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2015-16 NBA Preview: The Suns Have Talent But Lack Shooting

We’re inaugurating our NBA player projection system, CARMELO, with 2015-16 season previews for every team in the league. Check out the teams we’ve already previewed here. Learn more about CARMELO here.


Last year’s Phoenix Suns won 39 games, and despite their dramatic offseason — which included being spurned by primary target LaMarcus Aldridge, as well as a ton of player turnover — we don’t see them doing much better or worse. They settled for 33-year-old true center Tyson Chandler, who is probably more of a sure thing (in the short run) anyway. The Suns traded 26-year-old power forward M. Morris (Marcus) to Detroit, but kept 26-year-old power forward M. Morris (Markieff). Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas are also gone, leaving the Suns with only two point guards on the roster instead of four. While our projections aren’t high on No. 13 draft pick Devin Booker, don’t be surprised if the rookie gets a good amount of playing time as a shooting guard taller than 6-foot-3.

FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO projects Phoenix to go 40-42:1

carmelo_depth_chart_SUNS

Last year, the Suns were about league average on both offense and defense. This year, CARMELO expects them to have an improved defense (thanks to Chandler) and a worse offense. With so few offensive options, it seems that something has to give (like, will Chandler be given more offensive responsibility than he’s used to?). We’ll see.

Here’s what CARMELO has to say about the Suns’ key squad members:

eric-bledsoe

Eric Bledsoe is the Suns’ most prolific offensive (read: “star”) player and will continue to be their playmaker. It’s less clear who will be consummating those plays, as four of the Suns’ top scorers from last year have departed. And in worse news, Bledsoe is a small, offense-oriented point guard with a questionable 3-point shot (.326 from downtown last year and .325 for his career). That particular species of player is not known to flourish in the modern NBA.


tyson-chandler

According to ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, Tyson Chandler arrives in Phoenix as already their best player. The 7-1 defender/rebounder had the fifth-highest defensive plus-minus (DRPM) among centers, and despite not being a top scorer he posted the eighth-highest offensive plus-minus (ORPM). The main issue with Chandler is that, at age 33, CARMELO expects him to decline fairly rapidly, projecting him as providing 5.9 wins above replacement this year — down from 8.1 last year – and then to 4.3 next year.


brandon-knight

Brandon Knight is a longtime point guard who has been (and will likely continue to be) pushed into a shooting guard role. Last year, in a limited number of games with the Suns, this didn’t go very well. His .472 true shooting percentage in his 11 games with Phoenix is by far the lowest he has posted for a team in his career.


markieff-morris

The big question everyone has about Markieff Morris seems to be how he will respond to the Suns’ decision to get rid of his twin brother, Marcus, and how he will respond to the fact that his team unsuccessfully tried to upgrade him to LaMarcus Aldridge. Note: CARMELO does NOT account for offseason drama (maybe in version 2.0).


pj-tucker

With experience at shooting guard under his belt and the Suns’ dearth of options at that spot, P.J. Tucker may be due for another role shift. Since arriving in Phoenix, he has actually seen his shooting guard minutes decline — from 78 percent to 41 percent to 21 percent over the past three years. He’s also one of the team’s more efficient shooters (Tucker’s TS% of 54.1 percent was second only to Bledsoe) and is the best 3-point shooter among players with substantial minutes remaining on the team. Though that’s less because his .345 3-point rate is great than because the Suns dumped all four players ahead of him (Thomas, Morris, Dragic and Gerald Green).


devin-booker

Finally, we must mention Devin Booker, not so much because he’s projected to do much, but because circumstances might press him into action. The main accomplishment for Booker — one of approximately 475 players drafted out of Kentucky last year — probably was getting more than 20 minutes a game on that squad. The good news is that he took about half his shots from 3-point range and hit a respectable 41.1 percent (note that college 3-pointers are easier). Sadly for Suns fans, he had only 17 steals in 38 games, so he’s obviously doomed.


Read more:
All our NBA player projections
All our 2015-16 NBA Previews

Footnotes

  1. In the following chart, we assume that in addition to the listed players, some portion of Phoenix’s minutes will be filled by generic players of “replacement level” quality — that is, the type of players who would be freely available off the waiver wire during the season.

Benjamin Morris researches and writes about sports and other topics for FiveThirtyEight.

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