What: Washington Wizards visit Phoenix Suns
When: 7:00 PM AZ Time
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
After a scorching start to his third season, averaging nearly 25-4-4 since getting rid of Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker went down with a scary groin injury on Tuesday night in Toronto.
Luckily, the Suns dodged a huge bullet as Booker was only diagnosed with a moderate left adductor strain which will keep him out for two-to-three weeks.
Here’s the next 10 games, possibly all without Booker:
12/7 - Wizards
12/9 - Spurs
12/12 - @Kings
12/13 - Raptors
12/16 - @Timberwolves
12/18 - @Mavericks
12/20 - @Clippers
12/21 - Grizzlies
12/23 - Timberwolves
12/26 - Grizzlies
It could get rough here for the Suns, as on last night’s Locked On Suns, Kellan Olson, Brendon Kleen, and I all predicted a 1-9 stretch.
T.J. Warren now is thrust into the No. 1 option for the first time in his career, so that will be interesting to watch. The last time he played Washington, Tony Buckets dropped 40 on them.
Without John Wall, who’s out with knee soreness, the Wizards march on with Bradley Beal taking both the primary scoring and playmaking roles.
In his last outing Tuesday against Portland, Beal dropped 51 points so we’ll see if he can carry that hot streak to Phoenix tonight. If so, it might get ugly rather quickly.
It’s also important to note that when Phoenix won in Washington on November 4, they were without Otto Porter Jr. at the time. Porter, one of their better on-ball defenders, being out opened up a lot of extra space for a scorer like Warren to operate.
Thus far on the year, Washington has looked like a their usual top four selves out in the East alongside Cleveland, Boston, Toronto, and Milwaukee, even though their 13-11 record won’t exactly show it.
Either way, once Wall returns, I expect Washington to rev back up the engines and return to their post All-Star break form from early 2017.
Probable Wizards starters: Tim Frazier, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr., Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat
Without Booker, how will the Suns look to compensate for it? With Booker off the court, Phoenix’s overall offensive effectiveness nosedives in terms of offensive rating and true-shooting percentage.
Check out how Phoenix has fared with Booker in terms of on/off court numbers since October 25 (first game without Earl Watson and Bledsoe):
On - OffRtg = 105.6 (12th), TS% = 55.5 (T14th)
Off - OffRtg = 98.6 (28th), TS% = 50.5 (30th)
As you can tell, Booker was the main cog in Phoenix’s machine and for obvious reasons. He began to blossom into an all-around player who’s efficiency rose significantly this year compared to last.
It’s fair to suggest that the Suns will need to see Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss, and Dragan Bender expand into larger roles over the next few weeks. And this might be the perfect time to see it, too.
Simply put, Chriss and Bender need to show a lot more flashes than they have. Sure, they both have taken steps. Baby steps, not normal ones.
Both are showing their capabilities, but one needs to pop over these next few weeks as the possible third scoring option. Last year, we saw Chriss finish as Second Team All-Rookie, but he came into Las Vegas Summer League out of shape according to general manager Ryan McDonough.
They were planning to build Chriss out as a 5-type, but they scratched that only three games into his second season.
The one player I really want to see step up, though, is Jackson. Phoenix’s No. 4 selection was the primary reason Kyrie Irving isn’t alongside Booker. McDonough bet on Jackson hitting, as did a lot of other league executives as the best prospect five years from now, and he really has to.
For Phoenix to take that title contending step eventually, Jackson needs to develop into that defensive fulcrum alongside the likes of another Michigan man in Draymond Green.
In their last preseason game, when Booker and Warren both sat out, Jackson took over as the team’s alpha and finished with a line of 22-7-2-2-1.
I’m hoping we see that consistently now, because compared to other rookie wings he’s lagging behind at the moment, as far as consistent two-way production.
These next 10 games will be pivotal to see what actual talent is on this roster outside of a consistent All-Star threat in Booker.
Matchup to watch for: Josh Jackson vs. Bradley Beal
As Jackson told me earlier in the season, he doesn’t shy away from any competition. The bigger names like LeBron James and Kevin Durant? He feeds off of that.
We saw him show those tenacious defensive plays that reminded me of a young Ron Artest at points against James Harden, Jamal Crawford, and even Ben Simmons.
It’s early, but Jackson is already developing a knack for getting under opposing players’ skin with his pesky defense.
After denying Simmons a lane to the rim, Jackson is thrown down by Simmons going up for a rebound:
Josh Jackson was definitely frustrating Ben Simmons at points when they were matched up: pic.twitter.com/hF89sCkXmB— Evan Sidery (@esidery) December 5, 2017
With Booker out, expect Jackson and Troy Daniels to get the lion’s share of minutes now at shooting guard.
Jackson has the speed to stay in front of guards, so I’ll be looking to see if he brings the intensity even higher tonight against Beal.
The cream needs to rise up to the top of this roster over these next few weeks, and Jackson has my early bets to do so.
For me, he’s the one that needs to be called upon to bring it.
Now, lets see if he does against one of the best young scoring guards in Beal on both ends.
Probable Suns starters: Unknown (Without Booker against Minnesota, Jay Triano rolled with Ulis-Jackson-Warren-Monroe-Chandler but I’m guessing it’s much different this time around)