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Grading the Suns ball handlers — Rubio, Okobo, Jerome, Carter

The 2019-20 Suns season is on hold, but we saw enough to grade the players. Let’s start with the point guards.

Denver Nuggets v Phoenix Suns Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

At 26-39, the Suns are far out of that playoff picture so any restart of the season would be more like helping the playoff teams warm up for the postseason than anything else.

To recap, the Suns have played 65 of 82 games in a season now suspended indefinitely. We might see the season resumed in some fashion later this summer, or we might not. We might see a handful of “warmup” regular season games, or we might just see a resumption that starts with the playoffs.

Recently on the Solar Panel podcast, we graded every Phoenix Suns player on their season to date compared to the expectation we had of them coming into the season.

The exercise was fun because you would be surprised which player graded out the highest for the season and you might even be surprised who graded out the worst.

Whatever way the 2019-20 season plays out, we have a large sample size on which to draw some conclusions. Who outplayed their expectations? Who disappointed us?

Let’s find out.

First, the grading scale:

  • A- Nearly perfect/ far exceeded expectations
  • B- Good. Exceeded expectations
  • C- Just fine- but what we expected
  • D- Disappointing season- worse than we expected
  • F- Get this mo-fo off the team

The Primary Ball Handlers

Today, we review those who handled the ball the most in the Suns offense this season. Sure, it’s a “0.5”-second offense with a lot of touches per possession, with every pass having a purpose. The Suns were 11th in total passes per game but first in assist percentage, first in potential assists, first in assist-to-pass percentage, and second in wide-open shots generated with the nearest defender more than six feet away.

So, overall, their playmakers were quite good this season. A team that leads the league in scoring passes has a lot of effective passers at other positions, including wings.

Today we focus only on the primary ball handlers whose job was to get the Suns into their offense.

Jevon Carter (Bulldog)

Stats: 10.4 PER, 15 min, 4.6 points, 1.3 assists per game, 2 rbs, 40% FG, 39% from 3 on 2.3 attempts per game, On/Off: -2.6, Games Played: 50, Games Started: 2

Suns Leader Board- N/A

Carter came over from the Memphis Grizzlies this past offseason in a clunky trade to free cap space for Ricky Rubio. This was his second year in the NBA after a stellar career at West Virginia. He was drafted in the second round in 2018, just a few spots behind the Suns’ Elie Okobo, but rarely played as a rookie in Memphis.

The bulldog had a reputation for elite defensive effort, limited playmaking and questionable shot selection. His compact size, relative to most of the NBA, relegates him to being a single-position defender. He shot barely 35% from the field as a rookie, and had a major struggle finding ways to get off shots inside the three-point line.

Coming in to the season, we expected very little from Carter who was stuck behind Rubio, Booker, Tyler Johnson, Elie Okobo and first round rookie Ty Jerome.

What he brought the Suns was a spirit that infected both his teammates and the fans. He was fearless, animated, full of positive energy and sometimes a game-changer when his three-point shot would fall. His final stats were very similar to those in Memphis, with an uptick on shooting percentages into the league-average range for a guard.

Grades (relative to expectations) —

  • Dave: B-
  • Greg: B
  • Tim: B-

Elie Okobo

Stats: 10.5 PER, 13 min, 4 points, 2.1 assists per game, 39% FG, On/Off: -4.6, Games Played: 54, Games Started: 3

Suns Leader Board- N/A

Elie joined the Suns as an early second-rounder out of the 2018 Draft, coming to the US from a lower division French team. He has the measurables of a big point guard who can slot at shooting guard and defend multiple positions, and the ball handling to get his own shot on a drive to the rim.

Okobo was really bad as a rookie, shooting under 40% from the field and looking overmatched in nearly every game.

Coming into the season, we expected significant improvement from Okobo. We expected him to realize some of his natural skills as a playmaker, shooter and creator, as well as using his length (6’7” wingspan) and athletic ability to defend at a passable level.

What he brought the Suns was a disappointing repeat of his rookie season. He still looked overmatched in nearly every game. And to our collective horror, we got to see that failure much more often than he deserved as he held the backup job to Rubio most of the year.

Grades (relative to expectations) —

  • Dave: F
  • Greg: F
  • Tim: C-

Ty Jerome

Stats: 8.1 PER, 11 min, 3.5 points, 1.5 assists per game, 35% FG, On/Off: -14.2, Games Played: 28, Games Started: 0

Suns Leader Board- N/A

Ty Jerome joined the Suns as a late first rounder in the 2019, acquired along with Aron Baynes for that Milwaukee pick (Bledsoe) that still hasn’t been cashed in. Jerome had just led Virginia to an NCAA title as a redshirt junior — a winning trait that GM James Jones heavily covets in his prospects. He is limited athletically, but is smart, savvy, and big for a point guard (6’5”) as well as a dead-eye shooter.

Coming in to the season, we did not know what to expect from Jerome but he had a very good preseason where he flashed an ability to create his own shot despite athletic limitations and generally looked quite competent. Some of us hoped he would wrestle that backup point guard job.

What he brought the Suns was disappointment. He looked and played quite often like a kid called in to the game from the stands to fill in for injuries. He struggled to find his place among the much-faster and much bigger NBA. And even when he did get open shots, he missed. Not a good season for a first round pick who was rated as a “steal” by many draftniks.

Grades (relative to expectations) —

  • Dave: D
  • Greg: D
  • Tim: D-

Ricky Rubio

Stats: 16.3 PER, 32 min, 13.9 points, 8.9 assists per game, 4.6 rbs, 1.5 stls, 41% FG, 35% from 3 on 3.1 attempts, On/Off: +9.9 (best on team), Games Played: 57, Games Started: 57

NBA Leader Board: Assist Percentage 39.9 (fifth), Steal Percentage 2.3 (19th), Assists per game 8.9 (third), steals per game 1.5 (14th)

Ricky joined the Suns as their biggest free agent signing in years, getting $52 million for three years, through 2022. Rubio was a starter on two different teams (Wolves, Jazz) with a reputation as a good playmaker and defender, but bad shooter. During the summer, he led Spain to win a gold at the FIBA World Cup.

Coming in to the season, we expected Rubio to give the Suns their best playmaker since Steve Nash retired*. Excitement was high, considering the Suns had the league’s worst offense the last two years with some of the worst playmaking dating all the way back a half decade.

What he brought the Suns was even better than most of us expected. His playmaking was truly inspirational. The biggest reason the Suns jumped into the middle-third of the NBA in most categories — an accomplishment considering the woebegone recent years — was Rubio on both ends of the court. The only worry is his health, as he battled minor injuries and fatigue in the middle of his first season.

Grades (relative to expectations) —

  • Dave: A-
  • Greg: A
  • Tim: B+

How about you guys?

What grades would you give the Suns playmakers this year?

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