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Center of the Sun: The Suns are loaded with potential, but can they turn that into production?

Let’s hope so — Suns fans deserve better than another sub-30 win season.

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NBA: Phoenix Suns-Press Conference Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

The Suns finished last season with not only the worst record in the NBA, but also dead last in both offensive and defensive efficiency. If they don’t want this season to turn out like the last, improvement in both areas is imperative.

The additions of Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges through the draft and Trevor Ariza through free agency will hopefully assist them in both areas. New head coach Igor Kokoskov will also hopefully put together offensive and defensive schemes that will get the best out of the team.

To take steps forward in either area is probably not going to be swift, though. The Suns largely remain a young and inexperienced team. Terms such as “potential” have been thrown around liberally in regard to Suns players in recent years, but potential doesn’t win games, production does. That’s why the Suns have been projected to win only 27-28 games this season by the experts. Unrealized, potential adds nothing in terms of success.

Hopefully, Kokoskov is the man who can unleash some of that potential into actual production on the court. Jeff Hornacek, Earl Watson and Jay Triano couldn’t, though to be fair to Watson and Triano, the Suns’ front office didn’t seem overly concerned with winning during their time as head coaches.

This season is supposed to be different.

At this point in time, we can only hope it will be.

Offensively, the Suns need a halfcourt offense that plays to their strengths. They need more threats from downtown (the Suns were also dead last in 3-point percentage last season) to open things up and make teams pay for doubling Devin Booker. If they can just do that, I’m betting that we’ll see Booker average nearly 30 points per game. Say what you will about Brandon Knight, but he can shoot the 3 — so can Ariza. Just adding them to the starting lineup should ease the double-teams off Booker somewhat. And Ayton should be an offensive force in the paint, giving the Suns an option down low they haven’t had since Amar’e Stoudemire wore purple and orange.

The Suns are going to have the weapons to make some noise offensively this year, but it’s going to take a real, coordinated effort on court to turn that power into wins.

Defensively, it is going to take a lot to get better. The Suns only have a few players known for defense, and most of them will probably be sitting on the bench to start games. While Ariza should be a plus in the starting lineup, Booker, Knight and T.J. Warren are far from being defensive stoppers, while Ayton’s defense has been questioned since long before his lone season in college ended.

The Suns will also need a solid defensive strategy by Kokoskov. With Bridges, Josh Jackson, Davon Reed and possibly Shaquille Harrison rotating in, the defensive intensity should ramp up, but the starting unit is also going to need to play at least solid team defense. Counting on good defense from your bench isn’t going to win many games if your starters have already put you into a deep hole.

In the past few years, Suns fans have been witness to far too many disappointments. We’ve too often salivated over potential that has been slow to be realized, and by the end of the season we’re back to dreaming about the next crop of draft prospects instead of how far the Suns might get in the playoffs.

That cycle has to end.

It probably won’t end this season, but hopefully the Suns will at least take a large step in the right direction. This season has to be at least the beginning of the end of that cycle. Potential has to become production, even if it only comes in modest steps.


Fantable Questions of the Week

1. The Suns finished dead last in the NBA in both offense and defense last season. Which do you think will improve the most this year?

2. Which Suns player do you think might be underrated by most fans?

3. Which Suns player do you think might be overrated by most fans?

GuarGuar: 1. I’m pretty confident that the offense will improve more than defense this season. Most of our players are way better offensively than defensively. Combine that with Igor’s new system that emphasizes ball movement (for a team who has been close to last in assists the past few years), and I feel certain the offensive ranking will take a big jump this year. I think it’s certainly possible we rank in the top half of the league in offensive rating this season. We finally have spacing for Booker to operate, along with an actual threat in the post and on pick and rolls in Ayton. The addition of 3-point specialists in Ariza, healthy Reed, and Bridges should be a very big boost. I’m excited that our offense should be actually watchable this season. It’s been disgusting to watch over the last few years.

