New Faces: Jared Dudley, Dragan Bender (R), Leandro Barbosa, Marqueese Chris (R), John Jenkins, Tyler Ulis (R),
2015-16 Regular Season Record: 23-59
2015-16 Regular Season Achievements: 5th: Offensive Rebounding, 7th: Total Rebounding
Leading Scorer: Eric Bledsoe, 20.4
Leading Rebounder: Tyson Chandler, 8.7
It’s been six long non-playoff years since Steve Nash was traded. The Phoenix Suns enter the 2016-17 season with more question marks than real life answers. How will Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe play together? What kind of production are the Suns going to get in the front court? How long will it take their young players to figure each other and their game out?
This is the one truth: Earl Watson will squeeze every ounce of talent and work ethic from this group of pieces that may not fit.
Coming back home is Leandro Barbosa, Jared Dudley. Barbosa had to be cut loose by the Warriors to fit in Kevin Durant’s salary. Barbosa is still an effective perimeter shooter, as he was in the Suns glory days of Mike D’Antoni. He has only lost a small fraction of his legendary quickness but on defense he isn’t much to speak of.
Jared Dudley is older too. Dudley’s production dropped dramatically once he left the Suns in 2013, partly because of injuries. Last year was a bounce back year. He shot 42% from three, and repeating that high mark will make him a much needed specialist for the Suns to stretch the floor.
Jared Dudley will have the familiar surroundings of returning to where he had the greatest stretch of his career but how far has he fallen defensively because of his age? Will he still be the vocal, animated excited leader he once was when he was in Phoenix and the force of his personality added a higher level of competitiveness to the Suns? If nothing else, with Dudley, the Suns won’t be boring.
No such questions about skill plague second year guard Devin Booker. Before training camp last year, his fellow rookie peers voted Booker as the best shooter in the draft and he set out to prove how right they were. He had an all around game, breaking or tying Suns scoring records with 30 point performances.With ease, he made shots from multiple spots on the floor and his defense (for a rookie) was head turning. Furthermore, Booker’s maturity made him seem much older than what he was. If the Suns develop Booker the right way, he is easily a 20+ point scorer. But once again, what is the chemistry with Bledsoe?
The one constant for the Suns is Tyson Chandler. Despite playing on a losing team with a lot of young players, last season Chandler was engaged and productive for a player who had been in the league 15 years. Even in his prime, Chandler was never a double digit rebounder, having accomplished that feat only five times. But he still gives the Suns size in the middle and allows the offense to space the floor with shooters.
Eric Bledsoe has been cleared for scrimmaging which balances out the bad news of P.J. Tucker’s injury which will have him out the first two months of the season. This especially hurts because Tucker is the Suns best front court defender. As for Bledsoe, the anticipation of him playing next to Booker is off the charts. This could easily be the backcourt of the future, rivaling Steph and Klay.
Brandon Knight, though, feels like the odd man out in this young lineup. Eric Bledsoe is a quality defender for his size and Devin Booker has a ton of defensive potential. Knight is an apathetic to awful defender depending on what night it is. Yes, he gives you nearly 20 points a game but he needs 17 shots to get it, not particularly efficient. He’s not as versatile as either Bledsoe or Booker and the Suns would be paying him $13 million to come off the bench. The Suns have already proven what a disaster a three guard offense can be, especially with small guards. The Suns would be better off trading Knight for frontcourt help where they are especially thin.
The goal of the Suns year should be creating chemistry. This is a young team that needs to learn how to play together as they unlearn selfish habits, move the ball and actually care about defense. The Suns are not a playoff team this year; they don’t have an All-Star in the mix, not yet. But they do have talent in the backcourt and an adequate front court.
The NBA schedule makers threw the Suns in the deep end of the pool. They open against Sacramento and then are on the road at OKC, a back-to-back Warriors, Clippers, and at home against the Blazers. The tough schedule early is good for the young talent to test their toughness and competitive fire.
In 2016-17 it’s either sink or swim for the Phoenix Suns.
photo via llananba