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Preview: It’s Joel vs. Deandre, round one... and oh yeah a few other guys

The Suns face the new-look Sixers in Philadelphia right as the Eastern Conference challengers are rounding into shape.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns at Philadelphia 76ers

When: 7:00 p.m.

Where: The City of Brotherly Love

TV: Fox Sports Arizona

Radio: 98.7 FM

If only the Suns and Sixers were in the same competitive stratosphere. The Sixers are working on their second straight 50-win season, while the Suns are still languishing in rebuild mode on their way to another sub-30 win season.

But hey, at least we have some good drama involved here, with a pair of characters in Sixers center Joel Embiid and Suns rookie center Deandre Ayton.

The exchange

The players

Are Ayton and Embiid the same player? Hardly.

Look how their rookie seasons compare and you will see that Embiid — who admittedly was two years older than Ayton at the time — was a much more impactful offensive player, and this does not even consider the differences between them on defense.

Clearly, Ayton is still developing and growing, but he just isn’t the player Embiid was two years ago, let alone on Monday night, Nov. 19, 2018.

Let’s compare today’s Ayton to today’s Embiid, because that’s who is actually playing on Monday.

Don’t be too disappointed if Ayton gets waxed.

Embiid leads the entire NBA in minutes played, total points, field goals, free throws, rebounds and defensive win shares.

The OTHER players

So there’s about 20 other players who will take court on Monday night, who will account for 80% of all the counting stats and... frankly, will decide the outcome of the game. Neither of Ayton or Embiid can win the game by themselves.

Embiid has two guys in co-Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons and four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler around him, while the Suns have the “step-slow” Devin Booker (as he said after Saturday’s loss) and a number of players who stake claim as being the third best player on any given night, which only means the Suns don’t have a third best player.

Behind Embiid, Simmons and Butler, the Sixers have the ever-wonderful JJ Redick running incessantly off picks to drain open jumpers, but otherwise are a bit thin on high-producing players. Markelle Fultz, rookie Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, veteran Amir Johnson and big man Mike Muscala round out the main rotation players after the big trade for Butler.

The Sixers are 2-1 since acquiring Butler, including a Butler game-winning three-pointer to down the Hornets and Kemba Walker’s 60 points on Saturday night.

More Suns notes

Devin Booker admitted Saturday night that he’s “a step slow” lately, but refused to elaborate on what’s ailing him. There have been comments over the weeks of the hamstring strain and some back tightness, but Booker’s having none of that injury talk and is simply playing through it.

It appears that Booker is having trouble getting enough burst for drives to the basket or lift for his jumpers, so he’s turning to playmaking as his primary mode of offense.

In the last two games, Booker has 24 assists versus eight turnovers (3:1 ratio), but has not scored 20-plus points since going for 38 and nine in a close loss to Boston.

Booker is definitely distributing more this year than ever. After averaging a career high 4.9 assists per game last year, Booker has dished at least six assists in 11 of his 12 games so far this season for an average of 7.3, which places his eighth in the league in assists per game (tied with James Harden).

Trevor Ariza is supposed to return to the Suns on Monday for the road trip. It will be interesting to see if he gets his starting spot back, and how that will mesh with the improving play of Mikal Bridges and even Josh Jackson.


Come on. You can’t expect me to pick the Suns, can you?

Sixers by 20 over the Suns.

Embiid by 20 over Ayton.

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