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Center of the Sun: Phoenix Suns finish the first week of preseason at 1-2

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Deandre Ayton shines even as the team struggles out of the gate.

Portland Trail Blazers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

vs Sacramento Kings L (106-102) Full Recap

vs New Zealand Breakers W (91-86) Full Recap

vs Portland Trail Blazers L (115-93) Full Recap

It’s already been a rough start for the Suns and new head coach Igor Kokoskov. First, a four-point loss to the Kings, then, a way-too-close win against the non-NBA New Zealand Breakers and finally a 22-point beating by the Trail Blazers... all at home.

Yes, star player Devin Booker has missed all three games, and preseason games are really just “practice” games that don’t count in the win/loss column, but I had hoped for a better beginning.

Perhaps we would have gotten that with better point guard play.

That’s not really a knock on the four guys that have played point for the Suns. They’ve played hard, but none of them are ready to start for an NBA team and none of them should have been pushed into that role. The fact is that between the four, the Suns have two players — Isaiah Canaan and Shaquille Harrison — that have proven themselves to be fairly good backup point guards and two more — Elie Okobo and De’Anthony Melton — that are rookies with “potential”. That just hasn’t been good enough.

Without Devin Booker on the court, their shortcomings became more apparent and have had a larger influence on the team’s play. Booker’s return will only help to mask that problem, not fix it entirely, and the Suns will continue to struggle... just to a lesser degree.

In Booker’s absence, Josh Jackson was moved into his spot in the starting unit. Jackson’s play has not been spectacular by any stretch of the imagination in that role. I do believe that he’s been quite valuable in helping to define the roles of the rest of the starters for when Booker returns though. While Jackson can’t be Booker, he’s probably the best one to play his role as everyone is trying to learn Kokoskov’s new offense.

Like Booker, Josh has that alpha mentality and won’t shy away from challenges. So far he has led the team in field goal attempts, three point attempts and minutes per game and has been playing as though he’s the number one option on offense. Isn’t that what we all expect from Booker when he returns to 100 percent? My point is that I don’t expect that anyone will have to make more than minor adjustments in the way they play when Devin returns and that will help everyone in the long run.

Even with the team’s struggles, the play of Deandre Ayton has been a very bright spot in an otherwise unspectacular preseason. Averaging 21.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game, he has already shown why he was the No. 1 pick in the draft and looks to be a major piece of the Suns’ rebuilding puzzle. Waiting to see him and Booker together on the court reminds me of the anticipation I feel whenever I smell a prime ribeye sizzling on the grill and know that it will soon be on my plate.

Suns fans have dealt with famine for far to long and, so far, the preseason appetizers haven’t been that filling... or appetizing. Hopefully, when the main course finally arrives it will have been well worth the wait.


Fantable Questions of the Week

1. What are your first impressions of the Suns as a whole?

2. Which player(s) impressed you the most?

3. Which player(s) disappointed you the most?

GuarGuar: 1. The first game against Sacramento was good and had me feeling very positive about our upcoming season. The next two games against the Breakers and Blazers were the complete opposite. I was completely reminded about how awful this team was the past couple of seasons. And that did not make me feel good. Especially when we have a new coach and an abundance of new players. Effort was clearly and issue in both games and Igor stressed that in both post game press conferences. It is mildly concerning that Igor is having issues getting strong efforts as a first year coach. The offense has looked really bad, but I attribute most of that to not having a quality point guard. The defense looks lost at times and has been very poor too. Our pick and roll coverage against the Blazers was Earl Watson-esque. Hopefully things get better in these final two preseason games. I desperately want this to be a much better season.

2. Deandre Ayton has looked like a No. 1 pick in these first three preseason games. He’s been very good and very consistent. His defense has been solid through 3 games and I hope that it translates into the regular season. He still can get a little lost in space sometimes on D, but that’s not a big concern as he’s a rookie. If he can be a great rim protector like he’s shown so far, that drastically changes his player outlook from draft time. I’m salivating thinking of Booker-Ayton pick and rolls.

Outside of Ayton, the only other players who have looked good are Trevor Ariza, De’Anthony Melton, and Richaun Holmes. I’ve never seen Ariza dribble so much in his career, but he’s doing it and so far so good. Melton had a great game in garbage time against the Blazers. I’m hoping he gets the start against Golden State and more playing time. Holmes has looked better than Tyson Chandler and has great energy, so I’m hoping he is our backup center to start the season.