2. I’m going to go off the board a little here and say Troy Daniels is underrated by most Suns fans. He shot 40% from 3 last season, which is a very valuable skill set in today’s NBA, especially for a backup guard. I think Troy has a bad rap because we “hated” him for that altercation with Booker a couple seasons ago. I see a bunch of fans wanting us to trade/release him because we have Davon Reed, and that is understandable. However, Reed has not proven anything in NBA action. In fact, Reed was pretty terrible, having a 29% FG% in 21 games last season. We all talk about how Josh Jackson shouldn’t be judged because he had a rough 3 games in Summer League this year. Well I’ll flip that theory around and say we shouldn’t judge Davon based off three Summer League games, when he was awful in regular season (yes, I know he was coming back from a major knee injury and needed to find his legs). It’s entirely possible that Davon has improved and Summer League wasn’t a fluke, but I’d rather have Troy be our backup two-guard because he’s consistent. If coach Igor decides Davon is the backup, I’m totally fine with that because it means Davon deserves it.

3. Deandre Ayton is overrated by most Suns fans. Now this does not mean I don’t have high expectations for Ayton and what he can become. There’s a ton of fans though who have this expectation Ayton is going to come in and dominate his rookie season like Joel Embiid a couple seasons ago, which is an absurd expectation. Fans overhype their young players/rookies, so it’s very understandable, especially after watching Ayton’s highlight reel on Youtube. Deandre is still pretty raw and has flaws. It’s going to take time for him to develop, which is totally fine. I think the people saying Ayton will average 20/10 this season are in for a reality check (although I really hope I’m wrong). I’m not saying Ayton won’t/can’t be an amazing franchise player, I’m just saying RIGHT NOW he’s overrated by Suns fans. And that’s OK.

Sun-Arc: 1. The good news is I think they will both improve. The bad news is I don’t think they’ll improve enough to make a whole lotta noise. Given that Koko is Koko and not Stevens (its unlikely, at least), my guess is the offense improves more than the defense. Here’s why:

Defense:

I think Ayton will be an improvement over Len on both sides of the ball. I know a lot of people say he can’t defend, but that’s not what I have seen from him with the games I’ve watched. He has lapses — but he’s interested in being a two-way player. Ariza will help. Bridges and Reed will too — but on limited minutes. I think JJ will improve a bit over last year- but not enough to really change things up. And I think Igor will have better schemes than we’ve seen for many years. Still, the only good defender that will see starter minutes is a 33-year-old Ariza. That’s not going to raise us up to the middle third on D.

Offense:

Kokoskov is a really great offensive-minded coach. I think with him at the helm, Ayton and Booker feeding off each other, and the addition of better shooters (Ariza, Bridges, Reed coming around, and possibly Knight) this offense can hum. Others have talked about it, but I really like the idea of a Booker, Reed, Bridges, Ariza, Ayton line up in stretches. If anyone sags off any of those guys its points on the board. I also like that line up for defense too- but I don’t expect it for long stretches, unfortunately. Or Reed/Bridges may not yet be as good as I envision for this season.

2. There hasn’t been a ton of discussion about Bridges, but I think he has the ability to be a star. While I think its unlikely he’ll be an All-Star, I do think he’ll be one of those players that makes the team simply work. Like Marion did, for instance — and with only a slightly different style of play.

I also think Reed is underrated. I think he has Bridges-like abilities that were stunted by the injury. I don’t think he’ll ever be a starter, but I do think he will be a really important rotation player starting this season or next. At least, I hope so.

3. I’m a fan of Josh Jackson, and I’m high on him becoming a really good or even star player. But I think some people are assuming he’ll become a star this season- and that is just not going to happen. His horrid SL performance is a sign he is just not ready for prime time. I don’t think he’ll be that much of a contributor this season and I think he’ll even lose playing time to Bridges, and maybe even Reed. Both of those latter players are more focused and play within the game. JJ tries to do too much and make it all about him. In time I think Josh has it in him to be the better player than the other two. He’s got star qualities about him but just isn’t ready yet.

SDKyle: 1. I tend to think the offense will improve more than the defense will. I say that because I think the Suns just have more natural scorers on the roster than natural defenders. I think Ayton will succeed in taking pressure off Booker and some of our other shooters, and I believe that will result in a more efficient offense through more open shots and fewer difficult shots.

I also expect that Ayton will do his part scoring efficiently inside.

