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Center of the Sun: Can the Suns make a significant jump in wins this season?

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It has happened before and it can happen again ... but can this team make it happen?

Milwaukee Bucks v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

In their inaugural season the Phoenix Suns finished with a 16-66 record. The following season they increased their win total by 23 games to finish 39-43 and earn their first ever playoff berth. They lost that series to the Lakers but it took them 7 games to put the upstart Suns out.

In the 1975-76 season, they increased their win total by 10 games over that of the previous season and squeaked into the playoffs for the second time after a 5-year absence. That team went all the way to the NBA Finals before eventually bowing out 4-2 against the Boston Celtics.

The Suns made it to the playoffs 8 of the following 9 years before another playoff drought of three years occurred. In the final year of that drought, the Suns finished the season (1987-88) with a 28-54 record... only the second time in their history that they had finished with less than 30 wins. The season after that, they increased their win total by 27 and made it all the way to the Western Conference finals before falling to the Lakers 4-0.

Including that appearance, the Suns would make it to the playoffs for the next 13 years in a row. Those appearances included three trips to the WCFs and their second trip to the NBA Finals in 1993 which they lost 4-2 to the Chicago Bulls.

Following that great playoff stretch, they went to the playoffs only once - losing 4-2 to the San Antonio Spurs in the first round - in the next three years. In the third year of that stretch (2003-04), they finished the season with a 29-53 record.

The following year the Suns increased their win total by a whopping 33 games, had the best record in the NBA at 62-20 and made it to the WCFs before falling to the Spurs 4-1. The Suns were a strong team for the next five years, making it to the WCFs another two times before the present playoff drought of nine years began.

During that period of time, the Suns have had one winning season (2013-14) in which they improved their win total (48-34) over the previous season by 23 games and just barely missed the playoffs.

In the five years since then, they have won more than 30 games only once and haven’t even won 25 games in a season the last four in a row. They have been a very bad team and it has been a period of time that has severely tried the patience and devotion of Suns fans.

This year, we are all hoping for another one of those jumps in wins that we have seen before. Few are expecting it though and who can blame them? We’ve been disappointed much too often recently.

But it can happen. It has happened in the past. I don’t want to hope too much for it though because I don’t want to have those hopes crushed... again.

The Western Conference will be very tough again but there has been a lot of change in the West.

Utah, the Clippers, Minnesota, OKC and Memphis have only 7 players returning from last season’s teams. The Lakers, Golden State, New Orleans and Phoenix only have 6 returning players. Portland also has only 6 returning players but could be without injured Jusuf Nurkic for much of the season. Only Denver (12 players returning), Dallas (12 players returning), San Antonio (11 players returning), Houston (9 players returning) and Sacramento (9 players returning) have much in the way of continuity going into next season.

Some of those teams are definitely going to improve because of the changes they’ve made but some aren’t. All of the teams that have made the most changes - including the Suns - will all have periods of adjustment to those changes.

How all of the change in the West will ultimately play out is yet to be seen.

Perhaps this is the season that the Suns will surprise everyone and finally make the ‘jump’ that we’ve all hoped for... for way too long.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - If all of the presumed Suns starters (Rubio, Booker, Oubre, Saric & Ayton) were on the bench, what would your preferred 2nd unit look like?

GuarGuar: My preferred 2nd unit would be Ty Jerome-Tyler Johnson-Mikal Bridges-Cameron Johnson- Aron Baynes. I think this unit offers the most possible offensively, while still being okay on the other end of the floor. Everyone in this unit can shoot the 3 ball at a decent percentage. I’d rather have Jerome be our backup PG and Cam Johnson at the 4 than Frank Kaminsky get those minutes.

Sun-Arc: Tyler Johnson, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Frank Kaminsky and Aron Baynes I guess.

I really wouldn’t want Cam and Kam out there together. I’d prefer to have a nine-player rotation that doesn’t include the rookies.

SDKyle: PG- Tyler Johnson

SG- Cam Johnson

SF- Mikal Bridges

PF- Cheick Diallo

C- Aron Baynes

Let me just say for the record that I don’t actually expect the Suns to play an all-bench lineup very often if at all... mostly because the bench is really still not very good. It’s hard to make such a lineup that doesn’t have major known deficiencies or lean on multiple unproven rookies.

