Though many expect the Phoenix Suns to make considerable improvement in the in column from last season, the 2019-20 schedule is going to be an absolute gauntlet. With the Western Conference more treacherous than ever, another quirk thrown Phoenix’s way revolves around their travel itinerary.
After ranking in the bottom half of the league in miles traveled for the 2018-19 season, No. 17 overall to be exact, the Suns’ newly released 82-game slate shows them placed at No. 2 on top of already being ranked as the hardest schedule. Instead of the usual 40,000 miles of air travel, which they were barely above during their 19-win campaign, Phoenix will endure an extra 1,000 miles.
As you can see, Phoenix only ranks below the Utah Jazz in this metric. Portland, who ranked No. 1 last season, is tied for third along with Sacramento. Air travel usually falls in favor of Eastern Conference squads, who more often than not rank in the bottom third, but, as mentioned, it’s another reason why projecting a .500 record or better is a particularly steep gamble.
Ten of the 12 most jet-lagged teams are in the Western Conference with the lone exceptions being the coastal Miami Heat (No. 12) and Boston Celtics (No. 5). And if we want to compare it to the 2018-19 schedule, it follows a similar tune, with 12 of the top 15 being located in the West.
During the schedule release show on Locked On Suns earlier this week, I projected the Suns to finish 32-50. Improving by 13 games would be a huge step to take for an organization wallowing in irrelevance over the past four years where 25-plus was never accomplished.
One key area Phoenix will have to be successful in order to reach that rosy projection is take advantage on the road against inferior teams, especially in the East (Charlotte, Cleveland, New York, Washington, etc.). In 2018-19, the Suns finished 5-10 on the road against Eastern Conference opponents. That number needs to reach at least .500 for them to take a substantial step forward as Devin Booker enters into his five-year, $158 million max extension and former No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton finds his bearings in Year 2.
Suns general manager James Jones showed how much he valued roster depth in his first offseason when he assembled a rotation that now goes 10-11 deep with actual NBA rotation players. Over the past three seasons, that couldn’t be said, as Booker had to carry the whole operation on his young shoulders.
Will the extreme makeover of the Suns from all levels be enough to see legitimate growth this time around? At this point, it has to, but underlying factors such as substantially increased air travel will play a slight factor in the calculus.