3. There are quite a few players who have been disappointing so far. I’ll get the big one out of the way first in Dragan Bender. He looks scared and somehow looked like he’s regressed. It’s almost a lock at this point we won’t pick up his option for next season. I feel bad for Dragan because everyone is giving him a hard time, but he has looked absolutely awful.

Davon Reed looks nothing like what we saw in Summer League this offseason. He has no rhythm and hasn’t even been good defensively so far. Taking him over Jordan Bell (who was the obvious choice at the time) is looking more and more like a mistake.

Shaquille Harrison’s jump shot doesn’t look like it’s made any progress. His passing doesn’t look like it’s improved either. We are probably in big trouble if he is our starting point guard on opening night.

Josh Jackson looked phenomenal against the Kings. But against the Breakers and Blazers he was atrocious and looked like the JJ from Summer League. It’s mainly because he’s our #1 guard option with Booker out and Josh starts forcing everything. Once Booker comes back, JJ won’t be relied upon like this and he should settle down. His playmaking has looked better though and he has a clear connection with Ayton.

Sun-Arc: 1. First impressions? Not good overall. Not good at all. The team is behind in offensive schemes than I thought they would be- and I say that knowing they weren’t going to look good out of the gate. While there have been some good moments- particularly between Josh and Ayton in the first game, there has also been a lot of on-court confusion and guys standing around instead of moving without the ball. And, obviously, we really need a starting level VET point guard that can help run the team the way Igor wants it. Bringing in a Tyus Jones, Spencer Dinwiddie, or Delon Wright likely won’t help much at all this season - given where we are. Patrick Beverley or Goran Dragic would really help for the next season or two.

2. AYTON (duh). Even though I had projected him to be better on D than nearly anyone was predicting, he’s more advanced than I thought he’d be right away. That’s amazing. His rebounding is translating better than I’d thought too. He seems to be super smart, plays within himself (which has few limits!), doesn’t force anything, stays calm, and so far is pretty dominant. And thank god for Ariza showing the young guys what to do. Eventually his leadership and hard work on the court will pay off.

3. Harrison is really disappointing me. I really thought he was more capable than what we’ve seen. I was, apparently, wrong about his ability to take what he was doing in summer league and translate it to this season. Same with Reed, thus far. I think they may need more time, more instruction, more practice under Igor. At least I hope they start showing us all something. Same with Mikal Bridges. Mikal is much more NBA ready than what he’s shown thus far - which is one of the reasons I think the missing link at PG plus Igor’s somewhat complicated schemes may just mean these guys need more time.

SDKyle: 1. The Suns aren’t very good. The ball movement leads a lot to be desired even under a new coach, with very few players on the floor showing the ability to get the ball inside to Ayton or even to find their open teammates on the rare occasions they popped open. That stemmed from the fact that the off-ball movement was pretty bad too.

In fairness, the absence of Booker is enormous. He likely will make a significant difference when he returns, due to the attention he draws on offense and his solid passing ability. Again, though, we’re crippled by our lack of a playmaker. Not sure how many more times this needs to be said.

2. Ayton for fairly obvious reasons. He’s consistently the best player on the floor in these preseason games. He scores confidently and efficiently with the jumper and at the rim. His defense looked good to me, with only the fairly occasional and expected lapses. I’m becoming more and more confident that he can be a very good NBA player right now, and a star very soon.

3. This is a tough one. I don’t think there’s any single Sun who I could say disappointed me because for the most part they played about as I expected. I was disappointed that Jackson didn’t carry his strong first game through the others, even though he looked like our best passing connection to Ayton. But can I really be disappointed by Bender anymore? Nah. Can I be disappointed in guys like Troy Daniels or Elie Okobo? Not really.

If there was a major disappointment it was just in having it confirmed that minus acquiring a strong PG presence, this can be a long hard year. Again.

