5 predictions for the Phoenix Suns' 2016-17 season

Posted at 5:03 PM, Oct 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-26 20:54:20-04

With a ton of young talent at their disposal, the Phoenix Suns will try to improve upon last year's dismal 23-59 campaign beginning Wednesday night when they host the Sacramento Kings in their regular-season opener.

Things can't get much worse than they did last season -- can they? Here are five predictions for the 2016-17 Suns.

1. Devin Booker will be the Suns' leading scorer. 

Even LeBron James has noticed just how much potential the Suns' second-year guard has. In his rookie year, Booker was a revelation for the Suns during an otherwise forgettable season.

Taking advantage of extended playing time due to numerous injuries, the 19-year-old Booker (he'll turn 20 on Sunday) averaged over 19 points per game after the All-Star break last season, and he easily led the Suns in scoring during preseason play. He's already one of the best pure shooters in the league and could be an All-Star as early as this season.

2. Marquese Chriss will be the Suns' best rookie.

Speaking of talented players under 20, the 19-year-old forward/center out of Washington was the Suns' top rookie performer during the preseason. In six preseason games, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft averaged 12.2 points and 5.5 rebounds and shot 46.8 percent from the field.

Chriss needs to learn to stay out of foul trouble -- he averaged over four fouls per game in preseason play -- but he seems more likely to make an immediate contribution in the NBA than 18-year-old forward/center Dragan Bender, whom the Suns selected four picks earlier than Chriss in the 2016 draft.

3. Brandon Knight will be traded.

The Suns acquired guard Brandon Knight from the Bucks in a midseason trade in the 2014-15 season and signed him to a 5-year, $70 million contract extension before the 2015-16 season began. But rumors have persisted for months that Phoenix is interested in shipping Knight out of town.

As recently as June, ESPN's Marc Stein said the Suns were looking to move Knight or fellow guard Eric Bledsoe before the season. That obviously didn't happen, but the Suns are still guard-heavy even after waiving Archie Goodwin on Monday -- and with Knight being relegated to the bench in favor of Booker, it really does seem like the sixth-year pro's days in the Valley are numbered.

4. They'll win more games than they did last season...

This won't be a difficult feat, as the Suns' 23 victories in 2015-16 were the lowest total for the franchise since its inaugural season in 1968-69. The Suns are in full rebuilding mode, but they have a ton of raw talent, featuring Booker, a trio of promising rookies and young up-and-comers in center Alex Len and forward T.J. Warren.

The key to improving over last season will be health. Bledsoe missed most of last season with a knee injury, while Warren and others also missed significant time. Health permitting, this season's Suns should climb closer to .500. Something in the 32-34-win range seems plausible.

5. ...but they'll miss the playoffs for the seventh straight year.

If the Suns played in the Eastern Conference, they could sneak into the playoffs this season. But that won't happen in the West, where at least nine teams (and probably more) will enter the season with more talent than this year's Suns.

The 2016-17 Suns are too young and inexperienced to be one of the eight best teams in the West after an arduous 82-game season. The good news is that would mean yet another lottery draft pick for the Suns and a chance to add another piece to what they hope will be a championship-winning puzzle several years down the road.