The Phoenix Suns extended their NBA playoff drought to seven seasons following their 24-win campaign.
The club embarked in their first campaign under the permanent tenure of Earl Watson, with the 38-year-old having named as the successor to Jeff Hornacek, who had been fired in the previous term.
Phoenix used their two top-10 selections in the 2016 Draft to add Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss to their roster. The duo were involved heavily throughout the campaign, offering hope for the future of the franchise along with second-round pick point guard Tyler Uliss.
Watson’s men made only one splash during free agency to sign Jared Dudley to a three-year deal, with the 31-year-old returning to the outfit he had spent five seasons with from 2008 to 2013.
Devin Booker took serious strides forward in his development as the 20-year-old put in several fine performances throughout the campaign. The guard’s improvement will be vital for the Suns in their bid to return to the post-season.
Likewise TJ Warren was impressive for the club along with the steady displays of Eric Bledsoe, but the team lacked cohesion as a whole, which is where Watson will need to work with his players during the off-season to find a balance in their play for the new campaign.
There is talent beginning to emerge for the Suns, but those players need to deliver on their potential for Phoenix to end their seven-season playoff drought. We’ll now take a look back at the Suns’ disappointing 2016-17 campaign.
Phoenix could not have made a worse start to the campaign, suffering an opening day defeat at the hands of the Sacramento Kings, despite a decent outing from Tyson Chandler as he collated 10 rebounds.
Watson’s men battled well in their second contest against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but were undone in overtime as Russell Westbrook guided his team to a narrow victory.
The Suns ended the opening month of the campaign with further defeats to the Golden State Warriors and the LA Clippers, with Warren putting in a strong performance against the reigning Western Conference champions notching 26 points, although even that was not enough.
They finally got off the mark with a hard-fought win over the Portland Trail Blazers at home, and followed that up with another fine effort to the New Orleans Pelicans in overtime thanks to a 38-point outing from Booker.
The 20-year-old followed up his display with a 39-pointer against the LA Lakers in a narrow defeat for the Suns. Consistency became an issue towards the end of November, with the club failing to string positive outings together, slipping to 6-13 by the end of the month.
December began with a hammering at the hands of the Warriors, while the Utah Jazz and the Indiana Pacers also outplayed Watson’s men. Bledsoe rallied his side to guide them to victories over the Lakers and the New York Knicks, but it was another disappointing month as the club fell to 10-24, despite an impressive performance to beat the Toronto Raptors in the penultimate game of the year.
The new year began with a defeat at the hands of the Clippers, although Watson’s men were to bounce back by stringing successive wins over the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks. Booker then Bledsoe operated at the peak of the powers to deliver the victories, while Chandler remained a force in and around the net to notch a combined 38 rebounds in the two contests.
They were unable to build on their progress, suffering a four-point defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but a victory over the San Antonio Spurs thanks to a 39-pointer from Booker, once again highlighted the talent on the roster. However, the Suns would win only two out of their next eight matches even though they put forward solid performances, including a one-point defeat to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Issues with consistency plagued Phoenix through February, claiming only three wins from the 12 matches. After the All-Star break the Suns lost three matches on the bounce, including their narrow defeat at the hands of the Chicago Bulls.
They rallied with three wins on the bounce at the beginning of March, with Marquese Chriss leading the way in a victory against the Charlotte Hornets, while the run also featured an impressive win over the Boston Celtics at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Devin Booker then produced a 36-point outing to defeat the Dallas Mavericks, but Phoenix’s season descended into a freefall, with a horrendous run of form. Watson’s side lost their next 13 matches on the bounce to drop to 22-57 in their season, and although back-to-back victories over the Thunder and the Mavericks stopped the slide – the campaign ended on a sour note.
The Suns have invested heavily in youth over the last few years and the development of those young players will be crucial to the club’s success in the near future. Booker flashed his talent in his second year, taking a large stride forward to become an integral player for Watson. Should he continue on his trajectory, the 20-year-old could well pull into contention for All-Star status.
The guard is certainly the man that the franchise should look to build their fortunes around, with last year’s draft picks Bender and Chriss taking on more senior positions in the line-up next season. Chriss impressed with his durability last season, featuring in all 82 matches and he flashed his talent at times, although Watson will be demanding consistency in his second term.
Bender has the versatility to play at forward and center and he could be useful next term to ease the strain on Chandler, who was solid last term. However, with one eye on the future, the club could ease the transition by moving the 19-year-old slowing into the role to get minutes under his belt – which were not easily obtained last season.
The Suns used the fourth selection in the 2017 Draft to pick Josh Jackson, who was in contention to be selected first overall until the Celtics traded out to the 76ers. He scored 16.3 points per game in his one season in the college game at Kansas, and he could make an impact from the off by edging Warren out of the side. He is backed at +1200 with Bovada sportsbook to be named Rookie of the Year in his first season with the club.
Phoenix are a work in progress and this is highlighted by their betting odds to win the NBA title next term at +100000 with William Hill. It will take a huge effort for that to come to fruition, although stranger things have happened. Punters from the United States can check out the best sportsbooks here – https://www.sbo.net/country/us/ – for alternative odds.