The off-season ends today, LAST CHANCE FOR POSTURING AND PROGNOSTICATING!!!
Last season the entire world was wrong about the 2013-2014 Phoenix Suns so why not take a crack at some predictions on the 2014-2015 Phoenix Suns? You ready for that?
The team finished with 48 wins (23 more than the season before) last season, which shocked the world. They did it with the element of surprise. That is not a weapon that they will have this season as two thirds of the roster returns, but now with expectations of duplicating -- or besting -- the success of last year.
Lightning was caught in a bottle.
How wrong can we all be this season? Later for all this intro nonsense. Enough of me, let's get to what matters, the staffs predictions on the 2014-2015 NBA season from the Phoenix Suns lens...
1. Breaking the Ice: What will the 2014-2015 Phoenix Suns record be at the end of the regular season?
Kris Habbas: Unpopular Opinion Alert -- The Suns will likely finish around the same mark as last year. There is always room for growth, which is where the optimists live, but there is also a margin for regression. It happens to all good, young teams, that are trying to break through the glass ceiling. Every team 1-12 in the Western Conference improved from last season aside from Houston and Oklahoma City, both of which have star talent, and can afford to take a step back. My gut says 45-48 wins in the regular season. You were warned.
Dave King: A year ago, it was KRIS HABBAS among the BSotS writers who first claimed the 2013-14 were a sustainably good team. Sure some of you readers were on board much earlier, but us writers spent a lot of time taking the slow boat to optimism. Kris first said that team was good, and he was right. Personally, I expected a fun season but no where near 48 wins. This season? I'm sitting firmly on the optimism wagon. The way to win in the regular season is to be (a) unique and (b) good at it. The Suns will be really good at the way they play and really different than the team their opponent played night before. I am guessing 48-50 wins, but in an even deeper West that could be a 6th seed this year.
Geoff Allen: I am going to echo Kris' unpopular opinion - I think we end up right around 46-48 wins again. While we performed well last season without Bledsoe, that came with near career performances from a number of guys, and I just don't see it happening to the same level again.
Kellan Olson: 44-48 wins. The West is freaking brutal. Kris made a very good point in the improvement of teams 1-12, not just 1-8. Everyone's talking about the Nuggets and the Pelicans, but teams like Sacramento and Utah might not actually be a disaster this season. Also, the Kings and the Lakers have two fantastic offensive players in DeMarcus Cousins and Kobe Bryant that can catch you looking ahead to the next game. All that being said, I think Jeff Hornacek is going to figure out some absolutely terrifying lineup combinations that are going to be unstoppable to guard and this team's offense will be enough to avoid regression.
Rollin J. Mason: 52 wins. The Slash Triplets might be a bit of a regular season gimmick, but it will lend to a ton a matchup advantages, which often equal wins in the NBA. The depth at guard will always keep the attack fresh, which will allow the Suns to surge while fatigue sets in for their opponents. Hornacek has had all summer to ponder over how to adjust to life without Frye, and this humble lad isn't betting against him. Plus the team has showed that they can consistently win the battle of the 3-point line, which is always a tremendous advantage.
Mike Lisboa: 50 wins. I might just be a homer, but I think if the Phoenix Suns' backcourt stays healthy, they are going to grind other teams up. Yes, the Suns' frontcourt is a hot mess of question marks and 1 or 2 dimensional role players, but my money is on Backcourt 3000 carrying the day.
Sean Sullivan: 48 wins. I think this team will be slightly better than last season, but since the Western Conference will be even tougher, they will finish with the same record. Why only slightly better? Let me plug my article here about how unbalanced the offense has been in the preseason. I think the Suns will struggle to score consistently from their bigs, and that could have a negative impact on what otherwise could be one of the most dynamic offenses in the NBA.
Austin Elmer: 47-50 Wins. I think the team will be better than last year. Add a healthy Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas and the Suns guards should stay fresh all year. If the front court plays well it should be enough to aid our stacked backcourt toward a better season than last year.
Jim Coughenour: 54-28. I think the team is more talented, I think it will play a style that is suited for regular season success and I don't want the players putting together another video at the end of the season to roast me for predicting a meager win total. The Suns will give opponents fits with a frenetic pace, a unique small ball look and great depth off the bench.
