Phoenix Suns projected to finish 14th in West by Basketball Prospectus' SCHOENE

We learned over the summer that many NBA analysts don’t believe in the Suns, as Phoenix ranked 14th in ESPN’s Summer Forecast with a 30-52 record predicted by the aggregation of 100 ESPN-affiliated writers.

This week we found out that the computers feel the same way, or at least Basketball Prospectus’ SCHOENE projection system, which tabbed the Suns to finish all the way down in 14th as well with an even more lowly 28-54 record that ranks in the bottom five of the league.

SCHOENE also projects the Suns to rank 26th in offensive rating (105.3) and 22nd in defensive rating (110.6) behind the second-lowest projected payroll in the NBA.

You can read about all that and more in the Pro Basketball Prospectus 2012-13, which is now available here in PDF format for $10.02. It’s chock full of great NBA analysis and projections (as well as a paragraph from yours truly on Phoenix’s crunch time offensive options), but you might want to shield your eyes when reading the section on the Suns.

Phoenix ranking No. 22 in defensive rating surely would not please Elston Turner, but it’s about what we’ve come to expect out of this franchise in seasons the team misses the playoffs. That would be just a hair better than last year’s No. 23 defensive mark, but dropping all the way to No. 26 in offensive rating almost doesn’t seem possible for a team that used to rank first by a country mile in that category not long ago.

Clearly SCHOENE attributes the Suns’ ability to be a top-10 offense last season largely to the brilliance of Steve Nash, as the piece points out the Suns were a whopping 8.1 points per 100 possessions better offensively last season with Two Time on the floor. SCHOENE had projected the Suns to drop to 16th in offensive efficiency in 2011-12 but instead they went down to just eighth in large part because the system did not know how to handle a 38-year-old point guard putting up numbers that no 38-year-old point guard had ever come close to touching. Without realizing Nash would not regress the way one might expect a player of his age to, it projected Phoenix to finish 27-39, a full six games worse than the team’s actual record.

If the Suns become a bottom-five offense without Nash, finishing 14th in the West seems optimistic yet with so many versatile talented offensive players I have a hard time believing that will happen.

The passage on the Suns also hits on a point I have made time and time again: this franchise desperately needs to find a star.

The missing piece for Phoenix is a star to anchor this group of complementary pieces. 25 teams around the league have at least one player — and often more — rated better than Dragic, the Suns’ projected 2012-13 leader with 7.2 WARP. There isn’t a single player on the roster Phoenix can reasonably expect to develop into an All-Star. Unfortunately, a centerpiece is difficult to find in free agency, even for a team that can offer ideal climate and a training staff second to none. The summer of 2010 aside, such players rarely come available, and a team like the Suns in transition is unlikely to appeal to veteran superstars. That leaves Phoenix hoping to make the rare max-type offer to a restricted free agent that goes unmatched.

The Suns’ best chance of getting an elite talent, then, may be what they’ve resisted — the luck of the lottery.

And of course that’s exactly what will happen if the Suns are as bad as SCHOENE projects them to be.

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I joined WCWP radio in New York last week to preview the Suns. Take a listen here.

  • Scott

    The Suns may need to find a star, but they could help the team by disciplining themselves to select players with defensive skills, high IQ, and high motor.

  • Jason A.

    I refuse to believe the Suns are going to be as bad as all the pundits and computers say we’ll be. I’ll allow that we might miss the playoffs, but like Suns teams in the past, there will be a chemistry that will allow this team to overachieve and defy expectations. Good luck projecting that on paper.

  • http://n/a Keith

    Computers are stupid, haha. They clearly aren’t accounting for Dragic. Anyway, we’ll be far above 14th. Our floor is 10th or 11th. Sacramento, NO, and Houston suck bad. Portland is too young and guys like Lillard and Meyers Leonard need time. Their bench is also among the worst in the league. So that puts us at least 11th.

    Then we just need to beat out Dallas, Minnesota, and GS to make the playoffs. Minnesota is done. Too many injuries. I also believe Dallas is done. They’re also weaker than in recent years and now Dirk is out for at least 10-15 games? Now you’re relying on Brand and Kaman? Talk about having a horrible defense.

