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.

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