Garrett Benson: 49 wins. I think there are some legitimate concerns about the front court depth of this team, but the guard rotation will drive this team up a notch. Losing Frye hurts spacing, but Markieff Morris is a better all around player in my opinion, and I think he's going to surprise people again. Having I.T. on the bench allows Hornacek to always have one of his top scorers on the court, and I.T. will be a feisty spark plug. Add in the chemistry carried over from last season, a full season of Bledsoe (knock on wood), and Goran Dragic on a contract year? I have to believe this team will be as good or slightly better than last year's squad.
2. Who will be the teams M.V.P.?
KH: This means the teams best player, right? Let's go with Eric Bledsoe because with his contract and the stock that is being put into him as a member of this franchise is what a "team M.V.P." looks like. With 75-82 games of Bledsoe putting up 17+ points 6+ assists 5+ rebounds 2+ steals could make this team a touch better than what I described in the question before. Call me a guarded misanthrope.
GA: There are two potential answers to this question. If the team lives up to the expectations I have for them, the MVP is probably Bledsoe, for all the reasons Kris discussed. But if the team exceeds expectations, it is going to be because Miles Plumlee or Markieff stepped up and exceeded expectations about their skill level.
KO: Bledsoe. The numbers are going to be there, the individual defense is going to be there, and the overall level of play is going to be there. I agree with Kris on the numbers and I would guarantee him for an All-Star spot this year if it wasn't for the two other guards he has to share the numbers with.
DK: The DRAGON. While Bledsoe will be the team's most important player because he can play lock-down D and the team will need that to reprise last season, the team will ultimately be a reflection of Goran Dragic. Dragic brings every ounce of himself to every game. Alongside the smaller Bledsoe and Thomas, Dragic is the lynchpin to making the two-point guard system work. He's big enough to play SG, and he's even big enough to slide to SF in Hydra lineups.
RJM: Bledsoe. He looks faster and stronger, which wouldn't have seemed possible, and his jumper looks to have improved yet again. With Isaiah to help shoulder the load, he'll be able to go full speed more often. The dude is already demon at 3/4 speed, which is what he usually seemed to be at last year. This year, I'm just over here pitying the fools that will have to deal with him.
ML: A player to be named later. I think da real MVP is going to be whichever forward or center steps up and meets or exceeds expectations. Backcourt 3000 gonna Backcourt 3000 (yes, I'm totally pushing this nickname that I did not come up with). But if Western Conference Player of the Week 'Kieff shows up for the entire season or Alex Len starts looking like the 5th overall pick or P.J. Tucker develops a mid-range game, then this team is going to be one of the scariest 8th seeds ever.
SS: I hate to copy everyone else, but I also have to go with Bledsoe here. I think Dragic will actually lead the team in scoring by a slim margin, but I think Bledsoe's defense and rebounding will edge out Goran for the team MVP this season, as the best two-way player on the team.
AE: I got to go with Eric Bledsoe. His all-around game gives him the edge over Dragi? for me. Bledsoe should put up good numbers in every category and earn his contract with his play. He's in great shape and his shot looks to have improved.
JC: I'll go with Dragic. I still think he's a better player than Bledsoe, even though it's close. Here's part of my reasoning - if Bledsoe would have been healthier last season the team would have probably made the playoffs, but Goran would have still been the best player on the team. In order for Bledsoe to be the team's MVP he still needs to make a jump... even if Goran just maintains his level of play. As a reformed Dragic skeptic I've made a commitment to stop doubting Dragic. He's proved me wrong so many times by smashing through the ceilings I've imposed on him.
GB: I'm with Jim; I think it will be Dragic. This is still Dragic's team, and I don't think Bledsoe is ready to take over the reigns as the MVP, even if he may end up being the better overall player. Goran will be the leader of this squad. I think it'll be him with the ball in his hands at the end of a close game. Last year, when Bledsoe went down with the knee injury, Dragic really blossomed as the on-the-court leader and MVP of the Suns. I'm not entirely convinced that Bledsoe is far enough along in his career that he could do the same thing if Dragic went down.
3. Same line of thought, but different really: Who is the teams Most Important Player?
KH: Not sure if this is up for debate, but this burden falls on Miles Plumlee. Sorry, Miles. With a strong, healthy season from Plumlee this team has a fighting chance for the playoffs. Without Plumlee either due to injury or regression there is little cavalry that can come in and save the day. Alex Len, Shavlick Randolph, and Markieff Morris are the only other big men that can play some minutes in place of Plumlee. Again, sorry, Miles.
