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ESPN Future Power Rankings: Suns too low, or am I just greedy?

ESPN has Suns rising up charts, but that still feels too low

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2021 NBA Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v LA Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

We all love our Power Rankings. No matter the source, if you see a power rankings link you’ve got to click on it. Doesn’t matter if it’s a home-team-leaning swag or data-driven modeling program, we consume power rankings like Doritos.

We here at Bright Side always want to know where the Suns are being ranked. And like any good ranking, if the Suns are high enough we nod our heads and move along. But we blow our tops if the Suns are ranked even ONE SPOT lower than we think they should be. Or more accurately, anywhere below any team we believe the Suns could beat in a playoff series.

Friend of Bright Side and the Solar Panel, John Schuhmann of NBA.com posts a weekly NBA Power Rankings all season long that goes after my own heart — all data, all the time. And yet John told us on the Solar Panel that actual rankings like putting Team A at No. 1 and Team B at No. 2 are completely subjective because there’s no actual data to support such a fine-line ranking. He’s doing the Power Rankings because they’re popular, and plies the absurdity by including some data-driven snippet you didn’t know about your favorite team. The content is what excites him. The ultimate rankings are just a task to complete. Recently, John put the Suns at the top of the West in his offseason update, so he’s still a friend of the pod!

Some Power Rankings, like the ones put together weekly at TheAthletic.com are heavily and intentionally weighted on recency bias, allowing the author to rank a bad team on a 3-game winning streak higher that day than the clear playoff contender on a 3-game losing streak. Makes it fun, and gives the reader something to complain about.

All you can take from even the most ardent attempts at season-long Power Rankings is relativity. If your favorite team comes in 10th, then you know they are not considered a title contender but are very much in the thick of a 16-team playoff race.

The folks at ESPN have gone even farther down the road of insanity, creating a ‘Future Power Rankings’ model that attempts to predict a team’s success over the next three years. Not today, not just this season, but over the next three seasons.

When I mention insanity, please know that I do so with all due respect. Bobby Marks, one of the voters at ESPN, is a good friend of the blog and pod. He used to work as a young lad in an NBA front office (Nets, during their 2-year Finals run in fact) and now respectably plays the part of insider on ESPN. FWIW, Bobby also predicted the Suns to make the Finals last year BEFORE the playoffs started. So, Bobby is your friend too.

Anyway, back to the ‘ESPN Future Power Rankings’.

This is a semi-annual ranking of the organizations set up for success over the next three seasons. Last May, as the Suns were finishing 2nd in the West and before the playoffs started, the Suns came in 9th on the list.

This time, the Suns come in 6th.

The Suns have been making a quick rise up the ESPN charts on this model. 9th in May 2021. 24th last October 2019 with this same roster and management structure, 26th in March 2019, 22nd in September 2018, 25th in March 2018, 26th in October 2017, 27th in 2016, 22nd in May 2015, 12th in the fall of 2014 and 27th in the fall of 2013.

Suns scores last May.

Suns scores now, October 2021.

Basically the same. The total overall score is a bit lower, but the ranking is higher. I guess they were harder on scoring this time? There were four contributors to this scoring system, including our own friend Bobby Marks.

The Future Power Rankings are ESPN’s projection of the on-court success expected for each team over the next three seasons: 2021-22, 2022-23 and 2023-24.

Consider this a convenient way to see the direction in which your favorite team is headed. To determine the Future Power Rankings, we asked ESPN analysts Kevin Pelton, Bobby Marks, Andre’ Snellings and Tim Bontemps to rate teams in five categories and rank them relative to the rest of the league.

Bobby contributed the Suns blurb, explaining one Suns notable change — dropping management from 11th to 13th despite having the Exec of the Year and Coach of the Year (tops by peers, second by media).

All-Star Chris Paul and backup guard Cameron Payne are under contract through the next three seasons, but Phoenix faces an important decision on rookie extensions for Mikal Bridges, Landry Shamet and 2018 No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton, who is seeking the max. All three players will become restricted free agents if an agreement is not reached by next Monday. James Jones was named executive of the year and Monty Williams finished second in coach of the year, but Phoenix still fell two spots in management. The drop is a result of the stalled negotiations with Ayton (and Bridges) and the concern that owner Robert Sarver will not pay the luxury tax in the future. The last time Phoenix paid the tax was in 2009-10. — Marks

So, the Suns are top-6 in the league, they say. And they might even move up if ownership pays the bucks to Ayton and Bridges. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Who ranks ahead of the Suns on this scale in terms of likely winning records and success over the next three years?

  1. Brooklyn Nets (based mostly on players and market)
  2. Milwaukee Bucks (players and management)
  3. Los Angeles Lakers (players and market)
  4. Denver Nuggets (players and management)
  5. Miami Heat (management and market)
  6. Phoenix Suns (players and market)

As you can see, ‘market’ is big driver because the scoring is not just based on size but rather the ability to draw free agents to that market. The Suns were given the 9th highest score in market despite having only the 12th largest market size.

For more on how they scored each area, click ($) here.

The Nets, Bucks, Lakers, Nuggets and Jazz all got higher grades in the PLAYERS category over the Suns, who came in 6th.

The Suns did not finish higher than 9th in any other category, but also didn’t get any lower than 20th in any of them either. Just like the team on the court, they are rock solid top to bottom and that comes out right near the top 5 in the sport.

Remember, above all else, these are just rankings.

These rankings do not win basketball games. They don’t determine playoff order, nor do they decide who makes the Finals. And ultimately, the Finals are all that counts.

So, consume these rankings. Digest them. And then flush them out.

All that matters is what’s on the court.

Next Up

The Suns conclude their preseason with a midday game (2:00pm tip) on Wednesday, ahead of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury in their Game 2 of their own Finals, down 0-1 in the series.

The Suns and the Merc have a great partnership, and are now the first pair of NBA/WNBA teams in the same market to make their respective Finals in the same year since the LA teams did it in 2002 — yes, that’s 20 years ago.

Make sure to cheer on both the Suns and Mercury on Wednesday!