They’re on the road to recovery, promising prospects joined by the planned return to health for Eric Bledsoe, but also back in the pack in the Western Conference. The road is that long for a team that won 23 games in 2015-16, will have a coach in his first full season, needs to improve just to become bad on defense and needs to develop second-year players and rookies.
Earl Watson, who took over as interim coach last season, begins his first full season with the permanent job at age 37…. The Suns added two forwards in the lottery, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss, knowing both will need time to develop but seeing big potential…. Two former local favorites, guard Leandro Barbosa and forward Jared Dudley, returned as free agents…. Devin Booker played with the Select Team, the squad of younger players who worked out against Team USA as part of preparations for the Olympics.
- This is not a youth movement. The Suns will play Booker a lot and hope Bender and Chriss earn minutes – NBA, not D-League, minutes – but Tyson Chandler is a returning starter, Bledsoe turns 27 in December, P.J. Tucker is 31, Dudley is 31 and Barbosa turns 33 in November.
- The hope is that Chriss will, this season or eventually, play center and power forward while Bender will play small forward and power forward. The Suns are sure they did not take two players at the same position, power forward, within four spots in June.
- This sets up very well for Devin Booker. The return of Bledsoe and the addition of a three-point threat will mean more scoring threats to stretch defenses, which, in turn, should mean more open looks for Booker. More options in the Phoenix offense is also good news for Booker as an underrated distributor.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Bledsoe, who played 31 games last season because of injury and 43 games three seasons ago, wrapped around the 81 of 2014-15. As much as they can be encouraged by some other areas of the roster, the Suns need a dependable Bledsoe to have much hope of a big improvement in the standings. He is that important on both sides of the ball.
Eric Bledsoe | 20.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.1 apg
As much as the scoring numbers jump out, his presence is the same key on defense.
Devin Booker | 13.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.6 apg
Received the third-most votes for the All-Rookie team last season.
P.J. Tucker | 8.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.2 apg
Needs a bounce-back year after slipping in several areas in 2015-16.
Jared Dudley | 7.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.1 apg
Could become a valuable reserve if either 2016 lottery pick develops.
Tyson Chandler | 7.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.0 apg
The kids are coming for his minutes, but can still rebound at a high rate.
Dragan Bender | Rookie
Has the kind of offensive skills that could translate right away.
Brandon Knight | 19.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 5.1 apg
Ready to become a starter again, just like 2014-15.
T.J. Warren | 11.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 0.9 apg
Scoring wing will be the option if the Suns go away from Tucker at small forward.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Two top-eight draft picks, Booker coming off an encouraging rookie season, the return of Bledsoe, Watson in his first full season as coach – the Suns will be a fun watch. Maybe interesting is a better description. It’s tough to find much fun in another losing season, barring a dramatic roster shift, but there will be a lot to see in Phoenix amid long-term implications for the Pacific Division and beyond. Even with several veterans in prominent roles, 2016-17 is about the future.
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