The NBA regular season begins in earnest this week as the Phoenix Suns kick off their 2016-17 on Wednesday night at home against the Sacramento Kings.
So much has happened since the Suns last held a .500 or better record - about 9:30 PM on November 25, 2015 to be more or less exact - that we should savor these moments where a Phoenix Suns win-loss record is not yet negative.
This is the time to be hyper-optimistic!
I mean, if you’d asked me six years ago what would happen first: the Suns reaching the playoffs or the Cubs reaching the World Series, I’d have bet on the former. So, it’s gotta happen soon right?
The young Suns, whose average age is barely old enough to buy alcohol, are likely to at least be very interesting to watch this season.
Check out last week’s Part 1 of this Roundtable in which we predicted post season award nominees, biggest surprise and most polarizing player.
Read on for this week’s predictions on wins, health, trades and the team’s future core.
Are the Suns more likely to lead the league in pace or in fouls committed?
Dave King: I made the comment in Laker game recap that the Suns will play like a puppy this season: all arms, legs and slobber creating memories both good and bad. They will play fast and loose on both ends of the court, resulting in some awful losses and inspiring wins but more of the former than the latter, IMO. To answer the question, I think the Suns lead in pace, but come close to that mark in fouls too.
Rod Argent: Pace. I think that the fouls will taper off as the season goes on but the pace won’t. But there’s certainly the chance that they could wind up leading the league in both.
Keith Scheessele: Pace, but I don’t think it will look that way to start the season. The Suns are young and athletic, so I expect plenty of reckless play to start the season. Phoenix will eventually get this sorted out, I think that’s one of the benefits of having Dudley back, but it’s going to take awhile.
Kellan Olson: Pace. I’m not overreacting to a ton of fouls in the preseason. It’s a young team playing with a new level of intensity on defense so that was somewhat expected. They were one of the top teams in pace in the preseason and that’s more likely to carry over besides the fouls.
Geoff Allen: I’ll go with fouls. I think the team is going to have to slow things down on offense if it is trying to give a bigger role to guys like Ulis, Bender and Dudley. At the same time, I think all the rookies are likely to see significant foul trouble. And Len is always good for a few of those as well.
Deadpoolio: Pace. That doesn’t mean it will be pretty, but whatever they’re doing, they’ll probably do it at full throttle — especially the rookies.
Brendon Kleen: Pace. Only because both of these things center around the gangly inefficiencies of a young player’s style, but just one of them would actually be supported by the other players on the team. Everyone on the Suns will want to run this year, but only the most undeveloped will struggle with a high foul count.
Mike Lisboa: Porque no los dos? I think the foul situation will improve over the course of the season, but it will be ugly to start with. Chriss and Bender will be especially foul-prone while Len seems to alternate between having veteran games and rookie games on a nightly basis. But if both Bledsoe and Knight can stay healthy and split the minutes at the point, there’s no reason the Suns can’t be flying up and down the court in between their many stoppages of play.
Who has the healthiest season between Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and Alex Len?
DK: I’d say Len, but that would be too easy. Len won’t play enough minutes (unless Chandler gets traded) to matter enough whether he’s injured or not. In fact, some fans might prefer Len out of the way to give Bender and Chriss more minutes. Between Knight and Bledsoe, I’m going to go out on a limb and say they BOTH play 75+ games this year. Just seems like they will get a break from that injury bug.
RA: Bledsoe. I say that because in his career he’s seemed to only have a major injury every other year and this would be an off year for him for injuries. Why break tradition now?
KS: Knight. Naive as it may be, I think his new role as sixth man will truly rejuvenate (jumpstart?) his career. That’s going to start with appearing in more than 50 games, and playing fewer than 36 minutes.
KO: Bledsoe. Knight and Len have always picked up these little injuries that have them sit out 3-5 games and get them multiple times a year. Bledsoe is a tank with bad knees, and I’m all-in on him being healthy this season.
GA: Knight. I think at this point Knight knows he’s playing for trade interest, and I think he’s likely to play through nagging injuries or other things that might diminish that.
