clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Positional rankings showcase a lack of faith in the depth of the Phoenix Suns

The Athletic ranked each position for each team. You may be surprised where Phoenix landed.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Phoenix Suns v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

The long and arduous offseason continues. Like a cross country flight, it is taking forever for us to get to Phoenix Suns Opening Night. The peanuts have gone stale, the overpriced seats are too small, and all we have to stare at out the window are the endless plains of mundane stories and shoe releases. We are currently flying over the ‘ranking time zone’, as it is the time of year when everyone begins to analyze rosters and rank their players.

Here comes the turbulence.

The Athletic’s Law Murray is our captain on this flight through the ranking time zone after putting together his rankings of each NBA team’s position relative to the rest of the league. He did so by taking into account their basketball skill (to include non-shooting scoring, rebounding, playmaking, defense, and shooting efficiency), availability, depth of the team at that position, career status (are they young and hungry or old and a threat to be toast), and morale.

While we here in Phoenix are trying to embrace the positionless basketball approach to the game, knowing that Bradley Beal will act as our ‘starting point guard’, Law expressed his view on the term, and it’s one I rather like:

“Position versatility > positionless, if anything. Players should not be in an absence of position, but rather put in position (no pun intended) to succeed in the roles the traditional positions typically require.”

Good, bad, or indifferent, roles still need to be defined. Bradley Beal isn’t a traditional point guard by any stretch of the imagination, but he will serve in the role in some capacity. Even if your offensive approach is positionless, you have to guard the opposition, who most likely will be playing traditional basketball. Therefore you will slot into positions.

That being said, back to Law’s rankings.

Using his above metrics, here is how Law ultimately came to his conclusions for each position:

I chose to rank the teams based on their overall strength at each nominal position, while listing each team’s possible starter as a representative of that position. While the starter is the primary source of evaluation (give it, say, 70 percent), a team’s reserves are taken into consideration.

This isn’t just a ranking of each team’s starter at each position, although the starter’s have a great influence on the final metric. This is a ranking of each position in its totality.

Point Guard: #14

This may come as a surprise at first. And while I believe that 15 is a tad bit low, I understand why the Suns’ point guard position is middle of the pack. Bradley Beal is not a known commodity at point guard. He isn’t an established playmaker in the NBA, despite being in the 90%tile in the playmaking metric on B-Ball Index. When you factor in the depth behind him, which includes Jordan Goodwin, Saben Lee, and Damion Lee, it is understandable as to why the Suns point guard position is considered middle of the pack relative to the rest of the NBA.

Even if 70% of these rankings are driven by who the starter is, again, we’ve yet to see it from Bradley Beal. And that’s a common theme throughout the entirety of the Phoenix Suns roster construction. Depth is questioned, not because of the talent of the players, but because we have yet to see it. James Jones flipped this roster like a Denver omelet and we don’t quite know yet how it tastes.

What is interesting is that Golden State is ranked overall number one at the point guard position. Law lists Stephen Curry as their starting point guard, but with the acquisition of Chris Paul, we would think that Golden State will switch him to more of a two guard type of position. Sure, if Curry is being backed up by Chris Paul, I can see this, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily going to be the case in Golden State.

Shooting Guard: #4

With Devin Booker at the shooting guard position, I’m surprised it’s not higher. The majority of preseason rankings have Booker as the best shooting guard in the league, and with Eric Gordon behind him, you would think that this is a position that Phoenix has locked down this season. The talent is elite. But Law has Phoenix in fourth. His reasoning? The availability factor.

Having the Suns outside of the top five here was a consideration I had after Devin Booker’s injury-marred season. But I couldn’t do it after the postseason he had, and the addition of Eric Gordon gives the Suns solid depth as well in case Booker’s soft tissue injuries cost him extended time again.

In the past two seasons Devin Booker has averaged 60.5 games per season. His injury history, coupled with the fact that Eric Gordon is 34 years old, is why Phoenix isn’t atop the list. Ahead of them? Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers, Jaylen Brown and the Boston Celtics, and at the top is Donovan Mitchell and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Small Forward: #4

Kevin Durant drives this ranking, despite the lack of perceived depth behind him. Joshua Okogie is not highly ranked amongst national pundits, but we know what he brings and we know what he can do. Yuta Watanabe is another backup small forward who will bring some offensive firepower.

