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Phoenix Suns: Who Is Dionte Christmas?

Apparently 16 players under contract for the 2013-14 season wasn’t enough, because the Phoenix Suns have added a 17th. Dionte Christmas, a shooting guard out of Temple University who showed his scoring ability during the NBA Summer League in July, signed a multi-year contract with a small amount guaranteed. Christmas went undrafted in 2009 after his senior year in college with the Owls, during which he averaged 19.5 points per game.

After bouncing around and playing professionally overseas for nearly more than three years, Christmas got a few chances in some NBA training camps, but never found his way onto a game-time roster. He’s been signed to contracts before, but has never been able to play an NBA game. The competition in Phoenix is pretty thick (because of sheer numbers, not necessarily because of talent), but this looks like his best chance to follow his dream and bring Christmas time to the Valley of the Sun.

Christmas averaged 10.1 points per game during the Summer League with the Suns, which is made even more impressive by the fact the he only played 20.9 minutes per game in seven appearances for Phoenix. As a 6’5″ guard, he has the height to effectively get his shot off, which is something not many players on Phoenix’s roster can brag about. Christmas shot a respectable 46 percent from the floor but only 32 percent from 3-point range.

So where does Christmas fit in? The Suns have to cut two players to bring it down to the 15-player league maximum roster size. At the guard position, Phoenix already has Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Kendall Marshall, Shannon Brown, Archie Goodwin, Ish Smith and Malcolm Lee. With the Christmas signing, the Suns now have eight(!) guards that are vying for spots on the 15-man roster. Dragic, Bledsoe, Brown and Goodwin are pretty much locks to make the roster. At the other positions, Alex Len, Marcin Gortat, Channing Frye, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker are pretty much locks as well. That’s a total of 11 players who are pretty much locks, leaving only four vacancies.

That leaves six remaining players competing for four spots: Dionte Christmas, Kendall Marshall, Ish Smith, Malcolm Lee, Miles Plumlee and Viacheslav Kravtsov. Marshall seems like a favorite to make the cut being that he was a first-round pick just last year, but don’t think his spot is guaranteed either. Marshall’s field-goal percentage and turnovers were atrocious last season and he showed zero signs of improvement during Summer League. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if general manager Ryan McDonough recognized his predecessor’s mistake and cut the team’s losses, but it seems a bit premature to do so now with a tank year on the horizon.

Miles Plumlee is a bigger name and more likely to make the roster than any of the remaining six because of his potential and his size. Christmas, Smith and Lee will be directly competing with each other. Kravtsov, a 6’11” center from Ukraine, is likely to be the first man out since the Suns already have Gortat, Len and Frye (kind of) at the center position. So basically, with a bit of guesswork and some minor assumptions on our part, we basically see a three-man competition for that final roster spot between Christmas, Smith and Lee.

The Suns are the sixth NBA roster Smith’s tried to make since 2010. As a 6′ point guard, he’s played 121 games in the league and has career averages of 2.4 points, 1.7 assists and 1.2 rebounds while playing 9.9 minutes per game. However, despite having the most experience of the three fringe players in question, Smith’s shooting percentages from the floor (36.6), from 3-point range (30.4) and from the free throw line (57.9) leave a lot to be desired.

Lee, a 6’5″ shooting guard, only has 35 NBA games under his belt. But he has marginally superior career numbers: 4.0 points, 1.9 assists and 1.5 rebounds in 15.2 minutes per game. His 29.4 shooting percentage from 3-point range calls into question whether or not we should refer to him as a “shooting” guard, but he’s a better field goal shooter (38.5) and free-throw shooter (70.3) than Smith.

It’s hard to compare Dionte Christmas to his fellow fringe players since he’s never played an NBA game before. But the McDonough and coach Jeff Hornacek obviously like what they’ve seen from him this summer or they wouldn’t have signed yet another guard to an already saturated position. Since Phoenix acquired Smith and Kravtsov in the Caron Butler trade that was basically meant to shed cap space, it’s safe money to bet that Christmas time could be coming to the Valley of the Sun this season.

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