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Checking on recent former Suns around the league: Bender, Chriss, Jackson, Melton, Len all having fun

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Which of them would you most want back this summer when they hit the free agent market?

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Ahh, the joys of going through a nearly decade-long rebuild include watching some of your favorite failed draft picks having success elsewhere.

Many of the Suns failed prospects are still in the league and carving niches on other teams. Not as stars, but more as role players.

They are all free agents this summer. Read below, and then vote on which one you would most want back this summer.

Dragan Bender

  • Vitals: Age 22, 7’0” center/forward, 225 pounds
  • Drafted in 2016, No. 4 overall at age 18, lasted three seasons with Suns, released April 2019
  • Stats with Suns: 171 games, 5.3 points (39% shooting), 3.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 blocks

Bender signed with the Bucks as their 15th man, played in only 7 games, and was released after the trade deadline to make room for buyout-baby Marvin Williams.

He then signed a 10-day contract with the last-place Warriors and has been somewhat successful. Head coach Steve Kerr said he would like to see a second 10-day contract be signed with Bender, but Bender is now free to sign with any team in the world so we shall see.

Bender’s stats with the Warriors are okay, which explains Kerr’s desire to keep him around: 6 games, 7.5 points (36% shooting), 6.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, .7 blocks.

In those six games, one was against the Suns in a Bender’s Revenge game: 13 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks. Bender has also tallied 8/10 and 14/5 in the two starts since the Suns breakout.

Current status: momentarily free, but likely getting another 10-day


Marquese Chriss

  • Vitals: Age 22, 6’9” center/forward, 240 pounds
  • Drafted in 2016, No. 8 overall at age 18, lasted two seasons with Suns, traded August 2018
  • Stats with Suns: 154 games, 8.5 points (43% shooting), 4.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.9 blocks

Chriss has bounced around, but found a temporary home in Golden State. He will end up playing for the last-place Warriors all year, via a range of contracts: a two-way to a 10-day to a through-end-of-season contract.

Chriss has developed a bit better in Golden State than he did in Phoenix, Houston or Cleveland. And I can’t be happier for him if this is lasting.

With the Warriors, he’s averaging a robust 9.1 points (54% shooting), 5.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.1 blocks. All small upticks, but upticks nonetheless.

At his best: Chriss has posted 6 double-doubles with the Warriors in 56 games with the Warriors, including an 18/12/3 game against the Suns.

Current status: Warriors starting lineup, unrestricted free agent this summer


Josh Jackson

  • Vitals: Age 22, 6’8” small forward, 207 pounds
  • Drafted in 2017, No. 4 overall at age 18, lasted two seasons with Suns, traded July 2019
  • Stats with Suns: 156 games, 12.3 points (41% shooting), 4.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.0 steals

Jackson has supreme athletic gifts, but has not been able to put it together. He had a lot of off-court problems in his time with the Suns, as well as a lot of on-court problems in the areas of shooting, passing, ball handling and defending.

He was traded to the Grizzlies in a salary dump so the Suns could clear cap space for a starting-caliber point guard. The Grizzlies immediately assigned him to the G-League on a ‘clean off the Suns stench’ attempt, but he’s now back with the Grizz and contributing in their rotation since the trade deadline.

With the Grizzlies, he is averaging 8.6 points (41% shooting), 3.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 0.9 steals in just under 20 minutes per game.

At his best: he’s scored in double figures in 5 of 14 games this year, including 16/4/4/3 in his last outing vs. the Hawks in a Grizz blowout. He also had a 20 point game...

Current status: rotation player, restricted free agent this summer


De’Anthony Melton

  • Vitals: Age 21, 6’2” combo guard, 200 pounds
  • Drafted in 2017, No. 47 at age 19 (by Rockets), lasted one season with Suns, traded July 2019
  • Stats with Suns: 31 games, 5.0 points (39% shooting), 2.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.4 steals

Melton is a hustle-guy that plays hard and gets results, but isn’t quite good enough at playmaking or shooting to become a real star. Yet, like I said, he’s a difference maker because he’s so active on off-ball defense and anywhere-ball defense.

With the Grizzlies, he is averaging 8.1 points (42% shooting), 3.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.3 steals in just under 20 minutes per game.

At his best: he’s scored in double figures in 18 of 48 games this year, including 24 points vs. Sacramento (4 threes) and 5 games of 3+ steals. Here’s a 16/9/4 game.

Current status: rotation player, restricted free agent this summer


Alex Len

  • Vitals: Age 26, 7’0” center, 250 pounds
  • Drafted in 2013, No. 5 overall at age 19, lasted five seasons with Suns, UFA April 2018
  • Stats with Suns: 335 games, 7.2 points (48% shooting), 6.5 rebounds, 1.0 blocks

Len played out his fifth-year qualifying offer with the Suns in 2017-18 before becoming an unrestricted free agent. He signed a two-year deal with Atlanta, was a good rotation player, then traded to Sacramento last month for Dewayne Dedmon, his former teammate from the prior year.

With Atlanta, he averaged 10.2 points, but was more of a stretch five so his rebounds went down while three-point shooting went up (33% on 3 attempts per game). His role decreased in year two in Atlanta however, and now he’s with the Kings to play alongside Richaun Holmes once he returns from injury.

At his best: He had a 23/14 game in a loss to the Nets earlier this year. In 6 Sac games, he’s given them an 11/11, 8/13/5 and 12/6 games so far. They love him.

Current status: rotation player, unrestricted free agent this summer


All of these former Suns will be on the market this summer, in case you want any or all of them back.

I only highlighted the youngest/failed prospects because the Suns were rebuilding at the time they failed. Those guys were largely jettisoned to being in veterans around the kids still on the team — Deandre Ayton (21), Mikal Bridges (23), Devin Booker (23) and Kelly Oubre Jr. (24), plus three more rookies this year. Tough to keep everyone.

The ones that REALLY got away, though, are a pair of 26-year olds: Richaun Holmes (who they replaced with Aron Baynes) and T.J. Warren (salary dumped for Ricky Rubio space). Holmes and Warren have been excellent as starters on their new teams, Sacramento and Indiana respectively. But we can talk about those two another day.

Today it’s about the kids that failed in Phoenix, and how/whether they’ve been rehabbed on new teams or simply put into smaller roles that better suit them.

Poll

Which of these guys would you MOST want back this summer when they all become free agents?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Alex Len
    (93 votes)
  • 12%
    Josh Jackson
    (69 votes)
  • 37%
    De’Anthony Melton
    (207 votes)
  • 19%
    Dragan Bender
    (104 votes)
  • 13%
    Marquese Chriss
    (74 votes)
547 votes total Vote Now