Preview: Phoenix Suns

2017-18 Phoenix Suns


Projected Record: 25-57 (15th in West)

Over/Under: 28.5

2016: 24-58 (15th in West)


Key Additions:

  • F Josh Jackson
  • G Davon Reed
  • F Alec Peters

Key Subtractions:

  • G Leandro Barbosa

Summary

Strengths:

  • Youth
  • Offensive upside
  • Trade deadline flexibility

Weaknesses:

  • Extreme youth
  • Defense

The best summary of the 2017-18 Phoenix Suns you can give is the following factoid: only four players on the current roster have more than four years of NBA experience – Eric Bledsoe, Tyson Chandler, Jared Dudley, and Brandon Knight – and any of them could likely be shipped out of town at the trade deadline. This is an obscenely young team, and obscenely young teams don’t tend to win a lot of regular season basketball games.

Suns fans are amped about this franchise’s prospects, and they’re right to feel that way; few teams in the league boast as many young players with interesting ceilings as they do. Josh Jackson brings a necessary defensive pedigree, Marquese Chriss looks like a fun offensive combo-forward, Dragan Bender could be a matchup nightmare at center when fully realized, Alan Williams will sell his soul and his first-born child to grab a rebound, and T.J. Warren looks like a funky swingman who isn’t far from contributing all over the court.

Much like I wrote with regards to the Brooklyn Nets, however, optimism about the future doesn’t always equate to present performance, and it’s hard to find a spot in one of the best Western Conferences ever for a team that has so many players who can’t legally drink alcohol yet. The Suns kicked the tires on Paul Millsap in free agency, but Millsap just wouldn’t have fit the timeline of this roster when so many players are incomplete products right now. I can only project the Suns to improve so much when they’re this young and were completely inactive in free agency.

One thing the Suns should strongly emphasize this year: defense, where they have few players who look likely to move the needle in that regard (and even fewer still if Bledsoe and Chandler are shipped out). Devin Booker, Dragan Bender, and Chriss don’t really seem to grasp the concept, Tyler Ulis physically can’t, and Alex Len is sort of just a plodding rim-protector. Josh Jackson should be a great defender, and I think T.J. Warren will get to a passable level eventually, but they’re going to need to come up with more from somewhere eventually.


Most Valuable Player: Eric Bledsoe

Partly due to injuries and partly due to the Suns’ general ineptitude, Eric Bledsoe has really vanished from the national basketball spotlight. He’s still a very good player – a capable distributor, aggressive lane-driver, and tenacious defender. He’s undersized and the jumper will always be shaky, but he used to be called Mini LeBron for a reason. I love Bledsoe’s game and I’m hopeful that he’ll find his way to a playoff contender at the deadline. Someone like San Antonio, Denver, Utah, New Orleans, or Charlotte could stand to benefit greatly from the varied ways he can affect a game (not that I’ve taken the time to draw up a reasonable deal for these – I’m just throwing out names). Free Eric Bledsoe!

X Factor: Devin Booker

Devin Booker became one of the most divisive players in the entire league the night he dropped 70 points in a blowout loss to the Boston Celtics. I’m not going to debate the merits of that game – 70 points is an amazing feat even considering the fact that the Suns completely abandoned any semblance of NBA offense to get Booker more shots – but it’s being held up as proof that Booker is a great NBA player right this moment. That claim is just misguided, and the facts don’t yet back it up.

Booker has an interesting ceiling and I feel there are sects that have gone too far in talking him down – he’s only 21 years old right now, after all. That said, Booker is far from a complete package at this point in time. He’s a defensive turnstile who has yet to show an ability to positively impact the game on that end of the floor. He dominates the ball on offense and takes a whole lot of shots, which are a varying degree of questionable. Take a look at his heatmap…

Devin Booker.png

…compared to the second year of the guy he’s been compared to since before he was drafted, Klay Thompson…

Klay Thompson (2)

…and you start to see how he’s heavily behind. The Thompson comparisons are likely a pipe dream – Thompson was an elite three-point shooter the moment he stepped on an NBA court, where Booker has floated around league average, and Thompson is also an excellent on-ball defender – but I can think of another player with an early-career reputation for being a chucker who might not be an awful player for Booker to emulate.


Conclusion

This year’s Suns are absurdly young, and although they’ll have stretches where the offense clicks and they feel like they can score with anyone, they won’t rack up many wins this year. There are just too many questions surrounding too many extremely inexperienced players for them to make much noise in a Western Conference that is absolutely stacked this year.

This season is a success for Phoenix if Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss start to show more awareness and engagement on the defensive end, Josh Jackson proves he can shoot, and Dragan Bender proves he’s an NBA player. Anything more than that is gravy, but wins will be hard to come by.

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