Friday, October 16, 2015

2015-16 Season Preview: Phoenix Suns

PHOENIX SUNS
[] 39-43
[] Offensive Rating: 105.9 (17th)
[] Defensive Rating: 106.9 (17th)
[] Net Rating: -1.0 (19th)
[] Last playoff appearance: 2010
[] Coach: Jeff Hornacek

Phoenix has been competitive in four of the last five seasons, finishing 10th, 9th, 15th, 10th and 10th in the Western Conference over the last five campaigns.  That obviously hasn't been satisfying for the franchise, as they appeared to change course and start pressing a bit at the trade deadline last year.  Goran Dragic was shipped to Miami for picks, Brandon Knight was acquired from the Bucks for a valuable first round pick, and they made a major push to land LaMarcus Aldridge this offseason.  That endeavor failed, but they did reel in Tyson Chandler to upgrade their status at the C position.  Other roster changes came when the Suns decided it was time to break up the Morris twins, shipping Marcus to the Pistons for little in return.  Markieff is still around, but the clock could be ticking on that as well.  There's a lot of volatility in Phoenix, but this is still a really talented roster.  The pieces are in place for a playoff bid, if they weren't in the Western Conference.  Since they are, and the Thunder are back to full health, and the Jazz are on the rise, it could be another 10th place Western Conference finish for Phoenix.
Projected Starting Five

PG: Eric Bledsoe - 6'1, 195 - 6th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
81
17.0
18.4
23.7%
55.5%
32.4%
.260
80.0%
.422
27.9%
18.1%

Bledsoe is one of the better two-way guards in the league, capable of playing both backcourt positions.  You wouldn't be wrong if you called him electric, as Bledsoe gets things done with his athleticism, quick first step and brute physicality.  He's the size of a PG, but his ability to guard up a position is what makes it possible for the Suns to play their two PG system.  His outside shooting has bounced around between "respectable" and "less than ideal" during his career, and a consistent outside shot is the only thing keeping his value from being unimpeachable.  Bledsoe isn't solely responsible for keeping the Suns on the playoff fringe, but he's the biggest reason they're a competitive squad.

SG: Brandon Knight - 6'3, 195 - 5th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
63
17.0
17.1
25.9%
54.3%
38.9%
.361
87.4%
.251
27.4%
16.1%

Knight struggled mightily in the 11 games he played for the Suns following the deadline deal that shipped him from Milwaukee to Phoenix.  You can probably chalk some of that up to having to adjust to playing with Bledsoe, and some of it to an ankle injury he suffered in March.  Knight had surgery on the ankle after the season ended, and should be back in productive form in 2015-16.  When he's on, he complements Bledsoe well with his reliable outside shot and ability to handle his share of the playmaking duties.  If Knight plays like he did in Milwaukee, the Suns are going to challenge for a playoff spot again, which seems like a reasonable outcome.

SF: PJ Tucker - 6'5, 225 - 5th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
AST%
78
9.1
12.5
13.9%
54.1%
34.5%
.423
72.7%
.240
11.5%
7.4%

Tucker has started 129 games over the past three seasons for the Suns, but his spot in the starting lineup could be under attack from TJ Warren this season.  Tucker has value as a proverbial "3-and-D" wing, but Warren's well-rounded offensive repertoire could push Tucker to the bench.  It might take a month or two for that to come to fruition, but Tucker's on notice.  Nonetheless, he'll have a well-defined role on this team as a hard-nosed defender  whose offensive value fluctuates with his outside shot.

PF: Markieff Morris - 6'9, 235 - 5th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
AST%
82
15.3
15.8
23.3%
52.3%
31.8%
.163
76.3%
.211
10.7%
12.4%

Well, this is awkward.  If things had gone as planned this offseason, Morris would be playing somewhere else and this spot would be manned by LaMarcus Aldridge.  On top of that, the front office traded away his twin brother for pennies on the dollar.  With a serious assault charge pending, his brother in Detroit and LMA in San Antonio, Morris is penciled in as the Suns' starting PF.  For what it's worth, they could do a lot worse here.  Teletovic isn't really a starting quality option, so Phoenix is hoping Morris' legal troubles aren't as serious as they could be.

C: Tyson Chandler - 7'1, 240 - 15th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
FT%
FTr
BLK/36
75
10.3
20.1
12.8%
69.7%
20.7%
14.1%
27.4%
72.0%
.584
1.4
They may have missed out on LaMarcus Aldridge, but the Chandler signing should pay instant dividends for Phoenix.   Bledsoe was one of the better pick-and-roll guards in the league last season, and Chandler is among the best PnR big men.  The two should make for a terrifying pairing for opposing defenses.  No matter how you look at it, Chandler is a big improvement from the likes of Len, Miles Plumlee and Brandan Wright, the three players who started at C for Phoenix last season.  If Phoenix finally gets over the hump and breaks into a tight Western Conference playoff picture this season, Chandler is going to have something to do with it.

