As the 2017-18 Phoenix Suns season approaches, we get this wonderful opportunity to make predictions we can laugh at in a few months.
I was going to come up with a brand new set of questions this year, but one look at last year’s questions was enough to convince me I can recycle them since so little of the roster has changed.
Seven questions are answered today by the BSotS illuminati, with another several to come before the season tips off on Wednesday.
Which will rank higher this season: Offense or Defense?
Last year’s prediction: Offense
Actual result: 22nd in offensive rating, 28th in defensive rating
This year we predict...
Dave King: This one’s a toughie. Seems like the easiest area to improve is the awful defense displayed a year ago. However, the team is younger than ever so consistent defense might be too much to ask. The Suns expect to play five guys 21-or-under in the rotation from day one (Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss in the starting lineup, with Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender and Tyler Ulis coming off the bench). I’ll just say offense will improve the most, but I’m not hopeful of either side making a big jump.
Evan Sidery: Offense, but just barely. With the Suns wanting to play even faster than last season, it's going to lead to more points while in the process allowing more. I expect the Suns to start small ball pretty soon, too, which will hamper the defense. Josh Jackson, however, will be the bright spot on defense.
Rod Argent: Offense. I think that the defense will improve this year but the Suns have already shown some improvement in team three point shooting in the preseason games which should translate to the regular season. Defense will be tougher because good defense relies more on a total team effort than good offense.
Keith M. Scheessele: Offense. And that might not be a good thing, but I think it’s the truth. Sooner or later this team is going to have to get markedly better defensively, though I don’t know it matters for 2017-18. I think we’ll see a slight bump offensively, up from 22nd, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Suns defensive rating continues to be near the bottom of the league.
Greg Esposito: This is like asking will it be above or below 90 degrees in Phoenix during July. It’s the offense and its not even close. That’s been the case for 49 seasons so why break tradition for the team’s 50th anniversary? Josh Jackson will help improve the defense, but one man won’t make a big enough difference to make it superior to an offense that is the team’s main focus.
Tim Tompkins: Offense, and it's not even close. While we try not to take too much from preseason, it does appear the Suns are continuing their trend of pace-space and daring opponents to shoot. During the preseason the Suns are allowing opponents to shoot nearly 40% from behind the arc (worst in the NBA) while grabbing the fewest percent of defensive rebounds (71%) which is leading to a league high OPP 2nd chance points (17+). There doesn't seem to be ANY indication defense is a point of emphases for the team this season.
Brendon Kleen: It has to be offense once again, because young players struggle on defense without fail, and if this team is anything, it’s young.
Deadpoolio: I…I…can’t stop laughing. I mean, this team and de...he…he…fense? They gave up 93 points to Brisbane! If this team is better defensively than offensively this season, I will eat the tattered remains of the shirt I am wearing.
Jim Coughenour: The offense, though both will be in the bottom half of the league. The Suns best three players (Bledsoe, Booker and Warren) are all better scorers than defenders and, at least until Jackson shows otherwise, there are no defensive stoppers on the team. The goal on the defensive end should just be improvement over their 28th place DRtg of 112.2. The offense stands to gain from continued improvement by Booker, whose .531 TS% was only good for 8th among regulars on the Suns last season.
Will Devin Booker make the All-Star game?
Last year’s prediction: Heck no, too young
Actual result: Not even close, but he DID go to All-Star weekend for the Skills competition and Rising Stars Challenge
This year we predict...
DK: Nope. Still way too many guards in the West that are more deserving, even if Booker improves his shooting percentages and secondary skills, like assists and rebounds. Sorry Book. I do, however, believe Booker will be there over the weekend participating in one of the Saturday contests like Three-Point Shootout or Skills.
ES: I do see Devin Booker averaging around 25 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds per game around the all star break but much like Damian Lillard, there's little to no room for them, especially now, on the Western Conference roster. Talk to me again next season and my mind might change here.
RA: If he becomes more efficient offensively and improves to being at least an average NBA defender... I'd still say no, especially in the West. The only way he would make it to the All-Star game is by making such a huge leap forward in his performance that people start talking about him as an MVP candidate and I just don't see that happening. If the Suns were a better team then that big of a leap might not be necessary but they're just not going to be that good this year.
KS: No. I suspect Booker will often put up All-Star caliber numbers this season, but so will plenty of other guys that don’t play on the 14th best team in the Western Conference. If Phoenix was among the top-tier teams in the West, Booker would be an All-Star. Either way, that time will come. I keep telling myself that anyway. He’s got a handful of All-Star Game appearances ahead of him, but the Suns are going to need to make a little more noise before he’s properly recognized.
