It's time for Portland to rebuild
Hello darkness my old friend...
The Phoenix Suns' season is officially over, and they've missed the playoffs for the eighth consecutive year. Of course, every basketball fan has known for months that the team had no shot at a postseason berth—the Suns fired head coach Earl Watson just three games into the season and were 12 games below .500 by mid-December. Finishing up at 21-61, the Suns have the worst record in the NBA, but star shooting guard Devin Booker has his mind set on finally turning around the team's losing ways—and soon.
“I'm done not making the playoffs,” Booker told reporters. “I'm serious. This is probably my last year ever not making the playoffs.”
Booker, of course, deserves no blame for the Suns' disastrous campaign. The 21-year-old phenom averaged a whopping 24.9 points per game to go along with 4.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds, providing one of the few bright spots on a roster desperate for talent. Aside from missing a good chunk of games due to injuries, Booker did just about all that could be reasonably expected of him this season. In the 54 games Booker played, the Suns' winning percentage was 29.6, which doesn't seem noteworthy until you consider that the team won a pathetic 17.9 percent of its games without its top weapon.
Booker wasn't flawless, however. Areas in which he could improve include scoring efficiency (43.2 field-goal percentage) and taking care of the basketball (3.6 turnovers per game). Of course, those numbers are in part a result of a lack of talent surrounding Booker, which forces him to frequently attempt difficult plays.
Clearly a talented kid who has plenty of room to grow, Booker's win-now mentality is encouraging. If he puts in the work—which it seems he is willing to do—he could become a truly special player. But the Suns will still need to provide more help if they want to build a contender around their sharpshooting youngster.
Fortunately, the Suns are in a great position to add young talent, as they have the best odds of all NBA teams to land the top pick in this year's draft. Phoenix should have a strong chance at nabbing a big man like DeAndre Ayton or Marvin Bagley, which would be a huge addition to a team whose talent is mostly on the perimeter (Booker, T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson). If Booker continues down the path to superstardom, Warren and Jackson develop, and the Phoenix executives make a good choice at the top of the draft, this team could get back to a winning culture in the near future.
Booker, however, may have to struggle through another non-playoff campaign or two before getting a taste of the postseason. In order to reach the playoffs next year, the Suns would have to leapfrog not only non-playoff teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers but also playoff-caliber squads like the Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets, and New Orleans Pelicans. The Suns making that kind of leap seems highly unlikely, especially considering how raw college prospects are these days.
The Suns have some strong assets, from a potential superstar in Booker to a rock-solid role-playing big man in Alex Len to one of the top four picks in the upcoming draft. If Phoenix can develop all of those assets to their full potential, the team could be dangerous, but the key word is “develop.” These things take time, and as eager as Booker is to fight his way into the postseason, he's going to have to wait for a playoff-caliber supporting cast to grow around him.