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Predicting the Suns’ remaining schedule

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How many games will the Suns win this year?

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Phoenix Suns Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday I shared with you that the analytic modeling sites have predicted the Suns will finish with a 34-48 record, which would be the 3rd biggest turnaround in the league this year. To reach that record, the Suns would have finish out the season with a 12-15 record in their last 27 games.

Yet we have also been told that the Suns have one of the toughest second half schedules, but that has dissipated a bit after the Suns faced several playoff-caliber teams in recent weeks. Tankathon.com has the Suns with the 8th toughest from here on out, while ESPN’s RPI rankings give the Suns the 16th toughest schedule remaining.

Here’s the schedule remaining. I have marked what should be the clear wins and losses based on how they have played to date.

The only iffy win I gave the Suns is a home game against Portland, who might be without Damian Lillard for a bit.

But that’s it. If the Suns play the rest of the season “as expected”, they might only finish with a 32-50 record.

To get to 34+ wins, they will have to show improvement.

Health can help that. The Suns were literally playing G-League and 10-day level players off the bench the last two weeks because of all the nagging injuries. Word is that Aron Baynes and Dario Saric will both be back in the lineup on Friday and the only remaining injured player will be Frank Kaminsky with the hairline-fractured kneecap (will return in March).

Add in that Ricky Rubio has been playing through a hobbled ankle, making him look pretty awful yet still so so much better than playing Elie Okobo big minutes.

Players in yellow have missed time here and there, while the ones in red have missed nearly all of the last 6 weeks of games.

Since Ayton returned to the starting lineup for good on January 3, 2020, the Suns have been a different team.

Before that (34 games), the Suns were 10th on offense and 19th on defense. But since Ayton fully got back into the nightly rotation as the starting center (21 games), the Suns are 21st on offense and 10th on defense.

The offensive decline can only partially be blamed on Ayton’s presence. Without a stretch five in the lineup because Ayton does not take any three-pointers, the Suns are down to 27 three-point attempts per game which puts them last in the league. Long range bombers Aron Baynes, Frank Kaminsky, and Cameron Johnson have missed a significant portion of these six weeks, and have shot uncharacteristically poorly when they did play. Also, starting point guard Ricky Rubio is shooting only 37% from the field during that time as well. It’s possible that a return to health for those players after the long All-Star break, plus more minutes for Ty Jerome in place of Tyler Johnson could spell a rebirth of the long range shots.

Players getting the most minutes these past six weeks are the core of the future: Ayton, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and Kelly Oubre Jr.

  • That four-man group is a +8.1 per 100 possessions (roughly, full-game length) since Ayton’s return to the starting lineup.
  • Add in Ricky Rubio, despite him struggling with injury and fatigue, and that five-man lineup is a whopping +11.9 points per 100 (total of 169 minutes together)
  • Wondering about the drop-off from Rubio to the backup? Swap Rubio for Okobo and you get a putrid -7.5 points per 100 (total of 50 minutes together)

What’s interesting is that those are the only two five-man lineups that have appeared in at least 15 of the last 21 games. You can thank injuries for that. Players who have missed at least 2 of the last 21 games: Ayton, Oubre, Baynes.

You have to drop the filter all the way to 8 games to find any more five-man lineups that have spent any time together on the court in the last 21 games. That’s a Rubio-Ayton-Oubre-Booker-Saric lineup, and it’s even worse than the Okobo one at -11.9 rating over 69 minutes.

Clearly, Monty Williams’ best lineup has Rubio running point with Booker, Oubre, Bridges and Ayton on the court with him.

The problem is that these guys can’t play all 48 minutes of a game, so you’ve got to find some consistency off the bench. Maybe with Saric and Baynes back, along with rookies Cam Johnson and Ty Jerome, the Suns can find that magic formula.

In a perfect world, the Suns could maintain that top-10 defense while recovering a bit offensively back into the top-half or top-third of the league.

Then we’ll see what this team is capable of.

Poll

How many wins will the Suns finish with?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    33 or less
    (196 votes)
  • 39%
    34-35
    (248 votes)
  • 18%
    35-39
    (114 votes)
  • 11%
    40 or more
    (74 votes)
632 votes total Vote Now