When one opposing player equals the same offensive rebounding total as the whole roster, questions need to start getting asked. That’s exactly what happened on Saturday night when Atlanta Hawks power forward John Collins had his way against the Suns to the tune of 35 points and 16 rebounds, 10 of those boards came on the glass following his own team’s misses.
For the Suns, that should be an embarrassing note to parse over in the box score. But this wasn’t just a one-night only instance. It’s been plaguing them since the beginning of the season.
Phoenix ranks 30th in rebounds per game with 39.9. For comparison, only the Milwaukee Bucks and Dallas Mavericks have had fewer than 40 rebounds per game over the past five seasons. That shouldn’t be happening for the Suns after they selected Deandre Ayton No. 1 overall in the 2018 draft, and one of the big man’s skills was snatching basketballs at high rates off the glass. Their current pace is worse than last season when Alex Len, Dragan Bender, and Marquese Chriss were the ones doing the heavy lifting in this category.
“It’s simple to answer your question,” Kokoskov said to me during the postgame press conference when I pointed out Collins matched the Suns’ total offensive rebounds. “We say we rebound the ball, we win the game. We didn’t rebound the ball. We lost the game. That was a huge part: rebounding the ball. We couldn’t complete possessions even when we play hard. Not enough discipline, not enough discipline to contain the ball and execute our plan, and to rebound the ball.”
Over the Suns’ current 10-game losing streak, defense has been a major thorn in their side but so has rebounding the basketball. After Phoenix’s surprising victory over the Denver Nuggets last month without Devin Booker, they have since gone on to allow opponents to average more boards off the offensive glass which places them last in the NBA.
Another area where these woes can easily be traced back to is a lack of size with Ayton in their front court. Once they quickly found out Ryan Anderson wasn’t even a rotation-level player anymore after trading Chriss for him, Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov has interchanged T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson, Kelly Oubre Jr., and even Mikal Bridges at the power forward position. Since the Trevor Ariza swap for Oubre Jr., Phoenix is only averaging 39.7 rebounds per game.
For the first time all season, we saw play Kokoskov backup center Richaun Holmes and Ayton together against Atlanta for a few minutes. That’s how bad it’s gotten with the rebounding discrepancy between Phoenix and other squads around the Association.
When you are using small forwards out of position, teams will exploit to the tune of being the worst rebounding roster with no real debate. Well, with no answer in sight this season as the point guard position is obviously of higher priority right now, this will continue to play a major role.
One way or another, the Suns have two big holes to fill between now and the start of next season either via the draft, free agency, or trades: point guard and power forward.
Well, how should Phoenix’s front office go about fixing those weaknesses on their roster? Factoring out trades for the moment (Aaron Gordon makes plenty of sense in a trade this offseason), as those can be so unpredictable, there are four realistic options they could be in the running for, if they play their cards right between now and July 1.
Mirotic, who is being shopped by the Pelicans right now for draft capital, is what Anderson was supposed to be. Not only can the Spaniard stretch the floor, but he’s capable of playing solid defense while crashing the glass for rebounding opportunities.
So far this season, Mirotic is averaging 16.7 points, 8.3 rebounds (1.4 ORB), and 0.8 blocks while shooting 36.8 percent on threes. Like Anderson was, Mirotic is a volume shooter from deep who is attempting 7.2 per game in 28.9 minutes.
If spacing is still a critical value to his offensive system, expect Mirotic to be a name connected plenty to Phoenix leading up to free agency. From all three aspects — spacing, rebounding, and defense — Mirotic checks the most boxes of any viable option for the Suns.
Outside of Victor Oladipo, no player has been more valuable to the Indiana Pacers’ surprise success the past 1.5 seasons than Thaddeus Young. Whoever the best player is, Young will be guarding them while also barking out all of their coverages. In the past few years, Young has been a culture-setter to helping Indiana not fall into a rebuild like others have previously.
If the Suns are looking to improve their rebounding and defensive versatility, throwing a big offer at the 30-year-old forward from Georgia Tech makes plenty of sense.
Only four players in the league are accumulating at least 1.5 steals and 2 offensive rebounds per game. Young is one of the four joined by Steven Adams, Andre Drummond, and Anthony Davis. What’s crazy is Young being only 6’8”, 220 pounds while the others listed with him are brute-style bigs except the abnormally talented Davis.
Indiana will want to keep one of their leaders as Oladipo rehabs his torn quad, so the contract Phoenix gives to Young will likely have to exceed $15-17 million per season. If the Suns pay Young, though, I won’t mind since he would be a critical piece to helping reshape this rebuild.
Pairing Randle and Ayton would be an issue from a spacing and defensive standpoint, but the rebounding difference is night and day. Also, if the the Suns were looking for more scoring, Randle fits the billing compared to others. Randle also fits the Suns’ timeline better compared to veterans like Mirotic and Young.
The former Kentucky Wildcat is having a career-best season after leaving Los Angeles for New Orleans. Randle is averaging 19.9 points, 9.3 rebounds (2.1 ORB), 3 assists, and 0.6 blocks in 29.6 minutes.
Randle, like Mirotic, is being shopped right now by the Pelicans. As Davis gets ready for his exodus out of New Orleans, this rebuild will test this city’s patience when many of his teammates follow him out the door.
Randle is going to attract plenty of attention once he declines his player option and enters unrestricted free agency. Will the Suns be one of the teams pursuing him to solve their rebounding troubles?
This is a surprising entrant on this list, but one who might make the most sense for Phoenix to pursue. Vonleh is finally showcasing the potential he flashed during his one-and-done season at Indiana University five years ago.
This season with the Knicks, Vonleh’s fourth team in five years, he’s averaging 8.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.8 steals, and 0.9 blocks while shooting 36 percent from deep. Vonleh has finally found the right ingredients to stick around as a legit rotation contributor.
However, Vonleh might have further untapped upside on both ends we haven’t further examined yet. If he was signed by the Suns and given free reign next to Ayton focusing on rim protection and crashing the glass, this could turn into one of the better bargain signings in free agency.
Vonleh’s Christmas Day showcase against Giannis Antetokounmpo should’ve opened up eyes around the league when he dropped 14 points, 14 rebounds, and 2 blocks while going 2-for-3 on 3s. When optimized in the right role as a Swiss army knife type of four, Vonleh excels.
If Vonleh hits, he’s one of the more ideal fits next to Ayton when you realize he’ll only be 24 at the start of next season. Handing Vonleh a contract that pays him $8-9 million over two or three years seems like a fair price.
Whatever route the Suns’ front office decides to go in with their point guard position, don’t forget about power forward either. It’s been proven through over 50 games that the rebounding production won’t improve unless someone is brought in from the outside.
Could it be one of Mirotic, Young, Randle, or Vonleh? It’s at least choices the Suns should mull over the next six months following their failed go-arounds with Anderson and Ariza.
Which of these power forward options should the Suns prioritize in free agency?
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