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Suns have a tough, long climb back to respectability

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Do the Suns actually have the shooting to rise up the ranks?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns were so much worse than the rest of the Western Conference last year, it would take a mini-miracle to climb back into the pack.

Metaphorically speaking, the rest of the West was riding comfy in the family truckster while the Suns were strapped to the back bumper. We all know how that went.

This summer, newly empowered general manager James Jones has reshaped the roster, adding basketball IQ and shooting to most of the roster around the best point guard the Suns have had since... well, a long time ago.

Some of the number-crunchers recognize the improvements, placing the Suns ahead of at least the completely rebuilding Memphis Grizzlies, and not far off from a couple of other teams as well.

But don’t count NBA.com’s John Schumann among them. Schumann predicts the Suns last in the Western Conference and he gives a good reason.

He notes how far the Suns have to go to beat out other West teams: their point differential was three times worse than the next worst West team. And while the Suns had 19 wins last season, no other West team had fewer than 33.

But the Suns added so many better shooters!

Schumann posted this random stat the other day as well. We are excited that the Suns have supposedly better shooting this year, but objectively they do not have anything better at all yet.

Two? That’s it?

Gone from the team are T.J. Warren and Troy Daniels, the Suns only two players to shoot better than league average last year on bombs (35.5 percent).

In are Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky, who will share the power forward minutes next to Deandre Ayton and Aron Baynes.

None of the other offseason acquisitions or any incumbent players topped 35.5 percent on threes last season.

We can hope that Tyler Johnson can return to normal (career 36.7%), and that Mikal Bridges and Devin Booker will top the 35.5% water mark with a better offense around them. Booker made 38.3 percent of his threes in 2017-18, and 36 percent the year before that.

And we can cross our fingers that rookies Cameron Johnson and Ty Jerome — 40 percent three-point shooters in college — come above average in year one. Last year, six of 60 drafted rookies did just that (topped by Landry Shamet’s 42.2 percent).

Great passes from Ricky Rubio won’t matter if his teammates can’t make a shot.

Last night, I found in my DVR a “hardwood classic” ready and waiting. It was the 152-149 double-overtime Suns vs. Sonics game from January 2006. As the game started, I realized that I was there. In the stands. And I remember thinking it was an incredibly fun game and it didn’t even matter who won (the Suns were on a six-game home winning streak so they could afford a loss).

Remember that 2006 team? Prime Steve Nash dishing the rock to a bunch of shooters and non-shooters. Kurt Thomas, Boris Diaw and Shawn Marion: not good three-point shooters. Eddie House was a good shooter but he mostly played only when Nash rested. Nash’s prime three-point targets when he played: Raja Bell, Leandro Barbosa and... you guessed it: James Jones himself.

The Suns took 38 threes in that game, making 18 of them. Their best shooters on the night: Barbosa (4-8), Bell (7-11), Marion (3-8) and Nash himself (2-5). Our new GM went just 1-4... but looked good taking them!

The moral of this story? Few of those guys were naturally good three-point shooters. It was Steve Nash who helped them be better because of the way the offense flowed. Let’s hope Rubio can have the same impact.

Cross your fingers, Suns fans. And hope for the best.