Suns Are Young — And Fans Have A Lot To Look Forward To
The season is mercifully over for the Phoenix Suns, who have missed out on the playoffs for a seventh-straight season, finishing with the worst record in the NBA’s Western conference at 24-58, reflecting only a one game improvement over last season.
But as KJZZ’s Phil Latzman reports, according to team officials, the youth movement is working and fans have a lot to look forward to in the future.
To begin with, the Suns are very young. They had the third-youngest roster in the NBA, and, late in the season, played a starting five with an average age of just 21 years and 14 days, the greenest in league history.
To put it in perspective, that’s more youthful than all but one of the final 16 teams in the men’s NCAA tournament this year.
Suns management is hoping that nascent talent, along with a top five lottery pick in the upcoming draft, will propel the team back into the playoffs sooner rather than later.
Here’s head coach Earl Watson, who just finished his first full season — full of positivity.
“It’s happening before our eyes and it’s fun to watch. I’m not sure our true don’t see it. For the fans that have been part of this process and have unconditional love for these players, it’s happening immediately,” Watson said.
And that young talent has shown signs of emergence, most notably 20-year-old Devin Booker, the second-year shooting guard from Kentucky who led the team in scoring and at at times electrified fans with a 70-point performance in game last month.
Suns GM Ryan McDonough says he’s committed to taking their lumps, citing the examples of now successful franchises in Oklahoma City and Oakland.
“If you look at Oklahoma City’s model, which we’ve studied, if you look at Golden State’s model, which we’ve studied, I think a lot of people wouldn’t realize how few games Michael Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Clay Thompson won their first few years,” McDonough said.
McDonough promises impatient fans that the process of winning will speed up.
“You’ll see us progress pretty rapidly in the next couple of years. We have a top five pick in a loaded draft, we have a lot of young players that we’re excited about, and really a lot of options with our cap space,” he said.
The youth movement though is a long way from growing up. Forward Marquese Chriss is still a raw 19-year-old who had flashes of greatness in his rookie season.
“It was new for all of us. It was fun, it was refreshing. The disadvantage is that we didn’t have experience as a veteran team to finish games. That was the hardest part was losing games in the fourth quarter and letting leads go,” McDonough said.
As evidence, the Suns did lose 24 games this season by 7 points or less.
Thirty-one-year-old veteran forward Jared Dudley could be considered an old man on this baby Suns team. He sees the upside as well.
“You see a potential star in Devin Booker. You see the potential in Marquese Chriss, and then you see a top 3 or 4 pick, so you’d think the future looks much brighter than the past,” Booker said.
And the Suns other backcourt star and the team’s second leading scorer Eric Bledsoe has this message for fans: “Keep supporting us. Everything turns around. We’re headed in the right direction. If you want to hop off the bandwagon, you’re gonna miss out,” Bledsoe said.
And of course, there will be some changes. Questions surround veterans such as Brandon Knight and Tyson Chandler, who were shut down to showcase the young talent late in the season, which was a main factor in the Suns 3-13 record down the stretch and their 24-win season.
However, that did assure Phoenix of a top 5 pick in the upcoming NBA draft and the Suns are hoping that pick as well as maturing talent can return to the glory days of the franchise.
In their first 42 seasons, the Suns made the playoffs 29 times. But no postseason appearances in the past seven years has fans here a bit weary.