2017-18 NBA team season preview: Phoenix Suns

As the Phoenix Suns commence their 50th season as an NBA franchise, here’s a preview of what their expectations in 2017-2018

2017-18 NBA team season preview: Phoenix Suns
Members of the Phoenix Sunslock arms during the national anthem before an NBA basketball preseason gameagainst the Portland Trail Blazers in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. Photo: AP Photo/Steve Dykes

As the Phoenix Suns get ready to celebrate their 50th season in the NBA, there is a buzz around them that hasn’t been felt in some time. Last season had its up but had plenty of downs for the Suns as they finished 24-58 eventually landing the fourth pick in the draft.

The 2017-18 season could look a little different for Phoenix. They will still be one of the youngest teams in the NBA, but have a good mix of youth and experience. With the Western Conference being tough, it will be interesting to see where the Suns fit.

With the youth movement being the focus in the Valley of the Sun, here is a look into the Suns 2017-2018 season.

Draft

Josh Jackson walks on stage with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being drafted fourth overall by the Phoenix Suns. |Source: Mike Stobe/Getty Images North America|
Josh Jackson walks on stage with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being drafted fourth overall by the Phoenix Suns. |Source: Mike Stobe/Getty Images North America|

With the fourth pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, the Phoenix Suns selected forward Josh Jackson out of Kansas. This was a great addition to a young Suns franchise that could find himself a member of next great Suns team. Jackson is a two way player that can drive two the basket while getting back on defense.

The Suns next selection would come in the second round, selecting guard Davon Reed from Miami. Reed averaged 14.9 points and 4.8 rebounds in 33 games with the Hurricanes. The Suns selected Alec Peters with their third and final selection. In 28 games at Valparaiso, Peters averaged 22.5 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.

Free Agency

It was a quite offseason for Phoenix. The Suns took care of their own by signing Alan WilliamsDevin Booker, and T.J. Warren to long contracts. Williams and Booker would sign three year contracts while Warren signed a four year extension.

The Suns signed general manager Ryan McDonough to a contract extension that will keep him in Phoenix through the 2019-2020 season. McDonough joined the season in 2013 following 10 seasons with the Boston Celtics.

Depth Chart

Point Guard: Eric Bledsoe, Tyler Ulis, Brandon Knight

Shooting Guard: Devin Booker, Derrick Jones Jr., Troy Daniels, Davon Reed

Small Forward: T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson, Elijah Millsap

Power Forward: Marquese Chriss, Jared Dudley, Dragan Bender

Center: Tyson Chandler, Alex Len, Alan Williams

Storylines to watch during the season

Devin Booker ready to be face of the franchise:

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) against the Oklahoma City Thunder |Source -Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports|
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) against the Oklahoma City Thunder |Source -Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports|

It’s hard to believe that guard Devin Booker is entering his third season with the Suns. Over the Past two seasons, Suns fans have watched Booker grow into one of the best players in the league.

Last season Booker averaged 22.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game. His 2,774 career points are fourth-most for a player before the age of 21. Booker is also the only active player with a 70-point game. He is the youngest player to take part in the 3-point contest and was named 2015-16 NBA All Rookie Team.

In 2017, many are hoping that Booker takes that leap into superstar status. Booker’s competitive edge draws comparisons to NBA great Kobe Bryant. During durations of last season, Booker’s game was drawing close comparisons to young Kobe.

To reach superstar status Booker will have to develop parts of his game. Becoming a better rebounder, becoming a defenseman and creating opportunities for his teammates are some of the things Booker can be better at.

Rise of Marquese Chriss & Dragen Bender:

When the Suns selected Dragan Bender with the fourth overall pick and acquired number eight pick Marquese Chriss from the Sacramento Kings, they were trying to make a splash in the lottery.

Phoenix Suns forward Marquese Chriss (0) dunks a basket in the fourth quarter during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks.  |Source - Benny Sieu, USA TODAY Sports|
Phoenix Suns forward Marquese Chriss (0) dunks a basket in the fourth quarter during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks. |Source - Benny Sieu, USA TODAY Sports|

After one year of NBA experience Chriss proved he can be a future NBA All-Star while Bender appears to be the project the Suns thought he would be.

