The Phoenix Suns made the leap as a team this season that the New Orleans Pelicans were hoping to make.
After going undefeated in the bubble last year, the Suns traded for Chris Paul and went from a 34-39 team to 51-21, grabbing the second seed in the Western Conference along the way.
Paul rightfully gets a lot of credit for this, as he was the guy who brought it all together, but the Suns’ role players also played a big part.
Last offseason we knew the Pelicans needed to add defenders, especially on the wing and we knew they needed more shooting around Zion Williamson. They failed to get either and ended up back on their sofas watching the playoffs.
What’s even worse is that the role players they needed were there for the taking but the New Orleans Pelicans picked the wrong ones. Nearly all of the Suns’ key role players are guys the Pelicans could have had, which is a lesson in how to build a team.
It’s not all about the stars, you also need guys who do the dirty work.
New Orleans Pelicans: Free-agent role players the Pels missed on
The Suns ended up signing several guys that might have made a difference in the Pels’ season. The Suns went from the 17th ranked defense last year to 6th this year, largely because of some offseason additions. Like the Pelicans, the Suns already had star scorers but needed guys to do the little things on the defensive end that help you win games.
These are the types of players the Pelicans will need to find this offseason if they want to improve like the Suns did.
A big wing who can defend two spots and shoot 3-pointers? Why in the world would the Pelicans want one of those? Hindsight is easy of course, but I wrote about Crowder several times as a guy the Pelicans should pursue. They didn’t and now he is helping the Suns try to topple the Lakers.
If you just look at Saric’s numbers you wouldn’t be that impressed, as he only averaged 8.7 points and 3.7 rebounds. But he has improved defensively and played some center and power forward this season for the Suns, which gave them a lot of lineup flexibility and the ability to go small. I wrote about how the Pels should try to acquire Saric, but I don’t think David Griffin reads my stuff.
I feel like a broken record, but it made no sense to me that the Pelicans did not pursue Torrey Craig a free agent. He signed a minimum deal with the Bucks in the offseason before being traded to the Suns. Craig is a good defender who can guard just about anyone and was just playing key minutes in the Western Conference Finals the season before. Now he’s playing key minutes for the Suns and has helped improve their defense.
These three guys might not jump off the scorecard but their defense and willingness to do the dirty work are reasons the Suns are where they are. It wasn’t all Chris Paul, so if the New Orleans Pelicans want to make a similar leap they need to find the right role players or they will be watching the playoffs from home again next season.