After all the summer moves, one stands out like the sorest of sore thumbs.
In need of a veteran starting-caliber power forward to help solidify a young core of 20-21 year olds SF Josh Jackson, C Deandre Ayton and SG Devin Booker, the Suns went out and got Trevor Ariza from the Houston Rockets.
Ariza fits the bill as a veteran (15 seasons), as a starter (full-time starter 8 of last 9 seasons) and as a winner (9 of 15 seasons, including the last 5).
He’s never been a #1 option, never an All-Star, and never a top-paid player on a team (until now). But he’s been a key starter through his whole career, and a consistent rock in his team’s lineups.
Former Suns coach Jay Triano told me at Summer League he’d have killed to have Ariza on last year’s team, and would have played him at power forward without hesitation.
Current Suns coach Igor Kokoskov ranked Ariza as his #1 free agent priority (given the available list, of course), according to GM Ryan McDonough.
The Suns now expect to have Ariza start every game he’s available, nominally as the team’s power forward to support T.J. Warren and the myriad 21-and-unders along the Suns’ front line.
Ariza has aged well, playing 32-35 minutes per game in 8 of the last 9 seasons across three teams (Houston 2x, Washington and New Orleans). He has started every game he’s played those eight years, with only a blip one injury-riddled season in Washington six years ago where he mostly came off the bench.
The big questions on 33-year old 6’8” 220 pound Ariza are: is he too small, and is he too old?
Is he too small?
According to Basketball-Reference.com, which places players in “positions” based on where they qualify, then splitting ties based on player height and weight, Ariza played more power forward in the past four years than at any time in his career before that.
All this means is that the 6’8” Ariza was the biggest forward on the court at times for the Rockets.
A closer look at the Rockets most common lineups last year shows that Ariza shared the forward spots nearly all the time with either the 6’5” 260 pound Tuck Wagon, P.J. Tucker, or the 6’10” 240 pound Chuck Wagon, Ryan Anderson, while the 6’9” Capela was the center between them.
The same basketball-reference.com formula puts Tucker at power forward 55% of his minutes last year, and Anderson as the power forward 76% of his minutes (while his other 24% was grouped as the center).
The Rockets were a slight minus on rebounding last year with this undersized front court, but blew away the competition in other aspects (top-6 D and #1 O) as they rocketed through the conference with a 65-17 record.
Will the Suns be using Ariza much different than the Rockets did?
Early projections have Ariza sharing the front line with fellow 6’8” guys Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren, around 7’1” rebounding vacuums (Ayton and Chandler) in the middle. None of Ariza, Warren or Jackson are as meaty as P.J. Tucker, for sure, and none have great rebounding rates, but all are long enough to get by on that end and stretch the floor on the other (especially Ariza).
Unless you’re a fan of true-sized power forwards 7’1” Dragan Bender and 6’10” Marquese Chriss getting more minutes than T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson, that is. Think about that. That’s what happens if you want someone bigger than Ariza as the second-biggest guy on the floor.
It’s my take that the Suns will be fine with Ariza, Jackson and Warren taking up a majority of the forward minutes next year, no matter who you count as the PF and the SF.
Is he too old?
Trevor Ariza will be 33 years old next season, as will 8 other regular starters from last season.
Here is a list of 21 players last year that were 32 or older and started at least 30 games last year.
Three of those 21 are very familiar to you: current-Sun-former-Rocket Trevor Ariza, former-Sun-current-Rocket P.J. Tucker and current-Sun Tyson Chandler.
A glance at the list tells you that nearly every single one of last year’s 32 year olds will be starting at least that many games this coming season too.
Age 34 and older looks a little like a cliff, so it’s a good thing the Suns signed Ariza to a one-year deal.
If Trevor Ariza is not starting 30+ games next year by All-Star break, let alone all season, then something went horribly wrong. That would mean either Ariza massively regressed or the Suns are massively tanking again. In that case, he’ll be angling for a buyout like our good friend Greg Monroe.
We don’t want that to happen, and I don’t think it will. Ariza just came off being a key starter for the 65-17 Rockets, playing 34 minutes per game as they went all the way to 6 games against the champ in the Conference Finals. No way he regresses to pixie dust this offseason.
And no, the Suns are not tanking. Certainly not before All-Star break, but likely not at all this season. P.J. Tucker would be your best comp for Ariza in a Suns uni — lauded by coaches and players, starting every game even if the team organically loses 60 anyway.
Ariza will very likely be the third or fourth best starter on the team, and will be seen as the glue that helps the team in ways Tyson Chandler did in the first half last year. P.J. Tucker used to help this way too — and was sorely missed last year — while Jared Dudley just didn’t have the “game” to deliver on the court enough to have a strong voice on execution and effort in the locker room.
Between Chandler — as Ayton’s backup — and Ariza, the Suns are counting on more sweat equity from veterans than they’ve seen since P.J. Tucker roamed the floor.