As we continue to countdown to Christmas with the Phoenix Suns’ 12 Days of pre-Christmas, we look at day five: Five returning players from the 2018-19 team.
The 2018-19 Phoenix Suns were arguably the worst team in franchise-history.
They couldn’t score.
They couldn’t shoot from the outside.
The didn’t pass.
The didn’t play defense.
More often than not, players under the legal drinking age in the United States were starting.
More often than not, entire lineups were comprised of players who could not legally rent a car in the United States.
And yet – there were five players from that team who were not only welcomed with open arms to the 2019-20 roster, but who are at the heart and soul of who this team is: one very much capable (if healthy) of making the first playoff run for the franchise in a decade.
Yes – Elie Okobo was also a carryover from last season, which would mean six players in total, but he is at best a prospect, a potential future regular backup, but not a player counted on with any weight this season.
Of the five major carryovers from last season, three were absolutely and unequivocally going to be here this season: Ayton, Booker, and Oubre.
The heart of the core for now, those three should be the faces of the franchise for the next few years (presuming that nobody is traded and that Oubre is re-signed after next season).
These are the three highest scoring players on the team (granted, Ayton has only appeared twice), and potentially the three players most likely to be All-Stars in the future.
Exactly what teams who want to be really good need.
Then of those five, Tyler Johnson and Mikal Bridges are solid role players, although each possess a very particular and important asset to the team.
Mikal Bridges may still potentially be a solid two-way role player in the NBA yet. He led all rookies in steals his freshman season with the Suns, and is tied for first at 1.4 per game (with Kelly Oubre) for players on the roster who have played in at least ten games (Ty Jerome is averaging 1.6 per game in seven appearances).
However, his scoring is mediocre at best (he has a worse 3-point shooting percentage than Ricky Rubio at 28.3% to Rubio’s 29.3%), but while at only 23 he still has room to grow, the fact that he is not able to make a large contribution on the offensive end, like a great defensive infielder in baseball who cannot hit a curveball, Bridges’ total on court value is not very high.
That said, he certainly still has potential.
Analytically, he looks pretty decent with an Offensive Rating of 113 (six best on the team), and Defensive Rating of 107 which is third best. If his 3-point shot could eventually fall at a decent clip (he shot 40.0% in college, for crying out loud, on 428 attempts), then his value will continue to grow.
Transitioning, a solid veteran backup point guard might do the trick as Ricky Rubio has done wonders with the starters, although Tyler Johnson hasn’t been raising the talent of the players around him very high this season thus far – then again, that’s not his particular value to this franchise.
While Johnson’s veteran, playoff experience is valuable to the young team in the chance that he is on the roster as they near closer to the playoffs, his true value is actually in his contract.
At just over $19 million and expiring after this season, he could be the linchpin in a deal for a star at some point this season, hopefully for a scoring, power forward.
To be fair to him too, it’s not like he’s been playing that bad either.
Averaging 6.3 points and 2.1 assists, he is at least making his 3-point attempts at a rate above .300, at .310. He is averaging just 1.8 turnovers per 36-min as well, which is a very respectable and serviceable rate for a backup point guard.
All-in-all, for as bad as the 2018-19 Phoenix Suns were, there was talent to be had and retained, and when carried over to the 2019-20 team, they have made this team better.
On this, the 5th day of pre-Christmas, we give thanks to five players who have made an impact this year, three who are the core of the future, one who is a potential solid role player, and a fifth who might just be the key to the acquisition of a star player.