Here on Bright Side Of The Sun, we are going to take you all the way through Phoenix’s 16 roster spots previewing what to expect from each one of them during the 2018-19 season.
Right when the clock struck 9:01 PM AZ time on June 30, General Manager Ryan McDonough and Vice President of Basketball Operations James Jones were on a FaceTime call with Trevor Ariza. When they hired new head coach Igor Kokoskov, the one name he pointed to in their meetings for free agency targets was Ariza.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise after McDonough said after introducing the 2018 Draft class in a press conference that they would be targeting stretch fours who could play defense. Ariza doesn’t play much power forward, but when analyzing the free agent options, he checked the most boxes to that request.
However, that plan quickly changed following the Suns’ trade of Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss for Ryan Anderson and De’Anthony Melton last month. Now, with two former Rockets starting at the forward spots, that relegates all three of T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson and Mikal Bridges to roles off the bench initially.
Ariza will bring to the Suns what Jared Dudley and Tyson Chandler should have, but with greater impact: producing on the floor while being an accountable leader to the young core. That’s the first thing McDonough and Jones pointed out in their introductory press conference for Ariza outside of his perimeter shooting and defensive versatility.
Last season for the Rockets, Ariza averaged 11.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.5 steals while hitting on 36.8% of his three-point attempts. He’s not only going to be an ideal complement for Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton on the wing, but the perfect role model for Warren, Jackson and Bridges to learn from as Ariza stays around on his 1-year, $15 million deal.
The Suns’ two biggest weaknesses last season were consistent three-point shooting and perimeter defense. Ariza brings both in spades, as I he should be someone you expect to play above 30 minutes per game while being a net-positive on the floor most, if not all of the time. During his four year span with Houston, Ariza had an average VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) of +2.5. Over that same timeframe, only one person has accomplished on Phoenix’s roster, which was Eric Bledsoe on two separate occasions.
Simply put, Ariza is going to show right away that he’s a top five, and maybe even a top three player on this roster behind Booker and either Ayton or Warren/Jackson/Bridges.
Ariza will interchange between both forward positions often, I imagine, and it will create many lineup combinations the Suns can use to their advantage built around their switch-heavy defense and motion-heavy offense Kokoskov wants to install. For example, Phoenix’s closing lineup should look like this, with Ariza’s floor-spacing valued: Booker, Jackson, Bridges, Ariza, Ayton. Another one could feature Ariza even in a super-small ball where he plays the center position, spacing the floor entirely around Booker, Jackson, Bridges, and Warren.
All of these different possibilities built around wing depth is exactly how McDonough and Co. wanted it to be. Teams like the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics, three of the final four teams remaining in this year’s playoffs, have shown the blueprint in having two-way lineups that cover up deficiencies and optimize strengths. Phoenix is hoping Kokoskov’s staff helps implement these same philosophies on this Suns roster, and in time they could mimic a similar outlook we saw dominate postseason basketball.
On the surface, like I mentioned previously, the Suns have collected three, hopefully four with the point guard search, role models for the younger guys to model their games after. Ariza will be that for all of the wings, Anderson will try to help rehabilitate Dragan Bender’s image, and Tyson Chandler teaching all of his defensive tricks to Ayton. If all goes well this season, in terms of development, they should be more prepared for contributing to winning basketball following the exits of Ariza, Anderson, Chandler, and maybe the veteran PG they acquire (Patrick Beverley makes so much sense for Melton and Elie Okobo in that role).
No way do I see Ariza, even if the Suns start their season off slow, leaving this team at any point this season unless he personally asked for a buyout. If anything, he might play less minutes following the All-Star break for Jackson and Bridges but still get the starting nod. These veterans are valuable for this one year of helping instill the mentality that’s been missing with the Suns for years.
Phoenix was able to provide Ariza the payday he’s earned throughout his career, even leaving a championship contender in the process. That might be one of the main reasons why he ended up a member of the Suns, but the leadership and two-way presence he will provide to one of the league’s youngest rosters and rotations is undeniable.
Ironically enough, Bridges said after his post-draft press conference in Phoenix that he modeled his game after Ariza. Now, he’s going one-on-one learning the tricks of the trade from him everyday.
As far as predictions go for Ariza this season, I believe the gravity effect Ayton provides alongside Booker’s budding playmaking ability will allow Ariza to post near career-best numbers from an efficiency standpoint. Not only do I expect Ariza to hit near 40% of his 3s, but he will post a stat line around 12 points, 4 rebounds and 1.8 steals. Ariza will also be the player called upon most often to cover opposing teams’ No. 1 options.
Even for one year, there is plenty on Ariza’s plate. Not only transferring over a winning mentality to an organization missing it since the Steve Nash days, but proving he’s worth another long-term payday on the open market. This looms large for him as he could produce and then join an immediate contender for 2019-20. Who knows, maybe if the Suns surprise next season Ariza decides to stick around and see this thing through.