In recent years, the Phoenix Suns have gifted minutes to so many under-developed prospects that fans had no one left to give the “all he needs is minutes to become a star” crown.
What the franchise proved in this mad scientific experiment was that, no, players don’t just need opportunity to prove how great they are. They need that opportunity to come in a supportive, already-successful environment that minimizes their weaknesses while allowing them to showcase their strengths. You can’t just throw all the “just needs an opportunity” guys out there at once and expect good things.
Just two years ago, the Suns fielded the youngest starting lineup in NBA history. Phoenix started Tyler Ulis (21), Devin Booker (20), Derrick Jones Jr.(20), Marquese Chriss (19) and Alex Len (23) -- who combined have an average age of 21 years, 14 days. That’s younger than all but one of the starting lineups for the eight teams that played in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament that Thursday. Had Dragan Bender (18 at the time) been healthy, we might have seen a lineup even younger!
But look what happened to those guys besides Booker, who still toils for the sad Suns. All the others were traded or released within a year. Ulis won Rookie of the Month for the Western Conference in April that year, but is now out of the league. Chriss became the third youngest in league history to amass 100 each of blocks, steals and threes, yet is currently unsigned this summer after being traded twice last year and failing to impress either team. Alex Len was released by the Suns in 2018 as a disappointment, but looked serviceable in Atlanta in a limited role. Guess who might become the best of the released/dumped? Derrick Jones Jr. went to the Heat and has now become an integral rotation player.
The moral of this story is that none of those got better as NBA players by playing with other kids just like them: talented, but under-skilled and under-developed. Few blinked an eye when they were released/dumped, but I guarantee that all the DJJ lovers will hop into the comments below to remind us they saw a star in him!
This year, the Suns are back to playing real NBA players who are fully developed or nearing that level, with a 24-year-old average starting lineup of Booker, Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre Jr., Dario Saric and Deandre Ayton. Still one of the youngest in the league, on average, but no longer younger than most college teams. The top bench options are Aron Baynes (32), Tyler Johnson (26) and Frank Kaminsky (25). Lots of minutes to true NBA-level players, indeed.
Which leads me to today’s story topic.
Now that the Suns are rolling with a semi-veteran lineup, there will only be a few scraps left for unproven youngsters to get in the lineup. Which means fans will start to identify with one of more of them and chant nightly about how “Kid X just needs minutes to prove he’s better than Vet Y!”
The 19-year-old phenom will probably look a lot like a 19-year-old Derrick Jones Jr. Both got four year deals from the Suns after going undrafted, though all four of DJJ’s were non-guaranteed. (I do wonder whether DJJ might have made his mark with the Suns if he’d had those first two years guaranteed.)
Like DJJ, Lecque has a better chance to win the Dunk Contest on All-Star weekend than get a pre-All-Star rotation chance. DJJ had only appeared in one Suns game that year before almost winning the dunk contest, and that was only after he’d been named by the league to be a participant based on YouTube highlights.
Similarly to Jones Jr., Lecque is almost all athleticism right now with a higher potential on defense than offense, where neither can shoot the ball or pass at a high level.
Yeah, Lecque will have some of us clamoring to get him rotation minutes over any or all of Jerome, Okobo, Carter and Tyler Johnson no matter what happens next season.
Can’t you just see the comment sections — and even Bright Side headlines — begging for Cheick to get big minutes over any or all of Frank Kaminsky, Dario Saric or Aron Baynes? I sure do.
The 22-year-old Diallo posted similar production as Bender and Chriss, but did not get nearly the same opportunities that the former two had here:
Yet, Diallo had better numbers on a per-36 basis, which is the go-to stat for fans to prove “why kid X should play over Vet Y”:
Diallo scores better, shoots more efficiently and rebounds better. He stays inside the arc as more of a traditional power forward, and will provide better rebounding from the four position than the Suns have seen in years.
You probably haven’t seen Diallo play much, so here’s a highlight of an 18-point game this past season:
Diallo played 20 or more minutes only 15 times last year, despite being productive in those minutes. He managed to score 15-plus in five games and grab 10-plus rebounds in 13 games, while blocking 2-plus shots in four games all in less than 20 minutes each.
The bouncy big man made 62 percent of his shots last year, mostly at the rim — though he does love him a 15-foot baseline jumper when the defense sags to a driving guard.
Who looks like your favorite "he just needs minutes!" player next season?
This poll is closed
Someone else (mention them in comments)