It’s been a quiet off-season for the Phoenix Suns. Outside of the draft, the team has done little to add to the roster. Around them, the Western Conference has seen an influx of star talent and player movement: Paul George; Paul Millsap; Chris Paul; the list goes on. How will the Suns fair come training camp and the regular season? Here’s a look.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
To hear people talk, Devin Booker could be the reincarnation of Kobe Bryant. His 70-point game last season put him on people’s maps as the league’s next great scorer, and it’s hard to argue with that logic, even this early in his career. He is really good at scoring the basketball, but so far he hasn’t been good enough to lift his team out of the West’s lower half and return the Suns to the playoffs. That day might be coming, though, especially with athletic kids like Josh Jackson and Marquese Chriss giving fans further optimism for what lies ahead. Phoenix isn’t ready for primetime just yet, but the pieces are starting to look like they’re in place. With great veteran leadership in place, the Suns are rising in the West.
3rd Place – Pacific Division
– Joel Brigham
Another year, another top-five draft pick joins the Phoenix Suns.
This season, Josh Jackson joins the Suns as the next part of their youth movement that already features the likes of Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss, Tyler Ulis, and Alex Len. Phoenix is adopting their own long-term moniker a la the Philadelphia 76ers, and laying out “The Timeline” for fans in hopes to set the tone for the bigger picture.
At the center of it all is Booker. After his breakout year last season, and with some help along the wing coming in by the way of Jackson this season, Booker could really be headed for that next jump in terms of performance. With Brandon Knight lost for the season with a torn ACL and Eric Bledsoe constantly involved in trade rumors, the Suns look to be headed towards another season with a sub-.500 winning percentage. But, with budding young talent already in-house for Phoenix, their timeline may not be as drawn out as some other rebuilds around the league.
5th place – Pacific Division
– Dennis Chambers
From a team-building angle, the 2017-18 season should be a straightforward exercise for the Phoenix Suns. They don’t have to “tank,” per se – with the amount of youth in prominent places on their roster plus the relative lack of Western Conference teams actively looking to be bad, a lot of losing will come organically. The Suns can get tons of experience for young guys like Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren and Marquese Chriss, all of whom should be able to play huge roles without fear of any negative scoreboard effects. The Suns should jockey with the Lakers for the bottom seed out West and in the Pacific, which will put them in position for yet another elite building block in a top-heavy 2018 draft.
5th place – Pacific Division
– Ben Dowsett
The 2017-18 season will be another developmental season for the Phoenix Suns, who have not made the playoff since 2010. Phoenix drafted Josh Jackson from Kansas with the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft. Jackson is another talented prospect for Phoenix’s impressive young core, which includes Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, Tyler Ulis and T.J. Warren. The Suns still have a few veterans who no longer fit on this developing roster, such as Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley. Don’t be surprised if Phoenix aggressively looks to trade some of these veterans in exchange for draft assets or young talent.
5th Place – Pacific Division
– Jesse Blancarte
Tanking stinks. From a basketball perspective it’s dreadfully bad, but when you look at the treasure trove of young players the Suns are amassing, it’s simply a matter of time before they start to turn the corner and become really good. There is too much talent there for it not to happen. The problem for Suns fans is that this year won’t be that year – but like Philadelphia has preached, trusting the process can yield a lot more than quick fix trades or overpriced free agent signings. The Suns have a promising core. It’s time for them to learn and grow together because next season could be when they break out of the basement.
5th Place – Pacific Division
– Steve Kyler
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Devin Booker
Devin Booker’s 70-point game against the Boston Celtics last season was just a flash of the almost limitless offensive potential he possesses. Booker paced the Suns last season by scoring 22.1 points per game while shooting 36.3 percent from three with a true shooting percentage of 53.1 percent. Booker led the team in usage percentage and minutes played as well, coming in at 28.6 percent and 2,730 minutes, respectively. Going into his third season, expect those trends to continue and expect Booker to further improve upon his numbers.
Top Defensive Player: Alan Williams
Alan Williams rarely saw the floor for the Suns early on in the season, averaging just 7.2 minutes per game in the first half. When given consistent playing time after the All-Star break, however, Williams was a beast. In 24 second half games, Williams registered 20 steals, 18 blocks and pulled in 155 defensive rebounds in just over 22 minutes per game. Per 100 possessions, Williams’ numbers jump off the page at 13.4 defensive rebounds in addition to 1.8 steals and 2.2 blocks. Williams block percentage of 3.7 percent would have ranked 16th best in the league had he played in enough games to qualify as well. The defensive talent is there and, with enough playing time, Williams should be a defensive force for the Suns next season.
Top Playmaker: Eric Bledsoe
Eric Bledsoe showed the NBA what he can do with a full slate of games at his disposal. Last season, amidst plenty of trade rumors, Bledsoe averaged a career high in points and assist with 21.1 and 6.3 per game, respectively. Bledsoe’s assist percentage of 31.1 percent led the Suns, as did his 418 total assists and four offensive win shares. While trade rumors continue to swirl around Bledsoe, he is still a part of the team and will be a main fixture in the offense next to Booker in the starting lineup.
