When the Phoenix Suns were preparing for June’s draft, general manager Lance Blanks made it perfectly clear that his team needed to improve in the post.
That viewpoint became all the more obvious as the Suns drafted Markieff Morris with their first-round selection to join a front court that includes Marcin Gortat, Channing Frye and potentially Robin Lopez if he’s not traded.
Assuming that quartet (or trio if no Lopez) plays the majority of the minutes, what does that mean for the Suns’ more unheralded big men Hakim Warrick, Gani Lawal and Garret Siler?
None of those players own the pedigree or upside to be considered a big man the Phoenix Suns should be relying on in 2011-12, and if the Suns felt better about any one of them they may not have tabbed Morris as their first-round pick. After all depth at the position wasn’t the issue, quality depth was.
At the same time each player provides some useful attributes that could make them a candidate for minutes here and there in certain matchups.
The Suns acquired Warrick in the immediate aftermath of losing Amare Stoudemire and while everybody knew he would not come close to replacing STAT he was expected to be an Amare Lite of sorts.
On some nights he did exactly that. There was the Amare-like posterization of Paul Millsap in Utah, his 23 first-half points against Chicago and his elite play as a roll man alongside Steve Nash.
According to Synergy Sports Technology, Warrick ranked seventh in the league by scoring 1.28 points per play as a roll man while hitting 65.4 percent of such shots (51-for-78). By contrast Gortat scored 1.23 ppp as a Suns roll man and hit 60.2 percent of such shots and our old friend Amare scored 1.13 ppp and hit 55.5 percent of such shots last season.
The problem is that’s about the only thing Warrick does really well. He struggles posting up (0.84 ppp, 35.4 percent shooting) and spotting up (0.73, 35.2) in particular.
He is pretty bad defensively as well, allowing 1.08 ppp and 51.4 percent shooting to rank 460th overall. His post defense is not good either as he yields 1.01 ppp to post-ups and he gives up 1.04 in isolation.
Considering his lack of strength perhaps it’s not an insult to say he’s an Amare-like rebounder, as he ranked just behind Stoudemire among power forwards with a 12.1 rebound rate (tied for 55th at the position). His 17.0 defensive rebound rate also ranks just below STAT in the mid-50s overall at the position.
Warrick’s the most established and best paid of the three, so although he may find himself third on the power forward depth chart he figures to get at least a few minutes when the Suns want to take advantage of his excellent roll man skills. They just know they can’t count on him to provide much else.
Then there’s Gani Lawal, the brash second-round pick from 2010 who will likely start the year fourth on the power forward depth chart as he works his way back from a torn ACL.
There’s not much to say about his “rookie” season since he played all of two minutes before going down with his injury during a practice.
During his draft day press conference Blanks said that “Gani will be basically like a rookie again having to come back from the knee injury,” before adding that “he’s a little younger in his basketball life than Markieff is.”
Doesn’t sound like Blanks expects much of a contribution from Lawal next year based on those comments.
Lawal lacks the offensive versatility the long-rang-bombing Morris possesses, but he was a physical banger and a quality rebounder in college. Like Morris, he also figures to add a toughness the Suns could certainly use.
Considering the overall depth in front of him and the fact he will essentially be a rookie again, Lawal figures to be the odd man out so far as any kind of rotational minutes go and a candidate to get some time with Bakersfield in the D-League. However, his physicality could still make him a long-term possibility in the Suns’ front court.
Siler was a major project who needed to shed some major pounds when he earned an invite to the Suns’ training camp last season. The big man from Augusta State still must drop some more weight and continue to work on his post game, but he could be on a path toward becoming a productive backup.
You can’t put much stock in Siler’s stats since he played largely in garbage time, but he has the size and touch to score in the post, and his time spent with Hakeem Olajuwon this summer can only help.
Siler’s biggest issue going forward has got to be his slow feet, which hurts him particularly on the defensive side of the ball. If he can get just a bit quicker and more athletic then his size and touch could make him an eventual rotation player.
If Morris ends up making an impact as a rookie, the Suns likely won’t have more than 10-15 minutes each game for this trio even if Lopez is moved, time that figures to go to Warrick at least at first.
But with a pair of improving young big men in Lawal and Siler along with Hak, perhaps front court depth will soon become a position of strength for the Suns.