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What we learned about the NBA from the 2013-14 Suns: Part 2


PHOENIX — The NBA playoffs roll on without the Phoenix Suns. While the results could add to ideas of where the league might be or should be headed, we can take a lot of lessons from the Suns themselves to apply to the NBA as a whole.

Here’s Round 2 of what the 2013-14 version of the Suns taught us.

Players develop faster in the NBA (with a caveat)

The NCAA wants its “student-athletes” to stay in school longer. The NBA cares about the age limit as well, for whatever reason.

The Suns drafted two of the younger players in the 2013 draft in Alex Len and Archie Goodwin, and each were different examples of showing why players developing more in college is a myth.

Two caveats: First, there are a few teams that haven’t got it right when talent development comes into play (see Bennett, Anthony and the Cavaliers). Second, this rule applies for first-round talents, not guys who are hardly projected to be selected in the second round.

“Me personally, I feel like I know what I want to do with my life, and I feel like I can be one of the better players to ever to play this game if I just continue to work,” Goodwin said. “For me to be only 19 and have a really bright future ahead of myself as long as I continue to work, listen to my coaches … the rest will take care of itself.”

Goodwin pretty much has said school wasn’t for him. Basketball was, and it wasn’t some pipe dream. He’s an NBA talent.

But had he stayed at Kentucky for his sophomore year, would he have developed possibly even playing off the bench. Factor in classwork, lack of practice time imposed by the NCAA and not playing against Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe almost every day, and you tell me how in the world he could have developed more by staying in school.

It’s all about attitude

So many things went right for the Suns, but the biggest change from a year ago was simple. Phoenix brought in players that had a lot of things to prove individually but knew how to buy in to a team concept.

After exit interviews, the common theme was that the players felt like they were back in high school or college again. They played well together, but they were also pushing to get better individually.

“It seemed like a majority of our team, when we asked them what their summer plans were, they said they’re staying here in Phoenix,” said Suns general manager Ryan McDonough. “A few of them actually, we had to say, ‘We’re going to refinish the floor. We suggest you take some time off.’ They said, ‘Really, do we have to?’

“That’s pretty good. I’ve been around a lot of teams where you have to drag guys back into the gym in September.”

Goran Dragic is (quietly) a bad man

Kevin Durant said he should have been an All-Star, but Goran Dragic might get the consolation prize as league Most Improved Player.

This season was full of consolation prizes for Phoenix. The surprise season was met with no playoff berth and a pat on the back for a win count. Miles Plumlee was somehow an injury-replacement for the Rising Star Challenge. Dragic got invited to a Taco Bell-sponsored event instead of the All-Star game itself. Jeff Hornacek was runner-up to Gregg Popovich in the Coach of the Year voting.

But Dragic is known as a bad, bad dude to his opponents and the tough guy to his teammates. The most polite guy in the Suns locker room of many polite guys also got playfully aggressive with his words in his postseason meeting with the media, a sign of the competitiveness that has him in the conversation for the MIP award.

“This season, that we’re only going to win 16 games, that we’re going to tank it and try to get better picks – every game when you go on the floor and you have this in the back of your mind, in your head ‘You’re going to win 15 games’ – no way,” he said. “It was so much fun to prove all of the people — even the haters, they don’t like us — to prove them wrong.”

  • EBJM

    Oddly enough Archie Goodwin’s comments make an excellent case as why players should stay in college and maybe even graduate. He is only 19 years old and he already believes he knows what he wants do with his life and that is becoming one of the best to have ever played the game.

    Well we all know what happens if he and the many others who have the same tunnel vision of their future fail to make it in the NBA. Sure he might develop faster in the NBA but he just finished his rookie season and is at least two seasons away from even knowing if he can have a career.

    We the fans expect to be watching the best players in the world so why are we the ones subsidizing on the job training for these kids who declare two to three years before they are ready?

    I’m not blaming the kids. If I could become a millionaire with only one year of college I’d drop out also. Aaron Harrison Sr. is the one pushing his twin sons to declare for the NBA . He seems to be looking forward to that double payday of having his twins signing a 1st rd rookie contract.

    But they aren’t receiving the desired feedback and will more than likely return to Kentucky.

    Just another sad story, remember former Celtic Eric Williams? Well at the relatively young age of 41 he just told a judge that he is unable to pay back child support because he is broke and homeless.

    During a twelve year career he earned around $40 million dollars.

    To add insult to injury his former wife, a Basketball Wives reality show star, Jennifer Williams is worth around $40 million.

    Eric Williams owes child support for a child he had with another woman he impregnated while married to Jennifer.

    BTW Jennifer is GORGEOUS!

    I wonder how long it will be before Eric snaps? I’m depressed just thinking about how bad he messed up.