But given that Durant will be 35-years old on September 28, Law’s career metric surely ways down this ranking for the Suns. The four teams ahead of the Suns at the three? The Clippers with Kawhi Leonard, the Lakers with LeBron James, and the Celtics with Jayson Tatum.

Time will tell how the Suns plan to use KD, but I believe having him at the three is the best option both for him on both sides of the ball. Less physical on defense and unguardable on offense.

Power Forward: #27

Law has Keita Bates-Diop slotted as the Phoenix Suns starting power forward and I believe that this is the right analysis. It has been a topic of debate this off-season as to how the Suns will constructor their starting five, but I believe that Keita Bates-Diop is the most obvious choice. He brings length and versatility, and given the fact that the four other starters around him have the ability to be offensive focal points, it will open up his ability to focus on what he does best: rim running, rebounding, and defense.

There are plenty of options behind KBD as well. Chimezie Metu, Bol Bol, and Toumani Camara all have the ability to play the power forward position for the Suns off of the bench. It’s curious as to why the Suns went all the way to number 27, but again I’ll reference that we haven’t seen it and perhaps that is the driving factor.

Only the Clippers (Marcus Morris), Philadelphia 76ers (P.J. Tucker), and Indiana Pacers (Obi Toppin) finished behind Phoenix at this position.

Center: #15

Oooo, the Ayton crowd isn’t going to like this.

As we get further and further from last season, I’ve seen people forget how Ayton plays versus the production he provides. On paper, which is black and white, Ayton is a top eight center. And personally, that’s where I rank him. But the narrative that DA is attempting to change has nothing to do with his production and field-goal percentage. It has something to do with what happens in the gray area. Consistency and desire, as well as engagement and hustle.

If he did change that narrative just a bit in these areas, he would easily be a top-five center in this league. And it’s clear that Law has tapped into this, because Drew Eubanks as the guy who would spell DA is a solid backup. Add to the fray the two-way contract of Udoka Azubuike and I’m rather shocked at where Phoenix places on this list. Their five possesses athleticism, rebounding, shot blocking, and depth.

So why the 15th overall ranking? It comes down to Deandre Ayton again. This piece on The Athleic is the narrative right here that he’s trying to change.

One consistent theme is apparent as I read this piece and absorbed the rankings put forth on our offseason flight through the ranking time zone. The Suns depth is, at least through the eyes of national pundits, their glaring weakness. If you take an average of where each team lands relative to ranking, the Suns’ roster is 12.8. Where does that land amongst other teams? Tied for seventh.

The Athletic Positional Ranking Team Averages

BOS 21 2 1 9 11 8.8
SAC 4 16 14 19 3 11.2
CLE 13 1 28 7 8 11.4
DEN 10 17 16 14 1 11.6
GSW 1 14 10 13 20 11.6
MIL 7 28 20 1 5 12.2
TOR 28 9 9 5 13 12.8
OKC 3 11 25 15 10 12.8
PHX 14 4 4 27 15 12.8
LAC 16 3 3 28 18 13.6
MIN 23 6 26 8 6 13.8

When you construct a roster as top-heavy as the Suns have, backfilling it with veteran minimum contracts, that is an easy observation to make. But is it the right one?

Just because players are on veteran minimum contracts doesn’t mean that that is their true value. Eric Gordon is worth more than a veteran minimum deal. So are Josh Okogie, Damien Lee, and Yuta Watanabe. These guys are playing for something more than the money; they are playing for an opportunity to prove themselves on a team that will be highlighted nationally throughout the regular season. They’re playing for an opportunity to play for a championship. They’re focused on the long-term greed of their career rather than the short term greed of cashing the quick paycheck.

As the season progresses, we hope that this will come to fruition on the court and make the national media rethink their position on what the Phoenix Suns weaknesses are.

Our flight continues as our destination of the regular season is still over a month away. And we’ll continue to fly through the ranking time zone. I wonder if they do daylight savings time here...

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Bright Side of the Sun Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Phoenix Suns news from Bright Side of the Sun