Empire of the Suns hands out its 2018-19 end of season awards

Apr 15, 2019, 3:08 PM | Updated: 8:14 pm

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) dunks against the Chicago Bulls during the first half of an ...

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) dunks against the Chicago Bulls during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 18, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

The end of the Phoenix Suns’ season is here.

What’s to make of a 19-win campaign? Kevin Zimmerman and Kellan Olson of the Empire of the Suns blog made our own list of team-specific awards to wrap up a year under a first-year head coach and an interim front office directing a squad headlined by Devin Booker and the No. 1 overall pick, Deandre Ayton.

The 2018-19 season included a botched trade, two sneaky-good deals, lots more personnel turnover and quite a bit of losing.

Here are our awards for the Suns as they begin looking to a better tomorrow.


Guard Devin Booker

Kevin Zimmerman: If you put Booker’s statistics on any team with more than 30 wins, he’s probably an All-Star and making an All-NBA team.

He averaged 26.6 points, 6.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game this year while shooting 47 percent and 33 percent from three. Of the seasons where a player has averaged more than 25 points, four rebounds and six assists per game during a full season, only twice out of 70 times has a player not made the All-Star game.

Enough said.

Appears to have survived the unthinkable award

Head coach Igor Kokoskov

Kellan Olson: Who knows, but for the time being, Igor Kokoskov still has his job. That is unthinkable in more ways than one.

The first part is the most obvious.

He began the year with Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza and Isaiah Canaan starting, had 28 different starting lineup combinations and his point guard rotation went through 17 changes. That, along with injuries to Booker, Deandre Ayton and T.J. Warren, made things extremely unstable for him trying to establish any bit of it.

And let’s not leave him as a coach out of this, either. Kokoskov hasn’t instantaneously clicked with being an NBA head coach yet, and while that’s rare, he has struggled while learning on the job.

So for him appearing to keep his job while going through that process on his own with roster turmoil and winning two less games in a season where there was supposed to be improvement is somewhat of a miracle given the Suns’ recent quick-trigger firings.

Happy accident award

Former co-interim GM and current GM James Jones

KO: Jones was brought in as vice president of basketball operations after the 2016-17 season as his first front office job, and in less than two years now he is in charge of all major basketball decisions for the Suns.

He showed extreme patience this season, which is the right move if all is well and good with Devin Booker. He also put together strong decisions by signing Jamal Crawford and trading Anderson for Tyler Johnson.

In the same way Jones lucked into acquiring Kelly Oubre Jr., did the Suns luck into an inexperienced but good general manager?

Most improved and best youngin’ awards

Rookie center Deandre Ayton

KZ: He won’t even be one of the top two candidates to win NBA Rookie of the Year, but his 16.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game on 59 percent shooting were impressive. The casual fan wouldn’t know he was a raw prospect entering the season, but his enormous improvements playing rim protector and the slow implementation of scoring skills flashes later on provided enough to get super excited about how much better he can become.

As a personality, he’s unique, too. His youthful yet endearing excitement for basketball showed in how he expressed the experience of facing very different opposing big men each game — even after a bad loss.

We appreciate it … but thanks I guess award

Forward T.J. Warren

KO: It’s truly commendable for Warren to transform himself into an excellent 3-point shooter, having hit 43 percent of his attempts in 43 games.

But as we saw when he was healthy, he’s always going to be the same player he was, and that player doesn’t fit in Phoenix.

In the same light as NBA players like Dennis Schroder, Zach LaVine and Enes Kanter, Warren is absolutely a good basketball player, but he has to be in the right team situation as a “good NBA player” who’s also a consistent, positive producer.

Inspiring hope award

Forward Dragan Bender

KZ: Look, I realize 5.0 points and 4.0 rebounds with 1.2 assists and 22 percent three-point shooting per game looks like Major Bummer City. But there remains hope within me that Bender might yet carve out a long NBA career.

Jamal Crawford said he believes Bender could still become a star in the right situation, and it’s important to remember the big man is only 21 years old. Bender’s shooting may never come to be, but he’s still a unique athlete, a great passer and a lanky rim protector who flashed enough to land a bench role for a winning team as a free agent this summer. Might that be the Suns, who also face losing backup center Richaun Holmes?

The princes that were promised award

Wing Mikal Bridges and guard De’Anthony Melton

KO: Shouts to my Game of Thrones heads out there.

I’m not saying Bridges and Melton are Azor Ahai or any grand proclamation that suggests they are going to save the Suns, but we have gotten what we were promised in year one. Both Bridges and Melton are ideal players to play alongside Devin Booker.

This season the duo constantly made smart decisions, played hard and were pluses defensively on many, many nights. Even better, the two flashed as playmakers more than expected for rookies.

I’m pretty sure the Suns realize what they have in Bridges. Uh, at least I hope they do.

But Phoenix having a need at point guard on a roster that already has Tyler Johnson and Elie Okobo, I’m worried about Melton.

Okobo has the higher upside, but even if Melton’s development stagnates a bit, he’s a player who can definitely play important minutes next to Booker.

Dealing or waiving Melton would be a mistake the team should look to avoid if at all possible.

Go-to quote

Guard Tyler Johnson

KZ: Regardless of his $19 million per year contract that extends through next season, Johnson will be a crucial piece as an expiring contract — or a key locker room leader. He’s also a darn good quote.

Acquiring Johnson from the Heat for Ryan Anderson produced a few shrugs around these parts, but Johnson provided great transparency and a lot of honesty to the media without throwing his teammates under the bus. He admitted the Suns got better at turning finger-pointing into constructive criticism within a few weeks of his arrival, and the product on the court reflected that. Johnson even admitted that he told his new teammates about the outside perception of the Suns from his experience in Miami.

Honorable mention: Jamal Crawford, Kelly Oubre Jr.

The All-See-Ya-Later-Team

KZ: These guys proved to have forgettable seasons for one reason or another, and they fall on a wide spectrum. A few were celebrated. Others were not. Some were great teammates. Others were not. Three were starters to begin the year. Only one ended the season with Phoenix.

PG: Isaiah Canaan

SG: Jimmer Fredette (yes, there’s a team option on his contract. But still.)

SF: Trevor Ariza

PF: Ryan Anderson

C: Tyson Chandler

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