EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

NBA trade deadline preview: Wings the Phoenix Suns should target

Feb 4, 2022, 12:31 PM

Indiana Pacers forward Justin Holiday, left, dribbles around Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) du...

Indiana Pacers forward Justin Holiday, left, dribbles around Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Even though the Phoenix Suns are the best team in the NBA, there is still room to improve the roster in one of the franchise’s best opportunities ever at winning a championship. With that type of thinking in mind, Phoenix’s front office should be proactive.

Empire of the Suns’ Kellan Olson and Kevin Zimmerman will review three sets of position groups the Suns could look to improve before the trade deadline on Feb. 10. More specifically, they will focus on one headlining target, followed by a few other names the Suns at least discuss.

After tackling ball-handlers and small-ball centers, it’s time to look at smaller wing players who could add depth.


You can never have too many wings, right?

If we outline a deep postseason run for the Suns, that would ring true more than ever.

Whether it’s the Golden State Warriors’ backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson or the dangerous combinations on the ball out east for Brooklyn (Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving), Chicago (Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan), Miami (Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro) or Milwaukee (Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo), having an extra on-ball defender who is also worthy of playing on the floor in a conference finals or Finals settings is something for Phoenix to consider.

This is theoretically the spot in the rotation for Abdel Nader, who hasn’t played since mid-November because of what is listed as right knee injury management. While Nader has his strengths, it’s an upgradable position regardless. And with the poor play of Landry Shamet prior to his ankle injury, the Suns could just deploy an even more wing-heavy rotation going forward.

And as we’ve seen this season, if the Suns go down one of Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder or Cam Johnson, that wing rotation gets tight real quickly. Remember Torrey Craig playing a role in shuting down Paul George for Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals when Johnson had food poisoning? That type of depth could be handy again.

– Kellan Olson

The Headliner

Justin Holiday

Salary: $6 million this season, $6.3 million in 2022-23
Stats: 11.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists on 41.9% shooting and 38% from three-point range

Holiday’s case starts and ends with how it wouldn’t be an earth-shattering acquisition. Case in point, HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto reports the price tag on Holiday is two second-round picks. The Suns own all of theirs at the moment.

If Holiday rings a bell for some odd reason, he was the lone player ahead of Mikal Bridges for the league’s ironman streak entering the season before he missed six games due to COVID-19, ending his streak at 250 games.

Holiday is not a player who is going to come in and need to get his own shots. He has taken at least 70% of his shots from three-point range since the start of last season, where he’s held a catch-and-shoot percentage north of 38%.

You may remember his season-high seven threes against Phoenix earlier this year when Holiday showed he can be used as a shooter scootin’ around off-ball movement.

When Holiday does shoot at the rim (67%) or midrange (42%), his conversion rates aren’t too shabby.

Defensively, Holiday is switchable and sound. Indiana has deployed him more on wings than guards, which makes sense given its personnel. He’s active with his hands and defends with the purpose of using what he can to not secede any room to the ball-handler.

He will make it tough on All-Stars, which is all you can ask for given how they are All-Stars and the shots will go down sometimes anyway.

Those jobs aren’t always filled with glitz and glamour.

One hiccup I came across was that his on/off court net ratings this year and last aren’t all that great, ranging in the bottom-half of the team. It’s obviously not an end-all-be-all stat, but those are usually numbers that are strong for players that do what he does, as we’ll see with some other names later on. Here, we could use the type of expertise lent by someone who watches the 19-34 Pacers every night, but alas, I am not that guy.

Holiday would be a rather innocent pickup but would make one of the best wing rotations in the NBA even better.

-Kellan Olson

Other Possibilities

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Washington Wizards

Salary: $13 million this season, $14 million in 2022-23 with only $4.9 million guaranteed
Stats: 11.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists on 41% shooting and 37% from three-point range

The numbers don’t pop with Caldwell-Pope, but he was maybe one of the most underappreciated players on the Los Angeles Lakers team from the past two seasons that included a bubble championship in 2020. His departure, among others, highlighted the weird notion that the Lakers thought losing their defense-first identity around the LeBron James-Anthony Davis core would be a good idea.