Last season Chriss averaged 9.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. Among rookies, Chriss and Philadelphia 76ers Joel Embiid were the only two players to finish in the 10 in points, rebounds, steals and blocks.

Chriss has acknowledged the areas that he needs to improve in. His main areas of improvement would be his defense and cut down his fouls. There were times last season where Chriss looked lost on the defensive end, which lead to Chriss fouling often.

Phoenix Suns forward Dragan Bender (35) dunks the ball in the first half of the NBA game against the Miami Heat. |Jennifer Stewart/USA TODAY Sports|
Phoenix Suns forward Dragan Bender (35) dunks the ball in the first half of the NBA game against the Miami Heat. |Jennifer Stewart/USA TODAY Sports|

Ankle surgery would limit the amount of action Bender saw last season. In 43 games Bender averaged 3.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, .5 assists and blocks per game. Phoenix sees the 7-foot-1 Bender as an athletic forward that can bring the ball up the floor, shoot 3-pointers and be an effective defender.

With Chriss being just 20 years old and Bender at the age of 19, there is still plenty of time for their development. The Suns just hope that their potential turns into promise in the upcoming season.

Jackson or Warren?:

Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson (20) drives past Portland Trail Blazers center Zach Collins (33). |Source - Craig Mitchelldyer/USA TODAY Sports|
Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson (20) drives past Portland Trail Blazers center Zach Collins (33). |Source - Craig Mitchelldyer/USA TODAY Sports|

With the Suns drafting  Josh Jackson fourth overall in draft, it will be interesting to see how long it will take before he takes the starting position from T.J. Warren.

With Jackson as the starter, he would be a good complement to Booker. While at Kansas, Jackson had great scoring ability while playing great defense. With he, Booker and Eric Bledsoe on the floor at the same time, Jackson would likely become the third scoring option. It will be interesting to see if the Suns allow Jackson to learn on the job just as Booker has over the past two seasons.

As for Warren, his health will ultimately determine his playing opportunity. Warren has missed 93 games over the last three seasons. Warren is the better scorer at the NBA level compared to Jackson as he has developed a decent jump shot. Warren has also shown he could be a good defender.

The prediction is that Jackson will earn the starting position during the preseason. With the timeline taking precedence in Phoenix, the Suns may want to let Jackson learn on the job. Warren would fit better in the sixth man role.

What to do with Bledsoe?:

Eric Bledsoe #2 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball. |Source: Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America|
Eric Bledsoe #2 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball. |Source: Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America|

With guard Eric Bledsoe returning from knee soreness, teams will keep a close eye on his production.

In his four seasons with the Suns, Bledsoe has quietly become one of the best point guards in the NBA. Bledsoe has averaged 18.8 points, 6 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals in four seasons with the Suns. If his production continues to grow, playoff teams could be looking to trade for Bledsoe at the deadline.

If they decided to move him, do the Suns have a replacement?  Tyler Ulis showed he can be the replacement for Bledsoe if Phoenix chooses to move trade him.

Ulis was the player that showed the most improvement throughout the season. Like his teammates, there were plenty of ups and downs for Ulis and there are areas where he can improve. With more playing time, Ulis can definitely make the necessary adjustments.

Season Predictions

Phoenix will show improvements in the upcoming season. However, with the Western Conference being as tough as it is, the Suns will once again find themselves missing out on playoff action.

The Suns will go 32-50 in the 2017-18 season, winning eight more games from last season and have a chance to earn a good pick in the 2018 draft.

Jackson will be in consideration for rookie of the year. Other rookies coveting the rookie of the year award are Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith, Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum and Markelle Fultz.

Booker will have another break out season and keep pushing himself towards superstar status. Booker will show he is a good playmaker and efficient scorer. Chriss will show a considerable amount of improvement while Bender continues to grow slowly.

All in all, the Suns will come out of the gate firing on all cylinders as they did a year ago, but once the schedule becomes difficult and they start losing ground in the playoff chase, the timeline will come to the forefront and they’ll start playing for the draft.