GE: Devin Booker will be much like Corey Matthews on Boy Meets World. He may be the headliner of his own show, but he’s still not one of the cool kids. Booker’s numbers will be All-Star worthy and maybe even in the discussion for the scoring title but still will get no respect. Fans won’t vote him in, and the Suns’ record won’t warrant him getting in otherwise
TT: Yes, but not this year. The West guards are still loaded: Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard. Until the Suns gain some relevancy in the win column, Book just won't get the votes.
BK: As unfortunate as it is, Devin Booker plays in the Western Conference. And just as that problem means the Suns will be hard-pressed to compete for a championship until the current dynasties start to fizzle, so too does it create wild competition for Booker to make the All-Star team. One more year of “maybe next year” for this one.
D-Pooly: Might as well ask if Devin Booker is being traded to the East. That’s the only way he’s making the All-Star team this year.
JC: No, but I think it's entirely possible he can have a year like Carmelo did in his third season (averaged 26.5 ppg and didn't make the All-Star team). With the likes of Westbrook, Harden, Curry, Butler, Paul, Lillard and Thompson in his way it's just going to be really hard to break through. Maybe if the Suns shocked everybody and ran out to a respectable record, but it's going to be nearly impossible for Booker this year playing on a bad team.
Will T.J. Warren make a run at Sixth Man of the Year?
Last year’s prediction: The option presented last year was Brandon Knight. Most said no, but that Knight was the most likely among the Suns to qualify.
Actual result: LOLZ
This year I present Warren for your consideration...
DK: I do think coach Watson will promote Josh Jackson to the starting lineup sooner than later, and that the recently-extended T.J. Warren will become a fixture off the bench at both small forward and power forward. But he won’t be a finalist for Sixth Man of the Year because the Suns won’t win enough games.
ES: No, because he will start most of season. Even though I expect the opening lineup to be Eric Bledsoe, Booker, Jackson, Marquese Chriss, and Tyson Chandler, I really think they're highly considering starting all three of their young forwards together. I'm going to guess it happens around Thanksgiving. A small-ball lineup with Warren at the 4 and Chriss at the 5 is super small, but if Chriss has improved rim protection and Jackson continues to quarterback the defense as he did in preseason, that could be their best overall unit. Sure, the defense will surely lack but the offense could be dynamic.
RA: I think that's very likely if he actually spends most of the season coming off the bench. If Earl Watson winds up playing a lot of small-ball lineups this season, Warren could see lots of minutes even off the bench and we know he can score. But if too many of the Suns' losses wind up being blowouts, he certainly won't be on the court during garbage time which will cut his minutes, his points per game and his chances. The closer the score, the more T.J. will be needed on the court to provide buckets. He won't win it, but I think he'll be in the conversation.
KS: He’s certainly trending in that direction. If he’s going to contend though, he’s going to have to stay healthy. Not a season has passed in T.J.’s career to this point where he hasn’t missed significant time due to injury. I’ll use the same reasoning I used with Booker, though. Players on losing teams don’t bring home hardware. The last time the Sixth Man of the Year award went to a player on a non-playoff team was Dell Curry of the Charlotte Hornets following the 1993-94 season. Smart money says that trend continues.
GE: I hate to say this because I’m a card carrying member of the T.J. Warren defense team, but I just don’t trust him to stay healthy enough unless he wears a Suns style football helmet to give him the scoring stats to win this award. The Sixth Man of the Year is basically the “guy who can score the most points after sitting on the bench for the first six minutes of a game.” I just think his numbers will be more Carlton and less Fresh Prince.
TT: 6th man of the year should be renamed, "guard off the bench who chucks the most shots." Seriously, every year it goes to the guard off the bench with the largest amount of shot attempts. TJ Warren is too efficient of a scorer for that, and he'll likely spend the majority of the season in a starting role anyhow.
BK: Warren is going to have a fantastic season if he can stay healthy and become a leader on this team, but I’m scarred after the Suns propped Brandon Knight up as a 6MOY candidate last year. I don’t think he’s the kind of player that wins this award — at this point, it’s almost entirely guards.
D-Pooly: I’m loving Espo’s 90s TV references. Anyway, he stands a better shot than Brandon Knight did last season. Take that for what it’s worth.
