Welcome to ‘Inside the Suns’, your weekly deep down analysis of the current Phoenix Suns team.
While the Suns still have things to contemplate regarding their roster for 2021-22, the power forward spot seems to still be their biggest concern. Jae Crowder is the starter there until someone takes that spot away from him and that looks unlikely so far. Behind him in the rotation is where the big question lies.
The Suns obviously have hope that 2nd year man Jalen Smith can take at least some of those minutes but he may not be ready for prime time and the Suns are in win now mode. They’ve given the keys to this year’s Summer League team to him with mixed results. Below are his SL stats through the team’s first three games:
Jalen Smith SL Stats - 32 mpg (8th), 16 ppg (32nd), 12.7 rpg (1st), 5.0 off rebs (2nd), 1.3 spg, 0.7 apg, 0.0 bpg, 2.3 TO, 36.4% FG (5.3 of 14.8), 38.9% 3pt (2.3 of 6.0), 81.8% FT (3 of 3.7).
Stats courtesy of RealGM.com.
He’s been playing heavy minutes (8th most of 392 SL players) and leads the field in rebounding and has produced points (16 ppg) but very inefficiently (5.3 of 14.7 FG attempts). Do the Suns hang on to him and hope for the best or look into trading him for a player more ready for rotation minutes at PF? The free agency market is drying up and hoping to sign a buyout player to fill the void is an iffy proposition at best. If the Suns decide to go the trade route, Smith is likely the player that teams would most likely be interested in acquiring with whoever else the Suns send being salary matching filler so if a trade does go down Stix will likely be on the move to a new team.
The Suns still have two Summer League games to play and I doubt that anything will happen before then. Nothing may happen soon afterwards either as the Suns will have a little over six weeks before training camp opens on Sept. 28. Plenty of ideas and opinions are out there as to what the Suns should do but until a decision is actually made, all we can do is speculate.
Fantable Questions of the Week
Q1 - Is Jalen ‘Stix’ Smith a keeper or trade bait?
GuarGuar: I don’t see Stix as a big part of our rotation this year so it’s very possible he’s trade bait. Unfortunately, it looks like taking him so early last year is looking like a mistake. If trading him gets us a solid win now piece I am more than ok with it.
Sun-Arc: I’m not sure Stix is either a keeper or trade bait at this point. Not enough data to know. Though it is easy for many to be fascinated with a 6’-10” guy that can hit threes and block shots. So someone may be interested in him - including the Suns.
Right now I would not think there is enough interest in him to be trade bait- especially considering he has not exactly torn up the Summer League. If the team plays him more this season, and he shows flashes, then maybe he would net something in trade.
And yet there is potential value in his non-guaranteed rookie salary in a trade to reduce future salary for a future team.
SDKyle: I think he has to be a keeper at this point because... what’s his trade value? a second round pick and a deep bench player to make the salaries work? No other NBA GM is looking at Stix and saying “yeah... this is a guy I need to give up a lottery pick for” or “hell yeah, I’d trade a quality bench scorer for this guy in a heartbeat.”
At this point the return the Suns would get on trading for him are probably lower than the upside he still has.
SouthernSun: I have no idea. Depends on what player is available for him in a trade. If you can get someone who instantly goes into the Suns top 8 or 9 rotation, for sure trade him. Suns have a title window. If not, then hold onto him and see what he ends up being I suppose.
Alex S: Is it not fair to say he’s both?
I think the one thing Jalen can’t be is a bench warmer. The Suns are in a position where every dollar counts and even a small amount of money can be used to acquire a guy like Torrey Craig at the deadline (an example from last season) so having a lottery pick just wasting on the bench is the worst outcome possible.
My hope is that the Suns are shopping Smith if they have no intention of him competing for minutes. However, if they believe in the player mold he’s shown I am fine with him getting minutes next season to prove himself.
Rod: At this point I’d say it’s 50/50. Stix looks as though he has potential but if he’s needed in a trade to get a win-now player, then the Suns should go ahead and trade him. Any trade involving him has to be for a player that can step in and contribute today. A big no to any “shuffling the deck chairs” trade for someone who isn’t a clear upgrade at a position of need (PF).
Q2 - There has been talk about possible trades for Thaddeous Young and Larry Nance Jr. Which one would you prefer to get if such a trade went down?
GuarGuar: I would prefer Thad as he offers more defensive versatility. I also think he’s a much better player than Larry although both would fit a need for this team.
Sun-Arc: Kind of a tough choice. Both have similar height and weight and versatility on the court - though in somewhat different areas.
Nance has three point shooting, crazy athleticism, shot blocking, and youth on his side at four years younger.
Thaddeus has defensive acumen, better rebounding + passing + BLK% + BPM + WS + VORP and experience. He is on the wrong side of 30, but “merely” 32. His 3pt% last season was only 27%, which hurts compared to Nance’s 36%.
