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10 remaining free agents for Phoenix Suns' 15th roster spot

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
July 28, 2022

The Phoenix Suns appear to be in a holding pattern for Kevin Durant, but after that initial flurry of reports stemming from his July 1 trade request, it’s grown fairly quiet. While other suitors have risen and fallen, the Suns will remain smack-dab in the middle of these long-winding sweepstakes as long as KD wants to play in Phoenix.

There have been frequent, wide-ranging reports confirming the Suns as Durant’s top trade destination, and as long as that’s the case, their roster for the upcoming season remains in a state of limbo. KD is at worst one of the 20 best NBA players ever, and he’s the type of acquisition that could push Phoenix to its first-ever championship.

When a guy like that wants to join the party, you drop everything and make him the guest of honor.

However, as we’ve discussed in recent weeks, there will come a time where the Suns need to cut bait and shore up their roster for the 2022-23 season. A Durant trade could take weeks and possibly even months to materialize. This could go all the way to the trade deadline, unless Durant wields unprecedented leverage by choosing the nuclear option and refusing to show up to training camp…at which point it’s a game of chicken between the former MVP and the Nets.

In any case, there’s a possibility this drawn-out process forces the Suns to consider other trade options, or at the very least, fill their 15th and final roster spot ahead of training camp in September. The free-agency pool is bone-dry at this point, which means Phoenix should preserve its mid-level exception for midseason buyout candidates. Bearing all that in mind, here are 10 available free agents in the veteran minimum price range that could round out the roster.

10. Ben McLemore

The Suns need another backup point guard, as we’ve reiterated ad nauseam here, but for the sake of being thorough, we’ll cover a few different positions. You can never have too many wings who can shoot, so even though Ben McLemore wouldn’t lend much in terms of playmaking or shot creation, at the very least, he can hit 3s.

McLemore is a career 36.3 percent 3-point shooter who just averaged 10.2 points per game for the Portland Trail Blazers. He fared well as a cutter and screen-slipper, which would help him when defenses hone in on the Suns’ All-Star backcourt. He’s an underwhelming option, but if we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel, having a 15th man who could potentially fill a larger role in the event of a KD trade wouldn’t be the worst idea.

Granted, you don’t want McLemore starting or logging rotation minutes in a playoff series, but any combination of Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Landry Shamet and Torrey Craig could be out the door if a Durant trade (or another trade) materializes down the road. To that end, McLemore on a minimum deal wouldn’t be ideal, but it wouldn’t be terrible either.

9. LaMarcus Aldridge/Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge kick off our section of “former stars you might be surprised are still available but at the same time are you really that surprised?” free agents. Knee surgeries robbed Griffin of what was left of his prime in Detroit, and although he successfully reinvented himself in his first season coming off Brooklyn’s bench, his followup act was decidedly less impressive.

Although Griffin appeared in 56 games — the most he’d played in a season since he logged 76 for the Pistons in 2018-19 — he only managed 6.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 17.1 minutes per game. All of those were career lows, and he shot just 42.5 percent from the floor and 26.2 percent from 3-point range.

As for Aldridge, he was more effective in his second year with the Nets, posting 12.9 points and 5.5 rebounds in 22.2 minutes per game on 55 percent shooting. He ranked in the 99th percentile as a pop threat, per The Bball Index, which could give the Suns another wrinkle in the pick-and-roll. He’s more of a liability on defense than he was in his younger years, but even at age 37, he can still score from the midrange.

It’s not like they simply underperformed on a perfectly functional contender. They’re clearly past their primes, and should be treated as such, but on a veteran minimum contract, in a more stable environment, for break-in-case-of-emergency scenarios? Having a little extra size, experience and scoring ability off the bench wouldn’t hurt. And for those wondering about Griffin’s relationship with Chris Paul, apparently that’s water under the bridge.

8. Carmelo Anthony

We already know Carmelo Anthony and CP3 are banana boat buds, but this wouldn’t just be about their connection. Melo still has something to offer as a reserve, though it’s fair to question how much action he’d see in the Suns’ wing-heavy rotation.

