13.) The Phoenix Suns

Welcome back friends to the third annual installment of my NBA League Pass Rankings. For those new to the process, forget power rankings. Forget Vegas Over-Unders and salary cap gymnastics. Here at Knicks at Night we dive into the teams one by one to answer one simple question. If you’re shelling out the money for a League Pass subscription, which of these teams are worth that top 5 night-in, night-out slot and which of these guys are absolute, unwatchable garbage people?

And now, allow me to get even nerdier still, as basketball’s hipster illuminati has narrowed in on its future League Pass darling. Personally I’m not quite sure if Phoenix is there yet, or even has all the top flight upside of Denver’s roster. What I do know is that this team added two top 10 picks to a group already stocked with young, intriguing talent and has no incentive to try to push for the playoffs or experience any kind of success outside of developing their players. For a team that’s gone through a ton of turmoil in the past few seasons, I can’t think of anything better than to watch these guys start to come into their own.

Not only were Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender talked about as a potential 3rd pick for a Boston team that had juuuust missed out on the premier talents of Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, but they were also frequently referred to as two of the players with the highest ceilings in the draft. Chriss is a tremendous athlete, a pure jump-out-of-the-gym explosive dunker and shot-blocker who flashed touches of developing a post game and an outside jumper. Bender is a versatile 7 footer, quick enough on his feet to switch defensively onto guards on the perimeter with the shooting stroke to knock down open jumpers. He’s drawn a lot of comparisons to Kristaps Porzingis because of his tall, goofy Eastern-European frame, but honestly I don’t see much similarity to their games. Porzingis is a more natural shooter and shot-blocker, but Bender could develop into a much better passer and defender on the perimeter (Willey Cauley-Stein maybe?), an unusual talent for a big man and incredibly important in the modern NBA. Unfortunately the two guys both project as power forwards and shouldn’t be on the court together a whole lot this season but head coach Earl Watson showed a propensity for wacky lineups last year and might get even more creative going forward with his job no longer on the line.

Where the Suns really didn’t need much help was at guard where Phoenix projects to have one of the more exciting three man rotations in the entire league. Brandon Knight is a versatile scorer who can play off-ball and scorch from deep while Eric Bledsoe is maybe the most freak athlete at the position outside of John Wall. Seriously, if you could promise me Eric Bledsoe could stay healthy for two years I’d consider trading our first round pick for him right now. Add in the 13th pick, and youngest player, in last year’s draft, the knockdown sniper Devin Booker and you’re looking at a lot of firepower on the perimeter. Booker in particular lit the league on fire after the All-Star break, averaging 19 points and 3 assists and acting as the primary ball-handler in the pick-and-roll. That same All-Star break, by the way, where Booker ended up in the finals for the three-point contest, holding his own against the Splish-Splash Brothers. With high praise coming in from everyone from Lebron James to NBA gambling guru Haralabos Voulgaris, it should be safe to say that this dude has some great years coming up.

Where the Suns should really struggle is on defense. Booker may be a scoring monster but he was easily one of the two or three worst defenders at his position in the entire league and Knight is also undersized and prone to defensive lapses. On paper the Suns should have two good defensive starters in PJ Tucker and Tyson Chandler, but both of those guys are getting up there age wise and could fall off a cliff athletically. The time at power forward should obviously be spoken for by the rookies, but very few first year players are competent defenders in lightning-fast NBA schemes, and you’re likely to see a ton of mistakes and missed assignments from a young team just starting to put it together.

That doesn’t matter much to me, though, or the League Pass rankings as teams that can light it up one one end and get dunked all over on the other can prove to be a ton of fun to watch. I’m more than excited for another year of Booker’s development, Bledsoe’s outrageous highlight reel plays, and the playing time for these two young rooks. If everything clicks towards the end of the season, Phoenix could be a strong sleeper for the 2018 playoffs.

Last year’s ranking: 23 (+10)

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