Bench

G: Ronnie Price - 6'2, 190 - 11th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
43
5.1
10.2
13.4%
45.5%
28.4%
.489
80.0%
.202
24.4%
17.6%

Phoenix is probably hoping that Booker and Goodwin can shoulder the backcourt minutes that don't go to Knight and Bledsoe.  If they can't, that means more minutes for Price, who just isn't a positive contributor.  Price hasn't shot above 30% from three since the 2008-09 season, yet he maintains a hefty 3PAr.  Unless lightning strikes and Price turns into Steph Curry, the Suns are better off giving his minutes to Goodwin and Booker.

G: Archie Goodwin - 6'5, 200 - 3rd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
41
5.6
11.2
23.4%
48.6%
29.3%
.204
73.5%
.413
12.6%
16.8%

Goodwin may be in his third season, but he's still only 21 years old.  His Free Throw Rate is encouraging, but he simply needs to be better at putting the ball in the basket both inside and outside the arc.  He's got the physical talent to be a useful piece, but his game still needs polishing.  Hopefully that comes as he earns more minutes. 

SG: Devin Booker - 6'6, 190 - Rookie (2014-15 NCAA stats)
GP
PPG
RPG
APG
FG%
3P%
FT%
38
10.0
2.0
1.1
47.0%
41.1%
82.8%

Booker's known best for his stroke, and if he can just knock down his open outside shots, the Suns can be pleased with his debut campaign.  Rookies tend to struggle from the longer three point line, but Booker's jumper is so pure that I wouldn't be surprised to see him connect on 38% or more of his threes.  He'll have to prove that he can defend if he's going to get steady minutes, however.

G/F: Sonny Weems - 6'6, 205 - 4th NBA season (2014-15 Euroleague stats)
GP
PPG
RPG
APG
FG%
3P%
FT%
26
13.1
4.0
3.5
42.5%
37.1%
79.2%

Weems had a good year for CSKA Moscow last season, earning his way back into the NBA after four years away.   He'll provide depth for the Suns, but doesn't figure to get big minutes unless there are injury issues on the wing.

SF: TJ Warren - 6'8, 220 - 2nd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
AST%
40
6.1
14.0
17.8%
55.1%
23.8%
.098
73.7%
.089
7.6%
6.6%

Warren seems like he's right on the cusp of a breakout year, whether it's this year or next.  He may not be an elite athlete or a good outside shooter, but the guy just puts the ball in the basket efficiently regardless.  He shot over 56% on two-point attempts as a rookie, thanks to a keen ability to score with floaters and at a variety of angles.  If he can shoot a respectable percentage from beyond the arc, Warren's going to be extremely difficult to guard.  If he doesn't, he's still going to score points efficiently, because he crashes the glass, makes smart cuts and converts in the paint.  Warren could find himself in the starting lineup by December, and in the Most Improved Player discussion by the end of this season or next.

PF: Mirza Teletovic - 6'8, 235 - 4th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
AST%
40
8.5
10.7
20.1%
50.0%
32.1%
.605
71.7%
.144
12.2%
8.1%

Teletovic had a down shooting year, which ended prematurely in January after he was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs.  Thankfully, he's fully recovered and that means he'll be looking for a rebound season with Phoenix.  I expect he'll shoot the long ball closer to the 39% he hit two seasons ago than last year's 32%.  If that's the case, the Suns should be happy with his value.

F/C: Jon Leuer - 6'10, 230 - 5th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
AST%
63
4.5
11.9
18.6%
47.8%
24.1%
.106
62.7%
.216
14.3%
8.8%

Leuer was a revelation during the 2013-14 season, but backslid last season as his outside shot disappeared.  He'll get a fresh start with the Suns after being dealt for Andrew Harrison on draft night.  Minutes may be scarce.

C: Alex Len - 7'1, 255 - 3rd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
FT%
FTr
BLK/36
69
6.3
13.5
13.7%
54.2%
16.4%
10.2%
22.7%
70.2%
.295
2.5

Len started 44 games for the Suns in the 2014-15 campaign.  With Chandler in town, there should be much less pressure on him.  He should be a much better fit in the backup role, where he'll have time to continue to develop.

Outlook

The Suns are on the outside looking in when it comes to the Western Conference playoff picture, but with a little bit of help, they could break their five year playoff drought.  Bledsoe and Knight are a solid backcourt tandem, PJ Tucker and TJ Warren make for a good offense-defense tandem at SF and the frontcourt has talented pieces in the starting five and off the bench.  This is a group that's probably good enough for 5th or 6th in the Eastern Conference.  Instead, they'll be sledding uphill trying to steal a bid from Utah, Dallas or New Orleans.  I like those rosters a bit more than I like this one, so I'll put the Suns at 35 wins.

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