D-Pooly: As long as his remaining meniscus holds up, it’ll be Bledsoe. But they could finish in a three-way tie if Aaron Nelson has enough bubble wrap.
BK: Knight. I think a smaller and more focused role can be helpful for a player of Knight’s body type, and banging with second units will be easier on him than the league’s most athletic starting point guards.
ML: Eric Bledsoe stays healthy and reminds everyone why he got ranked ahead of Devin Booker in our Sunsrank to start the season.
Who gets traded first?
RA: I'm going to fudge on this one and say that it will depend on what kind of trade offers McD gets for a player on our roster. I really don't think that he will actively shop anyone at this point.
GA: I would expect P.J. Tucker to be the player most heavily shopped this season. Expiring contract, valued veteran, expendable for us given his age relative to the roster.
KO: I’m with Geoff. Tucker’s a great fit for where this team is for the future and what a playoff team would need near the deadline.
DK: I think Archie Goodwin, but only in a package along with some other player in the Suns rotation. Could be anyone, but whoever the Suns trade from their regular rotation will be accompanied by Archie. Traded players get listed alphabetically and Archie starts with A.
KS: Tucker, particularly if T.J. Warren gets off to a promising start.
D-Pooly: Devin Booker. Look, I like the guy, too, but at a certain point, you have to cut bait. The Suns just have too many guards and don’t have the time to continue developing a shooting guard whose best asset isn’t even shooting and…wait, did I say Booker? Whoops, I meant Archie Goodwin. Put a little pre-Halloween scare into everyone there for a moment.
BK: I agree with Geoff and Kellan here. Tucker’s fit on a team like the Toronto Raptors is so easy to see that if his name was ever really laid out in the rumor mill, the Suns would have no problem finding suitors. He’s the most sought-after archetype among the group of possible candidates, in other words.
ML: I think the Ryan McDonough takes a lot of calls but doesn’t make very many. Goodwin seems the most expendable, but his trade value is maybe a second rounder. I don’t think anyone gets actively shopped unless something unforeseen happens. Like one of their top guards demanding a trade two days before the deadline. Or top two centers. Tyson Chandler gets my vote for most likely to demand a trade. Good luck on finding a partner for that one.
What’s the biggest name the Suns trade/acquire this season?
RA: Again, I just don't think that McD is going into this season looking to make any big trades. But if opportunity comes knocking...
KO: I’ll never give up on Boogie.
DK: Probably no one. Certainly not LaMarcus Aldridge. If the Suns lose big, they are set up to tank and grab a high pick. If the Suns win more than they lose in the first few months, they will stick with what they have just like they did in 2013-14.
KS: I don’t think the Suns will be reaching out to initiate any moves, but with so much youth they’ll be approached early and often. Regardless of how the season starts, there will be plenty to talk about this winter.
GA: Its a poor sign if we’re picking up big name guys for this season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we looked at Rudy Gay for a late season rental or waiver wire acquisition, depending on how the season plays out. That big, expiring contract could allow the Suns to off-load some contracts that might look superfluous if the season goes well (Dudley, Chandler, even Knight potentially), but that might look good for the Kings.
D-Pooly: Gracin Bakumanya was a big name. Fifteen letters by my count. But seriously, this isn’t the season for acquiring big names. The name of the game is development.
BK: I heard Goran Dragic might get traded...
ML: They don’t. I think the roster chemistry is pretty well calibrated and McDonough and Watson will try and protect that unless something too good to be true comes along. In which case, it will be too good to be true.
Which players on the current roster will be among the CORE of the next Suns playoff team?
RA: Booker, Marquese Chriss, T.J. Warren, Bledsoe (if he stays healthy) and Dragan Bender. I’d like to add Len to that list but he still hasn’t convinced me to have that much faith in him yet.
KO: Bledsoe, Booker, Knight, Warren, Chriss and Bender. I’m also not including Len. Unleash the Chriss/Bender frontcourt!