GA: I think its Goran. He is the leader of the team, it seems, despite his soft-spoken nature at times. He is integral to the success of the team. If he misses time, or regresses significantly from last season, the team is going to struggle. Isaiah and Bledsoe in the backcourt just aren't as dynamics together as Bledsoe and Dragic.
KO: I think it's Markieff Morris. I covered him in a film study a couple of weeks back and addressed what holes Channing Frye left in my five questions from last week. He has to do everything he did right last year while addressing some of his weaknesses as well.
RJM: Sorry if this is a bit of a cop-out, but anyone on the frontline that can take a leap in 2014/15 will be the team's most important player. Plums, Len, the MoBros, Tolliver ... someone needs to step up. The backcourt will be running like clockwork, but if they have to drag the rest of the team along, this will be year 5 of missing the playoffs.
DK: To me, it's Miles Plumlee. Plumlee needs to be at least as effective per minute as he was last year, defend the rim and rebound the ball. The Suns need an anchor to make their defense respectable and Plumlee is the only player on the roster likely to be that anchor. One day Len could step in those shoes on a 30-minutes-per-night basis, but I doubt it's this year.
ML: Goran Dragi?. He shouldered a heavy load for the Suns last season and became the face of the franchise. If Eric Bledsoe plays a full season and establishes himself as a leader in the locker room and on the floor, it's possible he eclipses The Dragon in this respect. But right now, Dragi? is the heart and soul of this franchise.
SS: Miles Plumlee. The Suns need him to rebound and defend the rim more than anything else. I'm not as concerned with his lack of a jump shot and a very inconsistent hook shot, but the Suns need him to be a force in the paint to challenge and alter shots against penetrating opponents, and to also body-up against the other big men to ensure they can't get easy baskets inside. If Alex Len proves to be a consistent part of the rotation, I'll put his name in here as well...either way, we need defense and rebounding from the center position in order to make this team click.
AE: Markieff Morris is the most important player because of his expanded role. He has to fill the void of losing Frye's shooting while also playing center at times depending on Len's development. Kieff needs to be more aggressive on the boards if he is going to get extended looks at the center position this season.
JC: Eric Bledsoe. If he's healthy and can continue to improve he will be the difference between last season's ninth place finish and a battle for home court advantage this season. Like I mentioned above, I think the Suns would have been a playoff team with a full season of Bledsoe last year... even though Dragic was a better player. Goran has done plenty to prove himself and prove me wrong, whereas Eric has done little to prove anything. I think Bledsoe is the second best player on the team and his durability is a key to not only this season, but the success of the franchise in the near future.
GB: My safe answer would be Markieff Morris, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say Alex Len. Whoa! Why, might you ask? Here's the thing: I don't think we're ever going to see Plumlee's game develop into much more than it is right now. I just don't see a high ceiling there and I think his destiny will be a high-energy center of the bench, which he'd be really good at. Len, on the other hand, has a oodles of potential. He's way more skilled than Plumlee, has potential to develop a good midrange game, and I think he can eventually develop into a better rim protector than Miles. It's unlikely all of that comes together this season, but what if it did? Our big man concerns wouldn't look so bad anymore.
4. Which Sun will lead the team in Points? Rebounds? Assists? Minutes?
DK: The team is deep. So deep that it's possible no one will exceed 30 minutes per game. While Dragic and Bledsoe will deserve it, Thomas and Green will play too well to sit. Points, assists and minutes: Dragic with 18 and 5.5 per night on 29 minutes per game. His totals will go down, but his effectiveness will go up on a per-minute basis. The leader in rebounds HAS to be Plumlee. If Plumlee isn't the team's leading rebounder it will be a long, long season. I'll throw in a couple more predictions: Bledsoe will lead the team in steals, and Isaiah Thomas will be the Sixth Man of the Year.
KH: The minute spread with this team will be fascinating. How will Coach Hornacek divide out the playing time for Bledsoe, Dragic, and Thomas? Will Markieff become that consistent scoring threat marries this roster together masterfully and comes out as the leading scorer? (That is another conversation that is fascinating) Let's go with Bledsoe and between 19-21 points per night, Dragic with 6.0 assists per night, Plumlee with 8.0 rebounds per night, and Markieff with 35 minutes per night. For kicks and giggles: Bledsoe 2.1 steals, Plumlee 1.4 blocks, Thomas 39% from three, and the Thomas-Bledsoe-Dragic-Tucker-Markieff line-up causing tons of havoc.
