What #NBARank reveals about the Phoenix Suns

ESPN began unveiling the top 50 players in #NBARank today yet the final Phoenix Sun was announced yesterday.

That in itself is one more telling indictment of the lack of top end talent on the Suns’ roster, something you undoubtedly already knew before viewing the results of this crowd-sourced project in which 104 ESPN contributors (including yours truly) ranked every NBA player on a scale of 0-to-10 based on “the current quality of each player.”

Yet three Suns still managed to rank among the top 83 NBA players and a full rotation worth of eight players were slotted as better than average by being among the top 250 in this 500-player project (#NBARank was graded on a curve with only 26 percent of the league ranked as a five or higher, including three Phoenix players).

Without further ado, here are the Suns in #NBARank:

No. 57 Marcin Gortat (6.38) – last year No. 86

No. 68 Luis Scola (6.18) — last year No. 53

No. 83 Goran Dragic (5.83) – last year No. 201

No. 137 Jared Dudley (4.94) – last year No. 133

No. 158 Michael Beasley (4.72) — last year No. 109

No. 191 Channing Frye (4.45) — last year No. 160

No. 235 Shannon Brown (3.99) — last year No. 181

No. 238 Markieff Morris (3.96) — last year No. 349

No. 296 Kendall Marshall (3.36) – last year NR

No. 322 Wesley Johnson (3.13) – last year No. 245

No. 369 Sebastian Telfair (2.77) – last year No. 322

With Jermaine O’Neal and P.J. Tucker not on the #NBARank ballot, Bassy Telfair must rank among the best “worst players on a team,” for my money at least. Most of the voters much have tuned the Suns out in April when Telfair enjoyed a superb month of play as based off the strength of that month alone I feel he deserved a higher ranking.

If the wisdom of the crowd were setting a starting lineup for the 2012-13 Suns they would send out my preferred unit of Gortat, Scola, Beasley, Dudley and Dragic based on the voting.

Gortat, Dragic and Morris were the only Suns to improve in the ranks from last year to this year. The Dragon shot up a whopping 118 spots while the Polish Hammer improved by 29 to sniff the outskirts of the elite and Morris ran past his artificially low rookie ranking in upping his standing by 111 spots.

Meanwhile, Wes Johnson went the other way after a dismal sophomore season in falling 77 spots while Shannon Brown tumbled 54 spots, Beasley 49, Telfair 47 and Frye 31. So much for Brown parlaying a monster year into a better reputation and a fat multi-year contract on the open market as he had hoped to do when he signed his one-year deal in Phoenix.

Scola dropped 15 spots after ranking No. 53 following his career year in 2010-11, and JD was not pleased to fall four spots despite becoming a full-time starter for the first time.

Last year the top Sun ranked No. 14, but with Steve Nash in Tinseltown now it was unfair to expect a repeat of that.

The Suns’ average ranking is 195, which bodes well for the team’s depth when considering half the league ranked above and below 250. It’s worse when considering O’Neal and Tucker were not involved, though. Their median score is 191, so the talent is at least fairly evenly distributed. The real issue is that even their best possible #NBARank starting lineup would score an average of a No. 100 ranking.

If the NBA were a re-draft 30-team fantasy league and teams picked roughly according to these rankings in a snake draft, that would mean that the Suns would have to forfeit their first-rounder and start with a late second-round pick to wind up with this same roster based on expected draft position. The rest of the team is roughly distributed the way one might expect this draft to go, but the lost first-round pick is appropriate considering the star this roster lacks to be a true factor in the West in an era in which the elite teams possess three or four theoretical first-rounders.

I see Michael Beasley as the best candidate for a massive rise because he is simply more talented than a No. 160 player in the league should be, and he will receive plenty of opportunities to succeed in the Valley. Johnson is so low that he figures to improve quite a bit if he shows any kind of a pulse, and I expect Dragic to continue on his improvement path.

Frye could continue dropping if he does not carve out a significant role on this team, and although I expect Scola to be solid, he should fall from No. 68 and no longer be the Suns’ second-best player next season. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that Phoenix was able to acquire its theoretical second-best player off waivers at a bargain price.

In all, #NBARank paints an accurate picture of a Phoenix Suns team that lacks high-end star power but has nice overall depth and a few legitimate top-100 players.

And 1

Dragic took The Noc along for a behind-the-scenes tour of a recent beach workout with trainer Tom Vachet in which he performs a variety of grueling exercises, including an insane five-minute plank challenge. The “Training Days” piece with Dragic will air in segments all week, and the first episode is embedded below.

In the interview, Dragic notably says, “I don’t want to be like Steve Nash because I can’t. I want to be Goran Dragic, I want to play my game. I’m going to fight 120 percent.”

  • steve

    I’m a little shocked to see that Marcin was so high last year. I know he closed out his first season with the Suns very well, but he must have jumped a few hundred slots by making it all the way up to 86.

    Here’s to hoping Marcin and Goran can continue to improve.

