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Preview: Will the Suns escape rock bottom against the Clippers?

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Phoenix is off to their worst start in franchise history while the losses continue to pile on.

NBA: Miami Heat at Phoenix Suns Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns host the Los Angeles Clippers

When: 7:00 PM AZ

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


Probable Starters

Suns - De’Anthony Melton, Mikal Bridges, Trevor Ariza, T.J. Warren, Deandre Ayton

Clippers - Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Boban Marjanovic

Suns

OffRtg - 101.3 (28th), DefRtg - 112.5 (28th), NetRtg = minus-11.2 (30th)

Before I dive into the Suns’ key x-factor for Monday’s game, I wanted to give my initial thoughts on Woj’s report about Trevor Ariza. Wojnarowski mentioned that the Lakers and Suns are trying to find a third team to take on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s salary, which would reroute a point guard Phoenix’s way.

This trade with Ariza to fetch a point guard has to be done for the greater good of this roster. The Ariza signing was a flat out failure, because not only has it not helped flip the switch to winning, but his inconsistent effort seems to indicate someone who can’t wait to get out of Phoenix. Another lesson here as to why the Suns should stop trying to sign veterans to bloated contracts for “veteran leadership” all year.

Don’t be surprised if Ariza is moved right on Dec. 15. Phoenix plays Minnesota that day, but before then only three more games versus LA, San Antonio, and Dallas. Possible point guard options that I think could make sense to finish off this proposed 3-way trade are Spencer Dinwiddie, Dante Exum, and Jeremy Lin.

Anyways, back on to game action because I wanted to hit on the No. 13 prospect on my 2018 draft board: De’Anthony Melton.

Melton has been a revelation as of late with his defensive presence and ever-improving shooting ability. Who would’ve thought Melton, who shot sub 30 percent on three-pointers at USC, would be hitting on 47.1 percent (8/17) of his catch-and-shoot threes?

Over his past three games, Melton has averaged 13.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.3 steals in only 24.6 minutes. That is a lot of production for someone who had been bouncing back and forth between Phoenix and their G League affiliate.

In short order, Melton has become Shaquille Harrison with a jumper. According to stats.nba.com, Harrison and Melton are the only two players league-wide who average at least five deflections per 36 minutes. For reference, Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard check in around the 3.5-to-4 range.

Keep an eye on Melton, even after the Suns possibly acquire a starting-caliber point guard soon. Melton’s impressive play as of late has put him above Elie Okobo as preferred rookie PG to keep around long-term.

Outside of the x-factor Melton, Warren’s return will be a huge relief for the Suns’ offense. Without him, they have nobody else to consistently rely on outside of Booker. And over the past week-plus without either of them, the results have been absolutely disastrous.

The continued perimeter shooting development of Warren, who is currently hitting on 45 percent of his three-pointers, has unlocked his three-level scoring ability. Any time he steps on the floor, Warren could immediately drop 20-plus points like it’s nothing. Due to his added outside touch, the fifth-year veteran out of North Carolina State has seen his efficiency numbers skyrocket.

Until Booker returns, expect a heavy dose of Warren scoring the basketball. For the Suns to even maintain competitiveness, they might need Warren to score 25 or 30 points anyways.

Clippers

OffRtg - 111.3 (6th), DefRtg - 108.1 (14th), NetRtg = plus-3.2 (T8th)

The last time Melton faced off against SGA, they put on a show during Las Vegas Summer League. Both guys went right at each other. Melton finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists while Gilgeous-Alexander poured in 25 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. So, here’s hoping we see an encore performance on Monday night.

Gilgeous-Alexander has been one of the league’s most impressive rookies thus far. His two-way ability has translated immediately from Kentucky, as has his finishing at the rim. If there were Rookie of the Year ballots going around right now, would SGA be in the top three behind Luka Doncic and Ayton? Yes, I think so.

Outside of SGA’s easy transition, Tobias Harris seems to have taken the next step forward in his development. Harris has always been an above-average scorer, but this year he might have taken it to the elite level. So far this season, Harris has averaged 21 points on 40.5 percent shooting from deep.

Harris has transformed into the league’s modern stretch 4 everyone team craves nowadays. After declining an extension this past offseason, Harris bet on himself and now he’s going to likely be raining in the millions once July 1 hits. With how many teams will have max cap space, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Harris fetch an offer in the 27-29 million a year range from an eager team in free agency (I’m looking at you Brooklyn).

For the Suns to have any shot tonight, they need to slow down Harris. Unfortunately, I don’t know if Phoenix has that player with enough experience on their roster yet. Bridges would likely take the assignment, but he’s too overaggressive with fouls at the moment. Odds are it will be Ariza, but who knows how much he’ll try if the scoreboard is looking the way it has the past few times they’ve stepped on the floor.

Overall, the Clippers are definitely a legit team now. They don’t have a star player, but they have so many good ones that it balances out.

Prediction

The last time these two teams faced off in Los Angeles, the Clippers cruised to an easy victory. Even without Devin Booker again, I think the Suns keep this close in Warren’s return to the starting lineup.

However, I only see it lasting for the first half before Doc Rivers’ Clippers break open the flood gates late.

Warren shines in his return, but Ayton continues to struggle against Marjanovic in a pivotal one-on-one matchup.

Clippers 117, Suns 99