Top Clutch Player: Eric Bledsoe
Most would expect Booker to take this spot, but in clutch time it was Bledsoe who was the go-to player on the floor for the Suns last year. Across 31 games with five minutes left in the fourth quarter or overtime and a point differential of five or less, Bledsoe shot 42 of 92, good for a 45.7 field goal percentage while also shooting eight of 22 (36.4 percent) from three. Booker was not too shabby himself, shooting 39 of 94 in clutch time across 34 games, good for a 41.5 percent field goal percentage. Booker, however, shot just seven of 27 (25.9 percent) from three. While both are excellent clutch time shooters in their own right, Bledsoe gets the nod for his superior shooting percentages.
The Unheralded Player: Tyson Chandler
Tyson Chandler started in 47 of the first 57 games for the Suns last season, but did not make an on-court appearance for the rest of the season. The reason to consider Chandler unheralded is not for his on-court production, however, but because of the guidance and advice he can provide for the Suns’ up-and-coming roster. A 16-year NBA veteran, Chandler was an integral part of the Dallas Mavericks title run in the 2011 season. That experience is almost invaluable to the Suns, who have very little playoff exposure outside of Chandler and fellow veteran Jared Dudley
Best New Addition: Josh Jackson
The Suns haven’t made many additions this offseason but, even if they had, Josh Jackson probably would still be the best of them. His shooting may be a work in progress, but the effort and intensity he brings on the defensive end will be a boon for the Suns starting lineup. With a defensive rating of 109.3, Phoenix was one of the worst defensive units in the NBA last season; Jackson’s energy and attitude should provide a much-needed boost.
– Shane Rhodes
WHO WE LIKE
1. Devin Booker
Booker carried plenty of momentum into the end of the regular season. In 22 games following the All-Star break, he averaged 24.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists; had he averaged those across the season, Booker would have been one of just eight to average those numbers, bumping shoulders with the likes of LeBron James, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and others. With another offseason of training under his belt, expect a dominant season from Booker.
2. Eric Bledsoe
If Bledsoe can remain healthy for the entire season — a big if — the Suns have a big chance of improving on their 24 and 58 record from a season ago. Bledsoe was flat-out dominant at times last season and, barring a trade, should be able to easily replicate his numbers from last season.
3. Josh Jackson
Jackson won’t solely contribute on the defensive end. While his jumper has its problems, he is a great basket cutter and Jackson’s explosiveness and athleticism will play a huge role in his offensive success as he makes the transition from college to the NBA. In his lone season at Kentucky, Jackson averaged 16.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. While it’s hard to expect those numbers from any rookie, Jackson should have no trouble making an impact early and often for the Suns on both ends of the floor.
4. Alan Williams
After his mini-breakout in the second half of the season, Williams will likely be allotted plenty of minutes in the upcoming season. While he doesn’t stretch the floor much — Williams attempted just one three-pointer last season — Williams is a great rebounder and paint-presence. Per 100 possession, Williams averaged 23.4 points, an absurd 19.7 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 2.2 blocks. While Williams won’t be the offensive fulcrum for the Suns, if he’s surrounded by floor stretchers patrolling the paint should be an easy task for him.
SALARY CAP 101
The Suns are currently $6.3 million under the NBA’s $99.1 million salary cap. That includes Alex Len’s $12.1 million cap hold as a restricted free agent. Phoenix cannot rescind their $4.2 million qualifying offer to Len without his approval. The team otherwise has 15 players under contract with Elijah Millsap and Derrick Jones non-guaranteed. If Len agrees to move on and the Suns cut Millsap and Jones, they’d drop to $21.2 million below the cap. The team also has its $4.3 million Room Exception available.
Eric Bledsoe has just one year remaining on his contract after this season. The Suns may want to look to move him before he fits free agency in July of 2019. As currently constructed, Phoenix projects to have $21.4 million in spending power next year. The franchise also needs to decide, before the start of the coming season, on the team options of Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss and Devin Booker.
– Eric Pincus
Youth is certainly a strong point for the Suns, who currently roster seven players under the age of 25 (eight including Alex Len, who is currently a restricted free agent). The average age of their roster, 24.8 years, remains one of the lowest in the league despite hosting several older veterans such as Chandler and Jared Dudley. While other teams may lag at the end of the season, the Suns’ youth should keep them energized down the final stretch. Another strength for the Suns is their plethora of big men. Williams, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender are all under the age of 25 and flashed major upside when on the floor last season. While Williams is a more traditional big man, Chriss and Bender are capable of stretching the floor beyond the three-point line, which should be a major boost for the Suns in the coming season.
– Shane Rhodes
Earl Watson may be respected by his peers and his players, but coaching is one of the Suns’ more glaring problems. Under his watch, the Suns have a 33-82 record; not promising for a team hoping to ride its young talent to the promised land. It’s not completely Watson’s fault the Suns have stumbled, but should they falter again in 2017 expect him to be on the hot-seat. Youth –something that could be considered a strength — could also be a weakness for Phoenix. Closing out games could be a problem for the team, as could their lack of experience down the stretch.
– Shane Rhodes
THE BURNING QUESTION
Can the Phoenix Suns finally make the leap in 2017?
This question has seemingly been asked of the Suns for the past several years. But with improvements made almost across the Western Conference, don’t expect the Suns to be making any playoff push come May. The team remains relatively unchanged from last season and with the likes of Paul George, Paul Millsap and others joining the West, expect the Suns’ regular season record in 2017 to look similar to their record in 2016.
– Shane Rhodes
The Brooklyn Nets Preview dropped yesterday, and the LA Lakers Preview will drop later today. Keep swinging by Basketball Insiders for new team previews every day all the way to the start of NBA Training Camps.
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