  • Ty-Sun

    As for Scola, I don’t think his drop was because of a drop in his level of play but rather an increase in the level of play of other, younger NBA players. Scola hasn’t really lost anything in his game, he’s just maxed out his potential but he still has some gas in the tank to play at a high level for quite a while.

    Dragic and Gortat’s increases are well deserved. Dudley’s decrease was so small that I would say much the same about him as Scola except that I think he actually did improve a little last season but other younger players just improved more.

    Beasley and Johnson weren’t the focus of the offense in Minn last year, Rubio and Love were. I agree that Beasley fell to much but the rankings are all based on LAST year. And from everything I’ve read, Johnson has never been used correctly in Minn. Oddly enough, I think that he and Marshall may just click on the bench unit and Johnson will surprise a lot of people this year.

    Morris’ rise was to be expected and so was Frye’s fall since his 3-pt shooting seemed to vanish last season whenever it was needed the most. Brown’s deficits showed more glaringly with the Suns so his drop wasn’t a big surprise. Telfair’s drop was a little surprising to me because he did come on so strong at the end of the season. But perhaps that was because people were just looking at his season stats instead of how he actually played. In the beginning of the season, Price got more minutes than Telfair and I thought he was the better backup PG. Telfair changed my mind as the season progressed and I will be very surprised if he doesn’t start off this season as the backup PG ahead of Marshall.

    Overall I’m not concerned about the player rankings. I think that the Suns have a solid core of young players to move forward with. They aren’t contenders by any stretch of the imagination but I think that they could be just a couple of players away from being contenders.

  • Scott

    I think the plan for the Suns is to see the greatest NBA rank improvement from Dragic, mild improvement from Gortat (if he shows he can play without Nash), and then who knows what we’ll get from the rest. It will depend a lot on how Gentry plays them.

    Beasley’s challenge will be to play the role of volume scorer at starting SF, and to defend that position. History tells us he can’t do it, so if this is his role and history does indeed tell the tale, his rank could go down. This would further cement the idea he’s a player without a role in the NBA, and Gentry would then need to find him a better spot on the team (like 2nd unit PF).

    Wesley Johnson’s rank may go down further if he can’t find a way to contribute on offense. This will be an issue if he shares the wing with either Beasley or Brown, or if he can’t get off the bench. If he plays with Dudley, his rank may improve, but Dudley is likely to be playing with Beasley … hence the likelihood of Johnson’s rank dropping.

    I’ve mentioned this before, but a problem the Suns have is that Beasley, Brown, and Johnson are all “black hole” type players who don’t pass well, and thus must be used mainly to finish plays. Ideally, only one would be on the court at a time.

    Considering Gentry’s challenge to find minutes for players, unless they stand out in camp I would not be surprised to find that the following guys wind up mostly on the bench: Johnson, Tucker, O’Neal. This would negatively impact their NBA rank (though of course Tucker and O’Neal weren’t even on the list, so …).

    I could see Gentry possibly going with a small fast 2nd unit of Marshall, Telfair, Brown, Morris, and Frye. With Marshall at the helm (switching with Telfair on defense), the Suns should be able to score in transition, and all five of them can score from the perimeter. Telfair ought to be able to shut down the opposing bench PG, which would throttle the opposing offense. Frye has turned into a reliable rebounder, so he and Morris ought to be able to keep the 2nd unit relevant in that aspect.

    If something like this is the case, we might see the NBA rank of all the 2nd unit players improve.


    Side note: if Beasley fails his test at starting SF, what do the Suns do?

    One response I could foresee from Gentry would be to move Brown up to the starting unit and put Beasley at 2nd unit PF.

    In that case, the starting unit would feature Gortat, Scola, Dudley, Brown, Dragic.

    The 2nd unit might feature Frye, Beasley, Johnson, Telfair, and Marshall (with the idea that the two guards might be able to mitigate the bad passing of Johnson and Beasley).

    In this case, if Morris is the odd man out, his rank might drop.

  • Scott

    As for the exercises, I … uh … do that every morning. :)

  • Brian

    This is basically one of the most useless wastes of time of anything that ESPN does. It basically tells us what we already know. It has almost zero prediction value on what actually is going to happen.

    What happens if someone in lower ranks suddenly starts playing well, contrary to expectation? Nothing, except that they’ll get to have their rank updated next year.

  • Scott

    Bickley tries to poison the waters and divide fans and management again in his latest article about the departure of Grant Hill. He talks about missing the opportunity for having Hill mentor Beasley … but then doesn’t address how Hill would have to start, putting Beasley on the bench. And if Hill was making $1.9m (which is what he’s drawing from the Clippers) and Beasley is making $6m, then it doesn’t make sense from a monetary standpoint either.

    Bottom line: the Suns wanted to get younger and they wanted Beasley to play starter minutes. Bickley’s just using his column to spread discontent, as usual.