GA: Minutes is really a toss-up. If Len can't get his act together, Plumlee could end up playing big minutes, seeing as there would be no real backup. For assists, I'll go with Dragic. He's the safe bet. Rebounds, Plumlee, though I think he'll edge closer to 10 than 8 given that I think he'll play more minutes than last season. Points, I'll go with Bledsoe, but I expect him and Dragic to be neck-and-neck.
KO: I have no idea on minutes and agree that it's going to be intriguing. Will the depth in the frontcourt take a nosedive? Will Hornacek pile on the minutes for the three guards all season? Who knows, except Hornacek. Give me Bledsoe for points, Dragic for assists, Plumlee for rebounds, and I'll take Goran for minutes.
RJM: Points: Dragic, Rebounds: Plumlee, Assists: Bledsoe, Minutes: Bledsoe.
ML: Points is probably the toughest one to call here. I'm going with Dragi?, because I think he's also going to lead the team in minutes. Minutes + offensive efficiency = Reign of Fire. As primary ball-handler, I expect Eric Bledsoe to be the team's lead distributor. Rebounds will be Miles Plumlee's crown to lose unless Markieff Morris or Alex Len makes a major leap.
SS: Points: Goran Dragic; Rebounds: Miles Plumlee; Assists: Eric Bledsoe; Minutes: Goran Dragic,
AE: Points: Goran Dragic. Rebounds: Miles Plumlee. Assists: Goran Dragic. Minutes: Goran Dragic. Blocks: Miles Plumlee. Steals: Eric Bledsoe. Turnovers: Eric Bledsoe. Pull Up Threes: Gerald Green. Flagrant Fouls: Alex Len.
JC: (These are per game, not season totals... because injuries) Points: Goran, Rebounds: Miles, Assists: Goran, Minutes: Markieff.
GB: Points: Dragic; Rebounds: Plumlee; Assists: Dragic; Minutes: Markieff Morris
5. Will there be a major trade worth noting this season for the Suns?
KH: Not sure if this quantifies as "major," but some package revolving around Gerald Green, Tyler Ennis, and a draft pick is going to net the team a serviceable big man to add depth to the rotation. Who is that big man? Who knows and at this point who cares? Nobody questions that Ryan McDonough will pull the trigger and do what is "best for business," so if the right offer arises then this roster will get the shack-up that some were hoping to see this summer.
GA: I think Kris has identified the most likely trade scenario, but I also wouldn't sleep on the Suns potentially shopping P.J. Tucker. If they are as high on T.J. Warren as they claim to be, they cannot maintain the current logjam at the 3. Tucker is on a reasonable contract, and is a valuable player to a team that needs a defensive enforcer at the position to compliment an offensively oriented 2 guard.
KO: Yes. The Suns already have a wealth of youth as it is and still have a good amount of draft picks on the way this season and next. Everyone on the roster is on a fair deal and I think Ryan McDonough makes sure not to go 0/3 on the next All-Star talent available that is not a point guard. Unless the Suns are on fire and riding a playoff spot up to February, Gerald Green is a goner at the very least. I think there will be a move that improves the team though.
RJM: The trade winds seem to be pretty dead at the moment. At least 10 teams in the West are looking to make the playoffs, so you won't find any sellers there. The East just reshuffled and is bereft of talent anyway. If Atlanta has an epiphany and decides to do an actual rebuild after shooting for 6 seeds for the last umpteen years, Horford will be the hot name on the market. But this is Atlanta we're talking about, and they want their 43 wins, thankyouverymuch. Aside from that, it might be Larry Sanders or bust (which actually would be pretty amazing).
ML: I think Kris and Geoff have outlined the most likely scenarios. I think almost anyone outside of Backcourt 3000 is fair game for tradebait. If Len starts playing to his potential, why not include Plumlee in a major deal. The MoBros are almost untouchable because of their new deal, but with Phoenix being on the cusp of relevance, I don't think the front office would hesitate to split them up or ship them out if the right trade presented itself.
SS: Define major. I don't think we'll see a marquee player traded to Phoenix this season, but I do believe there is destined to be a trade before the deadline to help the Suns acquire another big man...either a power forward or center, to help Phoenix inside. Everyone seems to assume that Gerald Green will be the guy to be traded, but he keeps proving again and again to be an important part of the offense, especially off the bench. As of right now I have no idea who they will look to deal, but I think someone has to go.