JC: It's hard to reconcile the situation where that would work. If Warren plays really well, he should be the starter. If he isn't playing well, and moves to the bench, he won't be in the running for the award based on performance. In the case where Warren is playing very well, but moves to the bench for the good of the team, Jackson would probably need to in some way earn the starting spot... so there's at least a little wrinkle. The biggest problem is that there will probably be another player in the league who provides scoring punch off the bench who doesn't play for one of the five worst teams in the NBA. That player would get a huge built in advantage. I think Warren could be poised to have an excellent season, but I don't see the sixth man thing happening.
Will Josh Jackson make the All-Rookie first team or second team, or will he win Rookie of the Year?
Last year’s prediction: Many predicted Marquese Chriss was most likely, given his performance and playing time in preseason.
Actual result: We were right. Chriss made the All-Rookie team, and won the Rookie of the Month award in January for the Western Conference.
This year the candidate is 4th overall pick Josh Jackson...
DK: Yes, on all-Rookie first team. No on Rookie of the Year. Jackson just won’t get the same hype as some of the other guys. He’s most likely, in my mind, to make the All-Star team in a few years than win Rookie of the Year this season. But will he make the All-Rookie first team? Likely, yes.
ES: As we saw last season, Chriss finished up strong and wound up as a Second Team All-Rookie. Through Summer League and preseason, Jackson has me thoroughly intrigued by his offense. His defense and overall energy continue to be his staples, but his moves that we saw at Kansas are translating, as is getting off his jumper. Jackson averaged 18 points in the preseason, and when Booker and Warren were both out, he proved he could take over a game on his own and carry them. That's a splendid sign this early on. As general manager Ryan McDonough said after selecting him, if his jumper is average or slightly above-average, he has the chance to be a star in this league. So far, Jackson has been as advertised and more. Frankly, I see him being in the Rookie of the Year discussion throughout the year actually. Alongside Ben Simmons, Dennis Smith Jr., and Lonzo Ball, these four have the best odds of getting heavy playing time from the beginning. I could see Jackson winning Rookie of the Month a time or two if he takes over more often as an alpha on offense, but I definitely see him in the top four throughout this season behind Simmons, Smith Jr., and Ball while finishing up as a First-Team All Rookie.
RA: He should make the All-Rookie first team. Rookie of the Year is possible but only if he seriously outperforms the rest of his rookie class AND helps propel the Suns to a much better than expected record.
KS: I’d be stunned if Josh Jackson plays the whole season and is not named to the All-Rookie squad. In my estimation injury is the only thing that could derail that path. So obviously I think he’s going to be on the short-list for Rookie of the Year. The opportunities to impress are certainly going to be there for Jackson. That said, I think other teams like the Sixers and Lakers will rely more heavily on their rookies, and I think it’s more likely Simmons or Ball win the award.
GE: Yes. He’ll make the All-Rookie squad but won’t make the top 5 of the Rookie of the Year voting. That’s because Josh Jackson’s season will be defined by defense and that’s the Mary Ann to offense’s Ginger in the NBA. Guys like Lonzo Ball, Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum and Markelle Fultz will put up flashy numbers that will grab the headlines while The Matrix Reloaded does the dirty work. His impact will be obvious enough to get honored. Just not the top honor.
TT: If preseason is any indication, JJ will have a phenomenal first year that will land him on an All-Rookie first team. As far as production goes, statistically he leads all forwards thusfar who were lottery selects. It's hard to envision a scenario where JJ doesn't earn All-Rookie first honors.
BK: Jackson probably won’t score enough to win Rookie of the Year, but his multi-faceted game will earn him plenty of looks for one of the All-Rookie teams. He’s just gong to have an uphill battle getting voted in ahead of the rest of his bonkers draft class.
D-Pooly: Ben Simmons is Rookie of the Year barring injury. But Jackson should make First Team. And Espo, you better take back what you said about Mary Ann, or I will fight you in the streets of Temecula!
JC: I'm pretty sure they already gave the ROY award to Lonzo Ball... maybe even renamed it after him. I think Jackson stands an excellent chance at making first team, and I'll actually be pretty disappointed if he's not at least second team. His defense is going to be his strong suit, and that doesn't always translate as easily as counting stats, but his athleticism should lead to some highlights on easy fastbreak buckets. So I'll say first team.
Will Alex Len shoot over 45% in the paint?
Last year’s prediction: Most predicted he would exceed that, despite Len making only 36% of his shots in preseason last year.
Actual result: Len made 49.7% of his shots last season, but otherwise was so bad he didn’t get a single long-term offer as a restricted free agent this summer despite being a young, mobile 7-footer.
