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Center of the Sun: With Booker and Warren out Suns lose three more games and fall to 4-22

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Their losing streak is up to eight and it is unlikely to end soon.

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

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

vs Sacramento Kings L (122-105) Full Recap

@ Portland Trail Blazers L (108-86) Full Recap

vs Miami Heat L (115-98) Full Recap

Hopefully, this past week was rock bottom for the Suns. I’m not saying that it can’t get worse (it can) but losing the first quarters in two consecutive games (Sacramento and Portland) by 27 and 25 points each while only scoring 9 point in those quarters was about as bad as it can get. But with the Suns’ top two scorers out (Devin Booker and T.J. Warren), the Suns still lacking a starting caliber point guard and virtually no bench depth, I suppose I shouldn’t have expected better... but I did. The Miami game wasn’t much better but at least they showed some fight and won the opening quarter.

There is still no timetable for Devin Booker’s recovery from a pulled hamstring but T.J. Warren should return tonight. Unfortunately, Deandre Ayton may now also be sidelined for a while as he missed practice on Sunday due to “flu-like symptoms”.

The Suns just can’t seem to catch a break.

But hopefully things will change soon. Many fans just think of December 15 as the first day that Trevor Ariza can be traded but it’s also the first day that most NBA players that signed new contracts this season can be traded as well. Some trades always happen before then but that when mid-season trading really begins to heat up.

Whether Ariza is traded or not, the Suns have to get a point guard as soon as possible. Booker has done well filling in at point but he isn’t a PG and weighing him down with that responsibility really just hurts the rest of his game. Even adding a borderline starter/backup at point should help this team a great deal... and adding some depth at power forward wouldn’t hurt either.

Even when fully healthy, this team will continue to struggle to compete without some roster changes. When not fully healthy, we’ve already seen that they will flounder and possibly wind up with even more NBA records that no team wants to have.

At this moment, the Suns have the 9th worst win/loss percentage (.154) in NBA history. None of us want that to be where the Suns are at when this season ends. Change has to come and, hopefully, what’s left of the Suns’ front office is up to the challenge of making sure that it is a positive change.


Fantable Questions of the Week

We’re almost one-third of the way through this season and this week we’re focusing the Fantable questions on Deandre Ayton. A lot of people thought Ayton was going to be a monster in the middle for the Suns but so far that hasn’t really happened. He’s been good but also disappointing in some ways.

1. What things have been most disappointing to you regarding Ayton’s play so far?

GuarGuar: Energy, effort, and defense have been the main things that Ayton has been disappointing in for me this season. There’s been games where he brings great energy and effort, and others where it’s completely non existent. That inconsistency needs to change big time. Defensively Ayton has been about as bad as advertised for most of this season. His pick and roll defensive reads have been pretty horrendous. The shot blocking is completely invisible. Weak side help defense has been very bad too. I don’t know why, but he was much better defensively during preseason (and not because we played an Australian team). It starts with effort, and it just isn’t there a good bit of the time. It’s almost like Deandre doesn’t realize he’s 7’1 250. He needs to jump 10x more than he currently is doing.

Sun-Arc: From my standpoint, very little has been disappointing about Ayton directly, given the way the entire team is playing. Why? Because he has shown an amazing array of skills, smarts, and physical ability. When he has the ball, generally very good things happen. I’m most disappointed the team has not been built around him more. But more of that in the next question/answer.

What I have been disappointed in is the lack of aggression. I’m sure that will be mentioned by everyone else. Sure, the rim protection has lacked too- but I believe that will come in time. The aggression is something I’m worried about. My hope is that, because he’s such a cerebral guy and keeps telling us he’s learning, the defense and aggression will come as he becomes more comfortable.

SDKyle: The obvious big disappointment about Ayton is his lack of assertiveness on both ends. He’s averaged an efficient 16 points, which isn’t exactly terrible. But only four times all season has he attempted 15 or more shots in a game.

He often seems content to just be a cog in the offense rather than “the man” on any given possession.

On defense, it’s hard to say it any other way: he plays soft. He’s averse to contact and doesn’t seem to understand the role he should be playing in discouraging opponents from attacking the basket.

