During the lightning round of an exclusive Bright Side interview with Jared Dudley yesterday, the new/old Suns forward made some bold predictions for the upcoming Suns season.
The boldest was predicting that the Suns could be a winning team.
“I think that this team, when healthy with Eric Bledsoe, is a .500 or better ball club,” Dudley said.
To be more specific, JD predicted 43 wins on the year.
“I’m going by the best case scenario,” he said. “Where everyone’s healthy, everyone’s playing well.”
Dudley has been playing pickup with the entire team for two weeks now, even including the rehabbing T.J. Warren and Eric Bledsoe who were fully cleared for five-on-five scrimmages last week.
The best time of year to predict success is before any games have actually been played, so if you’re going to predict a winning season now is the time to do it.
My first Media Day with the Suns as a representative for Bright Side came in September 2012. On that day, we welcomed Goran Dragic back to the Suns family from his hiatus in Houston.
The Dragon predicted the playoffs for the 2012-13 then too. “Why not?” he asked the group of reporters, with his big smile. Dudley also predicted success. The Suns won 23 games that year without suffering any major injuries until starting center Marcin Gortat missed the last month with a broken foot.
Preseason predictions should be taken with a grain of salt. Just like the myriad predictions of “next-to-last place in the West” we are seeing at the moment for these Suns, all predictions are just that. Predictions.
Still, it’s good to see that the Suns players are optimistic. Eric Bledsoe has expressed great optimism in interview snippets this off season, as has Brandon Knight.
Players aren’t always wrong in their optimism. Suns players rightly predicted success in September 2004, 2005 and even 2013, just as national pundits picked those teams to have losing records. The 2004 team was coming off a 29-53 season. In 2005, it was about losing Amare Stoudemire. And in 2013, it was Channing Frye saying “why not us?” and “this team is good” before anyone else did.
Maybe Dudley is right, that if everything breaks right for the Suns they could challenge for a playoff spot.
“You’re going to go through ups and downs,” he said.
He remembers joining the Milwaukee Bucks in 2014, who were set up to lose a ton of games with a super-young lineup and second-year unknown coach in Jason Kidd. They were coming off a 15-win season in 2013-14.
“When I was in Milwaukee we were the worst team in the NBA when I got there,” he said. “Philly was better than them, if you can imagine that. I came there with a couple other vets. We started the year probably three or four games under .500. By the middle of the season, Giannis took the next step and so did Brandon Knight, he was an All-Star. They took the next step.”
By January, the Bucks played like a sure-fire playoff team and had a 30-23 record going into the All-Star break. By then, Jared Dudley had taken over a lot of stretch-four minutes after the Bucks lost Jabari Parker to a torn ACL. And Brandon Knight was the team’s leading scorer.
But Knight was traded to the Suns in February when the Bucks decided to prioritize shooting guard Kris Middleton over Knight long term. Each was about to become a restricted free agent, expecting a maximum-value $13-14 million per year salary in their next long-term contracts.
The Bucks traded Knight for former ROY Michael Carter-Williams along with rookie Tyler Ennis and backup center Miles Plumlee. None of the three players has become a long-term answer at their position for the Bucks, though it’s mildly entertaining that Plumlee got that $13 million per year just a year later after only averaging 4.7 points and 3.5 rebounds in 13 minutes per game in a Bucks uniform. MCW has suffered from injuries (54 games last year) and ineffectiveness (44% shooting), while Tyler Ennis looks like a career third-string playmaker.
Dudley knows the Suns season depends certain players stepping up.
“I’m hoping Devin Booker takes the next step,” he says. “I’m expecting Eric Bledsoe to have a healthy season and him to be a potential All-Star. And I expect Alex Len to take that next step. If those three guys take the steps, I think we have enough role players to be solid enough to get that win total.”
Dudley knows having a very good big man is important for a team’s success. I remember Dudley saying in 2011 that they needed Robin Lopez to play like an All-Star to repeat stay successful after losing Amare Stoudemire to the Knicks in free agency. Unfortunately, Lopez had a bad year and the Suns acquired center Marcin Gortat in December but still couldn’t get over the hump.
Dudley believes in Alex Len. When asked which player would be the biggest surprise this year, Dudley thought for a minute and gave this answer.
“Right now, Tyler Ulis,” he said. “During the season, I’m going to go with Alex Len. It’s a big year for him.”
Suns coach Earl Watson’s AAU partner visited the Suns facility last week and had a similar reaction to watching Len play.
Maybe Alex Len, now at the ripe old age of 23, is ready to ascend in the higher echelon of big men in this league.
Personally, I’d be happy if Len just became a defensive force and put-back champion to anchor that front line behind the undersized Dudley and T.J. Warren.
What do you say, Suns fans?
Do you agree with Jared Dudley that the best case scenario of a healthy Suns team is a playoff contender?