In their 50th season, Suns patient in developing young team
PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns probably won’t have much to celebrate in terms of wins and losses in the franchise’s 50th year.
The Suns’ plan for eventual success is called “the timeline,” referring to the rate of growth and maturation of young talent to the point the team will contend again. With a roster dotted with players not yet old enough to buy a beer, that point seems a few years away.
The Suns do have a burgeoning star in Devin Booker, a steady point guard in Eric Bledsoe and an intriguing rookie in Josh Jackson.
It will be the job of Earl Watson, entering his second full season as coach, to keep nurturing the young talent toward eventual success.
“They’re young. It’s a blank canvas,” Watson said. “We understand their skill is so high, experience is much-needed.”
Booker is entering his third season but he’s still just 20 years old. Marquese Chriss and Jackson also are 20. Dragan Bender is 19.
The Suns went 24-58 last season, second-worst in the league. They probably would have won a few more had they not decided to sit Bledsoe the final 15 games of the season.
The public reason was to give young players more opportunity. The real reason was to improve the team’s chances in the draft lottery. It didn’t work. Phoenix wound up with the No. 5 pick.
But they love the guy they got, the versatile and multi-talented Jackson.
The Suns haven’t made the playoffs in six years, the longest drought in franchise history. A seventh straight year out of the postseason is likely.
Here are some things to consider about the Suns this season:
BOOKER’S GROWTH: Booker averaged 22 points per game last season and in Boston became the sixth player in the NBA to score 70 in a game.
This summer, Kevin Durant praised Booker’s toughness and talent.
“He’s next — I’m telling you,” Durant said.
Booker, already complimented by the likes of LeBron James, appreciated the compliment.
“I know I’m on the right path.” Booker said. “Kevin Durant was a young player at one time in this league trying to make a name for himself and I feel like that I’m in the same situation.”
Booker’s task this season, Watson said, is to improve his rebounding and defense.
DREADFUL DEFENSE: Phoenix allowed 113.3 points per game, most of any team in the NBA.
“Our strength is our athleticism, our versatility and scoring,” veteran Jared Dudley said. “Our weakness, because we’re young, is that the knowledge of the game defensively has been pretty poor.”
Jackson might improve that, eventually anyway. He was considered probably the best defender in the draft.
JACKSON’S GAME: A survey of league general managers chose Jackson as the rookie who would have the best career after five years.
Watson called him ” a superstar just waiting to happen with experience.”
His rebounding, floor awareness and defense are big strengths. His shooting can be erratic but Dudley expects that to improve.
Dudley called Jackson a Kawhi Leonard-type player. Leonard wasn’t a great shooter in college but is one of the game’s better ones now.
Watson traced Jackson’s basketball intelligence to his talent at chess. Jackson formed a chess club in school in the fourth grade.
BLEDSOE ON POINT: Bledsoe didn’t like being benched down the stretch last season.
“I think I was playing the best basketball I’ve ever played in my life,” he said.
But he was a good soldier about it.
“Things happen that I can’t control but I was cheering my team on every step of the way,” Bledsoe said.
He also heard all the trade talk leading up to the draft, when it appeared Phoenix might choose a point guard.
“I couldn’t control the talk that was going on,” Bledsoe said. “If it was going to happen, it was going to happen.”
It didn’t, and now Booker and Bledsoe could form one of the better and most entertaining backcourts in the league.
BOOKER & DANIELS: Last year in a loss to Memphis, Booker and Troy Daniels got into a scuffle and the two exchanged some harsh words.
“I don’t know why he would be talking to me,” Booker said afterward. “He’s been on five teams in three years and he has the nerve to talk trash to me.”
The Suns traded for Daniels, so now the two are teammates.
“He’s a competitor,” Booker said. “We said what we said. At the end of the day as a man you move on. I think he’s a special player that will be a big help to our team.”
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