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Center of the Sun: Better roster construction should put the Suns back on the right path

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How many win would signal acceptable progress this season? The Fantable gives their opinions on this and other questions.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Phoenix Suns Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

We’re all wondering how much better the 2019-20 Suns will be than the 2018-19 Suns. Are all the new additions going to make a significant difference? So far, it all looks good on paper but paper doesn’t play the game and sometimes better individual players don’t add up to a better team.

Good roster construction can sometimes make the team better than the sum of it’s parts though. We saw the opposite of that for most of last season and many seasons before going back to the unexpected but short-lived success of the 2013-14 Suns. That team far exceeded expectations not because it was loaded with talent but because the roster construction (which admittedly was likely more due to luck than planning) had a good balance of players that functioned well together.

Attempts to build upon that team’s success failed and continued to fail until we ended up with the “tank and draft” strategy of rebuilding.

We all know how that turned out.

Regardless of all the past failures and how the Suns got to this point, they do now have two potential all-star players in Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton and now they’re embarking on a new path. James Jones didn’t draft any high risk/high reward players in the draft and he didn’t attempt to sign any big name free agents that probably weren’t interested in coming to Phoenix. Instead, he added solid, experienced players to attempt to build a competitive team around those two.

Will that work? All I can offer is my opinion that it should at least work better than what the Suns have been doing and will put a better product on the floor this season. How much better is still a matter for debate but, while reading John Schuhmann’s article “Player Movement: What teams have gained, lost this offseason” on NBA.com, I ran across this tidbit:

The 10 non-rookies that have left the Phoenix Suns (five that have found new NBA teams and five that haven’t) racked up a cumulative plus-minus of minus-1,709 last season. None of the 10 had a positive plus-minus. The five non-rookies that they’ve added -- Aron Baynes, Jevon Carter, Frank Kaminsky, Ricky Rubio and Dario Saric -- had a cumulative plus-minus of plus-257. That’s the league’s biggest differential between players in vs. players out.

The article was published before the Suns signed Cheick Diallo who has a cumulative plus-minus of minus-88. That brings the total down to a plus-169 which might not still be the league’s biggest differential between players in vs. players out but it’s still a huge difference.

Does that mean that the Suns are now a better team? Not really. It really just helps point out how bad the Suns were last year. Not a single player on the Suns’ roster at the end of last season had a positive cumulative plus-minus during their time playing for the Suns. Even great players on bad teams usually have negative cumulative plus-minuses so the figures above really don’t mean anything in predicting the Suns’ success (or lack of) next season.

I’m putting most of the blame on how bad the Suns were last season on poor roster construction. There were certainly other factors but I believe that Jones has done an admirable job in addressing them all. The holes in the roster have been filled, we now have an experienced head coach in Monty Williams and a budding sense of identity.

The Valley Boyz are young, hungry and on a mission to prove themselves.

The Suns are likely still far from being playoff contenders but should be much closer to respectability next season than they’ve been in recent years.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - 2-Part Question:

  1. What total number of wins would you consider “acceptable/reasonable progress” this coming season?
  2. What do you think is the maximum (best case scenario) number of wins the Suns could get this season?

GuarGuar: I would consider 31+ wins as acceptable progress this season. I’m expecting a little more, but going from 19 to 31 is still a sizable improvement. We’ve added enough NBA quality players this offseason where I feel we can make a big jump.

The maximum number of wins we could get this season is probably around 45. We have a breakout year like Sacramento last season but even more. Ayton makes a big defensive leap. Our team stays healthy and meshes well. Mikal and Oubre make leaps and Booker continues amazing production. It’s also possible we have a solid start to the season and make a big trade deadline splash (Beal, Gordon) that further boosts our win expectations.

Sun-Arc: Before answering the questions, I wanted to look into every team’s roster. I couldn’t get my head around how good the teams actually look without that. And it was so much work I put it in a fanpost.

I’m fully expecting 30 wins or less. I will be somewhat disappointed with that amount, but I think we’ll see upside. Acceptable progress would be 34 wins.

The team’s maximum is hard to predict, but I’ll say I’d be very surprised with 38. Shocked with 40 or more.

SDKyle: 35 wins is a bare minimum, and closer to 40 would feel a lot better. I know it’s a dogfight in the West, but if prime Booker, second-year Ayton and Ricky Rubio still cant even get CLOSE to the playoffs with prime-age Saric, Bridges and Oubre also on the roster then I feel comfortable saying they don’t have the skeleton of a championship contender here. No more excuses. Time to put up or shut up.

SouthernSun: 1 - 31. I’m not asking for a lot. Just win over 30 games. That way they can’t be considered the worst team in basketball anymore. Please.

