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Mailbag: AD trades, Melton’s free agency, Warren vs. Oubre and why the Suns’ best shooter rarely plays

Diving into all your biggest questions from my inbox and via Twitter.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time ever, I opened up the mailbag here at Bright Side to answer all your questions. We touched on everything from the point guard position to Anthony Davis to Troy Daniels’ minutes and trade suitors.

Let’s dive in.

If suns get Zion where would he rank with other names being mentioned as a trade piece for Davis? Would a package of Anderson, Warren, and Zion be better than something Celtics or Lakers could offer? How long would Davis need to sign an extension for [the Suns] to be willing to trade Zion? - Dan Rissi

Certainly whichever team wins the draft lottery -- assuming they have interest in a superstar like Anthony Davis -- would gain an incredible asset to use trying to go after the Pelicans big man. The opportunity to draft Zion Williamson, a prospect unlike any we’ve seen since Davis himself as perhaps long, would go a long way in gifting the Pelicans another star to reset their franchise around.

As for your specific package, it’s not enough. The Davis sweepstakes will be as big as any we’ve seen in decades. Let’s use the Kevin Garnett deal as a baseline, though Garnett was older when Minnesota dealt him than Davis is now. Boston gave up premier young center Al Jefferson, three other young role players and two first-round picks to nab the 32-year-old Garnett.

A Suns package featuring T.J. Warren, Williamson and salary filler in Anderson isn’t getting it done. Davis still has absolute-best-player-on-the-planet potential -- we haven’t seen his best. Phoenix would likely need to add one of their rookie point guards to that package in addition to multiple first-rounders down the line to even get on the phone with New Orleans.

And the fact remains Los Angeles is the only suitor in which Davis has any rumored interest. Most other teams, especially one eight years past its last playoff berth like the Suns, must consider Davis a rental. I don’t see a way Davis is re-signing with a 20-something-win team barring massive improvement from the Suns during the second half of this season.

I’ve come to like Melton nearly as much as you guys do. My concern is that I believe he’s on a two-year contract and is an unrestricted free agent after next year. Should we even be getting our hopes up for him? If he does continue to improve, won’t he almost certainly be gone after next season? - Scott Martin

Let’s set the record straight here, because I’ve seen a lot of hand-wringing over De’Anthony Melton’s contract status. He will be a RESTRICTED free agent following the 2019-20 season. While signing a promising young player to a two-year deal is worrisome, the collective bargaining agreement sort of protects the Suns here. Melton, like Fred VanVleet last summer, will be subject to the Gilbert Arenas Provision, which limits salaries in the first two years of opposing teams’ offer sheets to be equal to the non-taxpayer mid-level exception plus a 5 percent raise in year two. So, even if Melton plays up to VanVleet’s level (basically an elite role player), the Suns would be facing, at worst around $9 million in salary the first two seasons of a maximum offer sheet for their starting point guard.

The Suns had their hands tied when they decided to sign Melton because of Tyson Chandler’s albatross and various other factors -- namely, I don’t know if they quite knew what they were getting in the No. 46 pick after he missed his sophomore season in college. But we know now the potential Melton has as well as his fit alongside Devin Booker. If he keeps progressing like this, the Suns should be happy to pay him the modest salary allotted by the Arenas provision.

What are your thoughts on moving Troy Daniels into the rotation? I feel like just having him out there would help Booker, Ayton and Warren score a bit easier. It seems every team just clogs the paint against us as they can just come off Melton and Jackson. - Jarrad Guglielmana

Here’s what coach Igor Kokoskov had to say earlier this month when I asked him about Daniels -- who is far and away the best shooter on this roster -- and his lack of minutes:

“It’s tough. Sometimes I’m embarrassed that I don’t find minutes for him to play.”

