Five days before the regular season starts, the national media apparently want to set us straight on just how bad the Phoenix Suns will be this season. They might as well just mail in the season, according to various outlets who take it upon themselves to predict the future.
SCHOENE System projects the Suns to finish 14th in West - (Michael Schwartz - Valley of the Suns)
...Basketball Prospectus' SCHOENE projection system, which tabbed the Suns to finish all the way down in 14th as well with an even more lowly 28-54 record that ranks in the bottom five of the league.
SCHOENE also projects the Suns to rank 26th in offensive rating (105.3) and 22nd in defensive rating (110.6) behind the second-lowest projected payroll in the NBA.
Clearly SCHOENE attributes the Suns' ability to be a top-10 offense last season largely to the brilliance of Steve Nash, as the piece points out the Suns were a whopping 8.1 points per 100 possessions better offensively last season with Two Time on the floor.
NBAPET System picks the Suns last (or 15th) in the West with a 27-55 record (Bradford Doolittle - Basketball Prospectus)
Using NBAPET, my system for projecting, evaluating and tracking the league, I've entered all transactions through the weekend and created a wins forecast for every team.
I've also compared the wins forecast to last season's total of Pythagorean wins per 82 games for each team, which is the record each team should have had based on its point differential. This gives us an idea how teams have moved up and down the NBA ladder since the Heat wrapped up the championship a couple of months ago.
ESPN - Summer Forecast picked the Suns to finish in 14th place in the West with a 30-52 record. To add weight to their still-amateur predictions, they threw lots and lot of amateurs at it. The wisdom of crowds, so to speak.
For foresight, we surveyed 100 of ESPN's best basketball minds, including contributors from ESPN.com, the TrueHoop Network, TrueHoop TV, Daily Dime Live, ESPN TV, ESPN Radio, ESPN Deportes, espnW, ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider, ESPN Fantasy, ESPN Games, ESPN Dallas, ESPN Los Angeles, ESPN Boston, ESPN Chicago, ESPN New York, ESPN Stats & Information, ESPN Topics and ESPN Analytics.
John Hollinger of ESPN (Insider) picks the Suns dead last in the West as well. To his credit, at least he devotes a lot of rhetoric to his conclusions.
...the transition from "Seven Seconds or Less" to "50 Losses or More" seems nearly complete, with Jared Dudley and Channing Frye the last of the old guard that went to the 2010 conference finals. (Pedants will note Goran Dragic left and has since returned.)
Unfortunately, there's just no easy way to deal with the fact that last season they were a veteran team propped up by Nash, and now there's no Nash. Most likely, this team will have to get considerably worse before it gets better.
What do all these predictions mean?
Well for one thing, they mean that the Suns are no lock to win significant games this season. As we have written ad nauseum on this and other boards and sites all summer, the Suns do not have even one star player to trot out there every night. Star players attract attention and still get their points, rebounds and/or assists no matter how hard the other team tries to stop them.
Yet, I don't think any statisticians can accurately predict this Suns team.
It is my belief that any team which turns over most of its entire roster and is ready to field a rotation that returns only two starters and five of ten rotations players from last season cannot be accurately predicted using metrics from prior seasons.
The two best returning players, Jared Dudley and Marcin Gortat, never played significant minutes without Nash on the court in the last couple of seasons, so the sample size of their Nash-less effectiveness is way too small to project over a full season.
Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson were in a different lineup and offensive scheme. So were Goran Dragic and Luis Scola. While there will be similarities in the new offense this season, the statisticians and prognosticators cannot accurately predict how much.
Sure, these guys and their numbers may be right. But I don't believe they actually know any more than we do about what's going to happen this year. Even with a largely unchanged team last year (ie. easier to project), SCHOENE predicted only 27 wins (the Suns actually won 33). Hollinger has predicted dire results for the Suns for YEARS (in his NBA "Future Power Rankings"), yet the Suns continue to outperform those expectations.
Alvin Gentry knows how to get the most out of his players. This season we will find out just how much was Steve Nash and how much was Alvin Gentry. A 4-3 preseason record despite playing 15 guys a night is a good start, at least.
I do believe the Suns will be much better than 14th or 15th in the West. They have winners in their lineup. No question they will win more than 30 games.
The question to me is: can they make the playoffs?