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Pelton’s ESPN projections have Suns as NBA’s most improved team

Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams smiles as he answers a question about the re-signing of Kelly Oubre Jr. with the Suns NBA basketball team during a news conference Tuesday, July 16, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

It turns out that certain advanced metrics like the Phoenix Suns.

After FiveThirtyEight’s early projections using their player value statistics had the Suns at 37 wins for the 2019-20 season, Kevin Pelton’s over at ESPN using real plus-minus (RPM) project 38 wins for the Suns.

Having won only 19 games last season, the Suns are forecast for the biggest improvement in the league this season. Squint hard and Phoenix had the makings of a competitive team last season, outscoring opponents by 0.5 points per 100 possessions in the 180 minutes Deandre Ayton, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, and Kelly Oubre Jr. played together, according to NBA Advanced Stats. Add reliable veterans Ricky Rubio and Dario Saric to that group and the Suns could leap out of the West cellar.

The foundation of the projections is going off RPM, which is entering year four of being used by Pelton and company as a projection tool.

Now, 38 wins and doubling the win total might shock you a bit, but when you do some digging on these metrics that factor in a player’s overall contribution, it’s really not that surprising.

The biggest thing that jumps out is the players the Suns lost.

Jamal Crawford’s RPM of -5.70 was the worst in the league of 103 point guards while Elie Okobo (-4.78) and De’Anthony Melton (-3.26) weren’t that far behind, either.

Josh Jackson’s -3.67 mark was one of the lowest for a wing and ditto for Dragan Bender (-3.89) among bigs.

By default, the Suns not playing those players anymore will help significantly in these types of projections.

Then you add in players like Ricky Rubio (22nd among PGs, 1.36), Aron Baynes (31st among centers, 0.62) and Frank Kaminsky (26th among PFs, 0.12) that gives the additional boost.

The question is where the numbers for the likes of Devin Booker (0.58), Deandre Ayton (-0.36) and Mikal Bridges (-0.59) will go.

Those numbers have the Suns finishing 13th in the Western Conference but under three wins behind the Portland Trail Blazers’ projected 40.6 wins in the eighth seed. Yup, that means it’s a muddled race in that range featuring the Sacramento Kings (39.6 wins), Minnesota Timberwolves (39.5), San Antonio Spurs (38.5) and New Orleans Pelicans (38.2).

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