Nobody will dispute that the Suns will be in the lottery for the 2017 NBA draft, but there are a lot of encouraging signs coming from the team early in the 2016-17 season. One of the most encouraging is how well 23 year-old small forward T.J. Warren has been playing so far. Through 11 games Warren is averaging career-highs in almost every statistical category, including his scoring (20 points per game), rebounding (5 rebounds per game), and steals (2.1 steals per game). He’s also averaging a career-high 35.7 minutes per game in his first season as a starter. While his season is coming as a surprise to most, to anybody who’s been following Phoenix the past couple years this shouldn’t come as a shock. Devin Booker has garnered most of the attention coming into the year following an impressive rookie campaign where he was on the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team after averaging 13.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and .6 steals per game. And while Booker has completely overshadowed Warren in the media, their numbers through the first 11 games of the year aren’t much different. Booker is just edging Warren in points by .2, averaging 20.2 per game to lead the Suns in scoring and is averaging only a percentage point more steals per game and only 3 rebounds – in contrast to Warren’s 5. Warren seemed to just be finding his stride last January when a foot injury cost him the rest of the season and has picked up where he left off and then some. Currently the Suns are one of only four teams to have three players averaging at least 18 points per game, with Eric Bledsoe averaging 18.4 per contest to join Warren and Booker at that level of scoring. Two of the other three teams with three players averaging at least 18 points per played each other in the Finals last year, so it’s safe to say the Suns are in good company.
Phoenix’s 3-8 record may not impress, but the play of this young crop of guys they’ve got together there seems like a sign of good things to come. It’s worth noting that Brandon Knight isn’t exactly thriving in that sixth man role the Suns have him in this year – averaging just a hair over 11 points per game, 2.7 rebounds per game, and 3.1 assists per game while shooting an abysmal 24% from beyond the arc and just 34% in general. The additions of former run-and-gun Suns Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa may have been blips on the radar of this past summer’s free agency, but the veteran presence these two bring to the table will be important in molding a young rosters into professionals. Rookie Marquese Chriss brings a lot of energy with him when he’s on the court, even if he’s only getting about 14 and a half minutes per game. His highlight reel dunks are becoming routine and he’s already earned himself 4 starts early in the year with more surely to come. Alex Len and Tyson Chandler are combining for about 20 rebounds per game, the kind of inside presence Phoenix hasn’t had since the days of Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion. Earl Watson has done a great job coaching these guys and deserves credit as well for a lot of these promising signs (including Steve Kerr saying they’re “a team that’s going to be interesting to watch over the next couple years.”). Watson’s confidence in the team showed in his comments after their loss to Golden State Nov. 13th, “Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, five years from now, you’re going to say Eric Bledsoe, T.J. Warren, Devin Booker.” That may be a bold prediction, but it isn’t quite far-fetched based on their play early on this season.
A top candidate for Most Improved Player in T.J. Warren, a strong start to Booker’s sophomore season, Bledsoe’s consistent play, and a head coach who’s over the moon about his guys – yeah, things are starting to look up for the Phoenix Suns.