  • DBreezy

    I don’t really have a problem with Archie’s comments. Like a lot of things in life, the messenger counts and although he’s only 19 Archie seems like a pretty keeled hard worker. All accounts of his attitude and work ethic back that up and you can see it in his demeanor on and off the court. While he made typical rookie mistakes out there, I liked the fact that he didn’t display the typical rookie attitude. He didn’t get out there in garbage time and just throw up every shot he could for example, he played within the offense which is rare for a young guy.

    We are subsidizing the development of players because the powers that be in the NBA and NCAA have made it so. It’s more than just returning for a sophomore, junior or senior season vs becoming a millionaire. The NBA’s rules changed things from a system that was about developing your game and marketability to a point where you could capitalize on it in a free market contract system, to one about getting yourself drafted in the first round as quickly as possible.

    These kids are leaving because the NBA rigged the system financially for the first 4-9 years of a player’s career. If you come out at 21 0r 22, you will be on a contract that is likely well below market value for the first 4 years of your career. Then you can get paid at 25 or 26, but only up to the ‘mini-max’ and you likely have no choice of what team you play for as you enter your athletic prime-something that wasn’t lost on the NBA when they came up with this system. Then, by the time you’re ready for your first true max contract you’re around 30 unless you take fewer years or get an opt-out.

    This whole system is agent driven and they’ve adapted by sliding this timeframe left by 3 years which is a logical reaction. The NCAA hasn’t helped with their convoluted draft declaration rules or the thornier compensation issue. The recession in Europe has helped or there would likely be more Brandon Jennings or Jeremy Tyler types. The NBA is also full of it on this issue, because they have so many teams and not enough top talent so how seriously do they really want to limit supply?

    Besides with the watered down competition and looming one and done pressures, how much development is really going on in college for the top high school prospects? Not much and in recent years you can make the argument that they haven’t benefitted from it basketball(not life) wise. Outside of Blake Griffin and James Harden in 2009, how many surefire 1st round picks as freshman have improved their draft stock or game by returning during the one and done era?

    It’s just not the same system it was before. In some respects I think this has exposed a lot of college coaches because the NBA’s moves have tricked down to high school and lower. Players don’t receive nearly as much skill development prior to college as they used to. They’ve got broken jumpers, no post moves, can’t play without the ball, and don’t know how to run a S/R. College coaches didn’t used to have to teach this stuff, they just had to get these guys mentally ready for playing stronger and smarter players within more complicated schemes. A lot of guys are showing that they aren’t good at teaching those fundamentals, and only excel when they get a group of largely juniors and seniors who have had a lot of time to learn such things.

    The NBA had their chances to fix this stuff during the last cba, with a better D league setup and compensation. They elected not to and the latter reason seems instructive when discussing Silver’s current initiative to go to a 2 and done rule. I don’t know that it will have much effect on the quality of guys going in the 1st round (all the NBA cares about) except shifting the current paradigm to the left by one year. That will save the NBA money by pushing the average league entry age closer to what they envisioned when they first came up with the rookie salary and RFA rules.

    I doubt it has any effect on the current AAU philosophy or how most college coaches coach and recruit. The NBA will still be doing a lot of the development, because that’s what they signed up for when they changed the rules. Personally I don’t think AAU gets affected unless they go with a baseball style rule where it’s either go out of high school or wait 3 years.

  • DBreezy

    Since I’m already on a rant, isn’t it curious that there has been a lot of grass roots interest in going to a baseball style rule, that there has been zero interest from Silver/Stern? I think they would try and heap the blame on the players union by saying that they wouldn’t agree to it, but that would be bs.

    I think they’d be against it for one reason, money. Look at what such a rule would have done to this draft. Wiggins, Randle, Parker and maybe Gordon (bc of the McD All Star game) would have all likely gone in last year’s draft. No way the high school guys anointed as potential stars by scouts sign up for 3 years of school and loss of potential income defeating much of the purpose of the original rookie scale and rfa idea. Fans vote with their hearts about the game, but it’s about money for Silver. Most of the NBA’s stars these days are one or none and done players. There aren’t a lot of Damian Lilliard. Even the in-between guys like Griffin or Harden or lesser guys like Harrison Barnes or Sullinger could have been first round picks out of high school or after their freshman seasons.

  • EBJM

    Excellent reading DBreezy BUT the following supports my opinion; “These kids are leaving because the NBA rigged the system financially for the first 4-9 years of a player’s career.”

    While I acknowledge it is a sound argument within the context of your post, how many kids actually make it to years four through nine? They come out after one to grab that guaranteed $1.8 to $9 million first round picks are guaranteed.

    Unfortunately for those who don’t have their options picked up and out of the league at the end of year three, without an education, they are usually broke by the age of 23 without many viable options available to them.

    I wonder what Adam Morrison is doing today? He is a former #3 pick that came out after three years at Gonzaga. He is 29 and has earned $17 million from his rookie contract.

    I would think he is doing fine but he is most likely an exception.