2. Is it lame if I say nobody? I honestly can’t think of a Sun who is chronically underrated. As hard as I’ve been on TJ Warren I do think SOME fans are now starting to underrate him by ping-ponging too far the other way and acting like he’s straight-up bad, which he isn’t. But for the most part I don’t think there are any Suns who deserve more love. Sad but true.

3. It’s a bit unfair since he’s a rookie, but Mikal Bridges. A lot of fans seem to be taking it as a given that he comes in and is a high-level 3-and-D player from day one, and I saw at least one prediction that he’d be this year’s Donovan Mitchell and finish ahead of Ayton in the ROY standings. I like Bridges fine, but I’m far from convinced that he’s the do-everything wunderkind that some seem to think he might be.

SouthernSun: 1. I think the Suns offense will improve more than their defense, though I’m hopeful for both. Adding Ayton gives the Suns an entirely new aspect to their game that they simply didn’t have before, a big man who can score in the post. I expect Jackson to increase his 3 point accuracy to around 30%, which isn’t amazing, but is at least not horrendous. Ariza spotting up will help. Bridges spotting up will help. There should be a little more space for Booker to operate in. Also, none of us knows what these guys will look like while playing in an actual offensive system, which apparently is Igor’s strongest area.

2. Underrated Suns player... hmmm... This is a tough one. I think I’m going to go with Chriss. He’s always being lumped in with Bender as both of them being awful, but if I were rating them on a scale of one to 10, one being just horrible, and 10 being amazing, I’d have Bender at one and Chriss at three-ish. At least a two.

Chriss was better in almost every advanced statistical category than Bender, especially defensively, and simply looked better as well. He had more games where he didn’t look like utter trash. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Chriss had more games his rookie season where he didn’t look like trash, than Bender has had in both his seasons. Almost. It’s close.

I expect Chriss to look much better this season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bender playing very few minutes, and Chriss playing as the primary backup PF.

3. The most overrated Suns player... I’m not sure that anyone is really overrating any Suns player. I think some people are overrating the Suns team as a whole, but not necessarily any specific player. For the sake of the question though, let’s go with Bridges. I like Bridges. I think he is going to be a very good player. However, I think people who are already suggesting that he’s going to usurp Jackson’s role as the future starting SF are getting a little ahead of themselves. He probably plays less than 15 mpg this season, if I had to guess. I’m excited about him, but right now my projection for him is solid 6th or 7th man on a playoff team. I think eventually he will be a 20-25 mpg off the bench player, who occasionally plays extended minutes in certain matchups. He can shoot and defend, but he’ll have to prove he can do more than that before I’m willing to believe he can be more than my current projection for him. If he adds another wrinkle to his game, then we’re talking.

Alex Sylvester: 1. Offense, no doubt.

Assuming Book can stay healthy and play for 70-plus games this season, that’s already an immediate upgrade from last year. Add Deandre into the picture as a big body to occupy the attention of the defense inside to go along with shooters like Bridges/Ariza/Reed, and you very well could see the Suns near the top 10 on offense.

2. The obvious answer to this question is TJ Warren, but I do think he’s appropriately judged on these boards.

I’ll go with Holmes. I know most of us aren’t familiar with his game but I think he could be a very solid addition as a bench center. He makes those impact-type plays... big dunks, blocked shots, hustle plays etc that have a big impact on the game.

3. This is a tough question...

I’ll go with Josh Jackson. I say that as someone who is a huge fan of Jackson’s potential, but I do believe fans can get caught up in overrating Jackson for who he is RIGHT NOW, as opposed to what we hope he can become.

As many people have pointed out on this board, even when you consider the massive improvement Josh had as a 2nd half rookie, he still had a tough year. He was the #4 and only made 2nd team All-Rookie, while having a ton of opportunity to prove himself.

This is a big year for my guy and I have confidence he can take a big step forward!

Many thanks again to our Fantable - GuarGuar, SDKyle, Sun-Arc, SouthernSun and Alex Sylvester - for all their input!


