A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

The Phoenix Suns and finding a balance between established and drafted talent

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The Phoenix Suns hired GM Ryan McDonough a week before Philadelphia hired Sam Hinkie in May 2013. Philadelphia quickly decided to trade Jrue Holiday and be bad for high draft picks. A case for Phoenix doing the same could have been made. In Win Shares the previous season the Suns top 5 had been Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, Luis Scola, Marcin Gortat and P.J. Tucker. None were under 25 years old. The Suns were set to pick 5th in the 2013 draft, eventually Alex Len and had a Markieff Morris coming off a sophomore slump. In some eyes this looked the right situation to bottom out and rebuild around high picks.

However the Suns did not end up the Sixers the following season. Instead they surprised the league with a 48-34 near-playoff season. McDonough’s strategy differentiated from Hinkie’s in a few ways. The Sixers traded their starting PG Holiday while Phoenix kept theirs in Dragic. The Sixers traded Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner at the trade deadline to ensure their high pick while Phoenix kept Channing Frye, P.J. Tucker and Gerald Green. The biggest move is Phoenix trading for Eric Bledsoe from the Clippers. Bledsoe had already produced in the league and most thought he had all-star potential when not backing up Chris Paul. The combination of Dragic, Bledsoe and floor spacers in Jeff Hornacek’s system led to a competitive season.

The Suns went on to sign Isaiah Thomas the next summer. When their PGs didn’t gel, in a flurry of moves traded Thomas and Dragic and ended up with Brandon Knight. In the Thomas and Knight moves the logic is similar to the Bledsoe deal. Both were established starting PGs who’d put up numbers in the league. This allowed the Suns to avoid some risk that comes with top draft picks. In worst case scenario Bledsoe, Thomas and Knight were likely to be the above average guards they had been before Phoenix. In best case scenario as young athletic PGs with a track record, they would grow into all-star caliber guards as they are now. In the same deal Phoenix acquired Knight the 76ers ended up with a future Lakers 1st for Michael Carter-Williams, for all intents and purposes picking the Lakers 1st over Knight. The justification is if picking top 5 the Lakers pick could turn into a star. But the downside is making the wrong pick and ending up with minimal return on investment compared to Knight. The Suns choice of Knight had less spectacular upside but gave them more security of getting on base.

The Suns have also not ignored the draft. When trading Thomas and Dragic they targeted future picks and currently have mid-level prospects like T.J. Warren, Devin Booker, Alex Len, Archie Goodwin on the team. The Suns ending up with an all-star of this group would raise their ceiling, but if none pan out, their whole future doesn’t crash down. Once again it’s a strategy that allows for reward but without betting it all on red to get there.

There is a glass half empty to all these arguments naturally. Winning so early in McDonough’s tenure and forgoing top 5 picks could leave the Suns without true franchise players to contend. While the Sixers plan could still work out and give them 2 or 3 stars like Oklahoma City had with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Some other Suns moves can be criticized such as giving up a draft pick for half a season of Brandan Wright or signing Tyson Chandler to a large contract starting in season 15. But by targeting established but young talents like Bledsoe, Thomas and Knight at the cost of picking later in the draft, the Suns took a different talent acquisition strategy than the Sixers geared towards young but established talents instead of exclusively drafted ones. Due to when their GMs were hired they are a compelling counter-argument to the 76ers philosophy.

Written by jr.

December 3, 2015 at 9:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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