One of the underappreciated benefits of the Phoenix Suns’ offseason overhaul is the effect it’s had on this very column. Last year, Phoenix had only two players who were “must own” guys, so the fantasy preview was a bit thin. This year, while the Suns may not be stacked like the Thunder or Heat, their fantasy relevance extends much further down the roster. Here’s a breakdown of all the Phoenix players worth a look in your draft.
Marcin Gortat (28th in ESPN’s Fantasy Basketball Player Rater)
The Polish Gazelle (nee Machine) finished last season in the top 10 in rebounds, top 20 in blocks, top 10 in FG% and top five among centers in scoring. He is the best and most reliable fantasy option the Suns have (unless they’re facing Dwight Howard). A lot has changed for the big man, however. Steve Nash is no longer around to feed him easy buckets. So the question is: Will his production drop off with Goran Dragic?
The answer is no. Dragic apprenticed under Nash for two and half years. They have similar styles, and Dragic understands the Phoenix offense very well. Though Goran is not as outstanding as Two Time yet, he will be on the court for at least five more minutes per game than Nash was last year, which should help cover whatever production deficiencies Gortat might have had. Draft Marcin with confidence. He is surefire top 10 among all players who qualify at the center spot.
Goran Dragic (46th in Player Rater)
Dragic spent the first two and half months of last season as Kyle Lowry’s backup in Houston. When Lowry went down in early March with an injury, Goran stepped up huge for the Rockets and almost single-handedly kept them in the playoff hunt until the final weeks of the season (Kevin Martin was also sidelined in April with a case Tanking Fever. It’s so contagious.).
I think it’s a fair bet that Dragic can match the stats he put up over the final two months of last season this year with the Suns. That would give him the following per game averages: 36 min, 18.2 pts, 8.3 ast, 3.5 reb, 1.6 stl, 1.6 3PM, 48% FG, 85% FT. That’s a hands-down top 25 fantasy player no matter how you look at it. Now Dragic hasn’t proven he can produce like that for a full season, so I might temper my expectations to top 30 and push his points per game down to 15-16, but nevertheless, Dragic is a great value.
When was the last time the Phoenix Suns’ point guard wasn’t a top 20 fantasy player? I know that’s an unfair question given the fact that a Hall of Famer held that spot for the last eight years, but there’s still something to it. The Suns, under coach Alvin Gentry, play at a high tempo that produces more possessions and points than the average NBA team. Essentially, there is more opportunity for fantasy production. That’s why Dragic is a great pick for as long as he wears the purple and orange.
Luis Scola (72nd in Player Rater)
You draft a player like Scola for his consistency. He’s a guy whose production doesn’t waver a great deal. He’s not going to go off for 20 and 10 very often, but he’s also not going to hurt you with nine points and three rebounds very often either. In fact, Scola only scored single digit points in seven games last season, which is six fewer than his new frontcourt mate Marcin Gortat (13). In seasons past, Luis was a lock for 16 points, eight boards, and over 50% from the field. The problem with expecting that kind of production now is that he is 32 years old. He posted three-year lows in minutes, FG%, rebounds, and points last season.
There are several factors that may have contributed to his decline. First, as I said before, is Scola’s age. He very well might be slowing down. The evidence against that is his performance at the Olympics. Luis was a scoring machine in London. He was one of Argentina’s two best players, and his squad advanced all the way to the medal round.
Second, Houston was bad last year. That was definitely the worst team Scola had played on in his five-year NBA career. There simply may not have been as many points to score or boards to grab. The good news for Suns fans who may be groaning at the thought of a declining Scola clogging the rotation: Luis’ best month in 2012 was March, the same month that Dragic took over as Houston’s point guard. Luis averaged 18.5 ppg over that 20-day stretch and shot over 54 percent from the field. With all that in mind, I expect Scola to have a return to form this year.
In Phoenix, playing time equals production for any offensive-minded player. Scola is always looking to score, so as long as he holds off Markieff Morris, who we’ll discuss a bit later, and retains the starting power forward spot, Scola should see his scoring numbers kick back up into the 16-17 ppg game range. His FG% should definitely be north of 50 percent once again as well.
The one aspect of Luis’ game I don’t expect to rise is his rebounding. The Suns haven’t typically gotten a ton of rebounding from their 4’s and I expect Scola to spend more time out around 10-15 feet than right under the basket. He’s a great mid-round pick if you’re looking to solidify FG%, points, and rebounds with a very consistent player who also won’t kill you in FT%.
Jared Dudley (78th in Player Rater)
Dudley is great to own in fantasy basketball because he brings a ton of things to the table and doesn’t take anything off of it. He has solid percentages, scores in double figures, rebounds well for somebody who qualifies at SG, and has the potential to occasionally have a big night where he gives you 20+ points or knocks down three to four treys. He’s ranked this highly because he looks to be a much bigger part of Phoenix’s offense this season. I buy that assertion just given the fact that Dudley has become the leader in the Suns’ locker room.
That said, I wouldn’t draft him with the 78th pick. Jared’s ceiling as a player is probably 15 ppg, 1.5 3PM, 5 rpg, 50% FG, and 75% FT. I don’t know if he’ll reach that level this or any other season. What I do know is that I’d rather have a guy with a bit more upside than Jared in the 7th or 8th round. Ultimately, I think he’s a safe pick so whether or not he ends up on your fantasy roster will depend on whether you favor a safe or risky approach.