2017-18 Season Highlights

Dallas Mavericks vs Phoenix Suns Full Game Highlights / Jan. 31 / 2017-18 NBA Season

Josh Jackson Full Highlights Suns vs Mavericks (2018.01.31) - 21 Pts, 8 Reb | 2017-18 NBA Season


Quote of the Week

”The Suns organization helped me get back on my feet and back to doing what I love to do. I couldn’t ask for anything else but an opportunity and I told them they won’t regret it and I’m going to take full advantage of it.” - Isaiah Canaan


Interesting Suns Stuff


News & Notes

It’s been productive summer for Devin Booker, but real work is about to begin. Kent Somers/Arizona Republic

Isaiah Canaan credits Suns training staff for helping him return to the highest level of play. Clevis Murray/Arizona Republic

Devin Booker Listed as a 2018 MVP Sleeper by The Ringer. Suns.com

Six intriguing games on the Suns’ 2018-19 schedule. Kevin Zimmerman/Arizona Sports

Devin Booker takes funny shot at social media critics. Larry Brown Sports

Should Las Vegas take Devin Booker’s potential greatness more seriously? Kellan Olson/Arizona Sports


Suns History in Video

Phoenix Suns Since ‘68: Iconic Dunks


Suns Trivia

In the first 50 years of their existence, the Suns have had 14 players who were awarded All-NBA honors. All but five earned that honor at least twice while playing for the Suns. Steve Nash and Kevin Johnson are tied with the most All-NBA selections with five. Nash was selected to the First Team three times and the Second Team twice. Johnson made the Second Team four times and the Third team once.

All-NBA First Team

  • Connie Hawkins — 1970
  • Paul Westphal — 1977, 1979, 1980
  • Dennis Johnson — 1981
  • Charles Barkley — 1993
  • Jason Kidd — 1999, 2000, 2001
  • Steve Nash — 2005, 2006, 2007
  • Amar’e Stoudemire — 2007

All-NBA Second Team

  • Paul Westphal — 1978
  • Walter Davis — 1978, 1979
  • Kevin Johnson — 1989, 1990, 1991, 1994
  • Tom Chambers — 1989, 1990
  • Charles Barkley — 1994, 1995
  • Amar’e Stoudemire — 2005, 2008, 2010
  • Steve Nash — 2008, 2010

All-NBA Third Team

  • Kevin Johnson — 1992
  • Charles Barkley — 1996
  • Stephon Marbury — 2003
  • Shawn Marion — 2005, 2006
  • Shaquille O’Neal — 2009
  • Goran Dragic — 2014

Previewing the Weeks (and Months) Ahead

August 31 - Last day for teams to waive players and apply the stretch provision to their 2018-19 salaries.

Aug. 31 thru Sept. 15 - 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup (China).

September 5 - Last day for teams to issue required tenders to unsigned second-round picks; those players become free agents on September 6 if not tendered.

September 7 - Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2018 Enshrinement Ceremony.

September 21 - First allowable date for players participating in preseason NBA Global Games to report to their teams (no earlier than 11 a.m. local time).

September 22 - Training Camps open for all teams participating in preseason NBA Global Games.

September 24 - First allowable date for all other veteran players to report to their teams (no earlier than 11 a.m. local time).

September 25 - Training Camps open for all other teams.

October 1 - Phoenix Suns vs Sacramento Kings, 7:00 p.m. AZT

October 3 - Phoenix Suns vs New Zealand Breakers, 7:00 p.m. AZT

October 5 - Phoenix Suns vs Portland Trail Blazers, 7:00 p.m. AZT

October 8 - Phoenix Suns @ Golden State Warriors, 7:00 p.m. AZT

October 10 - Phoenix Suns @ Portland Trail Blazers, 7:00 p.m. AZT

  • Home games will be streamed live on Suns.com through the RISE Network.

October 17 - Phoenix Suns vs. Dallas Mavericks in the season-opener!


Last Week’s Poll Results

The poll was “When do you think the Suns will finally return to the playoffs?”

22% - 2019.

60% - 2020.

12% - 2021.

06% - 2022 or later.

There were a total of 345 votes cast.


This week’s poll is:

Poll

Do you think that the Suns still might make a big trade before the season begins?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Yes.
    (48 votes)
  • 42%
    No.
    (135 votes)
  • 41%
    Only if a great opportunity pops up out of nowhere.
    (131 votes)
314 votes total Vote Now