If you listen to Gambo, the Phoenix Suns will likely sign 28-year old career backup Cory Joseph to a just-below-midlevel deal in the coming days to be their point guard of the present.
Joseph checks the boxes of a hard worker who plays defense and helps the Suns play better team basketball on offense, but he does not shoot well and has never been a full-time starter.
If you listen to national media rumblings, the Suns are also very interested in the 31-year old Patrick Beverly to be the point guard of the present. Pat Bev has been a starter at point guard for years as a 3-and-D specialist that thrives next to a big time ball handler, but is entering the back third of his career.
If you build a perfect point guard for Booker, it would be a younger version of Beverley — a workhorse with the size to cover for Booker on defense and be a great spot-up shooter on offense. In today’s market that’s 27-year old Malcolm Brogdon.
And if you listen to Suns fans and a few players (especially Devin Booker), the Suns should swing for the fences to sign Booker’s best friend, 23-year old D’Angelo Russell, to be their max-level point guard of the present and the future. Russell made his first All-Star game last spring, though that was in the East where Brandon Knight was once “on the cusp” of that honor at about the same age.
Phoenix could surprise us and focus on some other point guard to be their starter, but these four appear to be the most likely candidates to end up being the Suns’ focus in the coming days.
Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker are targeting bigger, more dramatic markets. Ricky Rubio — who has clearly said he wants to play for a winner — appears headed to the Pacers. Terry Rozier has fallen off the Suns map, and likely will be a fall-back for the Knicks. Darren Collison just surprisingly retired.
The Suns could trade for a point guard, sure, but what team wants to give up a healthy starting quality point guard under contract already? For the same reasons you want Player X to be traded to the Suns, their team wants them to stay.
The free agency “wine and dine” period begins tomorrow at 3:00 PM Arizona time (6:00 PM Eastern) while the first official signing day is July 6.
Shooting and Passing
Let’s compare their career numbers to last year’s best point guard starter, Tyler Johnson.
On a career level, there’s not a ton of difference between them in the regular counting stats. Beverley and Russell have gotten the most starts, but they’ve all played 20-30 minutes a night for most of their careers.
Now let’s just look at the 2018-19 season, which is most relevant to D’Angelo Russell fans because he’s so much younger than the others and so last season is most likely closest to his ceiling as a player.
I changed the filter to include JUST the 2018-19 season, and I changed it to a per-36-minutes comparison to level out the playing field as much as possible.
You can see that D’Angelo Russell is clearly the biggest offensive producer on the list at 25 points (on 22 shots) and 8 assists per 36 minutes for a playoff-level team in Brooklyn.
Joseph has the best assist-to-turnover ratio, while Brogdon does pretty well at just about everything, and is the best three-point shooter of the group.
Brogdon is not much better than Tyler Johnson on passing, but is a very good shooter.
Stats don’t do a good job of really telling you who the best defenders are. Even things like “Defensive Box Plus-Minus” (DBPM) and “Defensive Win Shares” (DWS) can only use counting stats, which favor those who get steals and those who play on better team defenses. “Defensive Rating” (DRtg) is an overall score plus-minus which favors players on better team defenses. The better the players around you, the better you look in DRtg. And vice versa.
To know if a player is a good defender is only to watch him, see how he plays on-ball defense as well as off-ball defense. For that analysis, I rely on those who do this for a living rather than try to figure it out for myself.
According to the experts and a eye test, the best defenders of this crop of point guards are likely in this order: (1) Beverley, (2) Joseph, (3) Brogdon.... (10) Johnson...... (99) Russell.
While a back court of Russell and Booker would light up the scoreboard on offense, they will also likely be sieves on defense with neither pushing the other to excel unless (possibly) they’re in a high-pressure playoff environment with a good coaching staff who taught them all the fundamentals already.
Beverley is the best on-ball pest in the game, making much of his reputation on that exact talent. Cory Joseph is very good on defense, and has come up through good coaching staffs in Popovich’s San Antonio (4 years), Dwayne Casey’s Raptors (2) and Nate McMillan’s Pacers (2). He is a good defender both on and off the ball.
