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Suns emerge as dark-horse contender with brilliant offseason

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports / reuters

On the surface, last season was a huge disappointment for the Phoenix Suns. They failed to build upon a promising 2013-14 campaign and traded away their best player in Goran Dragic.

But they weren't as bad as their 39-43 record suggested. The Suns improbably lost five games at the buzzer and sported a miserable record of 6-14 in games decided by less than five points.

The Suns were a talented team that were extremely unlucky last season. This summer, Phoenix added to their core and, luck permitting, the Suns have built a dark-horse contender poised to make the playoffs for the first time since the Steve Nash era.

Chandler is a perfect fit

The Suns thrive playing an up-tempo game, with a surplus of shooting serving as fuel for a red-hot pick-and-roll attack. In order to play that style, they need an elite dive-man.

Enter: Tyson Chandler.

Chandler has been one of the league's best pick-and-roll bigs for nearly a decade. He makes for a massive target with his humongous 7-foot frame, and even at the age of 33, Chandler remains a terrific athlete who can reliably finish above the rim. Moreover, Chandler is a crafty player who sets fantastic screens to negotiate open space for his guards.

Chandler shot 66.6 percent from the field last season and ranked first in the NBA with 1.41 points per play on pick-and-roll finishes. That mark topped the likes of Anthony Davis (1.16) and DeAndre Jordan (1.36). He owes part of his success to the spacing provided by Dirk Nowitzki, but Chandler will be lining up beside another stretch-four in Markieff Morris.

Chandler will also help cement the Suns' defense by acting as their anchor. His numbers have taken a dive over the past two seasons, but he is only three seasons removed from being named Defensive Player of the Year. Chandler is a brilliant help defender and a strong defensive rebounder who will help orchestrate a revamped defense in Phoenix.

Recreating the two-point guard backcourt

Two seasons ago, the Suns stumbled upon success with a backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Dragic. That combination powered them to 48 wins in 2013-14 and they found success together last season before personality clashes broke up the tandem.

Instead, the Suns quickly moved to find a replacement for Dragic in Brandon Knight, whom they re-signed to a five-year deal this summer. Knight gives the Suns a dynamic pick-and-roll threat to pair with Bledsoe.

Knight can stretch the floor while toggling seamlessly between both backcourt positions. He got off to a rough start in Phoenix last season, but he was hampered by injuries. In the first 52 games of the season, Knight averaged 17.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 5.4 assists while shooting 40.9 percent from deep.

The Suns can also divide their minutes and ask one of Bledsoe or Knight to shepherd bench units, before uniting the two in crunch time.

Restocking the bench

The Suns lost a pair of key bench producers from a season ago in Gerald Green and Isaiah Thomas. The two hoarded possessions, but they chipped in with a combined 27.1 points per game.

However, the Suns quickly replaced Green with a cheaper contributor in Sonny Weems, and a stretch-four in Mirza Teletovic. Those two can't create their own shot, but they're useful pieces in a structured offense. Weems is a good slasher and Teletovic is an elite 3-point shooter.

Clearing the bench also gives an opportunity for the Suns' prospects. Archie Goodwin showed flashes of developing into a decent combo guard, while T.J. Warren is coming into his own as a credible wing scorer. Toss in the addition of Alex Len to the bench (his starting spot now belongs to Chandler) and the Suns project to run two-deep at every position.

Altogether, the Suns have quietly enjoyed a terrific offseason. The addition of Chandler is a perfect fit, while bringing back Knight revives their vaunted two-point guard look. Tack on a revamped bench unit, and the Suns have made enough shrewd additions to turn a talented team into a dark-horse contender.

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