He’s still playing like a top rookie, but these aspects of his game are let-downs.

SouthernSun: I don’t think anyone expected Ayton to be a monster in the middle defensively. Just offensively. And honestly, he’s been pretty good in the paint. He’s got a sky high field goal percentage, and it seems like every time he tries to score around the rim he gets it in. I expected more dunks though. I think some of that has to do with his conditioning. Maybe he just doesn’t have the energy or legs yet to run up and down an NBA court for 30 minutes a night and also be hopping around trying to block every shot and dunk on people. Then again STAT dunked on plenty of people his rookie year... so. I’m not sure. But I don’t think he’s been that much of a disappointment offensively.

Alex Sylvester: Effort.

We all knew going into this season that Deandre would struggle with defensive principles and wouldn’t be the best shot blocker out the gate…but his effort is the biggest negative by far.

He’s a walking double double. His averages are historical when you break it down but he doesn’t resemble anything like a dominant player in his early days as a Sun.

Why? It’s his energy. There’s two sides to this that are either terrifying or exciting depending on your POV. The terrifying part is if this is who Deandre is going to be for his career, he’ll never be a franchise-changing player, and the pro-Luka crowd will end up being able to say “told you so!”

The exciting part is the ceiling that Deandre has is still tremendous. If he’s able to put in the work and change his on-court demeanor. He has the talent to be a 25/12 guy in his prime, but he’s never going to be able to achieve this if he continues to flat out not care.

2. Who/what is most responsible for Ayton not really living up to the big expectations, him, Kokoskov’s offense, something else... all of the above?

GuarGuar: There’s multiple factors in Ayton not really living up to the big expectations. First off, we don’t have a point guard. That would significantly help Ayton and our overall offense in general. Second, Ayton is pretty raw offensively when it comes to shot creation. I think people have this preconceived notion that Ayton can score at will. He can’t. He doesn’t have many post moves and all his face up game really is is a jumpshot. He doesn’t pump fake and dribble to the basket. Part of the reason his offensive role has been somewhat limited is DA is pretty limited as an isolation player. He’s most effective as a rim runner right now. Third, Ayton has been way too passive. He looks to pass before shooting most times he touches the ball. If he wants to be dominant, that mindset has to change. He only dunks off alley oops. He needs to stop finishing so weak at the rim and use his insane size and athleticism. The rim isn’t going cry if you hit it hard.

Sun-Arc: When Igor was hired he mentioned he would form the schemes around the personnel. That has not happened at all. The schemes have, thus far, been based around his past coaching resume, particularly that of the Slovenian National Team he had so much success with. On that team, their big man, Vidmar, was fairly inconsequential statistically on the team. It was more about ball movement and dynamic guard play with a versatile stretch-four. Essentially, that’s how the suns have played- leaving Ayton out of the majority of plays except to hand the ball over to a guard on the perimeter.

I will say that Ayton has some blame too, as he needs to learn how to get himself open for the pass while in the paint. They’ve had some luck on that, but he needs to do a better job there. And, obviously, he needs to be more aggressive. But part of the lack of aggression is also based on trying to follow the coach’s schemes.

SDKyle: The buck has to stop with Ayton himself, but there is nuance to the situation. The Suns don’t have a PG capable of consistently finding him, so we’re leaving 3-4 fairly easy shots for Ayton on the table in most games. Kokoskov owns some blame for not emphasizing Ayton as a scorer in the offense, but at the end of the day Ayton has to own his own shortcomings and challenge himself to improve them.

SouthernSun: I believe it’s a combination of things. One extremely important factor is that this teams only point guards are rookie second round picks. Those kind of players should only be getting a few minutes a game for the first year or two, and instead they are making up almost the entire point guard rotation for the Suns. Nobody has been very adept at getting Ayton the ball. A little of that’s on him for not getting in the right position, but a huge part of it is simply not having an NBA caliber playmaker on the roster. Hopefully that gets addressed within the next week.