  • DBreezy

    I don’t bother much with the educational and life components of it EBJM, because honestly none of the decision makers in the NBA, NCAA or AAU have or will other than to use it as a cover for their true interests. When the system was basically a free market, extended collegiate time served the NBA interests best. It served the NCAA marketing and financial interests, and it served AAU’s best interest to develop guys well enough skill wise to get to the best programs and excel.

    Now it doesn’t and it likely never will again. Here’s a recent SI article on the one and done era. Only 12% of the guys ended up as flops, so I would say that the overwhelming majority get a second deal or more even if they don’t live up to their projections.

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/nba/news/20140411/nba-one-and-done-history-zach-lavine/

    To me it’s why the decision for guys like the Harrison twins is so tough. This is likely the peak for them as far as draft stock goes and right now they may not make the first round. Do they enter now and hope that their workouts can get them into at least the tail end of the 1st round or gamble that their play next year will with a hopefully(for them) weaker draft field? It’s unlikely that they have as good of a squad or get as far as they did this season, meaning that they will get picked apart by scouts and likely slide if they stay. Worse they could be pushed out by new recruits as that is the way of the one and done system. That’s why Cauley-Stein’s decision puzzles me so. He didn’t live up to heightened expectations coming into this season and was actually expected by some to end up as Dakari Johnson’s backup. Watching the tourney that may become reality next season. Hard to see his draft stock improving and it may start to head the way of Patrick Young at FLA.

  • Foreveris2long

    Great discussion guys. Like I have said before, unless the NBA offers a baseball type minor league system that pays draftees a handsome bonus and promises to pay for their college education if and whenever a kid chooses to go, for legal reasons, I am not in support of restricting a kid’s right to go to the NBA after one season of college. I had not seen the article referenced by DBreezy that only 12% of the kids end up being a flop after one and done but it certainly supports my thought that legally the kids have a right to earn a living in their chosen profession if they believe they are capable. I definitely agree with ya EBJM, that you cannot blame the kids who take advantage of one and done.

    The recent NLRB ruling is now forcing the NCAA to expedite a number of issues that will benefit college kids which indirectly might result in kids staying longer in college. However unless there is a baseball type minor league system established for the NBA, which essentially will indirectly assist the perceived incompetent NBA GMs, I am not in favor of requiring kids wait two years or age 20 before entering the NBA.

    Zimm, great article.

  • EBJM

    I wondered what the percentage would be, nice post DBreezy.

  • DZ

    The only good thing about raising the age limit to 20 would be that it would give NBA teams an extra year to evaluate the talent level of players in the draft. Sure, there are a few (a very few) that are so gifted that they can have an impact straight out of HS but those players are very rare. And I admit that I’m looking at this strictly from the perspective of an NBA team owner/FO but the more time you have to evaluate a player’s potential, the less likely you are to draft an NBA bust. And a player doesn’t have to be a total bust to be a bust.

    I don’t think that there is a simple solution. I want to be fair to the players but I also want to minimize the risks taken by the teams in the draft.

  • DBreezy

    Foreveris,

    I agree with you and the last cba was the time to tackle something like this. Instead they didn’t even change the rules on when a player could be sent to the D and the compensation issues. The reason they didn’t do anything seems to be all about $$$$ and it shows in their current responses.

    DZ,

    I think the best way to attack your question would be to look at what percentage of players projected to be 1st round picks after their freshman year ended up either as 2nd rounders or not being drafted as sophomores.

    While I would agree that there aren’t too many players who are impact players straight of HS, but I’m not sure that’s really how GM’s look at it under the current developmental model. Presently, the only guys who really get developed in college are typically guys who weren’t recruited by the best schools out of high school, ending up at smaller schools like POR teammates Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum for example. Outside of Calipari at Kentucky, I don’t think many programs do much consistent development of the one or two and done types. So from a NBA GM’s prospective looking at the type of prospects that typically could be thinking about skipping college, I know that I’m going to have to spend at least a year or two developing them anyway-even number ones like Irving or Davis. So what does waiting another year do under the current system?

    For real benefits a solution would have to change the way AAU trains players. It’s all about results and right now a lot of these AAU programs are getting results (top colleges/1st round draft picks) while not training guys the fundamentals that guys like Kobe, KG, T-Mac, and Jermaine O’Neal had.

    I’m not sure a 2nd year of required college would change the way the system works, but I think a baseball rule would. A few high profile flops or undrafted AAU players who tried to go to the league straight out of HS would change the focus of programs from what they are today.

    A lot of people hate Calipari, but what has he really done? He’s basically created a super AAU team that actually teaches players skills to be NBA 1st round ready within a year of joining. Andrew Wiggins may ultimately prove to be the best player in this upcoming draft, but he did himself no favors going to Kansas instead of Kentucky.

  • vtsunrise

    A quick note to say I’v e been here, glanced at the discussion, actually printed out the thread, hope to read it in the next few days and always appreciate intelligent discussions. Slammed with work and enjoying a busy life, and also the MONTREAL CANADIENS in the playoffs for a change! Go Habs Go!