2 - 44. I highly doubt the Suns end up winning this many games, however, I can see a scenario where it happens. Let me paint you a picture. Ricky Rubio breaks out and finally reaches that potential that was so hyped when he first came into the league with all the offensive options that surround him on the new look Suns. There were people calling him the next Steve Nash, and he truly becomes that for the Suns, albeit a lesser version.

He has the tools to make everyone around him better. He is going to make Booker an even more efficient scorer. He’s going to make Ayton look like a force of nature. Ricky himself will be passable shooting the ball. Mikal and Kelly have easy looks from deep and get hit in just the right spots as they cut to the basket. Oubre plays with intensity and focus on defense. Ricky hounds the best guard on the opposing team. Dario Saric has a great season from deep, and gives the Suns starting unit three different playmakers. Baynes comes in and bodies opposing big men. Tyler Johnson comes off the bench as one of the better reserve guards in the league. Suns shock the league, win 44 games, take the 8th seed, and make national writers look like dunces.

Alex Sylvester: 1 - 30 at the absolute minimum.

This might be a little bit of a hot take, but I believe that the roster that included Tyler Johnson and Kelly Oubre last year would be a 30 win roster.

Add Rubio/Saric/Baynes and co. to the mix? I’m going to say an 11 win improvement is the bottom end of what I’d expect when it comes to win total. The obvious exception to this is injuries, but in the Suns stay relatively healthy this is where I stand.

2 - Best case scenario would be .500 basketball. This would only happen if numerous things happen next season:

  • Rubio truly makes everyone more efficient
  • Deandre takes his game to another level and becomes the best 2nd year player in the league
  • Devin becomes a 1st time all star
  • The Suns make a trade at the deadline with their expiring contracts and draft capital for a star-level talent

Do I expect this? No, because we’re Arizona sports fans we don’t get nice things.

Q2 - A lot of teams in the West will be better than the Suns this season but which teams (in the West) do you think might be worse and which teams could be roughly on the same level as the Suns?

GuarGuar: As of right now the only team I for sure expect to be worse than us is Memphis. OKC is possible if they trade CP3 and go into a full rebuild mode. I think we have the opportunity to be on the same level or better than Dallas, New Orleans, Sacramento, Minnesota, and OKC this year though. I’m really expecting a breakout season for us. That expectation scares me but it’s what I believe given our much improved roster.

Sun-Arc: I can honestly see us being worst in the west again. Why? Because the two teams that the CARMELO projections have lower than us, Memphis and Sacramento, could both surprise everyone.

With MEM, they have Morant, JJJ, and Valenciunas and are pretty darn deep.

SAC played well last season, and they have Fox, BB-gun, plus Bagley all looking to improve. They aren’t deep, and they have a new coach, but they do have Ariza (Lol). Alright- these guys are probably below us. Hopefully.

The Spurs are next and you just can’t count them out. Same with the Blazers. Thunder are a wildcard, and could really bomb or shine. The T-Wolves might suck pretty bad - but worse than us? Hard to say. Pellies and Mavs could be far better or far worse than us too.

All in all, I feel pretty good about being better than SAC, and we’ll maybe be better than 2-3 of the other western teams I mentioned above. But I could just as easily see us at 14th or 15th place as at 10th. And 9th in the West feels like a stretch to me.

SDKyle: I don’t know. The Suns should be better than the Grizzlies, T-Wolves and Pelicans... then you’ve got the Mavs, Kings and Thunder that may be on a similar level. But I certainly can’t say this with any confidence.

SouthernSun: Worse than the Suns: Memphis, Sacramento, Dallas, Minnesota, OKC (without Chris Paul)

Comparable to the Suns: Pelicans, OKC (with Chris Paul)

Alex Sylvester: Definitively worse: Grizzlies

On/near our level:Thunder/Kings/Pelicans/Mavericks

Better: The rest

The controversial ones I picked are the Kings and Pelicans. In regards to the Kings, I think they had the worst offseason in the West. On top of that, they won’t be coming into this season being slept on so I expect them to run into issues. The Pelicans? Arguably top 8 talent in the west but there’s so many new pieces and so many young guys that I’m not sure everything is going to click right away.

The Mavericks could easily better than us but again, they’re depending on Kristaps Porzingis becoming his old form and Luka Doncic taking another step up.

Q3 - How do you think playing with a quality, pass first guard will effect Devin Booker’s statistics?

GuarGuar: I go back and forth on what I expect Devin’s stats to look like this season. I think he and the rest of this roster care about finally getting wins more than anything. That being said, I expect his 3 point shooting to be quite a bit better and his overall efficiency to go up. Now Book sported an excellent 58.4 TS% last season. I think there’s a chance Rubio taking some pressure off him gets it to 60%, which would be absolutely elite. Overall, I expect his assists to go down a little but his ppg to remain about the same. 28-4-6 is what I’m expecting as of right now. I’ll have a better idea after watching some preseason games and seeing how Monty plans to use Book.