As for defense, I think a lot of his struggles have been because he simply isn’t used to playing much center. In college he was playing PF and out guarding guys on the perimeter. Which, coincidentally, he looks pretty decent when doing now. It’s guarding the rim that has given him trouble. I think over time as he gets more used to the role, and learning the rotations, he will get it.

Alex Sylvester: The team culture.

The game against Sacramento was the biggest indicator of what his issues are. When you go into a game and give up within 7 minutes of tip-off, that speaks volume. But on top of that, your postgame interview includes you saying that the Suns were “finished” after a 36-9 quarter?

That speaks to the attitude that not only he, but many of the players in the locker room are feeling. It’s naive to scold the players for feeling this way considering the recent history of misery that the Suns have shown since 2010

3. Do you believe that he will eventually live up to the lofty expectations that go along with being a #1 draft pick?

GuarGuar: I don’t know if Ayton will live up to the expectations. I really don’t know. I kind of feel like we are in the same situation as Bender last year (calm down, let me explain). With Bender it was always he needed to be more aggressive, but that never happened because that just isn’t his personality. Personality is something that’s very hard to change. Ayton is pretty laid back and isn’t nearly as aggressive as he should be. Despite his motto being #BullySZN, Ayton hasn’t been anything but the kid being bullied his rookie year. The difference between Ayton and Bender is Ayton is actually really talented. And that’s all Ayton is banking off of right now, is his raw talent basketball skills. Not his IQ, not his energy, not his effort, not his aggressiveness. And what’s scary is he’s averaging 16/10 on insane efficiency without ever dominating or being aggressive. I just don’t know if he will ever become aggressive though. I don’t know if we can change his mindset. Our recent history tells us we can’t…and that scares me. And the longer his passiveness goes on, the lesser the chance we have of changing it.

Sun-Arc: Ayton will not only improve, but I believe he has the abilities to be a focal point of a great team. Not sure that’ll happen here, given the self-defeating actions of our owner and front office.

But consider what Ayton has done thus far as a 20 year old rookie: Let’s look at the comparison on BB-ref.com: Ayton (20 years old) vs the rookie seasons of Hakeem Olajuwon (22), Patrick Ewing (23), Dwight Howard (19), Joel Embiid (22), and Karl-Anthony Towns (20).

In that comparison, Ayton still fares quite well. Ayton has the highest ORtg (118) of the group (and lowest DRtg (112), with a +6 differential between ORtg and DRtg- which is only bettered by Hakeem “The Dream”. His scoring, rebounding, and PER have him rank either 3rd or 4th- not the bottom is damn good on this list). He is #2 on the list for assists only behind Towns. He’s very low on the list for usage rate- another sign he needs the ball more. He is, unsurprisingly, at the bottom for all the defensive stats- something he obviously needs to work on. (Again, unsurprisingly, Towns is #5 on that list defensively, and there are some people out there that feel he’s still a pretty damn good player). As one of the youngest rookies not his list, most of the numbers bode quite well for his career.

You can read more about my views on Ayton (and the other rookies) on a fanpost I created a couple of weeks ago here.

SDKyle: It’s a bit early for me to make that call, but the answer also depends on what the extent of the expectations are or where. For those hoping and expecting that Ayton would become a legendary two-way monster in the same vein as Shaq, Robinson, etc., he may come up a bit short. If your expectation was MVP, maybe you’ll find yourself ruing the choice of Ayton. But if your expectation was just all-star, sure. He’ll do that.

SouthernSun: Ayton will absolutely live up to the lofty expectations of a #1 overall pick. He already is, really. It’s not his fault that the team around him is complete garbage. If you stuck Ayton on the Celtics last year, instead of Tatum, and he was going out every night playing alongside Kyrie Irving (or Terry Rozier), Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and those guys, and Ayton was putting up 15 and 10 with great advanced stats (like he has), then everybody would be saying what a great player he already is and what a superstar he’s going to turn into. But no. He plays for a dumpster fire of a team where his flaws are exacerbated.

Does he need to play with more energy? Yes. Does he need to get better defensively? Yes. And he will. I believe he will eventually be a perennial all star. His main impact will always be offensively, but his defense will come around.