SouthernSun: My preferred 2nd unit has at least one of the starters on it (for winning games sake, I think the Suns should only have a 9 man rotation). However, within the confines of this question, I’ll say Tyler Johnson, Cam Johnson, Mikal Bridges, Frank Kaminsky, Aron Baynes.

Cameron Johnson is hopefully slightly more NBA ready than Ty Jerome. Also, someone on Twitter has been posting enough “Cam Johnson shooting a basketball off a screen” highlights that I’m actually excited to see it. A little bit anyway.

Alex Sylvester: My preferred 2nd unit would be to start the season:

Jevon Carter/T. Johnson/Bridges/C. Johnson/Baynes

I don’t know how long this will last but I’d like to see this be the case early on. Is Ty Jerome ready for minutes this early on? Not sure. Will Cam Johnson make use of his minutes? Not sure.

The Carter/Johnson backcourt would be solid defensively. Add Bridges and Baynes and you’re looking at a good defensive unit. The obvious flaw with this unit is playmaking but I could see Devin or even Kelly fitting well with most of these guys.

Q2 - Rotation-wise, which position could be the weakest for the Suns this season?

GuarGuar: While I don’t think it’s weak in general, power forward will probably be our weakest position this season. We have a lot of guys who could fill PF minutes (Saric, Oubre, Cam, Frank, Diallo), but compared to the other positions it looks like our weakest spot. Unless Cam Johnson really exceeds expectations, we won’t have anything that great at PF this season. But make no mistake, this PF rotation is much better than last year’s.

Sun-Arc: Power Forward, for sure. Saric may not be able to defend well enough to be a net-plus. But Kaminsky will likely be a negative, as well as Diallo. One can’t defend and the other can’t shoot. All the other positions have two players I feel good about trotting out on the court. Rubio/Tyler Johnson, Booker/Mikal, Oubre/Mikal, Saric/?, Ayton/Baynes. This is why I can see Oubre getting some minutes at PF, which allows Mikal to see minutes at SF. All that seems to work out well in a nine-player rotation that limits the time that Cam, Kaminsky & Diallo would see the court.

SDKyle: It’s probably PF, really. Adding Rubio allowing us to shift Tyler Johnson to bench PG is adequate there for now, especially with the youngsters we added. But at PF there’s still not much after Saric. Kaminsky isn’t very good and certainly doesn’t compensate for Saric’s defensive shortcomings. Diallo is interesting but pretty limited. Anyone else we could plug in there would be playing out of position and giving up too much size.

It’s still not a position of much strength for the Suns.

SouthernSun: Man, this is a tough question. None of the Suns positions are amazing. SG has our best player at it, but doesn’t really have a great backup unless Tyler Johnson is it (and I consider him more the backup PG). So you can’t say that your weakest position is the one with your best guy. Ayton and Baynes is a good combo. Rubio and Johnson is solid.

It probably has to be between Oubre/Bridges and Saric/Kaminsky, and that’s a tough call. A lot of Suns fans may not like this, but I’m probably going to have to say Oubre/Bridges. Saric is a better NBA player right now than either Oubre or Bridges (ducks as bottles are thrown at head). Kaminsky is a better PF (even though he’s technically a center) than anybody the Suns had there last season. He’s probably equally as effective a player as Bridges right now (big, can rebound, good three point shooter).

I’m going to have to say that SF is the Suns weakest position. But it’s not that weak.

Alex Sylvester: Power forward.

I still see issues with size/toughness at the 4 position, and if you try to solve that with Kaminsky getting minutes at the backup 4 then you’re lacking athleticism. The Suns made progress this summer addressing the position but I can absolutely see this being the biggest weakness of the team next season.

Q3 - James Jones has moved on from most of the players McD acquired but is there anyone that Ryan McDonough actually let go of that you wish you could bring back to the Suns?

GuarGuar: The two guys we let go of that still bugs me are Danuel House and Derrick Jones Jr. McDonough did the hard part of finding these quality rotation players from the G-League. But he let them both go for absolutely nothing and now both are rotation players on great teams. We cut DJJ to sign Mike James to a longer contract, but then released James less than 2 weeks after. Danuel House looked promising when he played big minutes for us a couple years ago. We let him walk for no reason and he played big minutes for a title contending team last year (Houston).

