2016 – 2017 Results: 24-58, 15th in the Western Conference
Key Additions: Josh Jackson (Draft), Troy Daniels (MEM)
Key Departures: None
Free Agents: None
Injuries: Brandon Knight – ACL tear, may miss entire season. Alan Williams – Meniscus repair in right knee, expected to miss at least six months. Jared Dudley – Recovering from surgery to repair left toe ligament, out 3 – 4 months.
Projected Starters: Eric Bledsoe – Devin Booker – TJ Warren – Marquise Chriss – Tyson Chandler
Bench Mob: Tyler Ulis, Derrick Jones, Jr., Josh Jackson, Jared Dudley, Alex Len, Troy Daniels, Elijah Milsap, Alan Williams, Dragen Bender, Devon Reed
To say that last year was a rough one for the Suns is a bit of an understatement. With the West being as competitive as ever it appears that the 2017 – 2018 campaign will not prove to be much different. Luckily for owner Robert Sarver and the organization as a whole the fanbase has seemingly bought in to a rebuild. That’s right, in what seems to be the wake of Philadelphia asking us to #TrustTheProcess the usually scrappy Suns will now implore us to #FollowTheTimeline. Yeesh!
The Good: Devin Booker. That’s it. Okay, I’m kidding but as far as what we’re going to see night to night it’s close. The Kentucky product and Moss Point, Mississippi native took an impressive leap building on what was a very promising rookie campaign. Booker put up 22.1 PPG and shot the three ball at a 36% clip. But the numbers only tell part of the story. His emergence into a multifaceted scorer and leader is arguably more impressive than that sweet sweet stat sheet candy he was putting down. His first season as the clear cut leader of the team will be interesting as he attempts to provide some cohesion and generate some chemistry with a group that far too often looked like disparate pieces searching for a purpose.
There are some glimmers of hope outside of DB. The Suns have been buried so long that we all seem to forget that Eric Bledsoe is a person that is really good at basketball (when he’s healthy). The Kentucky product (for real tho’, with four UK guys on the roster I’m going to start calling them the Phoenix Wildcats) is a great match with his two way play and knack for facilitation. EB looms large as quite possibly the most viable trade candidate but as long as he’s playing in the Valley of the Sun there’s a lot to like about their guards. Add in the diminutive yet dynamic Tyler Ulis along with the shooting of Troy Daniels and you have the makings for a fairly competent backcourt rotation. If Josh Jackson can live up to at least some of the hype their wing situation shows promise also with the silently solid TJ Warren at starting.
This is a team that can put the ball in the hoop (7th in scoring last season) and more importantly get easy points (first in both two point field goals made and attempted as well as second in free throw attempts and first in makes) and if their young talent can get more efficient on that side of the ball this team will be even more fun to watch. And maybe, just maybe this can translate to wins.
The Bad: Oh boy, where to begin? While there is some to like about this roster there’s plenty to abhor. With Alan Williams out for the year and Tyson Chandler turning 60 who while he still rebounds at a high rate provides almost zero rim protection at this point the bulk of the post responsibilities will fall on Alex Len. Don’t get me wrong Len is a nice young player that has shown some flashers of competence but he is still a guy that plays better off of another big to share some of the load and as we all know this is a philosophy that isn’t exactly en vogue in today’s NBA.
The power forward situation proves to be just as dismal. Although opinions tend to be split on the potential Maquese Chriss I think it’s fair to say that the consensus is that he’s failed to produce right now. Chriss started last year and will continue to do so by default but with those minutes came plenty of opportunity to see how uninspired, poorly prepared and just downright lackadaisical he is. Chriss has plenty of natural talent but it’s high time for him to put in to good use to become a real basketball player. Dragen Bender has underwhelmed even more.
While the starting lineup can stay on the floor in spurts with most teams their bench situation is pretty rough. Daniels should provide some shooting which would be great given that Phoenix finished 27th in three point accuracy converting a sorry 33.2% of their tries even with the shooting of Booker and Dudley. However, Daniels would probably be best utilized getting reps with some of the first team guys. But head coach Earl Watson’s inexplicable affinity towards playing dual big lineups will most likely shelve Daniels to play with bench heavy units in which he’s the ONLY shooter. Sounds like that’ll work well right? Bender, offensively averse Jackson and Derrick Jones, Jr does nothing to worry opponents. Although Jackson projects to help this unit (and hell the team as a whole) Phoenix will hemorrhage points. The Suns got torched by opposing offense to the tune of 113.3 points per night almost a full 6 points more than their 9th ranked scoring offense produced.
The X Factor: So, y’all know I’m a big coach guy. I rarely rip the head guy when there’s room for blame to go around but Earl Watson is just not a good head coach right now. Look no further than his complete inability to inspire any ball movement in spite of having more than capable talent in the back court. There’s simply no excuse having the next to last assists rating while boasting a top 10 scoring team. There is no excuse for having legit the league’s worst scoring defense despite having 55 games of PJ Tucker last year, 68 games of Eric Bledsoe, the emergence of Alan Williams at the very least Tyson Chandler’s defensive rebounding. These are clear indicators that the problem is more than the players ain’t trying. There’s no scheme, there’s no execution and worst of all there’s absolutely no buy in of what Earl’s selling if he’s selling anything at all. And don’t get me started on his substitution patterns.
Coaches get better. And even if Phoenix isn’t in win now mode Watson will have to show some real improvement in all facets to prove that he is the guy they want leading them through this rebuild and possibly beyond it. However, I really think it’s gonna get worse before it gets better.
H.B. says: 25-57, 15th in the Western Conference, 5th in the Pacific Division