The Phoenix Suns finally hit rock bottom just in time for the DeAndre Ayton Sweepstakes in 2017-18. They should, if the NBA’s insistence—as in other sports—that parity is powered by the draft is true, be a much better team before too long.
But “before too long” and “one year after going 21-61” aren’t quite the same thing.
Is there anything on this roster than can actually contribute right away to getting off the floor? Or are we about to settle in for a Philadelphia Process in the Pacific Division?
2017-18 record: 21-61
2018-19 over/under: 28.5
Ayton All The Donuts
Ayton averaged 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds in 33.5 minutes a game in college as a one-and-done.
He probably won’t hit those numbers right away in the pros.
Then again, Shaquille O’Neal averaged 23.4 points and 13.9 rebounds in 37.9 minutes his first year in Orlando back in 1992-93, so who knows? Maybe Ayton will be Shaq. That’s not a completely unrealistic ceiling for him.
What’s alarming about Ayton is that he’s a little too in love with being a stretch 5 when his natural athleticism should have him ranging out on defense and using his size at the rim when he’s on the offensive end.
It is one thing for a stretch 5 to hit threes consistently enough that the three points are a contribution. But hitting 34.3 percent of his threes when he is more like a DeAndre Jordan type right at the rim and a 73.3 percent free-throw shooter?
Ayton should be working on banging down low and getting to the line. The idea that they might try to make Kevin Love out of him seems to me to be a sign of a rough transition to the NBA level.
Who Is the Ballhandler?
The ball will not find its own way into the low block in any event, and with absolutely nobody who can play a pure point guard role (that ain’t Devin Booker, and if it’s Isaiah Canaan, they’re in real trouble), ball movement is going to be a clogged toilet.
Phoenix might have the best player in a bad backcourt (Booker) in the entire league. Are they going to ask Booker to be the primary ballhandler? Is that role going to fall to 10th-overall pick Mikal Bridges?
Bridges never averaged more than two assists a game in college. That’s not a solution.
This team is not going to be able to move the ball. Expect a lot of isos that waste the shot clock and go nowhere, not because coach Igor Kokoskov wants to but because that’s just the personnel he has.
Can This Team Stay Healthy?
The only guy who played 82 games last year was Dragan Bender, and he’s awful. Like -0.4 VORP, 7.1 PER, in the conversation for worst in the league awful.
Booker missed time with injury, and in the process he left questions behind as to whether the Suns can win any games at all without him—they were 5-23 in the 28 games he missed.
T.J. Warren only played 65 games. The team was 3-14 without him.
It’s not much good having stars if they don’t stay on the floor.
The Big Roster Switcheroo
Elfrid Payton is in New Orleans. Eric Bledsoe is in Milwaukee. Alex Len is in Atlanta. Tyler Ulis ended up in Golden State, and even though he had negative Win Shares and the worst VORP in basketball (-1.3) last year, you know the Warriors will somehow do to him what they did to JaVale McGee and turn him into a good NBA player.
The guys who are left, besides Booker and Warren, suck.
The plain and simple of this is that last year’s roster was so bad, it would’ve been projected to lose to a G-League team if Booker weren’t out there. And this year’s is a bunch of nobodies, rookies, and guys who played like they were in Flagstaff rather than Phoenix.
It’s going to take more than DeAndre Ayton to improve this squad.
Look, here’s the plain and simple of it. Booker, Warren, and Ayton will make a great Big 3 in Phoenix someday. In 2022, this is going to be Sixers West.
But they’re not there yet. Ayton isn’t going to improve their record by eight wins by himself, and it’s a wide-open question whether Booker’s going to stay healthy, much less be any good.
And the offense is a clogged toilet that just got LeBron in their division.
I can see 26 wins. Maybe even 28. But the over/under is 28.5, and I’m not committing to 29. Busted. Under. But hopeful for a brighter tomorrow.