During the 2016-17 NBA season, headlines will be dominated by Kevin Durant and theGolden State Warriors on a daily basis. However, having a super-team doesn’t guarantee a championship; just look at the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. Everything can change and anything can happen in the NBA. A team can implode, the injury bug could strike, or a team simply might not play to its potential. In this Last Word On Pro Basketball series, we’ll break down which two key factors will determine the fate of each team in the upcoming season.
This edition focuses on the young Phoenix Suns. This will focus on two primary things, the development of their young talent and, of course, their health issues.
Two Key Factors to a Successful Phoenix Suns Season
First Key: Development of Young Talent
Of course those three aren’t the only young players the Suns have. They also have Alex Len, Archie Goodwin (2013 Draft), T.J. Warren (2014 Draft), and last year’s All-Rookie first team member in Devin Booker (2016 Draft).
The Suns have some major issues that each player can adress. One glaring issue is their blocks per game, as the Suns averaged just 3.8 blocks per game, ranking 28th in the NBA. This does not bode well for a team that’s looking for a playoff berth. Another issue is their defense; the Suns allowed 107.5 ppg, which is also 28th in the leauge.
Alex Len, the 7’1 Ukrainian can certainly help. In 2016 Len averaged just 0.8 blocks per game, but in 2015 we saw the potential of Len as a rim protector and shot blocker when he averaged 1.5 blocks per game. After the All-Star break Alen Len had a mini breakout in the month of March, averaging 13.7 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. For a successful season they need Alex Len to step up defensively.
Last season the Suns averaged 100.9 points per game, ranking. 22nd in the league. This issue can easily be resolved with the emergences of scorers T.J. Warren and Devin Booker.
The Odd Man Out
Archie Goodwin is not in a great position at this stage in his career. His rookie contract is up, and he hasn’t shown anything to warrant an extension. Most fans think playing time is the main culprit, but looking at the numbers, this is false. In the games he played 30 minutes Goodwin averaged 13.7 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game. However, he was a -19.3 when he was on the court, and he shot 33% from the field, including an atrocious 19.4% from the three point line. Expect little from Goodwin; we might see some flashes of brilliance, but the Suns are stacked at the guard position.
The Young Scorers
T.J. Warren had a good season given the amount of games he played last season. He played in 47 games last season before a foot injury ended his campaign. Warren averaged 11.0 points per game while improving his three point percentage from 24% in his rookie season to 40% in his sophomore year. He was their third leading scorer, and he was very efficient on the court, as he had a TS% of 55%. With P.J. Tucker out, T.J. Warren will definitely get minutes to showcase his talents.
Booker was the focal point of the Suns attack after their top three scorers went down, and he was terrific in this role. As a starter, Booker averaged 17.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. Although he didn’t shoot the ball well, we definitely saw the potential this kid holds. In fact, when playing 40+ minutes per game he averaged 22.4 points and 5.9 assists per game; those are very impressive considering that he was a 19 year old rookie. His development will rely on minutes. Brandon Knight currently has the starting shooting guard role, but Booker is breathing down his neck. It will only be a matter of time before he gets the nod from head coach Earl Watson.
Second Key: Staying Healthy
Last season the Suns had the worst luck in recent years. First they failed in signing LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency. This was of course followed by the dramatic Markieff Morris incident. And lastly, they lost their top three scorers for the season due to injury.
Eric Bledsoe went down with a knee injury on December. The Suns were decent with him playing; they had a record of 12-19 before he went down. After he got hurt, the Suns found themselves on a hole, winning just 11 games for the rest of the season including a 13 game losing streak.
Brandon Knight, their second best scorer suffered a groin injury midway through the season. Knight was showing flashes of brilliance before the injury, averaging 17.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game. He played again in January but re-injured himself because of sports hernia.
T.J. Warren, as mentioned earlier, was also having a breakout season. With an improved jumpshot and demeanor, Warren looked poised for a solid sophomore year. Unfortunately for Warren, he suffered a season-ending injury after 47 games.
With the right mix of young talent, savy veterans, and a new coaching staff, the Phoenix Suns are looking to bounce back from a disastrous 2016 campaign. If everything clicks for the team they might even sniff in the playoffs. Everything will of course depend on the young players’ development and a little luck.