SouthernSun: 1. My first impressions of the Suns as a whole is that so far this team looks like hot garbage. But I think mainly that’s because really the only player with any playmaking ability on the team currently is Jackson, and he’s more intent on looking for his own shot in Booker’s absence than getting others involved (despite getting plenty of assists). Our point guard rotation is incapable of running an offense, and the veterans we brought in are mostly guys who are complementary. They need a point guard to get them the ball in their spots. But the Suns don’t have anybody who can do that except Jackson, and he’s too busy jacking up 19 shots on horrible efficiency. And one small forward shouldn’t be the only player on the team who can make plays anyway.

2. Ayton! I really like Ayton. Pretty sure all of us do. What a monster. He is exceeding my expectations so far. And he actually looks decent defensively (something I sort of assumed would be the case). Dude is filling the stat sheet all over the place. Huge dunks. Pretty moves around the basket on occasion. Finding the open man when he’s doubled. He looks legit.

3. Every point guard who has stepped on the floor has disappointed me. Well.. actually they haven’t. I knew they weren’t going to be any good. So I can’t technically be disappointed. But somehow I still am. I would have rather been wrong than been right. Shaq is a good defender. Not a great one. And he can’t do anything offensively like at all. He’s basically Ronnie Price. Which is fine. Ronnie Price had a long NBA career and occasionally started some games on bad Lakers and Suns teams. But if you’re trying to win games, you need better at the point guard position. Isaiah Canaan is below average at everything pretty much. But that actually makes him better than the others at most things. Melton and Okobo are 2nd round rookies who nobody should expect to contribute anything for another couple years at least because that’s what logic tells us.

Bridges hasn’t looked like much of a difference maker, but then again, he’s a complementary guy, like the vets. Needs to be spoon fed shots. I still think Otto Porter is his likely ceiling. Which is great. But Otto didn’t look very good his first couple years.

Jackson sometimes impresses me and sometimes disappoints me, but I guess I’ll have to go with overall disappointment. He shows plenty of flashes. His role should be limited much more than it is now. He shouldn’t be taking nearly as many shots as he is. Booker coming back will help that. I still think he will look like a quality player this season when it’s all said and done.

Reed looks crappy but I expected it. Bender looks crappy too, but we all expected that (I don’t care that he had one game where he semi looked competent).

Get a point guard. And not a Mike James bargain bin guy. Trade a first-round pick for somebody decent. Please. This team sorely needs it.

Alex Sylvester: 1. I’ll try to keep this as concise as possible:

Deandre Ayton is not “as advertised”... he’s even better.

Being engaged in #NBATwitter and keeping up with draft talk over the summer, you’d think that Deandre Ayton was picked No. 6 overall, not No. 1.

It seems that most on air personalities think that if they continually insist Luka Doncic is the best player by far in this draft, they’ll sound smart.

Newsflash, Ayton is a MONSTER.

After watching two games, I get the sense that he can legitimately have a chance at averaging 20/10/2 right out the gate.

My other key observation: The Suns need a starting PG very badly. Bold take, I know.

2. Deandre leads this list, but I was impressed with Jackson in the first game and Ariza in the second. TJ is TJ and it’s great to see him continuing to score at a high efficiency. That’s really it for now.

3. It’s not even at the point where I’m disappointed anymore. That word implies I had expectations to begin with.

But oh boy is Dragan Bender a bad basketball player. I don’t want to rail on the kid more than that, but it’s fairly obvious he’s years away from having a chance of being a quality rotation player.

And that’s incredibly sad.

As always, many thanks to our Fantable - GuarGuar, SDKyle, Sun-Arc, SouthernSun and Alex Sylvester - for all their input!


Key Stats

9 assists

Nine is the total number of assists handed out by all four of the Suns’ point guards in the past three games. That’s 9 of the 61 total team assists (14.7%) and an average of 3 assists per game combined. Three of those nine assists belong to Isaiah Canaan, who got them all during one game, and that is the highest assist total in a single game by a Suns’ PG to date. Josh Jackson leads the team in assists with 5.3 per game.

Weekly Book Report

Still recovering from hand surgery. He could return in approximately 2 weeks.

Random Stats: Averaging only 10.7 minutes per game (12th), Richaun Holmes is 3rd in rebounding for the Suns with 5.0 rebounds per game. Josh Jackson leads the team in field goal attempts (15 per game) but is 8th in FG percentage (35.6%). T.J. Warren is 7th in FG attempts (4.7 per game) but leads the team in FG percentage (71.4%).

