The Phoenix Suns haven’t been great in 2018. With a record of just 8-24, the Suns once again find themselves at the bottom of the Western Conference and as one of the worst teams in the league. Still, brighter days are on the horizon. With Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and a slew of other young, and, more importantly, talented, players on its roster, the future of Phoenix is in good hands.
They just need a point guard to put it all together.
The Suns have inexplicably avoided the point guard position in many recent drafts and have employed a hodgepodge of different players to fill the starting role to varying degrees of success. DeAnthony Melton and Elie Okobo have done what they can so far this season, but both rookies appear destined for more of a reserve role in the future.
With trade season upon us, there may be a bevy of options available to the Suns, or could be for the right price, sooner rather than later on the trade market. But who could they realistically target to help take their roster out of the NBA basement and to the next level?
Terry Rozier — Boston Celtics
It’s fair to question whether or not Danny Ainge would even trade Rozier; the fourth-year point guard is a proven contributor, both as a starter and reserve, and is a favorite of Ainge. In 30 games this season, Rozier has averaged 8.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists and has shot 37 percent from three-point range.
However, the situation that Boston has found themselves in may not be conducive to a long-term pact for either party. Rozier is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, as are teammates Kyrie Irving, Marcus Morris and, potentially, Al Horford (player option). Retaining Rozier could prevent the team from retaining any of those players (although Irving has been very public with his desire to stay in Boston) or hamstring the Celtics in the near future should they need to improve the roster in other areas. A trade prior to the February deadline would seem the easiest way to remedy this.
However, Ainge may think it better to hold Rozier through the season. Right now, Boston is the best version of themselves when Rozier can provide steady, productive minutes off the bench, which will be extremely for a potential run to the NBA Finals. However, a sign-and-trade could recoup some assets should the Celtics choose to let Rozier go in order to avoid a higher luxury tax bill.
Luckily for Phoneix, the team rosters a glut of athletic, versatile wing players — the type of player Ainge loves — that they could dangle as trade chips. The recently acquired Kelly Oubre Jr. may not be on the move, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Suns dangle second-year wing Josh Jackson, who has been buried on the depth chart, in order to secure the point guard that would complete their core.
Tyus Jones — Minnesota Timberwolves
Tyus Jones has never had the chance to shine.
Jones was solid at Duke — where he averaged 11.8 points, 3.5 rebounds 5.8 assists and shot at a 37.9 percent clip from deep — and has flashed ability at the NBA level. But, since he was drafted in 2015, Jones’ playing time has been victimized by the Minnesota Timberwolves’ veteran-heavy point guard depth chart. Even now, with the presence of Jeff Teague and the reemergence of Derrick Rose this season, Jones has gone underutilized; in 30 games, Jones has played just 17.1 minutes per game for Tom Thibodeau’s squad and averaged only four points, 1.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
A change of scenery may do Jones some good. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves, who find themselves in a funk following the long Jimmy Butler trade saga, could use any assets acquired to address other areas on the roster. Teague is signed through next season (player option) with a contract that may not be easily moved and Rose, who has averaged 19 points, 2.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists, has often times looked like his pre-injured self.
Enter Phoenix, who has all the minutes in the world to give Jones as a potential starter. While he may not have the upside of Rozier or others at the position, Jones could certainly be an upgrade over Melton and Okobo in the immediate future.
Frank Ntilikina — New York Knicks
In his second year, Frank Ntlikina has seen his playing time with the New York Knicks fluctuate wildly. While he began the season as the Knicks starter, Ntlikina has since been relegated to the bench in favor of Emmanuel Mudiay and Trey Burke.
Demoting Ntlikina, only to give his minutes to journeymen like Mudiay and Burke, may seem like a strange decision given the Knicks current status as a non-contender. It isn’t without some merit, however. Ntilikina has looked bad at times. Still, he has flashed the potential that made him the eighth overall pick in 2017, and it would make sense for the Knicks to take stock and see what they have in him.
It just doesn’t seem like that is going to happen.
This relationship seems like one destined for a possible divorce and, with Ntlikina’s potential value on a downward trend, it may provide the Suns with the perfect opportunity to snag a young, high-upside talent for little compensation.
Yes, he is raw offensively. But Ntlikina is a long defender with the potential to become a lockdown option in the future, making him almost the perfect player to partner with offensively dominant but defensively lacking Booker. There will be plenty of time for Ntlikina to refine his offensive game as well; only 21-years-old, he slots into the timeline of the Suns’ core quite nicely.
Milos Teodosic — Los Angeles Clippers
Two years ago, Milos Teodosic was the next big Europen sensation; despite his advanced age, Teodosic’s passing ability with the ball in his hands was unquestioned. His vision and flashy passing made the game exciting, and it still does.
But it hasn’t exactly worked out the way he wanted it to.
Teodosic has seen a substantial decline in his minutes in his second season with the Los Angeles Clippers — he has averaged just 10 minutes per game after he saw more than 25 a season ago — and that may not change in the presence of impressive rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Teodosic has even contemplated a return to Europe, but a team like the Suns, with heavy minutes available, may be able to change his mind.
Teodosic is another quality next to Devin Booker, but for a non-defensive reason. While Teodosic may need to possess the ball often to be effective, he is different from the other ball-dominant guards of the modern NBA; he is a pass-first, rather than a score-first option at the position. While a Booker-Teodosic backcourt may be a nightmare defensively, a point guard with his vision constantly able to find Booker on the wing or Ayton in the paint could do the offense wonders.
Teodosic is 31, so he may not be on the same timeline as the Suns. But, at the very least, he is an above average option to have in place as a stopgap as the team continues to look for its future at the position.
Pat Beverley — Los Angeles Clippers
Another Clippers guard, another potential stopgap option. Patrick Beverly is an older guard, but he could be a fine option for a team like the Suns. While he is an older guard, Beverley is a capable option on offense — Beverley has a career 37.2 three-point percentage — and would be a tremendous defensive fit alongside Booker, just as he was for years with James Harden in Houston.
The Suns inquired on Beverley early in the offseason, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that they might circle back and try and make a deal as the trade deadline approaches. Beverley has been solid in Los Angeles, but, just like with Teodosic, there may not be many future opportunities with the Clippers because of the presence of Gilgeous-Alexander.
Whether it be via the trade market or the draft, the Suns need to address the point guard position; the options they have fielded in recent seasons just haven’t been capable enough and it has stunted their rebuild. Still, there are still plenty of quality options out there for Phoenix to consider. If they can find their guy, the team may just put themselves on the fast track back to NBA relevance.