DK: I’m with Kellan. I’m all on board with the Chriss/Bender front court of the future! Combine those guys with Booker and a top level PG from the 2017 draft and you’ve got the Suns future right there for the next decade.
KS: Bledsoe, Booker, Knight, Warren, Chriss, and Bender. I change my mind on Alex Len on a daily basis. Today it’s a yes. Tomorrow it may be a no.
GA: Booker, Bender, Warren seem the players the most likely to fit together as a core, given their relative skills. Ulis could fit in there if Booker and Bender end up being stars. Chriss could end up being the best player, but I don’t know if he fits as well with Warren and Bender.
D-Pooly: Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker seem like pretty safe bets, although I reserve the right to change my answer if I am proven wrong by the revelation that Robert Sarver has been genetically engineering basketball players in a secret underground laboratory, a la Umbrella Corp. In that case, I’m going with test subjects 131-1A, 135-3B, 145-1E, and 146-11D (who was cloned using DNA extracted from Steve Nash’s chipped tooth).
BK: I went back and forth on this one several times, and arrived at the conclusion that I only truly feel comfortable locking in Chriss, Booker, and Bledsoe based on what we know now. Bender is an unknown fit- and ceiling-wise, while the rest of the roster could probably be traded in the right deal. Those three feel untouchable and most valuable for now.
ML: Booker, Warren, Chriss... and Knight. If the Suns eventually make a big trade to get another big name talent to add to this mix, I think Bledsoe is the most likely trade asset used to acquire said talent. That leaves BK in the mix. I agree with the Len ambivalence. As for Bender, if he actually evolves into any of the many comps out there for him (Toni Kukoc, Andrei Kirilenko, not-Kristap Porzingis), I expect him to be a part of that core as well.
How many games will the Suns win?
DK: 32. After what I’ve seen this preseason, I just don’t see the Suns winning a ton of games. Effort only gets you so far. The offense isn’t clean enough to survive focused NBA defenses, and the defense is currently relying too much on refs swallowing their whistles. This isn’t the recipe of a playoff team.
JC: The Westgate Superbook has the Suns over under set at 26.5 wins, so I’m going to be positive, take the over, and go with 27. I think the young guys will be logging heavy minutes by the second half of the season, but I think players like Booker and Warren will be doing enough things right that the team won’t be a total doormat. I think I can be happy with 27. In a lot of ways people would probably feel better about where this young team is with those 27 wins than they did when 36 year old Steve Nash was dragging a crew of misfits to 40 a few years back.
RA: 36. That's about in the middle of my most optimistic and most pessimistic expectations.
GA: 29. This won’t be a historically bad Suns team, and I could see this number going as high as 35, but it really seems both unlikely and unnecessary for this team to win a ton of games.
KO: 35. I’m probably 4-5 games too high, but I’m betting on Bledsoe staying healthy, a resurgence from Chandler and Knight doing a solid job in the sixth man role. All three of those could easily not happen and then this team wins 25 games.
KS: 31. My gut reaction to this question was 30 wins. Then I actually went through the schedule and counted up 32, so I’ll settle on splitting the difference.
D-Pooly: My heart says they can win 40-42 games if they stay healthy and the chemistry remains strong. My head says 29-31 is more realistic. But you know what? I’m not going with either of those. Instead, I’m going with something much more optimistic. Much more positive. Much more Bright Side-y. And do you want to know why? It’s because the Suns haven’t made the playoffs in the last six seasons, this election cycle and barrage of campaign ads has proven beneficial to no one but my doctor and whatever pharmaceutical company makes my ulcer medication, and I just stubbed by big toe on the &@¿*# door jamb. 74 wins!
BK: 30. Right in that happy zone of improvement over last season without tarnishing the developmental prospects of the players who need the time.
ML: 33 wins splits the difference between my best and worst case scenarios for the Suns. I just looked at their schedule and it’s completely possible they barely crack 25 wins. However, I’m going to have some faith in the the coaching staff and players to rise above themselves and be the scariest 30-win team in the league.
There’s our staff predictions for the Phoenix Suns 2016-17 season, folks!
What predictions do YOU have?