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The Suns just might have a top-8 starting lineup in the West to kick off the season

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They haven’t even practiced together, yet the Solar Panel crew believes the Suns starting lineup could be playoff caliber.

Phoenix Suns v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Phoenix Suns training camp officially starts in one week. The preseason starts in two weeks. And the regular season kicks off in just a month. THE NBA IS ALMOST BACK!

Starting Monday, September 30, at the annual Media Day circus, you will be inundated with positivity from the Phoenix Suns about their potential for this season. Happens every year. Doesn’t matter if the summer roster turnover is frustrating or exciting. Doesn’t matter if there are glaring holes in the lineup or not. Doesn’t matter if they are the youngest team in a league where youth almost never wins.

We always build up some kind of excitement over potential. If the projection is 20 wins, we talk ourselves into 30. If the expectation is 30 wins, we talk ourselves into possible playoff contention!

So here we go again.

National betting lines peg the Suns somewhere between 27-29 wins this season. Las Vegas will PAY YOU MONEY if the Suns win 30 games and Vegas doesn’t like to pay out money. Doesn’t stop Suns fans from taking the over all day.

Advanced statistical projections have inched that number up to 35 wins. They look at the careers of the Suns acquisitions and cobble together a 35-win “meh” projection, despite having no idea whether new coach Monty Williams will know how to maximize the talent on his roster.

The fewest wins to make the playoffs in the West as the 8th seed in the last ten years is 41 wins (Blazers in 2017, Rockets in 2016), with an average requirement of 47 wins to finish 8th out of 15 teams in the West.

Yet, when you look at the lineups around the Western Conference and compare them to the Phoenix Suns’ projected starters, you have to wonder if the Suns maybe just maybe might be better than the Vegas betting line, maybe even better than those projection models, and — gasp — maybe even approach a 40-win campaign?

Over the past six weeks on the Solar Panel podcast, we have compared each Western team’s starting lineups to the Suns, one traditional position group at a time. Guards, then forwards, then centers.

We began with counting stats (points, rebounds, assists, blocks) and defensive metrics (defensive win shares and defensive box plus-minus), then talked out the “eye test” and then cast our votes.

Five hours of discussion over five starters. There were a few slam dunks wins for the Suns or the other team, but mostly we needed a good long debate and our third voter had to be a tie-breaker.

A common theme in each positional category was that the other team would have one player better than the Suns starters, but that the Suns would have the second and third best out of four being considered. A good example of this is the Golden State Warriors of the 2019-20 season. Their projected starting forwards are Draymond Green and... Alfonso McKinnie (because even Klay Thompson will miss at least half the season). Compare that to Dario Saric and Kelly Oubre Jr. While Green is the best player of the bunch by far, small forward McKinnie is the worst. How do you vote that? Is Green THAT much better that the Warriors get the “win” here?

I would transcribe all of our thought processes for you, but that’s a lot of words so I instead provided links to each of the shows so you can listen for yourself.

Guards

We began the series with the starters in the back court. How do Ricky Rubio and Devin Booker rank in the Western Conference as a back court tandem? We see a chance that Rubio will be top 10 in the NBA in assists per game, and that Booker could be among the top 5 scorers next season. Rubio can defend, and his length can help hide Booker’s deficiencies in that area. And if Booker’s defense can stop being laughable, he might even make the All-Star game this year.

We believe that the Suns starting backcourt is better than (in no particular order):

We didn’t have a lot of slam dunk wins for the Suns here, but our democratic consensus had at least two of the three of us (Dave King, Tim Tompkins, Greg Esposito) taking Rubio-Booker over the other team’s starters.

Suns starting backcourt will be worse than:

  • Los Angeles Lakers (LeBron James/Rajon Rondo, Danny Green)
  • Los Angeles Clippers (Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet/Paul George)
  • Utah Jazz (Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell)
  • Houston Rockets (Russell Westbrook, James Harden/Eric Gordon)
  • Portland Trailblazers (Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum)
  • Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry, D’Angelo Russell)

Listen to our reasoning here:

Forwards

We have the Suns starting forwards being Dario Saric and Kelly Oubre Jr.

