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March 30, 2010

The Real Lopez Upside

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 1:36 pm

I couldn’t fit this in my column today about the impact of Robin Lopez‘s injury on the Phoenix Suns’ hopes, but I’ve been meaning to write about it since November, so I’ll stick it here. The other reason it’s improbable we’re discussing Lopez’s injury as a big deal is that, along with Goran Dragic, he’s the first draft pick to provide Phoenix any value since Leandro Barbosa was acquired on draft night in 2003. The Suns famously sold off four first-round picks in a three-year span from 2005-2007, preferring the instant cash infusion to adding Nate Robinson, Sergio Rodriguez, Rajon Rondo and Rudy Fernandez.

Selling those picks forced Phoenix to overpay for Marcus Banks to back up Steve Nash and limited the team’s bench (which, granted, might not have gotten much playing time under Mike D’Antoni). While I’ve taken GM Steve Kerr to task for his dismantling of the Seven Seconds or Less roster, he deserves a lot of credit for embracing the draft and young talent. Only one of those picks was sold on Kerr’s watch, and that year the Suns kept another first-round pick (unfortunately, Alando Tucker failed to pan out).

Lopez and Dragic suffered through poor rookie seasons, but they’ve helped Phoenix this year. Add in Louis Amundson (signed as a free agent), Jared Dudley (part of the Suns’ trade with Charlotte last season) and Channing Frye (free agent) and Kerr has done a very good job of cobbling together depth without spending much more than Phoenix ever has on its bench. For a combined salary of less than $8 million, those five players have contributed 13.4 total Wins Above Replacement, with all five of them above 2 WARP. That fivesome is the biggest reason that, despite an aging core and Shaquille O’Neal being dealt for cap relief, the Suns remain competitive in the Western Conference.

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