Still, that’s the point of a 15th roster spot: You hope you don’t have to use him very much, but if you do, he has to be ready. Melo is obviously a minus defensively, but he can still create his own offense and knock down 3s. One of the greatest scorers in NBA history hasn’t forgotten how to get buckets, averaging 13.3 points on .441/.375/.830 shooting splits last season.

According to The Bball Index, the 38-year-old Melo ranked in the 90th percentile in total iso impact per 75 possessions, which measures points scored on perimeter isos and post-ups compared to league-average efficiency on those plays. The Los Angeles Lakers went 33-49 with Anthony playing rotation minutes, but he wouldn’t log 26 minutes a night in Phoenix. The experience and shot creation he’d bring to the table was sorely needed in the Suns’ second-round playoff defeat.

7. Frank Jackson

After signing a two-year deal with the Detroit Pistons in August last year, Frank Jackson saw his team option for the upcoming season get declined in June. That made him a free agent, and the 24-year-old might be worth a look.

Though he averaged 10.6 points per game last year, his efficiency — 40.2 percent from the field, 30.8 percent from 3 — left a lot to be desired. However, he made 40.8 percent of his 3s the year prior, and even last year, he still made 41.1 percent of his corner 3s. He didn’t make a lot of mistakes either, ranking in the 90th percentile in turnover percentage, per Cleaning The Glass.

The 6-foot-3 combo guard struggled to latch on in New Orleans and in Detroit, but perhaps Chris Paul’s tutelage would help him find his footing. He’s still only 24 and moves well off the ball. Then again, the Suns need someone who can orchestrate, so Jackson’s lack of playmaking ability holds him back.

6. D.J. Augustin

Yikes, that’s two Lakers from last year’s team, which is already far more than intended! Still, there’s no denying the Suns need a third point guard, even if it’s not a Cam Payne upgrade. D.J. Augustin fits the mold of an experienced, steady alternative should Playoff Payne turn into a pumpkin again.

Splitting his season between the Lakers and Houston Rockets, Augustin has lost a step defensively. Still, the 34-year-old hit 41.5 percent of his 3.0 long-range attempts per game last year, knocking down a whopping 48.5 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s.

His 1.9 assists in 16.1 minutes per game don’t look like much, but according to The Bball Index, he ranked in the 79th percentile in passing efficiency and the 82nd percentile in high-value assists per 75 possessions, which measures how often a player’s assists lead to 3-pointers, baskets at the rim or free throws. All of that’s enough to make him an upgrade over Elfrid Payton as a third-string option.

5. Eric Bledsoe

Yeah, yeah, make your jokes. Get ’em all out of your system. I’ll wait.

We good? Because nothing says “look how far we’ve come” like going from “I Dont wanna be here” to Kevin-Freaking-Durant wanting to be here. So why not tie a nice little bow on everything while we wait for KD to fall out of the sky?

Very few options on this list could surpass Payne in the Suns’ pecking order, and Eric Bledsoe is not included in that group. We’ve seen him disappear in the playoffs more than once, and there’s a reason he’s still a free agent this late in the offseason. But Phoenix needs a third guard badly, and as much as Bledsoe’s career has spiraled in recent years, he’s still been a double-digit scorer every season but one — last year, when he averaged 9.9 points a game for the LA Clippers.

Bled brings nothing to the table in terms of 3-point shooting, but he might actually represent what the Suns thought they were getting in Payton: Both were starters on good teams they probably shouldn’t have started for the season prior, but in a third-string role, you could do a lot worse than having kind of experience.

Payton didn’t work out, but it was only two years ago that Bledsoe was a defensive menace for a league-best Milwaukee Bucks team. He still has that ability, ranking in the 84th percentile in steal percentage last year. That’s enough to warrant consideration for a 15th roster addition that would bring us full-circle from Phoenix’s darkest days.

4. Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo’s value has never been lower, but if the Suns want a facilitator to spell Chris Paul, there’s probably not a better option left on the market. Even in limited action last season, the 36-year-old veteran still ranked in the 86th and 99th percentile in assist percentage for the Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers, respectively.

Rondo’s prime is clearly behind him, but he’s improved some of the major flaws necessary to prolong his career. Aside from the playmaking, he’s made defenses pay for leaving him wide open, making 42.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s last year and 37.9 percent of his 3s over the last two seasons. It’s come on just 167 attempts, but he only played 84 games over that stretch. On basically two attempts per game, he’s capitalized on his limited 3-point opportunities for four separate teams now.

