Take whatever issue you may have with the way the Suns dealt picks like they were hot potatoes or didn’t go out and sign the player you had in mind, but it’s hard to argue with the idea that the team will be better next season.
By adding Ricky Rubio, Cam Johnson, Aron Baynes, Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky, Phoenix clearly targeted win-now players who could space the floor. According to one win projection model — FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO — the moves were enough to nearly double the Suns’ win total.
CARMELO, which projects player performance as well as team performance and adjusts for playoff experience, playing time and other complicating factors, currently expects the Suns to win 35 games next year.
That would of course be a 16-game jump from where the team finished last year, at 19-63. This is a number the Suns’ front office would love to see (though they surely have their own projection models as well), considering their focus all offseason was to support their two stars and raise the floor of the roster. Getting older, more offensively talented, and deeper are all things that the CARMELO projection must have liked about the Suns’ summer.
So while the Western Conference is sure to be a tight-fought bloodbath this upcoming season, the Suns are still expected to come away improved. FiveThirtyEight’s projections have Memphis even with Phoenix, the Kings a couple games below at 33-49, and the Spurs just ahead of the pack at 37-45. If the Suns could be in competition with that group all year, they would likely be pleased with their moves, especially after finishing 14 games behind the next-worst team in the West (Dallas) last season.
Many are hoping the Suns take a Sacramento-like jump this year, perhaps by playing a similar style to the Kings. Should Phoenix take more threes, balance their offense more, and get closer to league average on defense (probably not very likely), they could be in for a fun season.
However, this team is still very young, with two second-year players and two rookies expected to be in the regular rotation. If the young players don’t get better like CARMELO expects them to, the Suns will underperform this ranking.
The Suns made moves this summer projecting a high degree of improvement from Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Kelly Oubre Jr. as well, so no one will be surprised to hear this. But as with all young teams, there is a tremendous amount of downside in addition to the exciting upside.