Sun-Arc: Rubio’s effect will likely be measured by how much they ask Booker to carry the facilitating role. My hope is the facilitator while Ricky is on the court is Ricky. And I feel that would help Ayton as well as Booker’s shooting numbers. If Booker is playing more off-ball, I expect his efficiency to go through the roof. And, either way, I think he becomes a more dominant scorer in the league. Maybe into top-3 territory from 7th last season.

SDKyle: My guess would be that Booker puts up similar point totals on improved efficiency...hopefully about 60% TS which puts him firmly into the elite of NBA scorers. His assist totals probably dip a little as he has the ball in his hands less often, but his turnovers also fall off a bit too. If I were forced to project a slash line for Booker it’d be 26/4/5.5 on 60% TS.

SouthernSun: I believe that playing with Rubio will have a positive effect on Booker. His assists per game will go down a little, but his points will rise slightly, as will his efficiency, particularly his three point shooting.

My prediction for his per game numbers next season:

  • 29ppg
  • 4rpg
  • 5apg
  • 45% from the field
  • 39% from three
  • 87% free throw shooting

Alex Sylvester: I said this in a thread somewhere but I think Devin will makes strides this year on defense and a bit in efficiency, specifically his 3PT%.

All my experience playing basketball has taught me to know that if you’re being depended on to manufacture the bulk of the offense, your defense is going to take a big hit. With Ricky being around, I expect Devin’s counting numbers to go down a bit but I expect to see a guy who can make a big jump on the defensive end. Also, his 3PT% should get closer to 37-38% not being relied on to facilitate and shoot off the dribble as much.

As always, many thanks to our Fantable - GuarGuar, SDKyle, Sun-Arc, SouthernSun and Alex Sylvester - for all their extra effort every week!


2018-19 Season Highlights

Minnesota Timberwolves vs Phoenix Suns Full Game Highlights | 12.15.2018

Devin Booker Full Highlights Suns vs Timberwolves 2018.12.15 - 28 Points, 7 Reb

Deandre Ayton Full Highlights 2018.12.15 TWolves vs Suns - 18 Pts, 12 Rebs!


Quotes of the Week

“We’re just really thrilled to have Ricky (Rubio) with us. Knowing that his experience, his winning pedigree, his ability to control a team, to run a team, to lead a team is something that we missed, something that we haven’t had recently in Phoenix and with his addition I expect out young guys to be able to take a huge leap forward this year.” - James Jones (from Rubio’s introductory presser)

”For me, Ricky (Rubio) is going to be an extension of me on the floor and I’m really excited about that.” - Monty Williams (from Rubio’s introductory presser)

”I’m really looking forward to improving and showing people that I can improve on the defensive end. That’s one of the biggest knocks against my game. That’s all going to change.” - Frank Kaminsky


Interesting Suns Stuff


News & Notes

Ty Jerome: Overcoming Adversity to Win a Championship. Suns.com

New Suns PF Frank Kaminsky details his free agency process. Hunter Hippel/Arizona Sports

Cheick Diallo signs two-year deal with Phoenix Suns. 247Sports

GM Jones: Suns’ offseason trades were about fit, not talent retainment. Kevin Zimmerman/Arizona Sports

Mike D’Antoni admits what made it difficult for Phoenix to get past Spurs. Clutch Points

Will The Phoenix Suns Be Able To Hide Dario Saric’s Biggest Flaw While Enhancing His Strengths? - Evan Sidery/Forbes


Suns (recent) History in Video

Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre, and DeAndre Ayton: “Valley Boyz” Phoenix Suns Highlights


Suns Trivia

Since the franchise began back in 1968, 31,421,962 fans have attended Suns regular season and playoff games in Phoenix.


Previewing the Weeks (and Months) Ahead

August 31 - Last day for teams to waive players and apply the stretch provision to their 2019/20 salaries.

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).

Late September (specific dates TBA) - Training camps open.

October 22 - NBA 2019-20 regular season begins.

October 31 - Last day that teams can exercise team options on the rookie scale contracts of former first-round picks.

December 14 - Suns vs Spurs in Mexico City.


Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “Who will win the Suns’ starting small forward spot during training camp?”

84% - Kelly Oubre Jr.

14% - Mikal Bridges

02% - Cameron “Dark Horse” Johnson

There were 463 votes cast.


This week’s poll is the same as one of the FT questions. (I used their answers as a guide for the poll choices.)

Poll

What total number of wins would you consider "acceptable/reasonable progress" this coming season?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    25-29.
    (25 votes)
  • 59%
    30-34.
    (315 votes)
  • 35%
    35 or more.
    (190 votes)
530 votes total Vote Now