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Will the Suns be bad enough?

The Suns have been playing more competitive basketball recently, but a low floor in the NBA this season still has them in the running for a top 5 lottery pick.

2016 NBA Draft
Will the Suns put on a Fultz court press?
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Nets suck.

I mean, like rancid, fetid trash suck.

They’ve managed to pretty much run away and hide with the worst record in the NBA.

The hilarious angle behind their ineptitude is that the Boston Celtics have the right to swap first round picks with the Nets this year. Not that I can see the future, but my guess is they will exercise that option.

The Celtics are going to have a top 4 pick this year.

Where everyone else is picking is still somewhat up to guesswork.

Like I mentioned above, the Nets Celtics have basically clinched the best odds for the #1 pick in the 2017 draft... allowing Brooklyn to implement a Fultz court press for them.

The Lakers have been spiraling into their own vortex of suck, stumbling to a meager 6-23 since starting 10-10, so it’s beginning to look like they might be trying to put a stranglehold on the second spot. That would be advantageous for the Lakers, since their pick this season is only top 3 protected. If they do end up keeping their pick this season their 2018 pick becomes unprotected and will go to Philadelphia.

While that pick is starting to look like a pretty attractive asset, the Suns did get Brandon Knight out of that deal... so I think we can all agree the Suns won that trade no matter what the eventual outcome is.

After that it becomes a lot more interesting.

Let me preface the rest of this by pointing out that the Suns have been playing better basketball lately.

Devin Booker has scored at least 20 points in 10 straight games. He has done this while shooting 49% from the field and 53.6% from three point range.

Eric Bledsoe is one of five NBA players averaging at least 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game. The other four are Russell Westbrook, James Harden, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Tyson Chandler is 6th in the league in rebounding (12.3) and if he stays healthy enough to meet minimum requirements will contend for the league lead in FG% and ORtg... all at the wizened age of 34.

P.J. Tucker has garnered attention as one of the league’s premiere defenders and will surely get at least a few votes for defensive player of the year.

During Booker’s recent hot stretch the Suns are 5-5. Included in that total was an impressive win over the San Antonio Spurs (36-9). Of the five losses, four were by five points or less.

Still, even if the Suns are able to emulate their best stretch of play this season that will only be good for 33-49... and I wouldn’t bank on the Suns playing .500 ball down the stretch.

I’m not here to play Pollyanna. I don’t think the playoffs are a realistic goal. It’s starting to look like a team with a losing record will end up making the playoffs in the West, but it’s not only the size of the margin, but the number of teams ahead of the Suns that makes the leap impractical.

I’m going to focus on the race to the bottom.

And despite the Suns recently improved play they sit squarely in 3rd place.

A lot of that has to do with the fact that the Suns aren’t the only bad team that has been playing better lately.

Five of the ten teams with the worst records in the league are 5-5 or better in their last ten games.

The Miami Heat have won five straight games (the Suns season high is two) behind the impressive play of Dion Waiters, who returned to the lineup earlier this month after missing the entire month of December. The Heat have wins over the Houston Rockets and Golden St. Warriors during the streak.

The Dallas Mavericks have won five of their last seven. Like the Heat, the Mavericks have struggled with injuries, but have been at least a little bit healthier recently.... although it appears that Wes Matthews (hip), Deron Williams (toe) and Dirk Nowitzki (rest) won’t be playing against the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight.

The Minnesota Timberwolves, who just beat the Suns on Andrew Wiggins buzzer beater, have won six of eight and look like a young team that might be hitting their stride.

And... the Philadelphia 76ers are now 10-3 in their last 13 games after starting out 7-24. Philly only won 10 games ALL last season (10-72). They just beat the Milwaukee Bucks last night without Joel Embiid.

I don’t see a reason why any of these teams would perform worse than they did earlier in the season. I’m not predicting they all play .500+ ball the rest of the way out, but most of them have already faced about as much adversity as they possibly could.

Comparatively, the Suns have been relatively healthy.

Meanwhile, the only team in the midst of a protracted slide is the Orlando Magic, who are now 3-11 in their last fourteen games.

In the first chart I showed the projected losses for each team. Right now the Suns are pacing to finish 27-55.

This second chart shows the number of losses for each of the top/bottom five teams for each draft since 2000.

Normally, the Suns 55 losses wouldn’t put them in that great of a position. Only once in 16 seasons would it have qualified them for the draft position they currently occupy.

In only three of the 16 seasons would they have been top four.

Right now this season is shaping up to look a lot like the outlier season of 2007.

That lottery/draft was actually pretty interesting as Portland moved up from 6th to 1st and took Greg Oden. Seattle went from 5th to 2nd and selected Kevin Durant. Atlanta moved from 4th to 3rd and took Al Horford. Memphis fell from 1st to 4th and picked up Mike Conley. Boston went from 2nd down to 5th, but traded that pick in the deal that landed them Kevin Garnett and ended up winning a title for their trouble.

All of the top five teams ended up doing pretty well for themselves in that draft.

Well, except for Portland.

According to people that know a lot more about the draft than I do this year’s field has great potential to provide All-Start talent with the top five selections.

Headlined by Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball and Dennis Smith, this year’s crop of point guards appears especially stacked.

The Suns currently have a pretty good chance to get one of these guys, or another phenom at a different position, without suffering through the 60 loss season that typically accompanies that type of positioning.

It could very well be that 52-53 losses is “good” enough for the third worst record in the NBA.

So, will the Suns be bad enough?

Can they sustain their recent level of play?

Will they remain healthy?

Or will they end up selling off pieces before the trade deadline?

The parity of bad teams in the league this season has made this an interesting situation.

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