Michael Beasley (239th in Player Rater)
Speaking of upside, there’s probably no one in Phoenix with the scoring upside of Michael Beasley. Just two years ago, he averaged 19 points a game for the Timberwolves. His low ranking heading into this season is based on his awful production last year. Which Beasley you’ll get if you draft him this year is still up for debate. He has shown signs of life in preseason/training camp, but he’s also shown flashes of his old self, taking ill-advised shots and not truly engaging.
On his best day, Beasley is a versatile scoring forward who can bang down low, penetrate from the wing, and step out to hit a jumper. On his worst day, he can remind you of really bad Josh Smith. The reason Beasley, who was a No. 2 pick in an NBA Draft, is on his third team in five years is because of these swings in consistency. Michael came to the desert, despite what the dry heat will do to his hair, because he wanted a fresh start. If he embraces the faith Phoenix has shown in him, he could be a 16-18 ppg guy who grabs five boards, shoots 80 percent from the free throw line, and knocks down a three every night. If he reverts to his old self and disengages, Gentry won’t hesitate to bury him on the bench in which case his ranking in the 200’s will be more than justified.
Beasley is a fantasy lottery ticket. If he hits, you win big. If he doesn’t I’ll hope you didn’t wager too much on him. There are definitely 100 players more trustworthy.
Markieff Morris (186th in Player Rater)
Markieff is my big-time sleeper this season. I think he has a great shot to have a breakout sophomore season. Whether or not Scola remains the starter for the entire season, I could see Morris playing 30 minutes a night by Thanksgiving.
His versatility will allow him to play with the starters in addition to leading the second unit. He can spell Scola and play alongside Gortat. He can also play with Scola if Gentry wants to go small. Markieff’s ability to stretch the floor with his outside shooting will alleviate the pain of Channing Frye’s absence, and his rebounding will be sorely needed if Scola’s numbers don’t improve. All things considered, I could see Morris averaging 12 points, 6.5 boards, and 1.2 3PM. His percentages will hurt a bit, but as a late-round sleeper he definitely has solid potential.
Wesley Johnson (197th in Player Rater)
Like Beasley, Johnson is another Minnesota refugee looking for a fresh start. But whereas Beasley has questions circulating about his commitment, Johnson has been locked in from the start of training camp. Gentry has been encouraging Wes to shoot the ball in an effort to raise his confidence level. Johnson proved in college that he’s a player who thrives when he’s counted upon. That was not the situation he encountered with the Timberwolves.
In Minnesota, Johnson was a top draft pick who was constantly overshadowed by several things, including: Kevin Love’s meteoric rise, Ricky Rubio’s absence, Ricky Rubio’s arrival, and even Bill Simmons’ constant chastising of David Kahn. He is not going to get lost in the shuffle in Phoenix. His outside shooting and athleticism are going to be huge assets to the Suns, and if his preseason performance is any indication, Johnson might be commanding more playing time very soon.
He has scored 30 points in the first two preseason games, shooting 50 percent from the field and 38 percent from beyond the arc. Along with Morris, Johnson should be a primary scoring option for the second unit, and he may well get time on the floor with the starters, especially if the Suns need to stretch the floor. I can seem him averaging 1.5-2.0 3PM per game to go along with 9-10 ppg and 4 rpg. His percentages won’t be stellar, but at the point in the draft where you might select Johnson, you’re just looking for players who can fill a specific need. Wes is going to hit a lot of treys in Phoenix and that alone is worth a late draft pick and a spot on your bench.
Shannon Brown (172nd in Player Rater)
Brown is the biggest unknown heading into the year. He showed flashes of fantasy relevance last year when Grant Hill was sidelined, but his play was otherwise very inconsistent. Though he is still battling Jared Dudley for the starting shooting guard spot, I don’t think he’ll win out ultimately. If he’s confined to the second unit, he’ll have stats that will only warrant ownership in the deepest of leagues (like the 20-team TrueHoop Network league I very stupidly entered this year.)
If the Suns suffer an injury and Brown’s playing time is the beneficiary, I could see him averaging close to what he did in April. That would give him per game averages of 15 pts, 4 reb, 2 ast, 1 stl, and 2 3PM. But there’s no ways he approaches any of those figures coming off the bench. Rush to the waiver wire if Dudley, Beasley, or Johnson go down, but otherwise, Brown isn’t worth a pick in standard leagues.
Sebastian Telfair and Jermaine O’Neal (216th and 302nd in Player Rater)
These two will get minutes, but I don’t think they’ll be fantasy relevant unless Dragic or Gortat go down. Keep an eye on O’Neal, though. If the Phoenix training staff works its magic on his aged body, he could garner more playing time and be a good pickup for anyone needing help with blocks or rebounds.
Brad Miller (NR)
I know Miller is probably hunting or fishing somewhere in the wilderness right now, but I get a huge kick out of the fact that he’s listed on the Suns’ roster and shows up in all the box scores. I wish the scorekeepers were honest and wrote “DNP – Duck Hunting” next to his name every night. Miller is a very lucky man. I wish somebody would pay me to hunt and fish.
So there you have it. If any of these recommendations ruin your fantasy season, I’m sure you’ll let me know in the comments section. Until then, good luck and happy drafting to all of you.