Based on the latest projections of how the rest of the NBA season will play out, the Phoenix Suns are expected to have the third-biggest turnaround in the NBA this year.
Only the Los Angeles Lakers (+24) and Dallas Mavericks (+17) project to have a bigger jump in wins over last year than the Phoenix Suns (+15). Basketball-Reference.com has the Suns finishing with a 34-48 record, as does Five Thirty Eight, which would be a 15-win improvement.
Using that projection, the Suns would finish with nearly twice as many wins as a year ago. On that point, no other team in the NBA will have nearly doubled their win total like the Suns will have done in going from 19 to 34 (a 78% increase in wins).
Of course, that still only leaves the Suns projected to finish tied for 12th in the West.
The Suns have had a roller coaster season, replete with a 25-game suspension to their second-best player and myriad nagging injuries that have left half the rotation on the shelf for significant chunks of time. The Suns were already the youngest roster in the league, but the injuries to key veterans have made them play even younger.
The Suns best lineup is veteran Ricky Rubio and the young core of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mikal Bridges. That five-man lineup has, due to injury and suspension, only appeared in 15 of the Suns’ first 55 games this year. In those 15 games, they are outscoring opponents by 11.9 points per 100 possessions.
Yet through it all, mixing and matching various players, they’ve got the league’s 15th-best net rating, 17th on offense and 19th on defense through 55 games. This after last year’s 28th-or-worse rating in all three categories.
Even with all the adversity, the Suns look like they will easily beat the preseason Vegas betting line of 29.5 wins (did any of you get in a bet on this?) and jump all the way to 34 wins this year.
The West landscape of ups and downs is interesting, isn’t it? Golden State, Portland and San Antonio have fallen hard, while the Lakers, Mavericks and Grizzlies have risen into playoff contention.
In the West, it’s been pretty clear all year that the Lakers, with Anthony Davis added to LeBron James, and the Dallas Mavericks, with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, are the new playoff perennials in the West after missing the postseason last year.
But the rest of the West remains roughly the same. No matter what changes around and within, the West teams end up roughly the same year over year. The NBA is not the NFL where you can go from last place to the championship with one great off season. The NBA is a slow burn, where the good teams stay good and the bad teams stay bad.
Each year, only one or two teams flip that switch. Let’s hope that’s the Suns next year, following up this promising year with even more wins next year.
Booker is already an All-Star. Ayton is growing into an impressive two-way player who could be an All-Star in 1-2 years. Bridges is a potential All-Defense player and has made 39% of this threes since the turn of the year. And Kelly Oubre Jr. is the heartbeat and spirit of the team. None of them have even reached their prime yet, which is generally considered age 25-29 in the NBA.
The future is bright, Suns fans. How bright is yet to be determined.