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Suns Draft Strategy: Short Term Greed vs. Long Term Greed

James Jones has an interesting decision to make as the 2020 NBA Draft approaches. Do you draft to address current issues or do you look to build for the future?

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

“Greed is good, greed is right, greed works,” Gordon Gekko once infamously uttered. Regardless of the route General Manager James Jones chooses with the 10th pick in the 2020 NBA draft, he will have to address the team’s short term greed or long term greed. Our hope is his choice is good, is right, and does work.

The Suns are a team looking to break the barrier into the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. Their recent success in the Orlando Bubble displayed the growth of the roster and the importance of stability at the head coaching position.

The expectation, rightfully so, is that the Suns should make a playoff appearance next season.

The path to achieving this success will be tested in the upcoming months as the draft and free agency looms. The decisions that await James Jones are tough. They are business decisions that can set the franchise on the right path. Conversely, if the wrong choices are made, the Suns could implode upon themselves once again, becoming a white dwarf or even a black hole of despair. We’ve been there. We don’t want to go back.

I feel like I say this every season, but this is the most important Suns’ off-season to date. I do not envy James Jones and the decisions that lie before him.

In order to understand how the Suns must approach this off-season, I recommend you read Dave King’s article explaining the roster and salary cap. This lays out who and where the team is as Jones embarks on the decision making that lies ahead.

Now that you’ve completed your reading assignment, understand that the draft provides an opportunity to pursue two different ideologies (outside of the ‘trade the pick’ thought process. We’ll put that one aside for now):

  • The first is to recognize the short term teams needs, leverage that against a deep talent of wings in the draft, ensure that the proper strides are made to make the playoffs, while at the same time providing roster options.
  • The second is to try to solidifying winning long term, to create stability that will garner continual playoff appearances, and in turn keep the roster together and happy.

There are varying levels and types of greed, and in the context of the Phoenix Suns, that greed is to win, both in the short term and the long term.

Should Jones go wing or point guard?

Short Term Greed: Draft a Wing

The draft might not possess a unicorn this season, but it is chalked full of players who can positively effect a franchise. There are numerous wings that provide a plethora of different skill sets. If the archetype of basketball player aligns with James Jones’ vision, the addition of a wing could provide the ability to relieve short term issues the Suns are currently facing.

What are these issues? Let’s take a triple lindy and dive into them...

The Addition of Depth

In an effort to achieve this goal in the short term, the Suns could consider drafting yet another wing. The roster, which currently has Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre, Jr., Mikal Bridges, and Cameron Johnson slotted as their wings, could always use some more depth.

Why? Because that is basketball entering the 2020-21 season. This is not 1983 and the league is not ruled by dominant centers. Teams no longer draft based on height and hope the rest takes care of itself. We reside in an era of unbelievably athletic guards and forwards who possess the ability to put stress on defenses unlike anything basketball has ever seen. The ability to defend at multiple positions is synonymous with having multidimensional players.

There is no doubt that whoever the Suns draft will be coming off the bench. This isn’t a Zion or Ayton draft class. Therefore the addition of a wing, albeit a rookie, will add to the more depth to the roster.

What makes this important is this was the Achilles’ heel of last year’s squad. Injuries, suspensions, and outside-of-basketball occurrences (a la the birth of Rubio’s son) potentially cost the Suns a shot at this year’s playoffs. The lack of consistent depth equated to losses. ‘Tis a fact.

Monty Williams had to continually tinker with rotations and lineups in an effort to balance the Suns effectiveness, both offensively and defensively. He didn’t get it right until the Bubble, most notably because he had consistency. The team, outside of Oubre and Aron Baynes, stayed healthy. This was an ideal scenario for him, but not the norm. Every team has injuries. It is those teams that have depth that can weather the storm and come out the other side victorious.

You can never have too many effective players coming off of the bench. If Mikal Bridges tweaks his ankle or Kelly Oubre has issues with his knee, a rookie wing could step in and assist in filling those minutes. The hope is whoever is drafted will add those effective minutes, which will be a challenge seeing as those opportunities will begin as developmental minutes.

In today’s NBA, there is no such thing as having too many wings.

The Style of the Second Unit

In the same vein as the depth of the roster is how James Jones views his second team unit. What is his approach to that depth? Does Jones want ride the success of a defensive bench mentality into next season? Or does he want to add another sharpshooter to assist in point creation while Booker is on the bench?

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Bubble experience was seeing a Phoenix Suns team that actually played defense. When was the last time you could say that? I’ll wait.

Per Cleaning the Glass, the team carried a 112.3 defensive rating prior to the bubble, which put the Suns in the bottom third in the league defensively at 20th in the league. When the season restarted in Orlando, that number dropped to 106.6. Phoenix had the 5th best defensive rating in the Association during the final 8 games of the regular season.

