With the final buzzer sounding off in 104-129 loss to the Kings in Sacramento, the 2016-17 Phoenix Suns' season has come to an end.
The 49th season for the Suns had plenty of ups and downs, but one word that best describes the season would be growth.
The Rise of Devin Booker
Devin Booker’s season was full up upside. The biggest highlight for the Kentucky product came in the 70-point game against the Boston Celtics, becoming the youngest player to hit the mark. Another highlight for the shooting guard came during the All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, playing in the Rising Stars Challenge.
High scoring performances would almost become a regular for Booker. The 20-year-old accumulated 14 games where he scored 30 or more points. Booker would lead the Suns in points per game, third on the Suns in assists per game, and finished third in steals per game. Booker even stepped up his defense as the year progressed, one of the biggest areas he needed to improve from his rookie year.
Booker’s rise has been compared to another NBA great, Kobe Bryant. If Booker fills out the areas of his game that become Kobe-esque, that could potentially terrorize the league for years to come.
One of the biggest surprises of the season was just how young the Suns' lineups would get. In a game against the Brooklyn Nets back in March, the Suns would send out a lineup that would be the youngest in NBA history.
Another big surprise was how well the team handled the mix of young and old on the floor. There were plenty of times when the Suns were leading late in games, but the inexperienced youth could not pull the trigger down the stretch. There were also games when the seasoned veterans would energize the youth and a combined effort would bring the Suns within scoring distance of the lead.
One of the young players that would be a surprise this season was power forward Alan Williams. The Phoenix native would rise in popularity in Phoenix filling in for Tyson Chandler when Chandler missed time early in the season. In the second half of the season, Williams would average a double-double. Going forward, Williams appears to be in the Suns' plans at center.
In his rookie season, Marquese Chriss flashed signs of greatness. Chriss would start 74 games for the Suns, averaging 9.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. He would quickly develop a reputation for being a dunker, with the tools to be a perfect complement to Booker. The duo even played with each other in the Rising Stars Challenge. Chriss has some growing to do, Phoenix will have fun watching the 19-year-old grow.
Handing out the Hardware
Team MVP: Devin Booker
In his second season, Devin Booker showed much improvement. He made every one of his teammates better throughout the season. Booker will be a big piece of the Suns' team going forward.
Team Rookie of the Year: Tyler Ulis
Tyler Ulis proved to be a steal for the Suns. The second round pick out of Kentucky had a lot to prove going into the season. The 5-foot-10 point guard proved to be worth the gamble. Ulis would average a double-double in points and assists in the second half of the season. He would prove to be clutch late in games, even hitting a buzzer beater against the Boston Celtics.
Suns' Most improved Player: Eric Bledsoe
Before being shut down back in March, Eric Bledsoe was having a terrific season. In 66 games, Bledsoe was averaging 21 points, 6.3 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per game, in 33 minutes of play. The last time Bledsoe was this effective was the 2014-15 season.
Team Defensive Player of the Year: Tyson Chandler
Tyson Chandler was all over the place on the defensive end. Chandler would lead the team in defensive rebounds per game while being one of the team leaders in blocks. While Chandler was in the rotation, Chandler would anchor the paint, making it harder for opposing centers and power forwards to score. His totals would have been higher had the Suns not shut him down back in March.
Suns' Draft Possibilities
With the loss to the Sacramento Kings, the Suns possess the second-worst record in the league. When it comes time for the NBA Draft Lottery in May, this will help the Suns regarding a better chance at landing a top-three pick in the draft.
If the Suns land a top-two pick and they draft Lonzo Ball or Markelle Fultz, Bledsoe will likely ask for a trade. Bledsoe and his agent have hinted that they will want out of the organization with a cluster at the position.
The Suns could also go small forward at the position. Josh Jackson or Jayson Tatum could be in play for the Suns if they land in the third or fourth pick in the draft.
As the Suns continue to grow, the future remains bright for a team that once was a staple for making the playoffs year-in and year-out.