Alex Sylvester: I don’t know to be perfectly honest. My expectation was that he is a top 3 piece on a championship level team, but his work ethic and attitude has proven this to be too lofty of expectations.

If he continues at this pace, he’ll be a borderline all-star level player whose a good piece for a team but will be making 40+ million a year to lead a ~.500 team to an 8 seed.

I really, really hope that’s not the case.

As always, many thanks to our Fantable - GuarGuar, SDKyle, Sun-Arc, SouthernSun and Alex Sylvester - for all their extra effort every week! It’s been a tough season to be a Suns fan and I really appreciate them all for hanging in there and continuing to contribute.


Key Stats

101.3 OffRtg vs 95.4 OffRtg

The Suns’ offensive rating for the season (101.3) is only 28th in the league but in the three games last week - all minus their leading scorers, Devin Booker and T.J. Warren - their offensive rating fell off a cliff to 95.4. That is by far much worse than the season offensive ratings for every other team in the NBA.

Turnovers

The Suns’ turnover percentage spiked last week to 19.5 vs their season TO% of 16.7 which led to their opponents scoring 28.7 ppg off turnovers vs their season average of 21.2. The points that the Suns scored off turnovers also dropped to 12.7 vs 16 for the season.

Weekly Book Report

35.3 mpg, 23.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 6.7 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.1 bpg, 4.1 TO, 3.5 PF

43.9% FG, 31.3% 3PT, 84.2% FT

This week - DNP (Injured)

Booker is out indefinitely following re-injuring his hamstring.

Random Stats: Troy Daniels led the Suns in scoring last week with 15.3 ppg. De’Anthony Melton was 2nd with 13.3 ppg. They both also shot over 45% (48.0% and 46.2% respectively) from three for the week. No other Suns player reached the 30% mark from three over that period of time.

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


Game Highlights

Phoenix Suns vs Sacramento Kings Full Game Highlights | 12.04.2018

Phoenix Suns vs Portland Trail Blazers Full Game Highlights | 12.06.2018

Miami Heat vs Phoenix Suns Full Game Highlights | 12.07.2018


Quotes of the Week

”It’s all about the fans. The game is about the players, but this is an entertainment business, so it’s all about the fans. You have to show them respect. The fans love basketball here. They boo us, they have a right to express how they feel. Our job is to show up next time and show a little more appreciation for the fact that they’re coming.” - Igor Kokoskov (following the loss to Sacramento)

”December 15 is approaching. That’s when the league opens for business and like we’ve always done, we’ll explore every option to try and improve our team.” - James Jones

”C’mon man, you’re all embarrassing me.” - Charles Barkley


Rookie Report

Deandre Ayron - 31.1 mpg, 15.8 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 2.5 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.8 bpg, 1.9 TO, 2.7 PF

  • This week - 25.8 mpg, 12.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.3 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.7 bpg, 1.7 TO, 0.7 PF

Mikal Bridges - 22.6 mpg, 7.0 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.8 TO, 2.3 PF, 32.1% 3PT

  • This week - 30.7 mpg, 8.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.0 apg, 2.0 spg, 0.7 bpg, 0.7 TO, 2.7 PF, 25.0% 3PT

Elie Okobo - 19.6 mpg, 6.9 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 2.5 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.2 bpg, 1.4 TO, 2.7 PF, 27.7% 3PT

  • This week - 25.4 mpg, 7.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.7 bpg, 2.3 TO, 5.3 PF, 10.0% 3PT

De’Anthony Melton - 14.3 mpg, 5.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.1 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.1 bpg, 1.1 TO, 2.1 PF, 37.5% 3PT

  • This week - 24.6 mpg, 13.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.3 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.0 bpg, 2.0 TO, 3.3 PF, 46.2% 3PT

George King - Assigned to NAZ Suns

  • NAZ stats - 33.0 mpg, 14.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.4 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.4 bpg, 3.6 TO, 2.5 PF, 44.9% 3PT

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.


Bright Side Night Returns!

We are proud to announce the FOURTH annual Bright Side Night, where our community sends deserving and underprivileged children from the Valley to a Phoenix Suns game!

It’s $9 per ticket. No extra fees or charges.