AE: I don't think their will be any major trades. Maybe a smaller trade involving Green and a pick, but I wouldn't consider that a blockbuster trade or major trade. At this point I don't see anyone the Suns could trade for.
DK: The Suns still only want to trade up. Sure, it's possible they will cull the herd at some point if there's grumbling over minutes (Green might go for a pick if he's out of the rotation). But the only major trade the Suns would do is to clearly upgrade at a front-court position. Wait will January and we'll likely see some team's disgruntled big man being dangled.
JC: I could easily see the Suns make a move to balance out the thin front line this season. I think any trade they do make will be as a buyer with them dealing young assets/draft picks for more established talent to help the team improve immediately.
GB: I think it's coming. McDonough has to strike soon if he's getting anything for Green, because I just don't see the Suns signing him next year. The best time to trade Green is right now. He's coming off a career year, and a really great preseason in which he probably played more minutes than he will during the season. He likely won't put up the same numbers this season. I'd hate to see him go, but if he's going to walk in free agency anyways, it would be great to get something for it. Outside of that, I think anyone not named Goran Dragic or Eric Bledsoe is totally expendable, and everyone is on a very movable contract.
BONUS: Will the Suns make the playoffs?
KH: Based on all my previous predictions and statements then, you guessed it, Unpopular Opinion Alert -- No. I just cannot see the Suns holding off Denver and New Orleans, catching one of Dallas, Memphis, Portland, or Houston, and avoiding regression all simultaneously. Can you? That is a lot to ask for and they are building something here. Patience.
GA: I think it is 50/50. We're going to compete for those last two spots, and I think we will be in it for a while. I know the popular opinion is that Houston or Portland is going to regress and potentially fall out this year, but I think the most likely candidate is actually Memphis. That team has been trending down and aging over the last three seasons, and I don't think they improved really at all this offseason. Because I have to make a call, I say the Suns get in at the expense of Memphis, for the 8th seed overall.
KO: Yes. I am banking on my answer to the previous question being correct. I think the depth of the West is going to hurt the lower seeded playoff teams from last year just as much as it's going to hurt the Suns. I think the win total for the eight seed is going to be lower than it was last season and it's going to be the Suns who get to that number. Get to work McD!
RJM: Yeah, why not. Every playoff prediction I've seen has the same 8 teams in from last year, and as I have been obnoxiously pointing out for the last month or so, since expanding to 8 seeds in 1984 the West has never repeated its playoff bracket from one year to the next. With their breakneck pace and pesky defense, the Suns will be a team that no one will want to face on the second night of a back-to-back. Look for a lot of victories over a lot of tired teams in the latter half of the year, and playoffs for the Suns.
ML: I'll wear my homer heart on my sleeve again. Yes. They will definitely capture a playoff spot. Will they advance? That seems unlikely unless the frontcourt exceeds my wildest expectations. I don't know that the best backcourt (3000!) in the league is enough to overcome the adjustments an opposing team can make over a seven game series. What works in the regular season is a lot less of a sure thing in the post-season.
SS: Yes. I think they will make it in as a 7th or 8th seed this season. I think they will definitely be good enough to win between 45-50 games. Backcourt 3000 will prove to be a success...then once they get into the post season, who knows?
AE: Yes. I always think the Suns will make the playoffs. In the famous words of Marcin Gortat, "Playoffs or Bust."
JC: Of course. (*As long as the team is generally healthy) I think they make it as a fourth or fifth seed, but still lack a front court presence to advance in the playoffs. The team's depth, energy and chemistry are going to be hard for opponents to adjust to during the rigors of the regular season NBA schedule, but once it gets into a seven game series guard dominated, fast paced, finesse ball tends to struggle.
GB: Yes. I think we are vastly overrating some Western conference teams' off-seasons. I just don't see a 37 year old Vince Carter really making Memphis any better. Houston has very real depth problems. Denver has a mess of a roster. Dallas scares me a bit, but an injury could easily derail that team, as it could any top West team. Something always happens. The Suns would have made the playoffs last year if Bledsoe didn't get hurt. Isn't it about time we caught some good luck and have a healthy season? It's a playoffs year.
DK: If everyone stays healthy across the West, the Suns will have a tough time making the playoffs. However, there's always a team that drops out of the picture for one reason or another. The Suns just need to be better than Denver and New Orleans to be that replacement team among the top 8.
Bright Siders, what do you think?