
Devin Booker - too early to call, but odds are good
The one player on the Suns roster who most profiles as a future top player on a contending team is Devin Armani Booker.
Booker swags, shoots and trash talks like a star, and has the endorsement of most of the NBA’s elite talent as the future at point guard. Still just 20 years old, Booker needs to continue to develop at a rapid pace to reach the heights predicted of him.
Count the SB Nation guys as believers.
Placing Booker just outside the Top 15 (ostensibly the 3-deep All-NBA teams) shows their belief in Booker’s future despite his questionable advanced stats at this stage. Other members on his 4th-team All-NBA list for 2021 include John Wall, Lonzo Ball, Paul George and Ben Simmons.
Basically, the Suns entire roster is either nogonnahappen or “too early to call” when it comes to foundational pieces.
They could become another Orlando Magic, who failed to find a foundational piece despite tanking and drafting top 5 for three consecutive years (Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja) while adding other lottery picks like Elfrid Payton. This year’s pick of Jonathan Isaac at #6 overall marks the 6th year of the post-Dwight rebuild with no clear direction in sight. Remember when everyone drooled over the Magic’s stable of young studs?
Even the “great-drafting” Minnesota Timberwolves are teetering on the back side of success, already giving up on one-third of their foundational trio (Zach LaVine) and wishing they could reasonably do the same with another (Andrew Wiggins). Only Karl-Anthony Towns looks solid as a foundational piece going forward, now that we have a few seasons as a body of work to evaluate.
The Suns do have big-time potential in Booker and Jackson.
But when you look at the whole, the future is not quite clear enough yet to see sunny skies. Might as well drop the ever-cloudy ESPN Future Rankings right here, where the Suns come in as a bottom five team again, placing them at #26 just ahead of the Nets, Hawks, Kings and Bulls.
FYI: These same guys predict the Suns to be about 26th best this coming season too. So basically, they predict zero organizational progress over the next three years.
These exercises are supposed to predict the totality of the next three seasons to come (2017-2020), but are heavily influenced by today’s roster and yesterday’s results.
Don’t expect a big Suns jump in these rankings before you’ve already seen it play out on the court.
Bring on training camp!