    GS has Curry and Bogut. Curry is already having problems and Bogut isn’t quite back yet. They’ll be dealing with injuries all year long. My prediction is Suns make the playoffs and Gentry gets some votes for coach of the year. Pundits look stupid, again.

  • http://n/a Keith

    Oh and 26th in offense? With our players? Pleeeeeease. We’ll struggle on D but we’ll have a top 10 offense, maybe even top 5. We have more weapons this year and a much better ability to run. We’ll probably average 103 or higher.

  • Andres


    Not sure about counting Sac off just yet – They are a very physical team that may beat any team on any given night. Also if Gordon stays healthy for NO they may compete with the Suns for the 8th seed.

  • john

    While I think 28 is low, I can’t argue too much. These sims are usually remarkably accurate, and to assume it’s going to be off by 20% or even more might be blind optimism at this point. It’s going to take some unexpected good play to get the Suns in the hunt for a 0.500 record, let alone a playoff spot.

  • Ty-Sun

    I agree that Dallas and GS have “fragile” teams this year. Minn is going to start the season with injury problems. I’m not going to waste time going through all the teams in the West but I will say that, if the Suns can avoid any major injuries, they will do much better than predicted.

  • suns68

    The Suns seem to have done better in the preseason than I expected, so I’m more optimistic than I was.

    Of course we’re talking a pretty low bar here, as I initially expected this year’s Suns to be the second-worst in team history, behind only the expansion Suns.

    I still have a hard time seeing this as a playoff team unless somebody (I’m looking at you, Beasley and Johnson) really steps it up and plays better than they ever have before.

  • ShanMan

    I don’t see why everyone is stating that the Suns are gonna be awful. Do they not know Dragic averaged 18ppg and 8apg as a starter in Houston? We all knew this guy could ball if he has confidence, exactly what starting gave him. In the Suns system, the 2 guard needs to be able to shoot and run the break to be successful, something we have with Dudley/Brown/Johnson. Do people not realize Beasley as a “bust” avaeraged 16.7 ppg as a starter in his career and now is playing in a system that suits his play style? Or that Scola is a scrappy forward who can give you 14-16 points and 8 rebounds a night? Most people don’t even consider a 15ppg and 10rpg double double machine like Gortat a top center. I’ll tell you a team stinks if they do, but this looks like a playoff team to me. Title? Not likely, unless Beasley remembers what he was in Kansas and reminds himself why he was considered the other Durant. But I have a hard time seeing this team any lower than 8th seed. Suns never get any love, even in 04-05 there were haters.

  • Scott

    It will be interesting to see what we’ve got this year in Phoenix.

    Won’t be long now. :)

  • Scott

    BTW, the Suns just played the Kings (winning, 103-88) and we might see in that game the basic lineup for this season’s Suns.

    Here’s who played: Gortat, Scola, Beasley, Dudley, Dragic, Morris, Tucker, Brown, O’Neal, Telfair, and Johnson. It looked like they all had minutes in line with a regular season game, with Tucker the only player under 10 min.

    DNP: Diogu, Frye, Garrett, Jones, Marshall, Zeller

    The only surprise, I suppose, is that Marshall didn’t play, but you must expect Telfair to be doing everything he can to push him out of a spot.

    As for the game, the Suns got off to a bad start, committing 7 TOs in 4 min. But they settled down, and the Kings – playing a more typical pre-season extended rotation – never really got closer than 6 points in the 2nd half.

    Dudley was the high scorer for the Suns with 25 pts, and Tom Rob was the leading scorer for the Kings with 17.

  • Abe

    Suns will be at least 7th Seed in the West, mark my word! We have a good starting 5, our bench needs chemistry.

  • DanC133

    Well a computer sim is only as good as the info put into it. I’m certain they used Dragic’s full season numbers and not his starting numbers. As a starter he was putting up numbers like CP3 and that would definitely change the results.

  • Kyle

    I agree with basically everyone else. I think the suns are going to be much better than anyone is giving them credit for. Scola is a scrapper on the boards and will probably average close to 10 a game. Goran averaged 12 point and 5 assists per game last season on a Rockets team that had much less talent than this suns team. Beasley gives the suns an athletic player who can create his own shot which we badly needed last season. Gortat is easily the most underrated center in the league, averaging a double double. I’m not saying title but I do think we’ll surprise some people and at least make the play offs.