Rondo is still adept at making defensive plays, ranking in the 81st percentile in steal percentage. He can also get to the basket (95th percentile in percentage of unassisted shots at the rim) and finish there effectively (88th percentile among guards for field-goal percentage at the rim). All of those skills would provide a useful alternative to Payne if need be, especially if Playoff Rondo made one final reappearance.

Furthermo–wait. What do you mean he and Chris Paul hate each other?

3. Duane Washington Jr.

Okay, but how how funny would it be if the Indiana Pacers waived Duane Washington Jr. to make room for Deandre Ayton, missed out on DA because the Suns matched their offer sheet…and then the Suns poured more salt in the wound by signing Washington outright?

Even ironic humor isn’t your thing, Washington is worth a look. After going undrafted in 2021, he joined Indiana on a two-way contract, eventually earning a full deal in April. He became a casualty in the Pacers’ quest to clear max cap space for DA, but he flashed potential.

Devin Booker probably wouldn’t mind:

In 48 games for the Pacers, the 22-year-old point guard averaged 9.9 points and 1.8 assists in 20.2 minutes a night. Washington only shot 40.5 percent overall, but he made a tidy 37.7 percent of his 3s. He wasn’t a very effective scorer around the basket or in the midrange, but he made 47.3 percent of his corner 3s and 41.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s.

As much as the 6-foot-3 guard needs to work on his finishing, he got to the basket pretty often, ranking in the 84th percentile in rim shot creation and 89th percentile in percentage of unassisted shots at the rim. And while he didn’t get a ton of opportunities to playmake, he flashed potential there too, finishing in the 91st percentile in passing versatility and 98th percentile in passing creation quality.

In Monty Williams’ 0.5 offense, with the Point God to learn from, there’s a good chance Washington would grow as a facilitator. However, for a team looking to win a title next year, this is an admittedly risky gamble — even if the Suns could do with a few more youngsters to groom up for the future.

2. Ish Wainright

We’ll keep this short, since we already covered why Ish Wainright should be on this roster. He finished NBA Summer League shooting 41.4 percent from 3-point range, and while Summer League is Summer League, he improved down the stretch of the regular season too, especially when he was afforded actual minutes.

Wainright said in Las Vegas that “everybody knows” he wants to be back with the Suns. He’s made appearances at local sporting events like last weekend’s Arizona Rattlers game, embracing the community and city he wants to remain a part of.

Wainright is the type of rare, two-way contract success story Phoenix should be touting. Honestly, the only thing that seems to be holding up his return is either a Kevin Durant trade (which would free up additional roster spots and make re-signing Ish a no-brainer), or the position crunch that comes with Phoenix’s only two point guards being a 37-year-old Chris Paul and a hit-or-miss Cam Payne.

1. Dennis Schroder

Finding a way to bring back Wainright is not something the Suns should overlook, but if a KD trade doesn’t materialize, they can’t go into next season without a third point guard either. There are other decent fliers to take on this list, but Dennis Schroder might be the best option of the bunch — especially if the Suns don’t have to dip into their MLE.

Schroder simply isn’t worth that kind of money at this stage, and admittedly, there are concerns with the 28-year-old guard, given the way he’s been unceremoniously dropped by his last few teams. He’s not always the most engaged defender, he’s only a career 33.8 percent 3-point shooter, and he’s coming off a season-ending shoulder injury in March.

However, Schroder has been a double-digit scorer every year of his career except his rookie season, and he’d provide another score-first option off the bench. Even if he’s slightly erratic, Schroder enjoyed the best season of his career the last time he backed up Chris Paul, averaging 18.9 points and 4.0 assists per game for the Oklahoma City Thunder back en route to Sixth Man of the Year honors.

That wasn’t that long ago, and although he’s played for three different teams since then, Schroder can create his own offense and set up teammates as well. He can drive and kick with his ability to get to the rim (89th percentile in rim shot creation) and find his teammates (90th percentile in passing efficiency).

Wainright is the better Suns fit and story, but if Phoenix needs a third point guard on the open market, Schroder might be the best of what remains.

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