Based on statements, is Chriss now a piece of the future?

MIAMI, FL - MARCH 5: Marquese Chriss
MIAMI, FL - MARCH 5: Marquese Chriss /

Rather unfairly, Marquese Chriss’ first Phoenix Suns comparison upon his selection 8th overall in 2016 was to Amar’e Stoudemire – similar bodies, similar skill-sets, similar age.

Although the two no not necessarily share a similar temperament or devout love of the game.

Thus, as the still only 20-year-old Chriss has struggled to find solid footing in the NBA and in the Suns’ rotation, many fans have become somewhat disenchanted with the hopeful air apparent to his power forward predecessor.

Chriss has openly discussed the mental side of things recently, struggling to find balance and peace on the court, an aspect of his personality that has literally taken him out of games. A regular complainer to referee’s perceived slights in favor of his opponents, Chriss has a tendency to either shut down and thus flounder on defense for a few plays, or get him self taken out entirely by complaining to the point of a technical foul, and a quick hook by Suns Head Coach Jay Triano.

Phoenix Suns
Phoenix Suns /

Phoenix Suns

This aspect of his game has alienated some fans to the point where many now believe that he should  be traded in the offseason, a piece in a hopeful trade for an established star player.

Yet, Chriss’ defenders have maintained the point of view that his immaturity is merely an extension of his inexperience; that his athletic talents can still take him to those similar levels of Stoudemire if the franchise merely waits for him to reach a platform of maturity from which his skill-set can build upon.

After all, Chriss’ issues on the court are a problem of the league’s own creation: with weak restrictions on college attendance, teams regularly take fliers on players with athletic gifts such as his, but with high-level competitive experience. Teams of course hope for players to come in like Devin Booker and immediately embrace the difficult grind that is being a professional athlete and the effort it takes to reach a high level of play. But teams understand that for many it will take time for most players to fully develop. Sometimes that time is excruciating, but once the rose has bloomed, it can be beautiful.

The yet-to-bloom Marquese Chriss is not yet at a cross-roads in his career, but he is at a folcrum.

Chriss’ career is likely not hanging in the balance. Finishing up only his second season and still not yet legally allowed to buy alcohol, he hopefully has another 15 or so years left in his basketball life, many of which will likely be played at a highly productive level. Even if he doesn’t ever reach heights of players such as Stoudemire whom he has been compared to, the point in his career in which he can officially be branded a bust is still probably 3-5 years off, far enough away now to protect the youthfulness of his career and allow him to continue to develop and mature at a normal, unforced rate.

“We’re trending in the right direction again with him,” said Head Coach Triano in an interview on Tuesday morning on the Doug and Wolf Show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “He’s been very receptive to everything we have talked to him about, whether it’s the front office, or whether it’s the assistance coaches, or whether it’s me being completely honest with where he is, and I like the way he’s responded right now.”

Traino specifically referenced Chriss’ two statistically impressive games in back-to-back days against both the Atlanta Hawks and the Miami Heat in which he averaged 15 points on 10-17 shooting including 6-9 from beyond the arc, 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, and most impressively, only 1 personal foul.

Scoring in double-figures against Miami marked the second game in a row that he reached at least 10 points, breaking a streak of 15 games played (23 overall) since he last accoplished that feat.

Whether or not this statistical bump is due in part or entirely to the conversations Triano referenced is impossible to know. But the proof is in the pudding: for at least two games, he has looked a lot better than he had for six weeks prior.

With 16 games left, Chriss has plenty of time to rebuild any lost value and show his worth.

This moment then, coming on the heels of two successful outings, becomes a folcrum point in that he is either playing for his future with the Suns, or with someone else.

There is no arguing that there is a very good chance that either Marquese Chriss or Dragan Bender will be off the Suns’ roster next season, the decision of who stays and who goes based entirely on who a trade partner prefers in return, a response dependent upon each player’s performance the rest of the season.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that the one who performs best is likely to either stay or go, obviously trade preference on both sides will determine who may be involved in a trade. However as many Suns fans have grown frustrated with Chriss’ emotional antics coupled with his performance inconsistencies, they have turned to Chriss as the main physical  piece that they would like shipped off in return for an established player.

Chriss’ performance on the court over the final month of the season will in part play a role in his potential to be traded this offseason. Should he impress, then Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough might wish to continue to see his development through and hang onto Chriss as tightly as he is likely to hold onto both Devin Booker and Josh Jackson.

This, of course, would be the most advantageous turn of events that the Phoenix Suns could hope for. McDonough used two first round picks and the rights to a currently decent shooting guard in Bogdan Bogdanovic to move up and select Chriss with the hope, if not expectation, that he would someday be the dominant power forward that he athletically projected to be.

While trades could obviously make the Suns better immediately, each move to improve a particular position neutralizes assets that could have been used to upgrade other parts of the roster. If the Suns use Chriss and draft picks to upgrade the power forward position, those pieces are thus gone and the ability to, say, upgrade the point guard position through trade becomes somewhat more difficult if not impossible.

But should Chriss trend in the direction that he truly is the centerpiece player at power forward that the franchise has long pined for, and Phoenix decides to retain him, then those additional assets can thus be utilized to improve other positions of need, making the team as a whole that much better.

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If Chriss wants to trend upward, he can. If Triano can help Chriss further tap into his athletic abilities and truly take-off, it will only help Chriss’ career fully unfurl into that of a star.

If so, if upward projections do successfully become a reality, Chriss may continue to develop into a significant piece in the Phoenix Suns’ future.