Just like last year — throughout the season, when the playoffs started, and before every series — ESPN is discounting the Suns chances of being great.
Over the past two days, the NBA writers at ESPN have come out with their collective predictions on win totals per team and their favorites for the Championship, Most Valuable Player, Coach of the Year, Most Improved, Defensive Player of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year.
Spoiler alert: they don’t have faith in the Suns repeating.
All this is behind the ESPN+ paywall, but I’m giving you some of it anyway, while staying within the rules of sharing only so much of someone else’s paid content. Don’t worry, ESPN, I’m not breaking your bank here.
West win totals
Last year’s result: Suns finished 2nd in West with 51-21 (72 games)
ESPN Prediction: Suns will finish 3rd in the West with a 51-31 record (82 games)
So they predict that the Suns will lose all 10 of those extra 10 games on the schedule this year as the calendar returns to normal. That’s interesting, considering the Suns have returned all but one of the core that came within two games of winning the title. That’s the same core won the 2nd most games in the NBA, had the best road record, had the best record against the league’s best teams, and had the best record in the clutch.
Chance to win the West
Last year’s result: Suns won the West
ESPN Prediction: Suns have the 3rd best chance to win the West (behind Jazz and Lakers)
More than anyone else, ESPN believes in the power of players returning healthy from injury for deep playoff runs, most notably Anthony Davis and LeBron James who they continue believe would have knocked the Suns out in the first round if healthy. What people conveniently forget is that the Suns were running out one-armed Chris Paul — he couldn’t even hold his dribble in open court! — and a group of players with zero playoff experience.
If you discount the Suns because of Chris Paul’s advancing age and injury potential, then you have to discount the Lakers because LeBron James is the same age as Chris Paul and has more severe, more recent injury issues than Paul has had.
Last year’s result: Chris Paul finished 5th in MVP voting
ESPN Prediction: No Suns mentioned among 9 players listed
Chris Paul has finished among the top 7 of MVP voting a whopping total of 9 times in his career, including the last two seasons. Yet he’s always been discounted because of... what? his stature? These days it’s because of his age, I guess, yet LeBron James — who is the same age as CP3 — has indeed made the list.
Coach of the Year chances
Last year’s result: Monty Williams finished 2nd among media voters like these; but won the vote among his peers in a landslide
ESPN Prediction: Williams checks in at 6th on this list
Ime Udoka?? Seriously?
Defensive Player of the Year chances
Last year’s result: No Suns player got any votes
ESPN Prediction: No Suns player listed among top 7, though Deandre Ayton is among ‘others receiving votes’
After his historic playoff run at age 22, Deandre Ayton is getting a lot of quiet respect for his defensive acumen. Almost no player that young had ever had such a good playoffs. Ayton’s skills at defending the paint AND the perimeter are nearly unmatched in the league. And frankly the fact that he doesn’t spend the whole year lobbying to play power forward should only deepen your love for this guy.
Sixth Man of the Year chances
Last year’s result: No Suns player got any votes
ESPN Prediction: No one listed here either
I understand the Suns surprised the league last year, and one storyline that kept rearing its head was that the Suns had a weak bench. When I kept hearing that, even into the playoffs, I was flabbergasted. Looks like that’s not going to change this year either. I can’t wait to see one of the Cams getting recognized this year, with all the national TV games the Suns will have.
What’s funny is that nearly every new or former Lakers reserve got at least one vote from ESPN writers for 6MoY. Think they might be catering to clicks? Me too.
Most Improved Player of the Year chances
Last year’s result: Mikal Bridges got the 8th most votes
ESPN Prediction: He’s mentioned again, except way down the list
Last year, the only Suns player who got ANY votes in this category was Mikal Bridges, despite nearly doubling their winning percentage with much of the same core. The media didn’t give any votes to Ayton (his improvement came in the playoffs), or Cam Payne or Cameron Johnson, who both surprised everyone with even being NBA-caliber players let alone keys to a Finals run.
Who on the Suns will be most improved this year? I think all three could be candidates.
There you have it, Suns fans. ESPN thinks the Suns will regress a bit this year, though they have zero reason to think that. The Suns have returned all but one of last year’s important pieces, while adding a bit more juice to the third string contingent.