James Jones certainly saw the effectiveness and results of defensive depth. Will this sway his draft decision and in turn bolster this aspect of the roster? If so, he may key in on the likes of Florida State’s 6’7” sophomore wing Devin Vassell. Classified by Kevin O’Connor as “one of the best defenders in this year’s class, with a developing offensive game that could make him more than just a shooter,” Vassell may be out of the reach for the Suns. If he falls to #10, however, he could be a steal.

You can learn more about Devin in Zona Sports’ article here. And here is a nice collection of Vassell’s highlights while in Tallahassee:

Jones could opt to mirror his decision in last year’s draft when he drafted Cam Johnson: instant offense.

Devin Booker carries quite the offensive load for the Suns. This past season he scored 22.5% of the team’s total points. When he is on the floor, he has a 31.3% usage rate, which places him in the 96%tile in that stat relative to his position. My point? When Book is off the floor, the Suns need to find a way to score.

One way to address this need is to draft an elite scorer with hopes that they maintain their confidence and pour it in while the starters are on the bench.

Vanderbilt’s sophomore wing Aaron Nesmith could fill this role, if Jones chooses to go that route. KOC describes his jump shot as a “flamethrower” and, aside from his 6’6” height, I see similarities in his game to Cameron Johnson’s. Based on initial mock drafts it appears that he will be available when the Suns are on the clock.

An Oubre Safety Net

The great off-season debate this year is what to do with Kelly Oubre, Jr. Is Tsunami Papi, the man who brought the Valley Boyz appellation to Phoenix, an expendable asset?

He is entering year 2 of his 2-year, $30 million deal with the Suns. He is the first player in quite some time who rose his hand and said, “Yes, I want to stay in Phoenix”. It is hard to potentially part with someone who has displayed loyalty whilst adding an identity to a failing franchise. Business is business, however, and James Jones will have to weigh all of his options when considering what to do with this year’s draft and free agency.

Kelly is coming off of his best season in the NBA, which adds fuel to the debate. Do you sell high on Oubre, banking that his production will never see the same heights? If the team is winning next year but missing a vital piece, do you move him at the trade deadline, adding the void as you march towards the playoffs? If the team is losing next year, do you try to gain some type of muted asset for him prior to free agency 2021? Or do you hope for the best, keep him, make a run to next year’s playoffs, and re-sign Kelly on his ’20-’21 production?

Regardless of where you stand on the Great Kelly Debate, the drafting of a wing gives you options in the short term. If James Jones chooses to deal Oubre for an asset this off-season, he’s covered. If Jones chooses to see how next year plays out and Kelly gets injured, he’s covered. If Oubre is having a subpar season and the Suns can find a suitor for him at the trade deadline, he’s covered. If Kelly thinks he can go somewhere else and get paid more at the competition of next season, he’s covered.

If Jones chooses to move Oubre and his contract this off-season, the addition of a wing makes financial sense as well. The #10 overall pick averages (based off of the last three #10 picks) a contract of $3.82 million in their first season. That is a far cry from the $14.3 million Oubre is slotted to make next season. Obviously you get what you pay for in that scenario.

There is no world in which I want Kelly to leave. I love his addition to the team and everything that entails. The growth of Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, on the other hand, has opened the conversation for any Oubre-based decision to be considered.

Long Term Greed: Draft a Point Guard

Given the position of this year’s draft and the number of young point guards available, James Jones may opt to look at the long term success of the franchise. He may choose to draft the heir to the Rubio throne.

I love Ricky Rubio. You love Ricky Rubio. We all love Ricky Rubio, even if we never give him the credit he deserves. His addition to the Phoenix Suns has solidified the point guard position and led to numerous increases in offensive production year over year.

In 2018-19, the Suns had an offensive rating of 105.7 (28th in the league), 23.9 assists-per-game (19th), 32.9% from deep (30th), and 107.5 points-per-game (23rd). Subsequently that Suns team finished with a 19-63 record.

The addition of Rubio saw those numbers jump. The 2019-20 Suns had a 111.8 offensive rating (13th), 27.2 assists-per-game (1st), 35.8% from deep (16th), and 113.6 points-per-game (10th). By all offensive metrics (and taking into account that the number of variables that assist in the growth in these numbers are more than just Ricky’s addition) the team was much, much better. The team finished at 34-39, the franchises highest win total since the 2014-15 season.

There are multiple reasons to go the point guard route in the draft if James Jones chooses to do so, from the timeline of this team’s success to bringing in the next great facilitator.

The Timeline 2.0

Ah, remember that good ‘ole Ryan-McDonough-era phrase? I cringe when I think of the promises made under ‘The Timeline’ moniker, the number of tanking games we suffered through in order to make it come to fruition, and the blundering results that left us asset-depleted and searching for answerrs. It really ticks my bombs.

The Suns find themselves once again on a timeline, although they’ll never market it as such again. This timeline is more of a “window”. The team possess a solid core of young talent and we are currently in the window of their potential. Their potential to grow. The potential to succeed. The potential to make them happy so they want to lengthen that window.