Fill out the one-page form to select the number of tickets you want to donate, and how you’re going to pay.

You will get a confirmation email directly from the Suns about the ticket donation

Click this link to donate: Suns.com/Brightside

And there’s something in it for you too... in addition to the good feeling you’ll get for helping out some deserving kids! For more details, just click on the link above.


News & Notes

Igor Kokoskov Takes Responsibility For Phoenix Suns’ Losses (And Boy, Are There A Lot Of Them). Forbes

Igor Kokoskov trying to push the Suns past their franchise-worst start. Duane Rankin/Arizona Republic

Ten things I like and don’t like. Zach Lowe/ESPN (Hint: Go straight to #9)

Suns’ rookies make pact to never give up no matter how bad things get. Duane Rankin/Arizona Republic

Only NBA Commissioner Adam Silver can save the Phoenix Suns. Dan Bickley/Arizona Sports

The Suns’ Wing Dilemma Puts the Future of the League Into Focus. The Ringer

Suns co-interim GM James Jones says team is focusing less on NBA Draft. Kellan Olson/Arizona Sports

NBA Daily: Potential Trevor Ariza Destinations. Basketball Insiders


This Week in Suns History


Suns History in Video

Even bad teams can sometimes mount a big comeback. The 2012-13 Suns (25-57) come back from being down 26 points in the first half to win against Cleveland.


Suns Trivia

The 2013-14 Suns team wasn’t the first to finish with a 48 wins and fail to make the playoffs. They weren’t even the first Suns team to do it. The 1970-71 Suns (48-34) were also left out of the playoffs in 1971 and the 1971-72 Suns missed the 1972 playoffs with a 49-33 record. In both of those seasons their records would have been good enough for the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference.


Previewing the Week Ahead

Monday, December 10 - Phoenix Suns vs LA Clippers, 7:00 pm AZT

Tuesday, December 11 - Phoenix Suns @ San Antonio Spurs, 6:30 pm AZT

Thursday, December 13 - Phoenix Suns vs Dallas Mavericks, 8:30 pm AZT (TNT)

Saturday, December 15 - Phoenix Suns vs Minnesota Timberwolves, 7:00 pm AZT

Another week of four games in six days but at least three are at home. But the back-to-back games are also a home-and-away which is never good. After this week the Suns go on a five game Eastern Conference road trip though so 3 of 4 at home seems like a bit of a luxury.

On Monday the 16-9 LA Clippers come to TSRA. Despite being on a 2 game losing streak (by 10 to Memphis and 23 to Miami), the Clippers are still likely too much for the Suns to handle.

Right after the Clippers game, the Suns will fly out to San Antonio to face the Spurs the following evening. This will be their third meeting of the season after splitting wins in the previous two. If Warren is back in the lineup, I give the Suns a small chance of winning but it’s still very unlikely on the Spurs home court AND with Booker still out. Call it loss #2 for the Suns this week.

On Thursday, the Suns return home for their first rematch with the 13-11 Dallas Mavericks. Although the Suns won their opening night game against them, each team’s fortunes have gone in opposite directions since then. That’s at least partially due to the Suns having played the 2nd toughest schedule in the NBA while Dallas has played only the 26th most difficult. If the Suns were up to full strength, I’d give them a shot at going 2-0 against the Mavs... but they aren’t. Loss #3 for this week.

Their final game of the week is also at home and against the 13-13 Minnesota Timberwolves. Again, if the Suns were at full strength, I’d give them a shot in this game. The Twolves should be more than a match for the depleted Suns though and this should be loss #4.

It’s most likely that the Suns will go 0-4 this week.

What’s your prediction?


Last Week’s Poll Results

The poll was “What do you think are the Suns’ odds of winning another game with Booker sidelined?”

33.3% - 1 in 10

16.3% - 1 in 50

14.4% - 1 in 100

36.0% - Zero.

There were a total of 297 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

Has Deandre Ayton lived up to your expectations this season?

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    Yes.
    (36 votes)
  • 38%
    Yes on offense, no on defense.
    (62 votes)
  • 39%
    No.
    (64 votes)
162 votes total Vote Now