Suns season preview roundtable, Part II: Win total predictions
To get ready for the start of a new Phoenix Suns season, 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s hosts, editors and more answer some key questions.
3. Which player not named Booker or Ayton are you most interested in watching? Why?
Ron Wolfley, co-host of Doug & Wolf: Kelly Oubre Jr. He is culture: a two-way player, put the ball on the floor and get to the hole, shoot the 3, bring the swag, play defense and never back down. He is the soul of this team.
Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: Ricky Rubio. It’s been very difficult watching the Suns on the offensive end for years now, and a big reason why is that they have lacked a playmaking point guard. Not only did Jones fill that gap, he did so with a veteran who ranks ninth in the NBA in assists per game over the last five seasons. Rubio’s court vision will benefit Booker and Ayton.
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Mikal Bridges. Love everything about his game and I think he has a chance to be the third or fourth-best player on this roster by the end of this year or next.
John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Too many to count to be honest. Ty Jerome, Cam Johnson, Kelly Oubre Jr., Mikal Bridges, Dario Saric. But let’s go with Oubre over Bridges by a nose. Only because he is a true 3-and-D player who, if he takes the next step, gives the Suns a nucleus of three-star players and he can take the pressure off Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton when one or both are having off nights offensively.
Doug Franz, co-host of Doug & Wolf: Kelly Oubre Jr. He does so many things right. I can’t wait to see how his game develops when the team doesn’t have to babysit players anymore.
Jon Bloom, host of the Suns’ postgame show: I can’t wait to watch Ricky Rubio run the show here. I’ve enjoyed his offensive artistry for years when I’ve had the chance to see him play and now we get to see what it looks like in Orange!
Luke Lapinski, host of The Rundown: Mikal Bridges. He gets forgotten sometimes because he happened to be a rookie on a team that also had the No. 1 pick in the same draft, but I think we’ve only seen Bridges scratch the surface of what he can do. He’ll never be a star, but he can do a little bit of everything and he’s the guy who will be an under-the-radar difference-maker when the Suns start playing meaningful games late in seasons. They’re not the same player, but it’s kind of like what Josh Jackson was supposed to do. Except, you know, Bridges will actually show up and do it.
Kellan Olson, ArizonaSports.com editor and reporter: This team isn’t asking for much out of Dario Saric and he’s going to be more than capable as a fifth option in the starting lineup. One of my biggest takeaways from training camp was when I went rapid-fire questions with Booker on his teammates, and when I brought up Saric, he seemed really impressed and he essentially said Saric was much better than he thought. I think Suns fans will have a similar experience.
Kevin Zimmerman, ArizonaSports.com editor and reporter: Oubre said at media day he wants to be more than a pretty face. He wants to prove himself as a basketball player. He showed the abilities to be a secondary ball-handler and bailout option for the Suns last year, and if he can get rid of his tunnel vision on both ends of the floor, he has the skillset and tenacity to become a glue guy who can also score 20 points when you need him to.
4. How do you think the Suns will do this season? How many wins will they finish with?
Wolfley: 33 … but the number is insignificant. How they develop, how they grow, how competitive they become is really what I care about. Fully expecting the Suns to miss the playoffs. It’s the PROCESS I’ll be focused on, not the win-loss productivity.
Marotta: I think we’ll see a vastly improved Suns team, but due to the rough sledding in the Western Conference, it should top out at 35 or 36 wins.
Burns: There’s a legitimacy to the roster that hasn’t been there for at least two years and I think they’ll compete on a near-nightly basis. The heart says 36-38 wins. The head says 34. Let’s go with that.
Gambadoro: I expect big improvement, and to me, that is 10 more wins than last season – get into the 30s. My window would be 31 wins on the low side and 35 on the high side. The West is incredibly difficult but Phoenix will be much more competitive and more exciting to watch.
Franz: 32. They will be a much better team this year but the record will only show a slight improvement. I don’t know how but the Western Conference lost Kevin Durant and still got deeper.
Bloom: I haven’t changed my prediction since I carried out my annual tradition of picking game by game on the day the schedule was released. 41 wins, and feel free to @ me.
Lapinski: The Suns have had more than their fair share of vets that collected a paycheck but didn’t really want to be here. It seems petty to call them out now, so let’s just say their names rhyme with “Trevor Ariza.” Those guys are gone now, though, there’s an actual point guard in place, the younger core is starting to gain experience and you have to think the number of games lost to injury will go down once the team has something to play for past December. I’ll go with 33 wins – a number low enough to enrage overly optimistic Suns fans while still being high enough to make the national pessimists scoff. So it’s probably pretty close to right. And, for the record, that would be a 14-win improvement. I’ll take it.
Olson: My number is 29, with the caveat of those garbage, useless games when they scored single digits in the first quarter or were down 20-plus in the mid-second quarter being more or less a thing of the past now. Unlike previous years, I do see the path to this team winning 35-plus and don’t reject that optimism. Booker is that good and the supporting cast does have some upside.
Zimmerman: I expect they will be easy on the eyes and easy to root for. The basketball IQ of this group is high, and though it’s limited athletically and skillset-wise, the Suns should finally have the beginnings of a winning culture, even if the wins don’t come in bunches. But yeah, the Western Conference is tough. Twenty-eight wins is a leap and a realistic win total, and I won’t take that as a sign that progress wasn’t made this year.