The Phoenix Suns are now 20 games under .500, easily the worst start in franchise history, but without their best player at the moment it’s hard to ask for much more.
Coming off a spirited effort Monday night in overtime against the Clippers, this blowout loss in San Antonio shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
Next up for the Suns, they play Dallas on Thursday in their final primetime game of the season on TNT. So, without further ado, let’s jump into my ‘Thumbs Up’ and ‘Thumbs Down’ from tonight’s loss versus the Spurs.
Thumbs Up: De’Anthony Melton
Since entering into the starting lineup, Melton has been a revelation for a backcourt starved of playmaking and defensive ability. Tonight, Melton dropped 17 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals on 7-16 FGA. Melton also started the game 3-3 on 3s before missing his final four attempts.
Over his past three games, Melton has averaged 14 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1.7 steals while shooting 37.5 percent from deep. When Booker returns to the lineup from his hamstring injury, Melton’s offensive usage will go down, which will help him out immensely. Melton’s profile isn’t one where he’s supposed to be a high volume shooter, but he meshes well next to Booker when it comes from a defensive point of view.
When the game stayed close through most of the first quarter, Melton’s two-way production was a main cog in it next to T.J. Warren’s usual scoring binge.
Even if the Suns acquire a starting-caliber point guard for Trevor Ariza soon, I hope Melton keeps playing over 20 minutes per game. He’s earned it with his recent play.
Thumbs Down: Josh Jackson
Unfortunately, type of follow up to one of his best games as a pro isn’t a surprise for Jackson. The Suns’ No. 4 pick in the 2017 draft went 2-14 from the floor, while only chipping in 8 points and posting a negative assist-to-turnover ratio (1/4).
If we wanted to zoom out for a second, though, I do like the possibilities of a 3-man lineup featuring Jackson, Melton, and Holmes. Those three could be key cogs in next year’s second unit, if all goes well this offseason for Phoenix.
The rollercoaster that Jackson has been on this season seems to not be stopping anytime soon. He needs to find a consistent balance, while also being utilized differently by head coach Igor Kokoskov. Jackson shouldn’t be shooting this much, but it seems like it takes the points scored to get him going on the other end.
Jackson’s next 18 months will be interesting to follow from a developmental standpoint. His role within Kokoskov’s system could change, or he could be phased out by Warren and Mikal Bridges over time.
Thumbs Up: T.J. Warren
Speaking of Warren, he returned after his ejection on Monday to his usual outings where he scores 20 or more points. The fifth-year pro added 23 points on the scoreboard for Phoenix, but went 1-5 on three-pointers. Exclude his outside shots, Warren was 8-11 which showcases his underrated effectiveness inside the arc.
Warren will continue to be the Suns’ No. 1 option until Booker returns, but it might not change things as far as wins and losses goes until then. Sadly, Warren’s improvements won’t be getting national recognition this season due to Phoenix’s horrific start 28 games in.
Thumbs Down: Dragan Bender
With Trevor Ariza’s suspicious absence, one that leads to me believe the Suns have found a trade they like for Saturday, Bender saw extended run for the first time in awhile. The results weren’t encouraging though.
In 18 minutes, Bender had 2 points but he matched it with turnovers. Bender was also outmatched easily on both sides of the ball.
Someone will give Bender a shot as an unrestricted free agent after the Suns declined to pick up his fourth-year option, but it’s looking bleak for his long-term future in this league.
Speaking of development, I’ll be very intrigued to see how Bender fares in a different environment outside of Phoenix.
Thumbs Down: Deandre Ayton’s involvement on offense
LaMarcus Aldridge had his way with Ayton tonight after the No. 1 overall pick won their second battle a few weeks ago. There were some positives moments for Ayton, but he only finished with 10 shot attempts, three of which were in the final minutes of their latest blowout.
Whether it’s Kokoskov adjusting to the big man, or Ayton demanding the basketball more, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be the team’s top option outside of Warren.
Ayton displayed his tantalizing scoring ability at the University of Arizona as their primary option, but we have yet to see a really dominant showing from him in the pros yet.
Since Booker went out, Ayton has averaged 11.2 attempts. I think that number should be closer to 15, even if their first No. 1 pick in franchise history isn’t having the greatest night on the other end.
If Ayton gets fed the ball, he’s more engaged. Let’s see if Kokoskov and Co. adjust here soon, or if this will continue be something we monitor throughout the rest of the season.