Saric is only 25 years old and just one year removed from a 14.6/6.7/2,6 season with the Sixers as their starting power forward. He’s a three year starter at power forward so far in his career. Oubre scored 19 points per game last year in s starting role during the Suns best run of the season and projects into their starting small forward position come October.

We believe that the Suns starting forward tandem is better than (in no particular order):

  • Dallas Mavericks (Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr.)
  • Sacramento Kings (Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III)
  • Denver Nuggets (Paul Millsap, Torrey Craig)
  • Minnesota Timberwolves (Robert Covington, Andrew Wiggins)
  • Portland Trailblazers (Rodney Hood, Zach Collins)
  • Utah Jazz (Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles)
  • Oklahoma City Thunder (Andre Roberson, Danilo Gallinari)

Suns starting forwards will be worse than:

  • Memphis Grizzlies (Jaren Jackson Jr., Jae Crowder)
  • Los Angeles Lakers (Anthony Davis, LeBron James/Kyle Kuzma)
  • Los Angeles Clippers (Kawhi Leonard, Paul George)
  • Golden State Warriors (Draymond Green, Alfonzo McKinnie)
  • Houston Rockets (James Harden/Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker)
  • San Antonio Spurs (LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan)
  • New Orleans Pelicans (Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram)

Listen to our reasoning here:

Centers

Now we move on to centers, which only has one starter (Deandre Ayton for the Suns) so we included the primary backup in this analysis (Aron Baynes for the Suns).

We believe that Deandre Ayton is already better than more than half the conference’s centers even if he doesn’t take leaps and bounds improvements over last season, and that Aron Baynes is one of the best backups in the league.

We believe the Suns centers will be better than:

  • Golden State Warriors (Willie Cauley-Stein, Kevon Looney)
  • Houston Rockets (Clint Capela, Tyson Chandler)
  • San Antonio Spurs (Jakob Poeltl, Drew Eubanks)
  • Los Angeles Clippers (Ivica Zubac, Montrezl Harrell)
  • Sacramento Kings (Dewayne Dedmon, Richaun Holmes)
  • New Orleans Pelicans (Derrick Favors, Jaxson Hayes)
  • Dallas Mavericks (Dwight Powell, Maxi Kleber)
  • Los Angeles Lakers (Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee)
  • Memphis Grizzlies (Jonas Valanciunas, Miles Plumlee)

And that the Suns centers will be worse than:

  • Portland Trailblazers (Hassan Whiteside, Pau Gasol)
  • Utah Jazz (Rudy Gobert, Ed Davis)
  • Oklahoma City Thunder (Steven Adams, Nerlens Noel)
  • Denver Nuggets (Nikola Jokic, Mason Plumlee)
  • Minnesota Timberwolves (Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng)

Listen to our reasoning here:

Summary

There you have it, Suns fans!

After five hours of the constructive, heated analysis, the Solar Panel concluded that the Suns starting lineup consists of tandems that are either 6th or 7th best in the West in their positional groups as starters. Much of the time when comparing one team’s pair of players to the Suns’ pair, I came down to: “If I was putting a team together, which two players would I choose”.

A starting lineup of Rubio-Booker-Oubre-Saric-Ayton is LEGIT. Every one of these players would start on other teams, to varying degrees. Different teams for each player, yes, but still more than half would take the Suns collective five, I’d guess.

Does that mean playoffs? LOLOLOL. No. All that means is that four months of no basketball leaves Dave/Tim/Greg punch-drunk.

Take your best guess here. Do you agree or disagree with our rankings?

Poll

Based on your own careful analysis, do the Suns have a Top-8 starting lineup in the West?

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    Yes
    (491 votes)
  • 28%
    No
    (254 votes)
  • 16%
    Hell no
    (148 votes)
893 votes total Vote Now