While Bev and Joseph are good defenders, they are only big enough to regularly defend guards, though each can be effective in short spurts against bigger guys.
Malcolm Brogdon is bigger. He has very long arms and can defend all the way down to small forwards in a switching scheme, with stints against bigger guys as well.
Beverley is the oldest. He will be 31 years old next year, and brings at least a slight risk of becoming the next Trevor Ariza if the Suns look like 60-game losers again. No one wants another Ariza.
Joseph and Brogdon are both mid-career (26-27 years old), which is their prime basketball years for the life of a 3-4 year contract.
Russell is a baby here, making the All-Star game at 22 years old last year. He’s just scratching the surface of his scoring talent, and could combine with Booker to form the most exciting back court in Phoenix since Nash and Jason Richardson in 2010.
So, you can tell the hierarchy now right? Money is paid mostly on box score production, though everyone who can help you win games will get a good chunk.
The way I see it is that Cory Joseph is a slightly better version of Johnson, while all of Beverley, Brogdon and Russell are huge steps up.
Here’s how most people see it playing out in the coming days, if these guys leave their current teams (hence the max of four years):
- Joseph — about $7-9 million per year, 3-4 years
- Beverley — about $10-14 million per year, 2-4 years
- Brogdon — about $20-22 million per year, 4 years
- Russell — about $27 million per year, 4 years (maximum possible offer)
The Suns currently have $13.2 million available to spend, though they can fairly easily get to $27 million by waiving/stretching Johnson (creates $12.6 million more in space) and finding a taker for De’Anthony Melton or Elie Okobo’s $1.4 million contract.
You can sign Beverley or Joseph right away, no strings attached. As I wrote yesterday, though, the Suns are in tough spot if they want to sign either Brogdon or Russell because those two are restricted free agents.
Phoenix wouldn’t know a final answer on Brogdon or Russell until July 8 at the earliest, which is well after any and all the other starting caliber free agent point guards are gone.
The birds in hand are Beverley and Joseph, while the two in the bush are Russell and Brogdon.
Fit on the Suns
Pairing D’Angelo Russell and Devin Booker would be an offensive dream and would rank among the league five best duos, but would also probably produce yet another embarrassing defensive year. Russell-Booker-Oubre/Bridges-Saric-Ayton would have a tough time stopping a good G-League team, though they still might win the game 130-125.
Brogdon and Booker as the backcourt would, in my mind, be ideal. The Suns’ offense and defense would both get better, though Brogdon will never be an All-Star and only nerdy basketball-lovers would call Brogdon and Booker one of the best back courts in the game.
Joseph and Beverley are the safe, just-get-us-through-the-year options who will help improve Phoenix’s professionalism and culture, but would not stop anyone from looking to improve on that position immediately. If you liked what Tyler Johnson brought to the team, you’ll love these guys.
The most dialed in guy out there — John Gambadoro, local radio host — says it’s Cory Joseph. By signing Joseph, the Suns would have a defensive cover for Booker in his athletic prime who can pass and run an offense pretty well, but can’t really shoot. And, we’d still be looking for our point guard of the future. Still, the Suns need defensive players badly, and Joseph would be a step in the right direction.
A much better version of Cory Joseph is Malcolm Brogdon, but the RFA issue really makes me pause on any offer. The Bucks have a lot of incentive to keep Brogdon at any price, even though they gave big money to Eric Bledsoe in an extension last spring.
The best possible offensive fit, and ticket-seller, would of course be D’Angelo Russell. But even if he’s not matched by the Nets — who would only let him go if Kyrie goes to there — the Suns would then have half their salary cap ($56 of $109 million) tied up in a pair of offense-only players, and we’d probably spend a lot of next season wondering why Deandre Ayton is still only getting 10 shots a game.
What do you think, Bright Side?
Who will accept a contract with the Phoenix Suns in the coming days?
Which point guard will it be?
This poll is closed
Cory Joseph at $7-9M per year
Pat Bev at $10-13M per year
Malcolm Brogdon at $20-22M per year
D’Angelo Russell at $27M per year