I’d have to go with Thaddeus because I love his defensive motor and attitude. If we are in win-now mode he feels like a great guy to back up Crowder and to energize the defense. I think he’d fit better and just seems like the smarter player.
SDKyle: I actually prefer Nance Jr. He has a more consistent deep stroke to help with spacing, and he is several years younger which may help him hold up a little better over the season. Thadd brings some nice things to the table too, and the gap between them is basically nonexistent. But betting on a 28 year old to stay healthy and give you quality playoff minutes after the grind of a long season seems like a safer bet than the 33 year-old Young.
SouthernSun: I would prefer Larry Nance Jr because he’s young and could be a long-ish term piece for the team, while also immediately being an impact player for them. But he would probably require at least two seconds added to a Jalen Smith package (Dario for salary), if not even a 1st. Thad would be a bit cheaper, but wouldn’t be more than a rental.
I’d do either, though.
Alex S: I like both of them but I think Thad Young would have more of a carved out role for him as opposed to LNJ.
Signing McGee limits the desperation the Suns had to get size off their bench so a guy like Thad is more of a natural 4 than Nance Jr. IMO. Furthermore, he could play a small ball 5 with the bench and/or the starters too and has the experience you’d want for a team looking to compete for a ring.
I would be excited about picking up either of them, however.
Rod: I like Young as a player a little bit more but Nance has 2 more years on his present contract as opposed to Young having just 1. Nance’s final year also goes down in cost by $1 mil. Neither one is the long-term answer at PF but I like the idea of having Nance under contract for the next 2 seasons more than having Young for just one and then having to decide whether to try and re-sign him or start looking for another PF again. If it doesn’t work out this season, Nance’s $9.6 mil salary for 2022-23 would make a good trade chip.
But after this coming season the Suns could likely still be searching for a starting PF as Crowder will be in the last year of his contract by then and might also make a good $10.2 mil trade chip.
I suppose that, in the end, the one I’d prefer the most would be the one who cost the Suns the least to get. Yes, I kinda punted on this one but I just don’t have a clear-cut favorite between the two.
Q3 - What’s your opinion of adding Elfrid Payton as a 3rd point guard?
GuarGuar: I honestly was surprised Elf would go to a team where he might not even play most nights. He’s easily the best third string PG in the league. I expect us to rest CP3 more this season so that’s great insurance for us in order to remain highly competitive. Glad to have Elf back.
Sun-Arc: I like the Payton addition. He’s not great, but for a third PG option he’s about as good as any team could possibly get. Think about who were the Lakers, Bucks, and Clippers third options. Yeah, I don’t know who that would be on those teams either.
As others have stated in the threads, I believe Payton will be able to give CP3 rest for entire games this season to help save him for the post season. And, with the Suns’ new culture and Elf’s desire for another major contract, we see a different player than he’s been in the past. As unlikely as that might be, it would not surprise me to see him blossom this season even in limited minutes.
SDKyle: I feel reasonably positive about. Elf was a horrible option as our #1 guard for that stretch in 2018, we all remember that. He can’t shoot a lick from downtown, he sucks at the charity stripe, and those things make it hard to keep him out there in big spots. But as a third guard he can do the job acceptably. Realistically, guys auditioning for the #3 PG role in the NBA aren’t exactly stupendous. Guys who can shoot, dish it, and defend at anything close to NBA average are usually not hoping to be the guy getting 12 minutes of duty on a good night.
SouthernSun: I think he’s perfectly fine as the 3rd string point guard. He wasn’t great for NY as a starter, but hey, he’s a serviceable bench guard. He can create a little bit, even if it’s not from behind the three point line, and that’s something the Suns could use more of, so I think the Suns could have definitely done worse.
Alex S: I actually like it. He was a starting PG for a playoff team and now you’re asking him to play spot minutes in case one of your two PGs is out. You’ll see Elfrid play around 20 games at a somewhat serviceable level and that’s all you could ask for from a 3rd string PG.
Rod: As a 3rd PG, Elf should be fine. On nights that the Suns might need him to play a lot (if CP3 or CP15 are out), I worry that opponents will back off on defense and dare him to shoot from the perimeter and clog the paint. His shooting percentages from anywhere beyond 3 feet from the goal are all below .400 and below .300 beyond 10 ft. But even with those limitations, Elf can pass the ball with the best of them on any given night and will occasionally have nights that will make people wonder why he’s 3rd on the depth chart.
As always, many thanks to our Fantable members - GuarGuar, Sun-Arc, SDKyle, SouthernSun and Alex S. - for all their extra effort every week!
NBA Rule Changes for 2021-22
New NBA Rule Changes 2021! Effective in the 2021 NBA Summer League!
Last Week’s Poll Results
Last week’s poll was “Elfrid Payton is...”
16% - Going to be a regular part of Monty’s player rotation.
84% - Mostly insurance for times when CP3 or Cam Payne are injured.
A total of 382 votes were cast.
This week’s poll is...
If the Suns do make a trade for a power forward, who would you prefer?
This poll is closed
Larry Nance Jr.