This is the first of a two-part series that will run over the next couple of days, in which each player on the Phoenix Suns’ active roster will be assigned a grade for his respective performance leading up to the All-Star break.
Disclaimer: The grade might be a reflection of a lenient professor more so than what the individual player might actually deserve, so VotS readers feel free to chime in. And don’t worry, Marcus Morris, P.J. Tucker and the cast of other characters with have their day in the sun on Monday.
Goran Dragic (A): By themselves, the numbers (career-high 20.3 points, 6.2 assists, career-high 3.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game) would suggest Dragic was deserving of an All-Star nod. But his on-court maturation (ie: his shooting percentages/improvement on step-back jumper) and its subsequent effect on a bottom feeder turned playoff contender speaks even louder. He might not be playing in New Orleans on Sunday, however because of what he’s been able with a new head coach, 10 new faces and a major injury to his backcourt mate, the Suns might be playing well into April.
Markieff Morris (A-): The third-year forward became the first Suns player since 2008 to grab Western Conference Player of the Week honors, and yet his progress (12.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game) since hasn’t been thwarted by any sense of complacency. The former No. 13 overall pick has made himself into a legitimate scoring threat off the bench and has already recorded 10 20-point performances this season. Of those 10 games, Phoenix is 8-2. In addition, the team holds an impressive 13-3 record when his plus/minus is +6 or higher. To say he’s been important to the second unit would be a gross understatement.
Gerald Green (A-): When Ryan McDonough pulled the trigger on a trade in late July to send Luis Scola to the Indiana Pacers, the bigger return on paper appeared to be the 2014 first-round draft pick. And while that still may be true to some degree, Green, a journeyman who is on his seventh team since getting drafted back in 2005, has more than proved his worth through the first 51 games. In fact, it seems as though for the first time in his career, he’s found a home — one he can thrive in. Not only can the 28-year-old glide through the air with the finest leapers in the game, he can shoot and shoot and shoot. Playing for a coach who has the utmost confidence in his ability to stroke it from downtown, Green is averaging a career-high 14.2 points per game to go along with a career-high 2.4 three-point baskets made per game. The Suns are 11-10 since Green was inserted into the starting lineup following Bledsoe’s torn meniscus injury. Of those 11 games, the veteran swingman has 23 or more points in six of them.
Miles Plumlee (A-/B+): Speaking of the Indiana trade, not only did McDonough land an asset that can thrive on the bench or in the starting lineup, the first-year GM may also have found his franchise center of the future in Plumlee. After a rookie season where he saw action in just 13 games, the former No. 17 overall pick has come over to Phoenix and started all 51 in 2013-14. While his numbers have dipped a bit since mid-January, the second-year center has provided this team with something it dearly missed when Marcin Gortat was patrolling the paint: a consistent, physical presence who welcomes contact at both ends of the court. The back-to-the-basket game isn’t quite there just yet, but his presence at the defensive end has more than made up for it to date. Whether or not he holds up for the final 31 games is what remains to be seen.
Channing Frye (B+/B): The mere sight of Frye back out on the court healthy after missing all of 2012-13 is an accomplishment in and of itself. The fact that he’s also been one of only three Phoenix players to start every game this season makes the return that much more astounding. The former Arizona star can still sling it with the best big men shooters in the NBA (12.3 points per game on 39.9 from three-point range) and is the type of stretch-four that compliments Plumlee’s inside game rather well. No one will ever confuse the 30-year-old for a top-flight power forward, which is why names like Pau Gasol and Zach Randolph have been connected — whether credibly or not — with the Suns in recent weeks. With that said, Frye has an infused something in Phoenix’s locker room that was simply devoid a season ago: leadership. Leadership might not equal the value of consistent 20 and 10 performances, but on a roster littered with young, impressionable pieces, it’s a necessity.
Eric Bledsoe (Incomplete): The natural inclination would be to slap an A or A-minus next to his name, after all, in the 24 games he did appear in, Bledsoe showed the organization (18.0 points, 5.8 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game) and fans around the city that he’s an absolute gem of a player. It’s the reason Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby has gone on record publicly vowing that the team will match any offer the restricted free agent might receive on the open market this summer. The question at this point is will the 24-year-old return this season? And if so, in what capacity? The fact that he’s had two surgeries in 27 months on the same knee is somewhat alarming, but from what Bledsoe illustrated in November and December, he’s an absolute freak of an athlete. There’s never any guarantees a player will return to old form – be it from a meniscus, MCL or ACL tear – but betting against the Suns guard doesn’t seem all that smart.