Arizona Sports’ Phoenix Suns season preview and predictions: Part I
Will this be the year the Phoenix Suns begin a steady rise to relevance? Bolstered by franchise face Devin Booker and No. 1 overall draft pick Deandre Ayton, the hopes are high for Phoenix under first-year coach Igor Kokoskov.
Questions linger about the direction of the team after it fired GM Ryan McDonough to start the year, but the on-the-court product has its own storylines to keep an eye on. We asked the 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station on-air hosts and producers for our shows and Suns coverage to answer the tough questions surrounding the team heading into the 2018-19 season.
Which Suns player are you the most excited to watch and why?
Vince Marotta (co-host, Bickley & Marotta): I love watching Devin Booker play basketball, but he’s second on my list this season. For me, it’s Deandre Ayton, who represents something the Suns have really never had in their 50 years of existence – a potentially dominant center. Ayton did nothing to dissuade me from feeling this way during the preseason. He looks so comfortable on offense and has the ability to easily step out to 18 feet on his jump shot, he’ll be among the league’s leaders in dunks and I was impressed (in doses) by his energy and defensive presence.
Dan Bickley (co-host, Bickley & Marotta): With all due respect to Devin Booker, who once dropped 70 on the Celtics, I’m most excited to watch Deandre Ayton. He’s the franchise’s first No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. He’s the impact center the team has missed for 51 years.
Jon Bloom (host, Suns postgame): I could give a bunch of reasons why I’m excited to watch several guys on this roster, but if you make me pick one, it’s gotta be No. 1. While it has been great seeing D.A. and other new additions go to work this preseason, I know I’m not the only one who has been bummed that Booker hasn’t been out there over the last couple weeks. I can’t wait to see what new weapons he’s got offensively this year, whether it’s the stronger left hand or the play-making going up a notch in Igor’s offense, the sky is still the limit for this kid. And yes, I’m still calling him a kid even though he’s just weeks away from turning the ripe age of 22.
Dave Burns (co-host, Burns & Gambo): It’s almost impossible not to answer the question “Deandre Ayton” so I won’t even try to pick somebody else. His pure natural ability and size is so freakishly rare that his potential to influence games is almost endless. He should open things up for shooters on the outside, score in a variety of ways on the inside and perimeter. Can he defend at an elite level? Can’t wait to find out.
John Gambadoro (co-host, Burns & Gambo): Has to be Deandre Ayton. The Suns have never had a franchise center and all indications from the Summer League and preseason is that they have that guy now. He could be a beast from Day 1.
Doug Franz (co-host, Doug & Wolf): Josh Jackson. The answer isn’t Booker or Ayton because I already know how great they are and will become. Jackson’s the question. He drips with talent but he continually fights what he was brought here to do. Jackson was drafted for his defensive prowess and we rarely see it. Jackson seems hellbent on proving he can be a great offensive player. I’m thrilled he wants to expand his game, but there’s nothing he brings offensively that should come at the expense of what he can do defensively.
Ron Wolfley (co-host, Doug & Wolf): Deandre Ayton. Drama will be on display early in the season. Although he will get better over time, if Ayton is indeed a “generational player” we’re going to see flashes of that early. I don’t care what he does on the court in terms of numbers, but I will be all over him in terms of how he competes!
Paul Calvisi (anchor, Doug & Wolf): Deandre Ayton. We know the rookie will fill the stat sheet. The more intriguing question – can he fill the arena?
Jordan Byrd (producer, Burns & Gambo and host, Arizona Sports Saturday): Ayton – I feel like this one is pretty easy. Phoenix has never had a No. 1 overall pick before and based off of his preseason, I can’t wait to see if the big man out of UofA can back up all of the hype.
