It’s okay, Suns fans. You can come off the ledge. This is going to be a positive article. I know it’s been tough, but the days of 20 point blowouts and 10-day contracts are almost over. There are only about 75 days until the draft lottery (but who’s counting?). So as the season hits its final stretch, here are four things that Suns fans can watch for in the final 20 games as we countdown to our inevitable disappointment when the Suns turn the best lottery odds into the 4th pick. (I tried really hard to come up with 13 reasons, but I got walled at four.)
1. Tankapalooza (Deflatin’ for Ayton, Drop-a-Duka for Luka, Starvin for Marvin, Rig-the-Order for Porter)
With 3-5 potentially franchise-changing players coming out in the 2018 draft, the end of the season is going to be a tank job for the ages. Currently, there are eight teams with 20 wins or less. The Suns have the worst record but they’re going to be in a dog fight to get the best lottery odds. They have the third toughest remaining schedule, but they still play five of the six teams behind (ahead of?) them.
The Suns shut down a healthy Eric Bledsoe for the final 14 games of last season in their tanking efforts. I doubt they do that this year with Devin Booker, but I wouldn’t put it past McDonough to hire someone to introduce Booker’s knee caps to a tire iron. Besides, with how the team has looked thus far, they probably won’t need much creativity to tank. Just keep doing what you’re doing.
2. Elfrid Payton
Although the FA market has a lot of big names, not many of them are point guards. Chris Paul and Isaiah Thomas are the biggest names. Paul is surely going to re-sign with Houston, and Thomas is a horrible fit next to Booker. Unless the Suns go the point guard route in the draft, Payton is probably going to be the Suns best option this offseason and can be had at a reasonable price that won’t ruin the future cap implications of #TheTimeline.
Through his first six games as a Sun, Payton has averaged 16.7 PTS, 7 REB, and 8 AST. Payton has given the Suns hope for the future at a position that was devoid of any since the Bledsoe trade. It’ll be interesting to see if he can continue this type of production as he continues to familiarize himself with his new teammates. Devin Booker, in particular. Since Payton has arrived, Booker has averaged 31.3 PTS, albeit with a 41.4 FG%. The Suns future hinges on the potential superstardom of Booker. If Booker and Payton can develop some good chemistry, hopefully Booker can make another leap towards that, especially with regards to his efficiency.
3. Positional Battles
The NBA is evolving into a league where traditional position designations are becoming obsolete. So, the Suns need to figure out whether their stable of forwards can co-exist, or if they need to start choosing so they can flip some assets into talent at other positions.
As #TheTimeline progresses, certain players are going to have to put up or shut up. Both Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender have shown promise in their brief careers, but neither have been consistent. Marquese Chriss hasn’t been able to build upon his impressive rookie year, while Bender has shown considerable improvement in year 2. Bender’s 3 PT shooting and defensive awareness gives him the edge over Chriss for me, but Chriss’ athletic ability cannot be denied. Theoretically, their games complement each other. However, they have only played together for 127 minutes this season. Jay Triano needs to start playing them together more to determine whether they can be a viable on-court pairing, especially in a small-ball league.
The other positional battle is between TJ Warren and Josh Jackson. Warren has established himself as legitimate NBA scorer with a lethal mid-range game. Jackson has come along nicely from a rough start to the year to reassure fans that he is the small forward of the future (unless the Spurs are looking to unload Kawhi). Both of these players are better than Bender and Chriss, but their fit on the court is questionable. Neither of them can shoot from deep which clogs up driving lanes for their guards. They both thrive on cutting and fast breaks. If the Suns can convince TJ to come off the bench, he’ll instantly become a top-five 6th man. If they can’t, he could be an enticing trade chip in a hypothetical blockbuster trade.
Suns fans can always hold out hope that Robert Sarver becomes embroiled in some scandal and is forced to sell the team. Can we get the FBI to start tapping his phones? Just on their way back from Tucson or something.