    Speaking of Beasley, NBC Sports has a short article on how he’s been getting mentored by Norm Nixon. It’s light on specifics, but what was interesting to me is the comments area, which features mainly a few rips from Wolves fans who believe their team is going to improve by subtracting Beasley. Their point is that while they may not have the raw offensive talent of Beasley anymore, they also don’t have a black hole at SF, and the latter thing may prove to be the greater.

    As I’ve pointed out, the Suns this year have 3 potential “black hole” players: Beasley, Brown, and Johnson. It will be interesting to see how the Suns deal with this. If I was picking player personnel for a team, I would try to avoid picking players who can’t pass the ball, as passing is a fundamental skill. You can’t win championships without it, so why pick players who can’t pass?


  • Ty-Sun

    Beasley’s job this year will be to score… period. If he plays average D and grabs some rebounds too, all the better. As much as I like Grant Hill, keeping him on the team just to mentor Beasley would have been a waste and I’m pretty sure that Grant was happy to move on once it was certain that Nash wouldn’t be back.

    Johnson is here to play D. I think he can also be an effective scorer if used correctly. He can’t create his own shot, especially off the dribble. If he doesn’t get the ball when he’s already in a position to score then he screws up but that’s why I think he and Marshall may click on the second unit.

    One of the things I remember reading from summer league play was about Marshall asking Morris where on the court he liked to get the ball. Marshall thinks about how to get the best out of the people he plays with and I think he’ll figure out how to get the most out of Johnson and everyone else on the court with him. Telfair will probably start the season as the backup PG but I think Marshall will move into that spot before the end of the season.

    If Beasley is a black hole who does what he’s supposed to do and score, I don’t care. Johnson could be much better if used correctly and if he doesn’t work out the Suns have the option of cutting him loose next season so he’s not a horrible gamble. Brown… well, we’ve all seen him play with the Suns last season. Thank God the second year of his contract isn’t guaranteed. But to be fair, Brown did have a career year last season in scoring and rebounding… 11.0 ppg and 2.6 rpg. Yahoo.

  • steve

    With a nickname like “Dragon,” you’d expect Goran not to look like a 12-year-old.

  • Scott

    @Ty-Sun -

    If Beasley can score efficiently, it will help the Suns win games. If he can’t defend, depending on who he is guarding, it will eat into his effectiveness.

    The problem with black hole type players is mainly that you can’t have more than one on the court at a time because the ball will stick or there will be turnovers. Beyond that, this type of a player becomes more of a liability as a team tries to compete against higher level talent, as would typically happen in the playoffs. To succeed against higher level talent, you typically need to have higher IQ guys who share the ball.

    So, as I see it, Beasley, Johnson, and Brown are nice athletes and okay or manageable on the team, so long as you’re not really thinking about being prepared for the playoffs.

    As for Marshall, I agree that he’s a scorer’s PG. He will try to get the ball to a scorer where they want it. I agree that this quality is likely to cause him to outperform Telfair before long.

    @steve -

    Clearly Dragic is the Dragon, and Beasley is Puff. :p

  • Ty-Sun

    Brown is a true black hole type player. I think Beasley and Johnson can become more than that. I’m certain that Gentry will be a good coach for Beasley and hopefully for Johnson as well but I think Johnson’s main problem is that he’s just been misused in Minn. Unless Gentry wants to try to up the D this year and starts Johnson at the 2, I think Johnson could become a very effective second unit scorer at the 3 if Telfair and Marshall learn how to us him effectively. By that I mean actually run plays for him instead of just trying to use him as a spot up shooter as they did in Minn. He’s okay as that but I think if you get him the ball on the move toward the basket he’ll be much more effective. Don’t toss him the ball and expect him to create his own shot. He’s not a great ball handler. He’s at his best if he only has to dribble once or twice (or not at all) before he’s takes his shot.

  • Will

    Wolves fan in Minny here – checking in to see what’s happening with some former Wolves players and i can’t help but chime in.
    Beasley – gets lost at times out there. If he isnt scoring, he probably shouldn’t be out there. Hilarious guy, though and people will like him. Just know you arent getting any defense. Maybe ever. But enjoy the nights were he drops 40 and is jaw jacking up and down the court and laughing it up with his teammates.
    Wes – poor Wes. Part of the negative rap on him up here was probably due to where he was drafted. Half the people in town wanted us to roll the dice with Boogie Cousins, the other half saw Johnson as a ‘great kid that could maybe hit some shots and get to the rim. PLus, with those long arms, he HAS to be good at D, right?’ The bummer is, he did none of those things. He isnt laterally quick enough to guard most 2s and got pushed around by 3s. And that’s when he was in the right spot.
    His shooting got worse, which was probably a confidence thing. so, hopefully a change of scenery does him well there. But look for him to be a spot up shooter because his handles are well below average.
    Is he a serviceable player? Sure. He can hit some shots and get his hand in some passing lanes. Was he worth the 4th overall pick? Nope. His play up to now was worthy of a mid 2nd rounder.
    In the end, though, i hope they both do well. Telfair too. You guys have a team that looks pretty fun on paper. Good luck!