Last season: The Suns were one of the league’s pleasant surprises, racking up 48 wins and just barely missing the playoffs during a season where expectations were essentially the exact opposite. No one expected a starting lineup that featured Channing Frye, P.J. Tucker and Miles Plumlee to be capable of that much, but the team played cohesively under first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek, and with Goran Dragic playing at a level that earned him third-team All-NBA honors, along with a resurgent Gerald Green, the competent Morris twins, and half a season of Eric Bledsoe (did I get everybody?), Phoenix became a League Pass favorite early in the season.
Signature highlight from last season: The primary reason for the unexpected success the Suns experienced was their ability to play as a unit, while getting important contributions from multiple players on a nightly basis. This particular clip showcases that — Plumlee gets things started with a rejection at the rim, Frye saves the ball from going out of bounds to Bledsoe, who goes the length of the floor and absorbs the contact for the impressive and-1 finish.
Key offseason moves:
- Lost Channing Frye in free agency
- Signed Isaiah Thomas
- Signed Anthony Tolliver
- Signed Zoran Dragic
- Drafted T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis
Keys to the Suns season:
The health of Eric Bledsoe: The Suns were very good with Bledsoe in the lineup last season, posting a record of 28-15 in the games he played against a 20-19 record when he was sidelined due to injury. Phoenix invested heavily in Bledsoe’s potential, inking him to a five-year deal worth $70 million this summer. The problem is that Bledsoe has had two seasons — last year in Phoenix, and 2012 with the Clippers — where he was only available for half of his team’s games. There’s no question he shined statistically when finally getting his chance to play as part of the starting lineup, posting career-best averages of 17.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists in 32.9 minutes per contest. But for the Suns to improve upon last season’s success, they’ll need Bledsoe to be around for the bulk of his team’s games.
Replacing the production of Channing Frye: Frye was allowed to walk in free agency, which is fine if the Suns feel that they can replace what he does with the guys in place on the roster. It may not be as easy as it seems — Frye averaged 11.1 points and 5.1 rebounds, while shooting 37 percent from three-point distance, and starting in all 82 regular season contests. He played the stretch-four role to perfection, which helped the spacing and opened things up for Dragic and Bledsoe to get to the basket. It’s unclear where Hornacek will turn for a long-term solution here; he’s started Markieff Morris and Anthony Tolliver at times during the preseason. Morris was Sixth Man of the Year material last season, however, so the Suns might want to keep him in that role. If Tolliver can fill Frye’s shoes, it would be a huge relief for the team on the offensive end of the floor.
Living up to expectations: The Suns surprised last season, for all of the reasons mentioned above. Teams weren’t prepared for the level of execution that Phoenix brought on a game-by-game basis, and the fact that the Suns were able to get off to fast starts while their opponents got their bearings undoubtedly helped the team’s winning cause, especially during the first half of the season. Phoenix won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year, however, so playing as a good team may change things a bit if the team isn’t properly focused.
Why you should watch: Dragic and Bledsoe are one of the most exciting backcourts in the game, and the addition of another speedy guard in Isaiah Thomas may make for some dazzling lineups. Phoenix’s style is intoxicating, and when things are really clicking, this team is a joy to watch.
Prediction: The Suns are well-positioned to surpass last year’s win total and make a run at one of the final two postseason spots in the Western Conference. The addition of Thomas gives the team even more firepower off the bench, and if Plumlee and Markieff Morris continue to improve, there’s no reason Phoenix can’t continue to surprise, and make a return to the playoffs in the upcoming season.