Sun-Arc: P.J. Tucker. I love the way he plays - with all-out heart. I’d take him back right now even though there kind of isn’t a position open for him.

SDKyle: I was and remain an unapologetic Eric Bledsoe fan, so he would be my pick. Would it actually make sense now? No. But at the time I really wanted to make it work and I still blame McD’s piss-poor people management skills for letting things deteriorate to the point of the hair salon tweet. Thanks to that, we had to endure two years of completely unwatchable point guard play.

As always... say it with me now...

Thank you, Ryan McDonough.

SouthernSun: We have no idea how keeping players back then would have affected the team now. However, at the time I was pretty unhappy about trading Goran Dragic and I.T. Particularly Goran. He was the engine that made this team go. I was also sad to see PJ Tucker go, though I understood doing it when it happened. I certainly wouldn’t mind having them both back now, albeit as rotation guys coming off the bench (I’d rather have Rubio than current Goran, and Saric than current Tucker).

Speaking of I.T., I actually wouldn’t have been opposed to bringing him back on a veteran minimum deal to fight for a backup PG spot. If he was able to reclaim even some of his former powers, he would be a nice addition to the team.

I liked Alan Williams, but I wasn’t all that sad to see him go. Derrick Jones Jr isn’t as good as the wings we have now, and I didn’t care that much about him when he was here anyway.

Alex Sylvester: I would, as would most Suns fans enjoy seeing P.J. Tucker back on this roster. I don’t see this happening as PJ deserves to be playing for championships at this stage in his career. However with the highlighted issue at power forward in the previous question, Tucker would be the perfect fit with the roster currently constructed.

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

Phoenix Suns vs Boston Celtics - Game Highlights | Dec 19, 2018

Devin Booker & Deandre Ayton 48 Pts 2018.12.19 Suns vs Celtics - 23, 18 For Ayton!


Quote of the Week

”I’m big on improving every year. Even if it’s something small, always improving and people knowing that I’m improving.” - Mikal Bridges


Interesting Suns Stuff


News & Notes

Monty Williams says Kelly Oubre Jr. ‘was one of the reasons’ why he was excited about Suns job. Clutch Points

What to expect from Suns first-round pick Ty Jerome in 2019-20. Clutch Points

Suns building blocks: Devin Booker doing his part on defense. Kellan Olson/Arizona Sports

Q&A: Phoenix Suns Forward Mikal Bridges Discusses Being Named To USA Basketball Select Team, His Summer Training In Phoenix. Brendon Kleen/Forbes


Suns History in Video

Phoenix Suns Since ‘68: 1976 WCF Suns vs Warriors


Suns Trivia

Last season five different Suns rookies (Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, De’Anthony Melton, Elie Okobo & Ray Spalding) had at least one game scoring 19+ points. The Suns are the only NBA team over at least the last 10 seasons to have five rookies do so.


Previewing the Weeks (and Months) Ahead

August 9, 2019 - USA Basketball White vs. Blue Exhibition Game (Las Vegas) 7 pm AZT

  • The Select Team members (including Mikal Bridges) will join with the National Team players in the USA Blue versus USA White exhibition game at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Mid August - 2019-20 NBA Regular Season schedule to be released.

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 8 - Phoenix Suns vs Minnesota Timberwolves (preseason), 7:00 pm AZT

October 10 - Phoenix Suns @ Sacramento Kings (preseason), 7:00 pm AZT

October 12 - Phoenix Suns @ Portland Trail Blazers (preseason), 5:00 pm AZT

October 14 - Phoenix Suns vs Denver Nuggets (preseason), 7:00 pm AZT

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.


Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “Which Suns rookie do you think will contribute the most on the court this season?”

71% - Cameron Johnson

25% - Ty Jerome

04% - Jalen Lecque

There were 253 votes cast.


This week’s poll is about defense. The Suns were 29th in defense last season.

Poll

For the Suns to have a reasonably successful season, their defense needs to improve to...

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    At least close to 20th.
    (101 votes)
  • 55%
    Somewhere between 15th and 20th.
    (152 votes)
  • 8%
    Better than 15th.
    (22 votes)
275 votes total Vote Now