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com and/or Basketball-Reference.com.


Game Highlights

Phoenix Suns Team Highlights 2018.10.01 vs Kings - Ayton DEBUT!

New Zealand Breakers vs Phoenix Suns - Full Game Highlights | Oct 3, 2018 | NBA Preseason

NBA PS Portland Trail Blazers vs Phoenix Suns Oct 5, 2018


Quotes of the Week

”If we have a challenge, you can quit and play victim, or you can be a player. If you have a high attitude and high energy, then you’re a player, but if you don’t have it, you turn yourself into a victim, like how we’re playing.” - Igor Kokoskov (following the Portland game)

”Every day, it gets better. I’m happy about it. Finally shooting a little bit with my right hand. It feels good. I hadn’t take a shot in over three weeks with it. It felt really good.” - Devin Booker


Rookie Report

Deandre Ayton - 30.9 mpg, 21.3 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 1.7 apg, 0.7 spg, 3.0 bpg, 1.7 TO, 2.7 PF

Mikal Bridges - 15.5 mpg, 1.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 0.0 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.5 bpg, 0.5 TO, 3.2 PF

Elie Okobo - 14.8 mpg, 4.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.3 bpg, 1.3 TO, 2.0 PF

De’Anthony Melton - 9.5 mpg, 6.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.5 bpg, 1.0 TO, 1.5 PF

George King - 7.0 mpg, 3.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 0.0 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.0 TO, 1.0 PF

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.


News & Notes

Suns would flourish with proven point guard like Damian Lillard. Duane Rankin/Arizona Republic

Suns still working out kinks of Kokoskov’s system in loss to Portland. Kellan Olson/Arizona Sports

NBA Rumors: 5 Realistic Point Guards Options For The Phoenix Suns. Fadeaway World

‘I’m the anchor’: Phoenix Suns ready to build defense around Ayton. The Verde Independent

Former Utah Jazz asst. Igor Kokoskov in for tough challenge with Phoenix Suns. The J Notes

Suns feeling good about Devin Booker’s progress in recovery from hand injury. Duane Rankin/Arizona Republic

Phoenix Suns: 3 goals for Dragan Bender in 2018-19. Gerald Bourguet/Hoops Habit


This Week in Suns History

On Oct. 11, 2008, the Suns lost a preseason match-up with the Denver Nuggets 77-72 at the Indian Wells (California) Tennis Garden. The game is noteworthy because it was the first NBA game played outdoors in three decades.


Suns Trivia

Before long-time play-by-play broadcaster Al McCoy joined the Suns organization in 1970, he was the play-by-play man for the Phoenix Roadrunners hockey team of the now-defunct Western Hockey League/World Hockey Association.


Previewing the Week Ahead

Oct. 8 - Phoenix Suns @ Golden State Warriors, 7:30 p.m. AZT

Oct. 10 - Phoenix Suns @ Portland Trail Blazers, 7:30 p.m. AZT

Just two more preseason games before the regular season kicks off next week. They are both on the road and they are both against tough opponents.

Golden State is... well, they’re Golden State. The current world champs by far outclass the Suns - especially with Devin Booker sidelined - even if their stars wind up playing only token minutes. Probably the main storyline of this game will be whether former Suns Tyler Ulis and Danuel House Jr will make the Suns regret letting them go.

The final preseason game is a rematch against the Trail Blazers. I don’t expect a result much different from the one in last Friday’s game, especially playing on Portland’s home court.

I expect the Suns to go 0-2 this week and finish the preseason games with a 1-4 record but, thankfully, these games don’t count. I am hopeful that we will at least see Deandre Ayton add two more double-doubles to his resume though.

Get well soon, Devin Booker.


Last Week’s Poll Results

The poll was “The Suns will finish the preseason with a _____ record.”

09.0% - 5-0

11.7% - 4-1

44.7% - 3-2

24.7% - 2-3

06.0% - 1-4

04.0% - 0-5

There were a total of 255 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

In the first 3 preseason games, the Suns overall performance was...

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Better than I expected.
    (2 votes)
  • 41%
    What I expected.
    (70 votes)
  • 57%
    Worse than I expected.
    (97 votes)
169 votes total Vote Now