Coming off a disappointing 19-win season, the Suns have gone about building a young core with a lot of promising talent to surround their future All-Star Devin Booker and impressive second-year player Deandre Ayton. The suns will enter the NBA season with one of the youngest rosters at an average age of 24.6 years. While their off season acquisitions aren’t amazingly talented, this team certainly has a lot of solid pieces that can see Phoenix improving significantly in the 2019-2020 season.
Their offseason began with a bizarre draft night trade to send Pick #6 (Jarrett Culver) to the Timberwolves for Dario Saric and Pick #11, which became Cameron Johnson, this was an even more surprising move as Johnson was predicted as a post-lottery to 2nd round pick. Widely considered as the best shooter in the draft however, Cameron Johnson could be worth the punt, but he will basically have to be a slightly taller Devin Booker 2.0 to meet the lofty expectations now placed upon him by the NBA media.
The carnage continued as Phoenix traded away T.J. Warren and Pick #32 to the Indiana Pacers for cash considerations in order to free up cap space, and further traded away the disappointing Josh Jackson for what essentially whittled down to Jevon Carter and 2nd round pick swaps.
In a slightly more reasonable move, the Suns grabbed Pick #24 (Ty Jerome) and Aussie big-man Aron Baynes for a 2020 1st Rd Pick (Bucks). In summary, the Suns draft night cleared up important cap space and they were able to gain quality shooters and a solid backup centre to Ayton.
From here the Suns had the cap space to re-sign Kelly Oubre Jr. to a 2yr/$30m contract, while Tyler Johnson opted into his player option to secure his $19.25m season. On top of this, the Suns acquired two arguably underrated players in Ricky Rubio (3yr/$51m) and Frank Kaminsky (2yr/$10m), as well as underperforming Cheick Diallo (2yr Minimum).
Looking ahead, Phoenix’s roster, much like their offseason, is full of mystery and question marks. With 4-6 new players likely to be in the rotation (Rubio, Kaminsky, Baynes, Saric, Johnson, Diallo) there will be chemistry issues for the team, and being so young, this might prove difficult to overcome.
As the only true point guard, and as one of the most experienced on the team, Ricky Rubio is likely to become the pseudo-captain for Phoenix, and could be the key for the significant improvement of the team. Rubio could be averaging 10+ assists this season with a number of already (and potentially) quality shooters.
Since Phoenix’s roster is so young, and with their trades and signings, there are a lot of players that can easily take their game to the next level, and if multiple players can significantly improve, the Suns can definitely push for 35 wins in the season.
Booker (heading into his 5th season at 22 years old) can be an all-star with a little more consistency and efficient shooting. Ayton, Bridges and Okobo will all be in their second seasons and can obviously improve tremendously. Oubre Jr. (5th season at 23y/o) already displayed improvement in his move from Washington and can extend this into the coming season. Kaminsky may have found a team that can maximise his abilities as a stretch big. And if you include draftees Johnson and Jerome, there is a plethora of opportunity here for the Suns, and it shows how the Suns are going to be hard to predict this season.
PG: Ricky Rubio Elie Okobo Ty Jerome
SG: Devin Booker Tyler Johnson
SF: Kelly Oubre Jr. Mikal Bridges Cameron Johnson
PF: Frank Kaminsky Dario Saric Cheick Diallo
C: Deandre Ayton Aron Baynes
The issue from this will be the spread of minutes and bench rotations allocated by coach Monty Williams. It will be tough to give every single one of these players quality minutes for them to grow individually and as a team.
If we look beyond the new players and young core, the team is definitely on the shoulders of both Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. With rumours surrounding Booker’s agitation with the Suns, this season is an important one for him and the team. Booker will continue to prove himself as an elite scorer, but needs to improve on defence, and more importantly leadership. Booker has the opportunity to improve the team around him through mentoring and leading by example. I can only see one of two things happening: Booker will transcend to a new level and lift the players around him, leading the Suns to a successful season and he will stay OR the Suns will continue to develop slowly, Booker will continue to have 50 to 60 point games in losses due to no support, and he will request a trade.
This fork in the road is largely contingent on how far Deandre Ayton can improve in his second year. As a highly touted defensive stalwart and physical specimen, Ayton probably didn’t live up to the hype as much as he could have. With a year in the system and a good offseason, the improvement potential for Ayton is ridiculous. He can easily average 20 points and 12 rebounds from now until retirement, but more importantly his growth in defensive capabilities can see him become one of the best defenders in the league. This opportunity for growth is exacerbated by the fact that Phoenix are very limited defensively with Kaminsky and Saric at the 4. If Ayton can improve as much as I think he can, then he will certainly help improve the team alongside Booker.
Predicted Wins: 30. Phoenix has the building blocks for a quality side. While success won’t come this season, the Suns will definitely improve from 19 wins, and how much they improve is dependent on the development of their young players.
How far Phoenix will go: 13th seed. Lottery Pick.
Best Player: Devin Booker – will most likely just miss out on an All-Star nod with an even more stacked Western Conference. He will be pushing 30p/5r/5a (last season averaged 26.6/4.1/6.8).
Golden Nugget: Ricky Rubio – will become floor general and will be a pass-first point guard, which could be the key for Phoenix. Will be Top 10 for assists next season.
Coach: Monty Williams. This will be his first season as head coach for the Suns, but carries 15 years of coaching experience at many teams around the league. Most notably he was the New Orleans head coach from 2010 to 2015, leading them to 2 playoff berths, the second culminating from developing one of the youngest rosters at the time. As the inaugural recipient of the Sager Strong Award in 2017, Williams is a well recognised NBA role model, colleague and friend. He seems to be the perfect fit for the Phoenix Suns.