“Aggressive” was the buzzword heading into the summer for the Suns, but after nearly two weeks of free agency, the point guard position has not been a part of those grand plans.
While the Suns have opted to upgrade almost every other spot on their roster, point guard is still wide open.
A one-man free agent market
It was widely reported heading into the offseason that the Suns would target a point guard, through trade or by signing a young player who fit the upward trajectory of the rest of the roster.
Check out this excerpt from Zach Lowe’s free agency primer on June 28:
“The easiest call on the board: Phoenix acquiring a point guard, either in free agency (Fred VanVleet is a name to watch) or via trade.”
Offering restricted free agent VanVleet a contract became a throw-in to the Suns’ projected offseason plans, considering the luxury tax implications Toronto would face matching an offer sheet. Instead, VanVleet opted for a shorter contract to return to the Raptors and Plan B never materialized for Phoenix.
The other player who appeared to be a fit in Phoenix at the outset of free agency was Marcus Smart, but a connection never materialized. Days before the madness began, Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro reported the Suns would likely not be targeting Smart.
Point guard is the deepest position in the league, but the Suns haven’t taken advantage of the depressed market to nab an undervalued stud. Besides their lack of aggressiveness to chase down a player, this year’s point guard crop is also oddly thin.
Outside of Smart, Shabazz Napier and Yogi Ferrell, two shoot-first small guards, are the best players remaining. In fact, the Suns (rightly) let one of the most intriguing point guards on the market go when they renounced the cap hold of Elfrid Payton.
Unless the Suns want Napier, who had a coming-out party with Portland this season and shot 38 percent from 3, it’s hard to find a fit, though I remain intrigued by veterans such as Devin Harris or Shelvin Mack (who Igor Kokoskov has a history with through the Jazz) as stopgap options.
Overpaid players make up frosty trade market
From the same Lowe primer in June:
“They can take small swings on guys such as Jeremy Lin, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph and Patrick Beverley -- a perfect fit next to Booker, though he is recovering from microfracture surgery -- packaging Bender and some salary filler (Jared Dudley).”
Lin was traded to Atlanta Thursday night for a future second-round pick. The Pacers need at least one of Collison or Joseph, and both are on expiring contracts. Beverley is as at least as risky from a health standpoint as Brandon Knight entering next season.
I would add Tyus Jones and Delon Wright to the mix, but both of those guys carry a significantly higher price than those veterans. I also wouldn’t part with Bender just to find a fill-in point guard.
The Timberwolves re-signed Derrick Rose for the minimum to be a backup guard, but his injury history means Jones will still play. Minnesota would likely need good value to give up on Jones, a former first-round pick who is a pesky defender and career 34 percent 3-point shooter, along with his restricted free agency rights next summer.
Wright, merely a decent halfcourt playmaker, is a less ideal fit next to Devin Booker. Toronto signing VanVleet probably makes Wright more available as they near a reset.
I’m not sure either of those players is worth the first-round pick it would likely take to get them.
Stick with what’s working?
So far at Las Vegas Summer League, we’ve seen Shaquille Harrison maintain the dogged, energetic style of play that won fans over at the end of the regular season. He is on a minimum contract, and he’s not a high-usage offensive player. Harrison might be the best value option at this point for the Suns, considering the potential that, at age 24, he continues to improve.
Yet because he is neither a premiere playmaker or shooter (23 percent on 26 attempts last season), he would be the worst fit in a rotation including Knight and Elie Okobo.
On the other hand, Okobo, who’s shown the good and bad of a flashy 20-year-old point guard at Summer League, is a more ideal fit. He has great shooting touch and the size to eventually develop into a versatile defender. But it’s tough to go into the season with an inexperienced rookie (who played point guard for the first time last year at Pau-Orthez) as the backup.
The Suns’ 2017-18 point guard rotation was one of the worst individual team positional situations in the entire league.
Moving forward with Knight, coming off a torn ACL, Harrison, who has 384 minutes to his name, and Okobo, a player so raw many teams wanted him to stay in France this year, is terrifying if you’re a Suns team trying to compete at a higher level in 2018.
With so many players off the board at this point, it seems likely the Suns guarantee Harrison’s contract by August 1, add a veteran on a training camp contract to compete for the team’s final roster spot, and hope that Knight and Okobo fill the majority of minutes.
Next summer, Knight will be on an expiring contract more easily waived via the stretch provision, and point guards such as Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and Goran Dragic will be free agents. The Suns could create cap space to add a player on a maximum contract. If Knight’s newfound positivity and continued hard work to return to the court pay off, maybe Phoenix even keeps him through 2020.
In addition, Booker and Josh Jackson will continue to get opportunities as playmakers, alleviating the need to find a ball-dominant option. Jackson has obvious untapped potential as a distributor, while Booker underwent a transformation in that aspect of the game last year, leaping from a 16.3 percent assist rate to 24.4 percent.
We’ve seen the Suns stay away from the biggest names with their eyes on 2019 and beyond. Though the playmaking situation was dire last season, it will get better through internal upgrades.
There is no need to give up future flexibility or valuable assets in order to solve a problem that has no great solution.