DK: Considering Len has a frustrating penchant for following good field goal seasons with bad, he’s due for a terrible shooting season. Len’s four career seasons, in field goal percentage: 42.3% to 50.7% to 42.3% to 49.7%. See? He’s due for a 42.3% shooting year. However, I think Len breaks that mold and has the best year of his career in terms of field goal percentage. He just finished his best ever preseason by far, making 65.8% of his shots and looking smooth doing it.
ES: In the preseason, Len averaged 14.6 points while shooting over 65% inside the restricted area. If he doesn’t start, Len already seems to be building a good chemistry with Tyler Ulis as they look for an Alan Williams replacement. There is no reason to expect Len should regress after these five dress rehearsals, so I will say he does shoot above 45%.
RA: Yes. The Suns have already said that they were going to simplify his role in the offense this year and that's already paid off in the preseason games.
KS: Yes. I try not to read too much into the preseason, but I’m also trying to curb my cynicism. Len impressed in the exhibition matchups, and I’m cautiously optimistic that success will bleed over into the regular season.
GE: I honestly don’t know anymore. It seemed everyone, including the Suns, had all but written off Len this offseason when they didn’t even make him a long-term offer but they did to Alan Williams. Then Len had a huge preseason, finally showing off the potential we all at one point thought he had. So I have no clue. It all depends on which Len we get.
TT: Signs are pointing towards a yes as so far in the limited sample size of preseason he's shooting 69% within 5 feet of the basket. As long as Alex Len keeps his offense simple to lobs, put backs and the occasional put-back, it's likely he can be efficient around the rim. Something we mentioned on the Suns Solar Panel- if Alex Len holds the ball for less than 2 seconds his FG% is 54. If Len holds the ball for more than 2 seconds, it drops down to 34%.
BK: I’ve transitioned to the point where Len’s defense matters much more to me than his offense. Though he is a deft finisher at his best and still moves around in the paint more craftily than most NBA bigs, he will earn a payday if and when his defense gets to a dominant level. I believe he can anchor an above-average unit, regardless of the silly field goal percentage pattern.
D-Pooly: Yes. Alex Len true believers, stand up!
JC: If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it does it make a noise? I've seen enough of Len in a Suns uniform. His only claim to playing time on this team is the simple fact that he is a former #5 pick by the current GM. If he was just another guy he would have already been down the road. Unfortunately, due to injuries, my lack of confidence in growth by Bender and the lingering chances of a Tyson Chandler trade... Len might get some decent run this year. Which is a shame, because I'd much rather see a guy who might actually have a future with the team play instead. What's sad is that with Len's size he should be able to create much better shot attempts for himself AND be a better finisher on his current takes.
Which player will be the most polarizing among fans this year?
Last year’s prediction: Votes were split between Bender and Knight.
Actual result: Yup. Those were the two.
DK: Still has to be Dragan Bender. The Croatian won’t turn 20 until mid-November, but fans don’t have the patience to wait and watch him get better on a slow trajectory. Bender will have more bad games than good games. I just hope he stays healthy after missing half of last season.
ES: There will be games where he looks amazing and games where he looks lost, as is the process of Dragan Bender. I think he will be the most polarizing by far. Even though he's the youngest player on this roster, Bender needs to show a lot more flashes consistently. And Bender seems to understand that, too. Bender knows he needs to be more aggressive and push it, as we saw in the last preseason game. If he continues to develop a three-point shot, Bender could become the stretch 5 they desire to help further stretch out opposing defenses.
RA: It's got to be Bender... unless he starts nailing threes like a madman. Even though it was known that he was a long-term project, a lot of fans still believe that because he was the #4 pick in his draft (which wasn't a strong draft) he should be a lot better than he already is.
KS: Bender is the easy answer. Criticisms were flying his way earlier than any Sun I can remember in recent memory. For some bizarre reason fans are prepared to give management all the time and space they need to stumble through the longest playoff stretch in club history, yet slam a kid that’s still over two years away from his first legal alcoholic beverage. Strike that, I don’t know the drinking laws in Bosnia and I’m not going to look them up. But listen, I’m a hypocrite. I’ll be looking for something from Bender sooner rather than later.
GE: Dragan Bender and it won’t even be close. The gap between love and hate is wider than the win total of this year’s Suns team and the team 25 years ago who made the finals. Right now some fans want to call him a bust and others, present company included, want to say he has a higher ceiling than Marquese Chriss. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle which makes for a lot of internet arguments.
