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Grading the wings — Booker, Bridges, Oubre, Johnson and Johnson

The Phoenix Suns got in 65 games so far this season. Enough to grade the players.

Phoenix Suns v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome back, Suns fans! We continue round out our positional grading series with an analysis of the Phoenix Suns’ wings this past season.

To recap, the 26-39 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 Suns Solar Panel podcast, Tim, Espo and I graded every Phoenix Suns player on their season to date compared to the expectation we had of them coming into the season.

Here are our grades for ball handlers and bigs...

Now on to the wings. The exercise was fun. You would be surprised which player graded out the highest for the season and you might even be surprised who graded out the worst.

Whichever 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 Wings

The greatest depth of talent on the 2019-20 Suns is along the wing. While good ball handlers are only one-deep, and good bigs are two-deep at best, the Suns depth of good players around the edge is quite... succulent.

It all starts with first-time All-Star Devin Booker, who is the Suns second-best ball handler but first-best shooter and score-creator. He leads the team in several offensive categories. Around him are an improving stable of young skill players who might not be as well-rounded as Booker but all bring their own A-level strength.

Let’s break it down.

Cameron Johnson

Stats: 12.2 PER, 20 min, 8.1 pts, 2.9 rebs, 1.1 ast per game, 40% from 3 on 4.7 attempts per game, On/Off: -4.6, Games Played: 49, Games Started: 1

Top-20 Leader Board- N/A

Cameron Johnson, a 6’9” shooter in the mold of James Jones, came to the Suns in the 2019 Draft as the surprise 11th-overall pick. Johnson is the oldest player (age 23) taken in the draft’s top-11 since something akin to the Stone Age, and left some of his own UNC teammates agape at his selection so high in the draft. Johnson had suffered some injuries in college that held him back, but was also seen as too limited athletically to succeed at the highest level.

Suns fans had low expectations for Johnson, often claiming Ty Jerome or Jalen Lecque had a better chance to succeed. As the season started, people wondered if Cam would even crack the rotation. Yours truly was excited about the prospect of a great shooter on the wing, so I kind of got what I expected.

But then Cam-HOW?! turned into CamWOW!! The rookie brought his shooting straight from college, making 40% of his 4.7 threes per game in his 20 minutes, outpacing all of his rookie peers in attempts per minute. And defensively, he was one of the Suns more versatile and intelligent defenders, able to spot time at power forward through shooting guard.

But his best highlight of the season was not a three. It was a smash-down-from-the-rafters over a very surprised JaVale McGee.

Great three point shooting. Surprise athleticism. Good team defender. Always makes the smart play. In a recent podcast, Zach Lowe and Kevin Pelton even agreed that Cam might deserve a spot on the 10-man All-Rookie team.

His knocks are a continuing string of injuries, missing 16 of the Suns 65 games, and a lack of necessary heft to spot more than a one minute or two against big dudes. Cam won’t actually make an All-Rookie team because he simply didn’t play enough. Just as he was about to get big minutes with Oubre injured, he came down with mono and was slated to miss several more weeks before returning. That inability to stay healthy impacted my grade for him.

Grades (relative to expectations) —

  • Dave: C
  • Greg: C
  • Tim: B

Tyler Johnson

Stats: 8.1 PER, 16.6 min, 6 points, 1.6 assists per game, 38% FG, On/Off: -8, Games Played: 31, Games Started: 3

Top-20 Leader Board- N/A

Tyler Johnson came to the Suns in a quiet swap for Ryan Anderson a little over a year ago. the career rotation wing, with lifetime stats of 11/3/3 off the bench in Miami, brought some much-needed professionalism and production last spring and made the Suns want to keep him for 2019-20 to continue providing proven bench play.

Coming into 2019-20, we were all excited to see Tyler return to his natural position as a combo guard off the bench, sometimes as a shooter (lifetime 36%) next to Ricky Rubio and sometimes as a the ball handler next to Booker.

What we got was the worst season of Tyler’s career. He couldn’t shoot, couldn’t playmake and generally sucked all the life out of momentum in any game he played. He was kicking around on a nagging bum knee most of the time, and was eventually released after the trade deadline to go home to rehab it away from the team.

Sorry Tyler. I know you try extremely hard, and I know you are a good player. You just weren’t good at anything on the court in 2019-20.

Grades (relative to expectations) —

  • Dave: D-
  • Greg: F
  • Tim: F

Devin Booker

Stats: 19.8 PER, 26 pts, 6.6 assists, 4 rbs, 36% from 3, On/Off: +6, Games Played: 62, Games Started: 62

League Honors: All-Star

Top-20 Leader Board- Minutes played (2241) 2nd in league, Field Goals (544) 9th, Free Throws (405) 4th, Assists (408) 13th, Turnovers (244) 3rd, Personal Fouls (188) 15th, Points (1619) 6th, Free throw percentage (91.6) 2nd, Minutes per game (36.1) 4th, Points per Game (26.1) 10th, Usage Pct 29.5 (18th), Offensive Win Shares (4.8) 14th

Now let’s have some fun!