One thing working against that window, in the long term, is Ricky Rubio’s age. Is he ancient? By all means, no. In fact, he may have entered the prime of his career. His 13 points-per-game and 8.8 assists-per-game are his second best efforts in his 9 year career. His turnover percentage was 17.9%, the second lowest of his career. He shot a career high 36.1% from deep. He had a fantastic season.

The fact of the matter remains: Ricky Rubio turns 30 on October 21. Is his career over when he crosses into his third decade on this planet? No. His age does, however, does not properly align with long-term success of the franchise. Booker is 24 in October. Bridges turns 24 on Sunday. Ayton is 22.

I’m not saying that the addition of a 19 year-old point guard aligns with the long-term window of the team. It does sway it in our favor though.

Rather than having a point guard who is 6 years older than our core, they would be 5 years younger. If Rubio rides out the remainder of his two-year contract, he will be 32. A 19 year-old drafted in 2020 would be 21 years-old at that time and possess two years of tutelage under Rubio’s wing. Booker and Bridges will be 26. Ayton will be 24.

It is a gamble spending your #10 pick on a prospect who you expect to one day facilitate the team. No one expected Elie Okobo to be the future. If he panned out, great, the Suns hit on a second-rounder. When he fails, however, it is expected.

The level of analysis a point guard lottery pick will receive will be great, especially in Phoenix. We are a point guard city, with names like Nash, KJ, Kidd, Marbury, and Macy. The scrutiny is comparable to drafting a quarterback in the NFL in the first round. The expectations to instantly perform at a high-level are increased. Character is key when looking at who you want to add to the roster.

If Jones makes the right pick, the window is opened for a longer period of time.

The Next Great Facilitator

Obviously the success of the drafted point guard is the X-factor. Jones must identify the strengths and weakness of the prospect and see if they can extrapolate into long term success. The evaluation of talent and how it will translate to the NBA is what makes drafting so difficult. Glad I don’t have that job.

With the signing of Ricky Rubio last off season, Jones chose to stabilize the position. He found in Rubio a point guard who could facilitate the offense and play acceptable defense. The byproduct of playing next to Devin Booker for Ricky was an increase in offensive production. When you have one of the best pure shooters in the game next to you every day at shoot around, you pickup a couple of things.

The thought process of drafting a point guard in the lottery would signify Jones’ commitment to the long term success of the team. The next step in going down that rabbit hole of thinking would be evaluating prospects and identifying what attributes you believe would mesh well with the team, compliment the roster's strengths, and have the ability to develop under the guidance of Ricky Rubio.

Would you draft someone who is a Russell Westbrook-ish score-first archetype? Would you seek to find the next great distributor? Or is the sweet spot somewhere in the middle?

Two prospects that come to mind that James Jones may be evaluating are in that sweet spot.

The first guy I like is Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton. He is 6’5”, 20 years-old, and is a stellar playmaker. Although he has hitchy jumper, his court vision is best-in-class. I love his length and athleticism. His age aligns ideally with the Suns window for his development, and I feel that he is a “James Jones” guy; someone that is a little bit older and mature.

If somehow he drops to #10, it’s a steal of a pick. ESPN’s recent mock draft has him going #7 to Detroit.

The other point guard that could fit with the Suns in Killian Hayes. The 19 year-old from France possess professional experience, a fluidity to his game, pinpoint passing, and a great feel for the game. He can run the pick-and-roll effectively, make precise entry passes, and maneuver around the paint. In short? He’d be an ideal long term fit with Deandre Ayton.

The challenge with Hayes is understanding exactly who he is as a player (who am I kidding...that’s all of these guys). There are differing reports on how the highlights are interpreted. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor has Killian at #1 on his big board, yet has him dropping to the Suns in his mock draft. ESPN has Hayes at #9 on their best available list and Jonathon Givony has him drafted at #14 by Boston. Gary Parrish from has Hayes going #8 to the Knicks. has Killian drafted at #4 by Chicago. Who knows!

Take a look for yourself.

Both prospects provide the play making ability we are accustomed to in Phoenix, and both could potentially be a nice fit to Devin Booker in the long term.

One of the side-effects for going with a PG in round one is the effect on the remainder of the roster entering free agency. Elie Okobo. Ty Jerome. Cameron Payne. Jevon Carter. Team options might not be picked up, qualifying offers might not be provided. Going guard effects the roster more than adding a wing. Food for thought.

Decisions, decisions. Which ever train of thought you gravitate towards, the domino effect on other roster slots occurs. That’s the nature of the beast, that’s the business side of the game. But those decisions have to be made. Greed, whether in the short term or in the long term, must ultimately be the deciding factor.

There is a debate on which path James Jones should take, on whether or not he should go wing or point guard. There is no debate that “Stairway to Heaven” is the greatest song of all-time, and the lyric “there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on” applies. The difference is philosophy on which path James Jones takes will determine how much time he’ll have to change that road he is on.

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