Embarrassed. And understandably so. Daniels is a consummate pro -- always ready to play and knock down shots. He’s a career 40 percent shooter from deep and has hit threes at that exact rate both years in Phoenix. He certainly spaces the floor better than just about anyone aside from Booker. The defense noticeably adjusts when Daniels steps on the court and Kokoskov does a great job of running offense designed to capitalize on the attention paid to Daniels.

Check out this design from Kokoskov, with Ayton orchestrating things up top, two cutters running down the middle and Daniels popping out for a wide-open triple after the dribble hand-off from Ayton:

Yet the Suns’ offensive rating slips by 5.1 points per 100 possessions when Daniels is on the court, according to Cleaning the Glass. Finding moments to play Daniels is tough, but Kokoskov has used him more than I expected. If Daniels keeps getting minutes and knocking down threes, he could also be a trade or buyout candidate for teams needing shooting (think Philadelphia or Oklahoma City).

Why play Quincy Acy? 0% FG%, 1reb, 1block, 1steal, 9 PF total in 5 games. I know Bender is not good, but he’s at a minimum getting that stat line and I’d say likely better. - SLOBubb on Twitter

Alas, it just seems Dragan Bender will not play for this team unless it’s garbage time or injuries knock out the guys ahead of him on the depth chart. Bender had two and a half years to show he deserved minutes for the Suns and flat-out didn’t do enough.

Acy, on the other hand, plays aggressive defense and provides physicality. And it’s not as if he’s playing a ton anyway. If the Suns found a better option with the 14th roster spot I’m sure they’d take it. But put it this way: Phoenix sent out a press release reporting Acy’s second 10-day deal and in the second paragraph of the release, the team listed the number of charges he’s taken (two in 35 minutes at the time). It’s clear they want hard-nosed play from him and that’s the one thing Bender surely never provided.

Is TJ’s refusal/inability to pass the ball and find the open man affecting Ayton’s ability to play up to his full capability on offense? (e.g no Ayton fga in 2nd half last night) Should he be moved to the bench for Oubre? - Craig eh on Twitter

Let’s dive into the numbers, courtesy of my Bright Side colleague, Evan Sidery:

2-man NetRtg with Ayton:

Oubre Jr.: +0.3 (167 minutes)

Bridges: -3.6 (800 minutes)

Warren: -7.4 (858 minutes)

Jackson: -8.4 (518 minutes)

It’s clear right away the value Oubre has brought the Suns since they acquired him in mid-December. Not only has his scoring infused the second unit with some extra pop but he makes it easier to get to the long, versatile lineups the Suns prefer anyway.

Do I blame Warren specifically for Ayton’s lack of shots? No, not at all. That’s all on Ayton. The big man is being challenged on the big stage to answer the call of dominance for the first time in his life. All those concerns posed about Ayton’s indifferent attitude in college were legit but they still resulted in a 27-8 record and a Pac-12 Player of the Year award for his top shelf. The big man still wiggles around the court seemingly unaware of his physical advantages and just isn’t assertive enough with the ball in his hands to make a possession his own.

Warren is not responsible for every issue in Suns land but swapping him from Oubre could be the right move to create better balance in the rotation.

If we don’t trade for a PG this season who could be a target in free agency this off season? - Tj Horst on Twitter

We’ll finish here. The criteria for any player who will excel next to Booker is to be able to defend point guards, make good decisions in secondary playmaking situations and space the floor. That might seem simple but there are actually not a ton of guys who do all of those things at a high level who are up for grabs. As the league moves toward bigger ball-handlers, smaller two-way guys come at a premium.

There are also two categories the Suns need to think about: promising young veterans who would supplant Melton and Elie Okobo in the depth chart immediately or veterans who would compete for minutes with those guys next season.

As for vets, the guys I’m looking at include Cory Joseph, Darren Collison, Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley.

When it comes to potential difference-makers (who will be far more expensive), I’m thinking Tyus Jones, Terry Rozier or (gulp) maybe even Emmanuel Mudiay, whose three-point shooting is up to 32 percent this season.

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