Luke Lapinski (host, The Rundown with Luke Lapinski): Ayton is the only answer here. I can’t remember the last time I was this excited to see a Suns player, and I’m guessing that feeling is pretty unanimous right now. All it took was 50 years for Phoenix to land the top pick in the draft, and this was a good year to finally do it. Expectations are already through the roof for him, and the comparisons to guys like Shaq, Hakeem, David Robinson and even Wilt Chamberlain are only adding fuel to the fire. He won’t be any of those guys in his first year, of course. Or maybe ever – they are some of the best to ever play the game, after all. But this is going to be fun.
Jarrett Carlen (producer, Bickley & Marotta and The Rundown with Luke Lapinski): As a self-hating, pessimistic, masochistic UA honk, homer and tortured fan, I can’t wait to see what Deandre Ayton can do playing with better players and a slightly higher salary.
What level will Devin Booker reach in his fourth season and why?
Vince Marotta: I’m tempted to say All-Star, but the reality is Booker is still playing on a building team in a conference loaded with talent. I don’t think there’s any reason he can’t continue his upward growth statistically and average 26 or 27 points per night while hitting 40 percent of his three-pointers.
Dan Bickley: Booker will be an All-Star in Year Four. But if Booker is forced to serve as the team’s point guard, it might change the equation. For better and worse.
Jon Bloom: My expectation is not going to be numeric, even though stuffing the stat sheet with more than 25 PPG, 5 APG and 5 RPG might be attainable. I think the most noticeable improvement could be with his on and off court leadership. He has heard all the talk from other stars about how he’s the next one coming up. He has studied them and what they do to lead their teams over his first three seasons. I’m quite sure he’s also heard the haters who claim he’s just putting up big numbers on a bad team. Now we’ll see if he’s able to truly lead this team, which he knows includes much more than statistical production.
Dave Burns: I want to believe this is the year Book reaches the All-Star game but it might not have anything to do with him. The West is so loaded at his position and the Suns aren’t likely to be much better than a year ago, so he won’t be receiving as much attention as he should. I’ll say he makes it though, hoping that the sheer volume of his expected numbers is too large to be ignored.
John Gambadoro: Hard to say because of the lack of point guard. It is very possible that he will have to play quite a bit of the point so the Suns can get their five best players on the court at the same time. If they go with a starting point guard among the guys they have, they are literally playing their 10th best player in the starting lineup. That is not good. And it would affect Booker. He needs to improve defensively for sure to be able to consider himself a top-20 player in the league.
Doug Franz: He’ll finish at the level where everyone argues he should be, an All-Star, and not be selected. He belongs in the conversation but a last-place team rarely deserves the recognition.
Ron Wolfley: He’s a star right now. But with the attention he gained in winning the 3-point contest over the All-Star break (setting the record with 20 threes), the freak of freaks (Deandre Ayton) coming to the Basin and the Suns being more competitive, the rest of the league should be introduced to the superstar he’ll become. He’s the brain of the Phoenix Suns.
Paul Calvisi: Without someone to consistently get D-Book the ball, combined with having to exert XL energy initiating the offense, Booker’s production will regress this season for the sake of the team.
Jordan Byrd: This is a tough one. So many circumstances could impact the type of season Devin Booker has. When does he return from the hand surgery and how effective will he be once back? How much is he playing out of position by being the primary ball handler? That is the question I think will dictate his progress this season the most. Due to a lack of other options, Booker will have to play more at the point than I want. Booker is still developing into his NBA game and playing out of position could stunt his growth in the other areas that will serve him best. That being said, I still believe he continues to trend in the right direction this year, but don’t expect him to be an all-star or anything like that.
Luke Lapinski: This is an interesting year for Booker. He’s a max player now, he has already far exceeded any expectations the organization could have ever had when they drafted him and he publicly stated he’s done missing the playoffs. Of course, he only has so much control over that last one, but I expect him to do everything within his power to end the postseason drought. Hopefully, that means playing with the relentlessness of an angry Russell Westbrook.
Jarrett Carlen: He will reach Level 8, a level usually only accessible with help of the Warp Whistle. On this level he will make his first All-Star team while leading the Suns in points and assists.