538's new predictive NBA Career-Arc Regression Model Estimator with Local Optimization (CARMELO) predicts that this year's Phoenix Suns largely resemble past members of the team.
Earlier today, the website FiveThirtyEight, a data analytics journalism site, released a new career arc prediction tool. This tool, which they are affectionately calling CARMELO (Career Arc Regression Model Estimator with Local Optimization), estimates a player's career arc by comparing various aspects of the player's career to previous NBA players.
These types of career arc trajectory tools are not new. Basketball Reference has a similar tool that matches up players based upon their win shares produced per season.
Now, while its too early to tell the strength of this projection tool, it IS NOT too early to play around with it.
I decided to look at the CARMELO tools comparisons for this year's Suns squad. What I found was somewhat interesting. Nearly every player on the roster this year has a relatively strong match with a former Suns player.
First, the guards.
The CARMELO tool is fairly confident that Eric Bledsoe is the best player on the team, and for that it gets a small badge of merit. What was more interesting to me was the player sitting at #6 on his similarity score: former Suns great and current announcer Eddie Johnson. Another Sun on Bledsoe's similarity score was little known guard Ricky Sobers, who played for the Suns for a few years in the late 70's.
The CARMELO tool is less friendly to the newly healthy Brandon Knight, who comes in as part of the 'Average Starter' category. However, Knight's second overall match is none other than Rex Chapman, of Phoenix Sunsand Apple Store fame.
Backup point guard Ronnie Price, unsurprisingly, is deemed a 'Scrub' by the tool, despite having a near career year last season. Perhaps more surprising is the match with former Suns starting point guard Elliot 'Socks' Perry.
Alas, Sonny Weems is exempted from the CARMELO prognostication due to his lack of recent NBA or NCAA experience.
Not the case for Archie Goodwin, who CARMELO eviscerates with a projection of another negative WAR year. The good news (or bad news, depending on how you view it), is that CARMELO projects Goodwin to have a career arch fairly similar to the recently departed swingman Gerald Green.
Finally, there is Devin Booker. The minds behind CARMELO have rigged up a way to project rookies based off of their recent NCAA play. The model predicts a decent year for the rookie, and while the match isn't particularly high, sitting there at #10 in the comparison scores is the recently retired former Sun Jason Richardson.
While the CARMELO predictions are not particularly favorable to P.J. Tucker, he does have the distinction of being compared favorably to not 1 (Matt Barnes), not 2 (Tyrone Corbin), but 3 (Quentin Richardson) former Suns wings.
T.J. Warren isn't much loved by the CARMELO tool, with a career arc that projects at his peak just around a 1.1 WAR. However, deep in his similarity pool lies everyone's favorite part-time Sun Hedo Turkoglu!
The fun doesn't stop as we move into the bigs. (Presumed) Starting PF Markieff Morris comes out of the CARMELO looking strong, with a WAR projection of 3.6. He also comes out with a nostalgic, and rather strong, #9 comparison: Maurice Lucas, who had one of his longest runs for a single team when he was with the franchise from 1982-1985
After Markieff, however, the comparisons with former Suns players begin to thin out. Mirza grades out as a basically replacement level player, with no ghosts of great Suns past in his comparisons. Jon Leuer grades out much the same, though he does have little known former Sun Fred Saunders as a comparison (though the comparison draws to the year Saunders exited the NBA, which may not be auspicious).
Not surprisingly, no former Suns appear in the CARMELO projection for Tyson Chandler, because the Suns haven't had a player at the 5 of Chandler's caliber. Though, the comparisons for Tyson at this point in his career, along with his projected WAR numbers over the length of his contract, have to be at least a small reassurance.
Alex Len is a very weird case that CARMELO seems to struggle with. The projection has Len as a rotation player this season, with a long term projection as a borderline starter. However, buried in his comparisons is an interesting, and contradictory, slew of players: total scrubs like Lorenzen Wright, Darko and Sean Williams; and All-Stars like Al Horford, LaMarcus Aldridge and former Sun Jermaine O'Neal.
Henry Sims, the final player on the roster with an actual projection, comes in as a replacement level 'Defensive Specialist'. No Suns show up in his comparisons, but one name sticks out: 2006 David West.
These projections have to be taken with a titanic grain of salt, as their margin of error is pretty large. However, its fun to ruminate on the potential links between Suns of past and present.