TT: Dragan Bender. The counting stats fans will complain his numbers are low, while the advanced alanytics fans will talk about his positive net rating, on-off numbers & VORP. Imagine a lot of 5-5-5 nights but Bender is a +17 on the court in 25 minutes. Oh, this should be fun...
BK: Alex Len! I understand last year we argued a lot about Bender and Knight, but with Knight out of the lineup and Bender earning a little more positivity this go-round, Len in his quest for a new contract (and potentially a new team) is the guy we’re going to be discussing and debating throughout the new season.
D-Pooly: Whichever solidly performing veteran is playing ahead of a young guy.
JC: Dragan Bender. He stands in line to be the next Alex Len. Even if his body of work is mostly terrible, there will be people that grasp at his brief glimpses of talent... holding steadfast to the belief that he will develop "some day". Meanwhile the rest of us will still see him sliding around the court like a giraffe on ice skates and wonder where this disconnect is. I would love to be wrong about Bender, and he injuries did cut his rookie season short, but rarely has a player ever done as poorly off the bat then turned it right around. In his playing time last season he was basically the worst drafted rookie playing in the NBA. His offseason (summer league/international/preseason) has done little to allay my concerns.
Which player will be the biggest surprise this season?
Last year’s prediction: Chriss, Warren, Bledsoe and Len got the votes last year.
Actual result: The bigger surprises came at the end of the bench, with Derrick Jones Jr. and Alan Williams showing real NBA skills when they got to play in the second half.
DK: I’ll predict T.J. Warren will surprise us, by hitting a league-average on more threes than ever, and rebounding at the highest rate of his career. Warren will find ways to contribute positively at both forward spots and even sometimes as the shooting guard. And, he will get a lot of playing time alongside Josh Jackson.
ES: I would say Warren here, but the preseason has changed my mind already. I'm going to select Jackson here, because he seems like the real deal already. I expect Jackson to average around 16 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and a block and a steal per game. As he told the media after he was selected, the obvious comparison is Draymond Green. Jackson seems like a much lighter and more explosive version of Green through games that don't matter, but if the No. 4 pick continues to perform as he has so far through the first half of this season, then it's time to start getting ecstatic if you're a Suns fan.
RA: I'm going to say Alex Len. So many people seem to have given up on him that I think all he has to do is play consistently at the level of an average NBA starting center to be a big surprise. Hopefully that's not asking too much of him.
KS: I think there’s a possibility it’s Tyler Ulis. I know we all like him, and we’re pretty high on the guy, but I think the jump he’s going to make is really going to capture the attention of the league. Who knows how long Eric Bledsoe stays in Phoenix? And if he is with the Suns for the entire 2017-18 season, is there a possibility that he’s shutdown even earlier than he was last season? On March 15th, 2017, Ulis stepped in for Bledsoe. He finished the month with averages of 20.7 points and 6.8 assists. The last guy to do that was Damian Lillard.
GE: I’m holding out hope that it will be Derrick Jones Jr., but after the lack of minutes he received in the preseason, I’m not sure he’s even going to get a chance to have an impact outside of swinging a towel. Granted, Alan Williams turned that and a few good months of play into a contract extension. If DJJ doesn’t I think it will be Tyson Chandler who will accept a reduced role but will be a confidant and player coach for Earl Watson.
TT: Marquese Chriss- while the NBA stopped watching the Suns post All-Star, people forget Chriss became one of the few power forwards to average a 3 pt, block, steal & assist per game while shooting a respectable 48%. Look for Chriss to continue the improved play despite a lackluster summer league.
BK: If Derrick Jones Jr. can get a chance to play, I think he’ll prove once and for all that he’s a legit NBA player. The defense is closer than people think, and his jumper is coming along. He’s already got the potential to be devastating in transition, and this team wants to play faster on offense...!
D-Pooly: Len. He looks like he’s made significant strides in his game from last season. Footwork, finishing stronger, pick-and-roll action. Whaaaat?! Honorable mention to Eric Bledsoe if he manages to break the pattern and not hurt his meniscus this season (knock on wood).
JC: Troy Daniels. There are definitely players who stand a chance at taking a bigger leap forward than Daniels due to their higher ceilings, but he might surprise some people who never really heard of him before he was traded to the Suns recently. Daniels walked in the door as the best three point shooter on the team and has a chance to earn more minutes with the Suns than his previous high (17.7 mpg with Memphis last season). Daniels is a guy who isn't ever going to be an All-Star, but does most of the little things right. Those kinds of players tend to endear themselves to fans in Phoenix.
That’s what we’ve got for today. More to come tomorrow.
What say you, BSotS? How do you vote?