Suns Team Needs Heading into Offseason

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by Matt Petersen

After annihilating expectations, snagging the “Best Story of the League” label and inspiring optimism in local circles, the Suns are intent on building on their 2013-14 success.

“Our goal hasn’t changed,” said President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby. “Our goal is to be elite and I’ve always defined that as legitimately competing for championships. You can’t compete for the championship if you don’t make the playoffs.”

The Suns made significant progress in building a path to that goal, though bumps still exist on the way. Phoenix, however, has multiple assets at its disposal to smooth them out on the road back to contention. Internal player development, three first-round picks, significant cap space for free agents and a willingness to be intelligently active in the trade market will all play vital roles in the months to come.

The recently concluded season indicates some of the areas in which Phoenix hopes to improve. Among them:

Ball Security

When it came to taking care of the rock, the Suns were far from where they wanted to be by season’s end. They ranked last in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.24), bettering each miscue by less than a quarter of an assist (the Clippers led the league with a 1.77 clip).

Returning players will no doubt improve. They’ll have the benefit of a year’s worth of experience under Head Coach Jeff Hornacek’s run-and-gun offense.

The playmaking positions will be a key offseason point of attention. Eric Bledsoe will be a restricted free agent, and management has expressed a keen desire in bringing him back.

“I know he liked playing for Jeff and he and Goran really blended well and meshed,” said General Manager Ryan McDonough. “We’ll go to Eric and his representatives and try to work out a deal with him first. We think, one way or another, he’s going to be a Sun for a long time.”

Ish Smith has a team option for next season. Gerald Green indicated that ball-handling would be his pet project of improvement during the offseason. Meanwhile other backcourt options dot the draft and free agency landscape.

In short, the Suns have no shortage of avenues for improvement in this area.

Paint Presence

Phoenix gave opponents fits on the perimeter thanks to defensive pressure from P.J. Tucker, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.

The interior was a different story. Opponents pounded the Suns for 14.3 second-chance points (third-worst) and 45.5 paint points (fifth-worst) per game, while the Suns ranked in the bottom half in the league in both categories.

“We’ll try to address that however we can, whatever the best options are,” said General Manager Ryan McDonough. “It’s certainly something we’ll look at addressing in free agency and through the draft.”

“I feel like our young big guys, especially Miles and Markieff, took a big step this year,” McDonough added. “Markieff did develop into a guy we went to a lot, especially late in games and with the second unit. He really made a lot of progress from what I saw his first two years to this year. He made a big jump. We’re factoring in some improvement, but I agree with that. We do need to find a way that, when we can’t get going up and down…how do we counter that? I felt like sometimes this year we didn’t have the the answers.”

Late-Game Execution/Scoring

When crunch time arrived, Phoenix resorted to one-on-one basketball more often than Hornacek would have preferred. The Suns had the third-lowest amount of assisted baskets in the final five minutes of games separated by five points or less.

Hornacek is hoping a year’s worth of experience for both players and himself leads to a veteran-like precision in the closing minutes of close games.

“How we handled certain situations…I can have an idea of letting guys go at the end the of the game because my teams always did that, the ones that I played on,” Hornacek said. “Trying to figure out your guys that you have, does that work the best or should you call timeouts? It was a growing process for me also, in terms of seeing how it went and what worked, what didn’t.”

An extra season of learning from a team that boasted the second-least amount of NBA experience will undoubtedly help, as will any offseason additions of veteran-like play. That can come in the form of mature, college-experienced rookies or via free agency.

“I’ve always taken the position that this was a destination franchise,” Babby said. “Great history. Great infrastructure. Great weather…I think all those things have remained constant. Where we will be improved now is we have a better team. We have a coach that I think every player in the league wants to play for. We have one of the brightest young executives as our general manager.”

“If I put my former agent hat on, where else would you rather go than the Phoenix Suns right now?” Babby added.