Suns fans and Booker fam finally got their wish as Devin Booker found his way into the All-Star game on the back of player endorsements as Damian Lillard’s injury replacement. Booker was extremely frustrated not to be named to the team outright, but he simply didn’t have the winning record or All-Star pedigree for that. Maybe from now on, he does.

Booker improved dramatically for the fifth year in a row, adding extreme efficiency to his high productivity, and making him (for two weeks at least) the most productive player ever to miss the All-Star game in the Western Conference (he and Bradley Beal were snub-buddies until Lillard’s injury).

Book even improved his defense to the point that national folks stopped deriding him for it constantly. The Suns were better on both ends with Booker on the court, won more games than any prior Booker season, and would have been in playoff contention if not for unofficially leading the league in shoulda-won games.

The only knocks on Booker were his slump after not being named outright to the All-Star game, which cost the Suns their tenuous playoff hopes, and his inability to make more game-winners to offset it. In the last two weeks before the All-Star game itself, the Suns went from 1 or 2 games back to 6 games back during Booker’s slump. To be fair, Booker’s slump was likely a molotov cocktail of the snub, endless teammate injuries, and Kobe Bryant’s death.

All in all, a very good season from Booker in which he proved he IS a big part of a good team, not just a looter in a riot.

Grades (relative to expectations) —

  • Dave: B
  • Greg: B+
  • Tim: C+

Kelly Oubre, Jr.

Stats: 14.9 PER, 18.7 pts, 6.4 rbs, 1.5 assists, 1.3 stls, .7 blks, 35% from 3, On/Off: +2.7, Games Played: 56, Games Started: 55

Top 20 Leader Board- Personal Fouls (192) 14th in league, Turnover Pct (8.2) 19th in league

Oubre came to the Suns a year ago, just a little before Tyler Johnson did, in that dump of Trevor Ariza. Washington reportedly did not want to deal with Oubre’s second contract, so they sent him out for the Ariza-rental.

Since joining the Suns, Oubre has been the team’s tee-shirt cannon of swag and the harbinger of better days ahead. He’s been a starter since his first game in Phoenix and proven his value on the court with every dunk, timely three, head-slam and pushup. He’s first player in the past decade to regularly get the crowd in cheering unison to their feet AFTER a play is over.

Before the season, I worried that Oubre would fall back to earth after getting his $15 million contract, but on the contrary he played even better. He can offend and defend respectably at three different positions, from shooting guard to power forward, grabs rebounds in traffic, gets steals from anywhere and generally whirling dervishes the opponent on both ends.

Oubre was 3rd on the Suns in scoring, 2nd in rebounds, 3rd in steals, 2nd in blocks, 5th in 3P%, and made 48% of his clutch threes on the season.

Is Oubre an All-Star? No. Is he better than a playoff team’s 4th or 5th best player? No. Is he important to the overall morale and success of a team? Oh hell yes.

Grades (relative to expectations) —

  • Dave: A
  • Greg: B
  • Tim: B-

Mikal Bridges

Stats: 13 PER, 27 min, 8.7 pts, 4 rbs, 1.4 stls, 35% 3pt, On/Off: +7.2, Games Played: 65, Games Started: 24

Top-20 Leader Board- Games played for 65 (4th), 93 steals for 8th in league, DBPM 1.6 (20th), True Shooting Percentage .623 (19th)

Bridges came to the Suns in a trade for the 10th pick of the 2018 Draft. They gave up the 16th pick (Zaire Smith) and Miami’s 2021 pick (could be anywhere, but almost certainly bottom half of the first round) to get Bridges. Bridges’ rookie season was much like this current one: a lot of defensive talent, able to defend multiple positions including the other team’s best offensive wing or point guard, along with inconsistent offensive focus and productivity.

In his second year, and first with a new coaching staff, Bridges had a rough start but ended up being one of the team’s best and most reliable players. He can now defend the other team’s second biggest guy (traditionally called a power forward) while also switching out to just about any other position as well.

Of all the second-year players in league history (per to post Mikal’s versatility in per game numbers (3P%, 3PA/g, stls/g, rebs/g), our young Sun did it in the fewest minutes per game of any of them. I know people hate these weird stat combos, but I’m only doing it to show the rarity of being a defensive stalwart and respectable three point shooter in only their second year in the league.

Betcha didn’t think Mikal got his 3P shooting up to 35% did you? After a horrific start, Mikal actually made 38% of his threes after November and likely would have finished above league average by the end of the season (36%).

His three-point attempts were embarrassingly low though (down to 2.4 per game from 3.8 as a rookie), so that needs to shoot up in future seasons to make him a real threat. And he’s got to stop being the Jackson/Chriss of ill-fated dunk attempts. On offense, he’s a strange combination of frustratingly passive punctuated by such sudden speed and aggression his own body doesn’t know how to control itself.

Mikal is only getting better. Wrap that potential All-NBA defense with serious outside threat and you’ve got a glue guy every All-Star credits with their playoff team’s success.

Grades (relative to expectations) —

  • Dave: C
  • Greg: A
  • Tim: B

What do y’all think?

What grades would you give each of the Suns wings this year?

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