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Phoenix Suns: Rising or Falling?

About last year: 23-59

Last season the Suns got off to a decent start, Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe were looking like they had a good claim to being one of the best backcourts in basketball, and the team played tough defense anchored by Tyson Chandler. But the good vibes did not last very long, Bledsoe got hurt, Chandler was hurt a lot, Knight was hurt a lot, everyone was hurt a lot, and the popcorn was stale. It went downhill from there for a long time, until later in the season, a shining light known as Devin Booker appeared and gave hope.

In the end, it was a hugely disappointing season, the Suns went all in to try and get Aldridge and win last year and ended up missing big time. On the plus side, they still have one of the more promising young teams in basketball.

Offseason Changes

The Suns did not make any drastic changes from last year. They added Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, and Tyler Ulis in the draft and added old school cool veterans, Leandro Barbosa and Jered Dudley. They traded Markieff Morris last year and allowed Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic to walk in free agency as the big losses. (Although of course in the case of Morris, he had to go.)

Things to watch

Can they stay healthy at all?

As stated before, early in the season Bledsoe and Knight looked like one of the premier backcourts in basketball, and they were super entertaining as well, but they both spent a lot of last year hurt. The injuries are even more concerning because at this point it has to be admitted that both Knight and Bledsoe appear to be quite injury prone which is not a good sign when they are your two best players. Although there is some worry of them being the 2 best players as well...

Is the Bledsoe/Knight backcourt good enough to really build around?

Devin Booker should hopefully change this question in a major way for the Suns, but for now, the backcourt pairing of Bledsoe and Knight is the foundation of the team. (Assuming they want to still try and win some games right now, which is another question altogether.) Knight and Bledsoe have pretty well affirmed that they are both high-quality players in the league, that is not in question.

The question is, even if they are healthy, can you build a successful team without a really good facilitating PG, (or player in general, doesn't even have to be a guard) because both Knight and Bledsoe are electric scorings (in different ways) but both of them have struggled with turnovers their entire careers, and both are now in their mid 20s. They can still improve, but a drastic improvement in facilitating would be surprising. And then this question will go into the next point.

Do they give the keys to Devin Booker?

Devin Booker had a wonderful rookie season and is hugely popular with almost everyone everywhere. Everyone seems to believe that Booker is a superstar in the making, and there is good reason to believe that. But the Suns are still in a bit of the same limbo they have been the last 3 years where they are stuck between being good enough to win some games now, but still kind of super young and rebuilding.

The Suns could theoretically decide to go full tank mode and trade one (or even both) of Knight/Bledsoe (Knight would likely be who they tried to move I would guess) and give the keys to Booker and the young guys and keep the vets around to be mentors.

On the other hand, though, they can bring Booker along slower and use him as a 6th man of sorts and let their backcourt pairing (of which both are in their primes) try and win some games now. Which way they go on this will be a good indication of how much they really believe in Booker, although I would guess they give this group at least one more year before they try and trade anyone just because they don't need to do anything yet since Booker is on a rookie contract.

Can Alex Len make a meaningful step forwards?

Len has made some steady improvements to his game in his career, but it has not always showed up in the numbers. He has shown just enough that there is good reason to believe that he could still be a really good 2-way center if given the opportunity, but he still has not really become that guy.

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I also think they should largely shelve his post up game (which has not looked great) and have him focus full time on being a rim runner and pick and pop guy. Really I think he should just focus totally one on or the other, and he seems closer to being a killer pop or roll guy than a killer post up player. Either way, going into a contract year, Len has a lot to prove.

Dragan and the rookies:

I readily admit that I largely only watch the NBA so I do not have any extensive knowledge on the rookies that the Suns have. What I do know is that Bender was seen as possibly challenging for the 2nd pick, and his stock fell a bit. (which is weird to say because he still got picked 4th)

There should be a decent amount of playing time for him right away, and if he could show that the doubters were just being silly and he is a super star in the making, then the Suns might want to move towards tanking out now to build on the future sooner rather than later.

Best case scenario

Knight and Bledsoe stay healthy all season and both average over 20 per game, forming one of the most electric backcourts in basketball. Devin Booker is coming off the bench, but thrives in the role of 6th man and also becomes not quite so laughably bad defensively. TJ Warren builds on a nice year last year and wins the starting job outright from PJ Tucker, but it is because of good play by Warren, not a bad play by Tucker.

Alex Len takes another step in the right direction and Chandler stays healthy to form the most formidable center rotations in basketball. The other old veterans stay healthy and play well, with the Suns returning to form as the surprisingly good team of the year who are in the playoff race.

Worst case scenario

Everyone is hurt again, Devin Booker continues to be awful on defense and his offense doesn't make any meaningful improvements, causing some worries in the organization. Tyson Chandler starts to become a bit of a problem as he quietly grumbles about wanting to be traded, where the Suns eventually let him go but have to give up a pick or something like that to get him out. Dudley and Barbosa are straight getting them checks and spend most of the year hurt and playing poorly.

The Suns struggle to field a full team most of the season and Charles Barkley has another epic rant about the state of the team.

So in conclusion...

Wink knowingly at your friends if:

  • Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe make the All-Star game.
  • Devin Booker is in the running for 6th man of the year.
  • There are tons of stories about how valuable the veterans on the team are.
  • Dragan Bender is awesome.

Run for the hills if:

  • Everyone gets hurt.
  • Booker can't defend a chair.
  • Dudley still just looks like a fat guy.
  • PJ Tucker is still starting at the end of the season.

Opportunities for me to look stupid:

  • Knight and Bledsoe are mostly healthy, and are both good enough that the Suns are reluctant to just give the keys over to Booker. (yet)
  • Tyson Chandler is hurt most of the year, but that's ok because Alex Len is playing really well.
  • T.J. Warren is looking like a “Good Star” (clearly not an All-Star, but also clearly not just a run of the mill starter) by the end of the year.
  • Devin Booker looks good, but has a bit of a sophomore slump.

What do you think? Can you build a team around Bledsoe and Knight? Is Devin Booker a superstar?