How excited are we for the NBA season to really begin?! In 4 short days the Phoenix Suns play their first game of the regular season against the Dallas Mavericks. Fans will finally get a better view of what the 2015/16 Suns team can do. Playoffs are the obvious goal. With some last minute predictions; Jim and I give you five reasons the Suns won't and five reasons why they will make the Playoffs this season.
Or lack thereof. At the end of the day talent usually prevails, and the Suns lack it on the elite end of the spectrum. The Suns have some good to very good players, but nobody who is approaching great. ESPN's annual NBA rank gave the most accolades to Eric Bledsoe... at 36. The teams that the Suns will be competing with/chasing all have better high end talent.
Another inconvenient paradigm is that Bledsoe (and Brandon Knight to a lesser extent) plays point guard, which is the most oversaturated position in the NBA. Looking at the bench, more on this later, there doesn't appear to be one player that would even come close to starting for another Western Conference playoff team... so it isn't like the Suns are necessarily rolling deep.
Of Eric Bledsoe specifically. The Suns probably won't be getting a chance to lure an elite player to Phoenix very soon, so their best bet right now is growth within the team. Eric has been working out in Phoenix most of the off-season so I'm gonna give him the benefit of the doubt and say his yearly improvement will be better than last year's no improvement. By now he has almost 2 years of starter's role behind him and should be comfortable enough on the floor to bring his turnovers down and improve his decision making
and stop getting stuck in the air with no out as much. He has plenty of talent and if he could become the star player he shows glimpses off on a consistent basis; with some good to very good players behind him, he could lead the Suns into the post season.
Won't: The Bench
I first detailed the lack of NBA experience on the Suns bench in August and I'm adamant that this is still a concern. The Suns bench unit has the second fewest games and minutes played in the league and the third fewest years. The only player with tenure is Ronnie Price, who has proved himself to be a net zero (at best) over his career.
It's not just a lack of experience, but a lack of proven production. No player on the Suns bench has ever scored in double digits for a season. No player besides Mirza Teletovic has made more than 31 three point shots in a season.
There are reasons for optimism. Players like Teletovic and Sonny Weems have plenty of professional basketball experience, just not NBA experience. T.J. Warren and others had solid preseason showings. However, until this translates to success this season they are just that... reasons for optimism.
Will: Second unit
The Suns do have some bright spots on their second unit. Firstly, they'll have the possibility of having a starting caliber point guard running the team throughout the whole game. Hornacek will likely try to keep at least one of Bledsoe or Knight on the floor at all times which will turn in to an advantage on most nights.
A lot has been said about Tyson Chandler's role on the team. Besides providing the young Suns team with veteran leadership, Chandler will also help with the evolution of Alex Len. Alex was a full time starter last year and even if he wasn't as much of a star as some of us expected, with that experience he should be a solid backup at center.
Another bright sun of the bench is T.J. Warren. He had a great summer league performance and has continued having success in the preseason. He's been leading the team in points and had the 4th highest FG% behind only the centers (I know I know, it's preseason). He still needs to work on his three point shot and get used to the minutes but if he continues to contribute efficiently this could turn out to be a breakout year.
Won't: Three Point Shooting
The Suns managed the dubious distinction of having the worst post All-Star break shooting percentage from three point range last season. Obviously, this was an area of concern. So the Suns decided to correct the deficiency by adding one plus three point shooter (Teletovic) to the team. The Suns best four three point shooters last season (Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Morris and Gerald Green) are all gone.
When P.J. Tucker is your best three point shooter... you're in big trouble. The Suns will basically need every player on the team to shoot better than they did last season for this not to be a weakness. Exacerbating this is the dynamic of the team's offensive system, which is predicated on high volume three point shooting.
Now that we have a solid big with mad rebounding skills in Tyson Chandler (5th in the NBA last season), the Suns will have more opportunities to take advantage of the fast break. With Brandon and Eric clicking, they could bring back the success of the 2pg system of Dragić and Bledsoe in the first part of the 2013/14 season, maybe complementing each other even better.
Brandon getting a nice contract should boost his confidence and now that he's had some time to acclimate to his new team/surroundings his averages should go back up to the nice numbers he provided in Milwaukee. Lets hope he goes over 40% from 3 again. And doesn't have too many shaqtin' a fool appearances.
Won't: The Western Conference
If the Suns were in the Eastern Conference the arguments for them not being a playoff team would be much more fragile. If the playoff system rewarded the best 16 teams overall Phoenix would be in much better shape. I think it's highly likely that the Suns will be one of the best 16 teams in the league this season.
Instead the Suns play in the brutal Western Conference, which appears poised to be just as historically good as it has been the last few years. At least six teams (Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, Rockets, Clippers and Grizzlies) are virtual locks for postseason play, leaving the Suns to fight for one of the last two spots. While only the Pelicans, Jazz and (I guess) Mavericks seem like serious threats, who thought the Jazz would be as improved as they were before last season?
Will: Fight for 8
I definitely see the six teams Jim mentions together surely making the Playoffs. I also see the Pelicans getting at least the 7th seed because of Anthony Davis. Due to the implosion of The Portland Trail Blazers over the summer, the number 8 spot is up for grabs. The Dallas Mavericks have a shot even though Dirk is getting old, they lost Tyson Chandler to the Suns over the summer, Chandler Parsons hasn't been as good as Mark Cuban probably expected and they didn't manage to lure DeAndre Jordan away from bff Blake Griffin. I don't know where the Jazz came from but they have an even younger roster than the Suns and a bit less talent.
We'll probably have to endure another race for the 8th seed, but I'm hoping things like health, team chemistry (the team has been spending all this quality time together all summer) and some more experience than last year tip the scale in our favour.
If you keep dropping something and it keeps falling to the floor every time, eventually you'll be able to predict that the next time you drop it... it will fall to the floor. Just like the inexorable and immutable law of universal gravitation, the Suns are compelled towards the 13th pick by an unyielding force.
The Suns have chosen a strategy of conbuilding and the risk of that manifesto is being stuck in perpetual stasis, waiting for a star player to arrive. It can work. The Houston Rockets proved the model can succeed by way of prying James Harden away from the Thunder during a rare lapse of judgment. The Suns have not gotten that star yet. Instead they are signing free agents (Tyson Chandler) that remind me more of past missteps (Tom Gugliotta) than moves destined to take them to the next level. Meanwhile, the Suns face the definite prospect of extending their playoff drought into a franchise record sixth consecutive year.
Will: A little faith
We should all take a minute here and pray to the basketball gods that the Suns don't set a new playoff drought record in franchise history. This last 5 year break from the post-season ties with the one the Suns had way back in 1975. I wasn't even alive back then. So lets keep it at a tie and let Suns fans enjoy their basketball past April this season. Pretty please? And if Ryan could get us an All-Star type player with the trades that'd be great too.
The suns have surprised us quite a lot in the last two years, when they've come just short of the post-season. This will be Ryan and Jeff's third year to prove they can produce a Playoff team in the West. Third time's the charm right?
What do you think? Will the Suns make the Playoffs or Won't they? Tell us your reasons in the comments, and definitely tell us if we swayed your thoughts in any way.