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Will the young Suns turn into stars?

There are some metrics that reveal a gloomy forecast.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Phoenix Suns
Is it really that bad?

Are the Suns destined for future greatness?

Or is the timeline just a clever ruse?

A way for a neophyte GM to finagle an extension out of an owner who has taken his share of criticism for for acting one way and has now over-corrected in the opposite direction.

A way for a snake oil salesman to sell false hope to a fan base that has seen their team come just short of the ultimate goal.

After all, fans that have been patient enough not to completely check out at some point during these last eight years deserve something for their pain and suffering.

The timeline suggests that the Suns are just two years or so (I forget exactly how long we’re expected to wait) away from competing for championships.

The timeline is propped up by five years of Ryan McDonough draft picks that promise to be the foundation of a new Phoenix dynasty.

For all of his misgivings, the draft is supposed to be Ryan’s forte.


Not necessarily.

Debates have raged about the acumen of McDonough when it comes to the draft.

Alex Len has underwhelmed.

Tyler Ennis was a whiff.

T.J. Warren has been solid, but not spectacular.

Devin Booker is the only real feather in McDonough’s cap... and it has been argued that he was probably the most obvious pick out of every player he drafted.

But what about the latest triumvirate of lottery picks that will author in a new chapter of Phoenix Suns basketball?

One of the problems with drafting 18 and 19 year old players is that it may be several years until they develop... several years before a definitive evaluation can be made.

This curve represents win shares by player age. As you can see, at ages 20-23 players show lots of improvement. By age 24 things have slowed down, with the peak coming at 26. The “prime” of a player’s career is really ages 23-29... or can be stretched out to 22-30 if including ~80% of maximum production.

What this curve shows is that 20 year old players aren’t generally very good.

Which makes sense.

And that most of them (that stick around the league) will improve.

But what about All-Stars?

How much better are they than the average player?

Here is the methodology for this analysis. I’ll admit that it is not authoritative by any means. It is just one glimpse into two metrics that measure player performance. Feel free to eviscerate the outcomes, applaud them, and/or add any feedback or addendum you deem fit in the comments.

I tracked the win shares per 48 minutes and value over replacement player for rookie and second years of every player who made an All-Star game over the last five years... then combined the totals for those two seasons.

That is a total of 49 different players.

Win Shares is a player statistic which attempts to divvy up credit for team success to the individuals on the team.

While team success does play into this, better players should help their team win more games, which results in more win shares for them to take part in.

Value over Replacement Player (VORP) converts the BPM rate into an estimate of each player’s overall contribution to the team, measured vs. what a theoretical “replacement player” would provide, where the “replacement player” is defined as a player on minimum salary or not a normal member of a team’s rotation.

A statistic like this favors higher usage players and those that stuff the stat sheet. While lower usage players can achieve high WS/48 values, which favors efficiency (Clint Capela is 5th this season at .243), they will not always have a high VORP total (Capela is not in the top 20).

This graph includes all 49 of those All-Stars as well as Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender.

On the top right of the graph in quadrant one you will see the three players with the highest combined scores. It shouldn’t surprise you that Tim Duncan, Chris Paul and LeBron James are over there.

On the bottom left of the graph are the three Suns.

In fact, Bender is the only player on the graph that ended up in quadrant three.

Way to go, Dragan!

One might point to the fact that the Suns are bad and that means there are less win shares to go around. Well, if these three were playing better the Suns would be winning more games and there would be more win shares for them to split.

Also, a lot of these guys were high picks that went to bad teams.

Seattle/OKC was 20-62 and 23-59 in Kevin Durant’s first two seasons.

Anthony Davis is in the top 20% on this graph and his team went 27-55 and 34-48.

DeMarcus Cousins was stuck in Sacramento winning 24 and 22 games in his first two seasons and his numbers were still better.

While these Suns are young, they are still comparable to some of the other players who entered the league earlier, like the three I just used as examples.

For Booker’s purpose, if you took his second and third year instead... taking out the year he was one of the youngest players in NBA history... he would move into the pack and not be an outlier.

I would say that’s fair.

For Chriss and Bender, they still have time to improve their second year numbers. The season is still only a little more than halfway over.

Still, while Chriss is on the lower edge of this cluster of players... Bender is basically in a different universe.

If he continues on his current pace the remainder of the year, him ever making an All-Star game would be a statistical anomaly of Brobdingnagian proportions.

Not to say he can’t become a productive NBA player, but it seems the boat on the Suns recent #4 pick becoming an All-Star may have already sailed.

Another concern is the rookie season of Josh Jackson. His rookie numbers of -.044 WS/48 and -.8 VORP (second worst in the league behind teammate Tyler Ulis) would make Dragan Bender look like Wilt Chamberlain. Jackson will need to quickly make massive improvements (and he has played a little better of late) to shake off a miserable start.

Draw your own conclusions, but with Devin Booker already being out of the norm, I think we can all concede he is a future All-Star, I think that makes it EVEN MORE unlikely that another of his teammates will also upset the applecart.


Will Dragan Bender or Marquese Chriss ever make an All-Star game?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Yes, they both will.
    (70 votes)
  • 64%
    No, neither will.
    (528 votes)
  • 13%
    Chriss will, but not Bender.
    (107 votes)
  • 14%
    Bender will, but not Chriss.
    (116 votes)
821 votes total Vote Now

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