Remember, Caldwell-Pope’s knee injury that lingered and kept him completely out in Game 4 of the first-round series against Phoenix last season was rather significant. Yes, Devin Booker cooked him at points, but Caldwell-Pope’s injury marked a series swing in Phoenix’s favor.

With the Lakers the past two seasons and the Wizards this year, Caldwell-Pope on offense has been largely used as a sit-in-the-corner guy. His skillset, though, has more punch off the bounce than, say, Shamet.

Caldwell-Pope is a better athlete and historically has been a much better finisher at the cup. This season, he’s been more apt to attack in the midrange because of his role trying to give more to Bradley Beal and friends. And he’s shooting 49% from 16 feet out to the three-point line. That is pretty dang good for long twos!

The fact that his 2022-23 salary is partially guaranteed may help quell money concerns. If there’s any chance you can go after a 28-year-old two-way guy who started for a title team just two years ago, you might want to look into it.

Then again, Caldwell-Pope is in the news cycle this year for getting into it with his own teammate, Montrezl Harrell, as Washington has sputtered. Get Chris Paul on the phone with James to dive into how the man might operate playing a smaller role on a winning team.

– Kevin Zimmerman

Dorian Finney-Smith, Dallas Mavericks

Salary: $4 million expiring
Stats: 10 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists on 44% shooting and 36% from three-point range

Dallas has a ton of salary on the books next year and two of its starters, Finney-Smith and guard Jalen Brunson, are unrestricted free agents next year. As a top-six team in the West, would the Mavericks sell now to not risk losing one of them for nothing?

Finney-Smith defends like a guy who embraces the battle of it, showing a willingness to fight through screens and get his hands up wherever he can to be a nuisance. A few of these examples end with Finney-Smith escorting Booker toward the interior help from a big, where you could see a working relationship with Deandre Ayton or JaVale McGee thriving.

In the first game between the two teams this season, Finney-Smith marked Chris Paul, where he showed similar traits. Like Bridges, Finney-Smith scales down to defend guards (1s and 2s) as opposed to 4s and 5s like most wings. It’s a rare thing for the everyday small forward to do.

Looking at how much the Mavericks outscore other teams per 100 possessions, some of the lowest net ratings each of the last three seasons are Finney-Smith’s. A.K.A., they are better when he’s on the court as opposed to off.

Finney-Smith is less of a playmaker and more of a smart passer, where he’s just about making the right play. If it’s in the flow of usual ball rotation or a set in the offense, he will get it done. A couple of nice 0.5-style drives in here.

That should slide in Phoenix.

Offensively, he is just fine as a three-point shooter. It’s 37.8% since the start of the 2019-20 season and almost all of those are of the catch-and-shoot variety.

Finney-Smith would be a rental but what a luxury he would be.

– Kellan Olson

Kenrich Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder

Salary: $2 million this year, $2 million fully non-guaranteed
Stats: 7.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists on 45% shooting and 36% from three-point range

For a much more in-depth investigation on how Williams fits with the Suns, I will pass the baton to our Australian correspondent David Kevin with one of his issues on The Four Point Play Newsletter. It explains why Williams is perfect for the Suns.

To sum it up, Williams is somehow holding a 2.7 net rating on a 16-34 Thunder team with a -6.6 net rating. Remember when this kept happening with Richaun Holmes a few years ago in Phoenix with the way he still managed to impact the game for a terrible squad?

Similar deal here for Williams, who is definitely a James Jones type because of the balance in his game and how smart he is on both ends. Most importantly, Williams’ nickname “Kenny Hustle” is self-explanatory because the dude is just everywhere on the court. He’s a 6-foot-6 wing that has averaged over an offensive rebound a game all four years he’s been in the league.

Williams is the most intriguing of this bunch because, like Finney-Smith, he can scale down to covering ball-handlers defensively. He guards just about everyone for the Thunder, as David detailed. But Williams has also got a bit of gusto as a ball-handler himself, where he has averaged at least two assists per game since 2020 and has shown he can be a playmaker.

The shot is the only pause, where Williams checks in at 36.1% from deep after a really encouraging 44.4% last season.

– Kellan Olson

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