Its pretty obvious the Suns need help bolstering their defense, shooting, and bench- as well as maybe starting PF. Where to start making improvements? And which type of players should we get?
One argument I've been making since last offseason is that James Jones did not build the team well enough, nor did he bring in the right players. When attempting to build around two stars (in this case, one potential and one realized), the winning formula teams have been using for years is to surround dynamic players with high-end role players that can focus on defense and three point percentage.
This formula is even more important around Ayton and Booker- two players who are not exactly known for their defensive prowess. Both have shown more this season than last, but the team needs more out of the people around them.
James Jones brought in mostly shooters who can't defend, and added defenders (Baynes & Carter) who can't shoot. Though, we saw how well the team played when those two were shooting (and defending) well in the first eleven games. We won the majority of those first eleven games because the team was playing good defense and hitting their shots. Since then, both the defense and shooting has fallen off a cliff, and we see the results: The Suns are not a good team when they don't have those two elements in players around Booker and Ayton.
Our 3 & D draft pick, Mikal Bridges, turned out to be a poor shooter. If even just he were hitting over 40% from three, this team would be considerably better.
Instead of going out and picking up 3&D players, Jones brought us Saric, Oubre, Kaminsky, Cameron Johnson, Tyler Johnson, and Ty Jerome- all players that can supposedly hit threes but are not good defenders. And all of them are shooting threes far below average (except for Cam). Kaminsky is close to average on shooting, but is a terrible defender.
The only players that fit the 3&D mold are Jevon Carter, Baynes, Oubre, and Bridges- all of which are under performing at shooting (except Carter with a 83% outside shot), and also under performing at defense (except Bridges, who excels on that side of the court, and Kelly has been decent). Even Baynes has not been the defensive anchor off the bench that he has been in years past- maybe because of playing so hard this summer just before the season started (along with age at 33).
In other words, Jones picked up the wrong players (though coaching/schemes may also play a part). And even the players the team did acquire are not doing their jobs- outside of Cam Johnson, who has impressed beyond shooting but is still a negative defender.
So I went through every roster in the NBA and looked for 3&D players we might target in trade or free agency. I created a spreadsheet showing comparisons of 42 players (including 4 Suns players), and used a formula for defensive and overall impact to increase the comparability. The list is not perfect and I'm sure some people will find things to complain about- but please bare with me.
Some notes on the spreadsheet, and then some conclusions:
- I added superstars for comparison. They are far beyond 3&D players, but it is interesting to see where their defensive numbers come into play in comparison to 'normal' players.
- I broke the players into Ball Handlers, Wings, 'Tweens' (part time at each forward position), and true 'Bigs' that only play PF and C.
- I included players that are clearly not going to be available for trade or free agency, such as Jaren Jackson Jr and Khris Middleton, mostly for comparison sake.
- I do provide some targets, with their names shown in purple. I also show which players will be RFA's after this season, also in purple.
- I included some players that are borderline 3&D players, such as PJ Tucker and Meyers Leonard, also for comparison sake.
- The 'defensive-combo' formula I used is DWS/2 + DBPM/2 + VORP = D-Combo value. Defensive numbers are not perfect by any stretch, and this is pretty simplistic, but my thought was to keep it simple for comparison and look at how much value they bring defensively, but add overall value with VORP. I could have complicated it by integrating blocks, rebounds, etc- but that would make the numbers strange in comparing point guards and centers. So I kept it simple. By looking at the superstars for comparison, this formula seems to shake out ok. The superstars' numbers for D-Combo are generally above the other players, and I don't see any outliers in the list. You may disagree with how this is done, and that's fine. I think you'll find my suggestions for the team work out nonetheless.
The players I noted as targets at every position are these:
PG: Fred Van Vleet. He'd cost a lot of money, but as our backup to Rubio could completely change the tenor and culture of the bench, and possibly the entire team. He's shooting 40% from three with a healthy set of numbers on defense. He is in his prime at 26, and he will be a free agent this summer. He'll probably cost $15m/year+, but I think worth it. Two seasons of overlap with Rubio and then takes over as the starter. Maybe even before the two future seasons are over.
WING: Justin Holiday. A proven vet, at 30. Shoots 41.5% from three this summer and plays above average defense. He could be younger, but I think would fit the team off the bench behind Booker. And he will be a free agent this summer.
TWEEN/forward: Dorian Finney-Smith. Fits the age of our team at 26, is a proven role player around dynamic scorers in Doncic. He's hitting 38% from three and plays above average defense. He's not a great player by any stretch- but is one of the more available players in this list. Would I rather have Joe Ingles or Bojan Bogdonavich? Yes I would. But with the success the Jazz have had with those two, I don't think they'll be available. Acquiring Dorian would require a trade, and with his very friendly contract of around $4m/year for two more seasons, it could cost a pick and a young player in return. (Royce O'Neale is another potential target, but he's an undersized forward and I doubt the Jazz part with him either).
BIG: Nemanja Bjelica. He's older than I'd like at 31, but he's hitting over 43% of his threes and his defense is solid. He would be a great addition to the team to start alongside Ayton or come off the bench behind Saric (if we keep him and it makes sense not to start NB). He's got a friendly contract at $7m/year for one more season after this one. So if we acquired him now or in an offseason trade, he won't be around long- but maybe that is ok, depending on the trade.
1. Before the season started, I thought the Lakers had a funky squad that would struggle. Looking at how many 3&D players they have, though, is a lot of their success. They have four 3&D players not including their stars. Two of them are not much above average as defenders or shooters (Rondo & Caruso), but they still fit the bill as 3&D role players around the stars. KCP and Danny Green are excelling, providing more 3&D punch for the team and with higher minutes.
2. Likewise the Jazz have several 3&D players, and have success.
3. Likewise, the Grizzlies have three players on this list in Valenciunas, Jaren Jackson, and Brandon Clarke. None of them grade out highly on the list for defense, but all are shooting over 40%. Their success of finding young guys to place around the potential stars of Morant and Jackson that play defense (Melton, Clarke) is working fairly well for them.
4. The four Suns players on the list are all below average shooters and/or barely above average defenders. None are good at both, and that could very well explain our inability to consistently win games. We cannot seem to keep players like Saric or Cam on the court for their lack of defense, and we can't spread the floor enough with Bridges.
Let me know in the comments if I left a 3&D target off the list. I can add them in.