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Center of the Sun: Suns go 2-2 to break-even amid whirlwind week of roster changes and controversy

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The losing streak ended at 10 with a two game win streak.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

vs LA Clippers L (123-119 OT) Full Recap

@ San Antonio Spurs L (111-86) Full Recap

vs Dallas Mavericks W (99-89) Full Recap

vs Minnesota Timberwolves W (107-99) Full Recap

Last week was a wild one for Suns fans... and that may be putting it mildly.

It started with back-to-back losses that extended the Suns’ losing streak to ten games. Then the Suns signed free agent PF/C Eric Moreland (who has yet to play) to fill that open 14th roster spot created when they waived Isaiah Canaan ten days earlier. And then the s...tuff really hit the fan when a report came out that Suns owner, Robert Sarver, had threatened to move the Suns to Seattle or Las Vegas due to disagreements with the city regarding the proposed renovations to Talking Stick Resort Arena.

That had everyone going for a while and it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

Then the Suns got their 5th win of the season against Dallas, breaking the teams’ 10 game losing streak. That certainly helped lighten the mood!

Late in the evening on the following day, news broke that the Suns, Wizards and Grizzlies had agreed to a three team trade that would send Trevor Ariza to Washington, Kelly Oubre, Jr. to Memphis and Austin Rivers, Wayne Selden and Dillon Brooks to Phoenix.

Then Memphis said that it was MarShon Brooks they agreed to, not Dillon Brooks and the deal quickly fell apart. The deal with Washington was resurrected the following morning - without Memphis - and Ariza was sent packing to DC while Rivers and Oubre were told to book a flight to Phoenix.

It was all crazy for a while but I like the second deal better than the first for Phoenix. It almost made me forget that the Suns had another game that evening... and Devin Booker was going to play again after missing the last six games with an injured hamstring. And then, they won! Even better, they looked like a real NBA team on the court and played a game that I truly enjoyed watching from beginning to end.

Many fans may scoff at calling two wins in a row a “streak” but it’s been nearly a year since the Suns put two wins together and we’ll call it whatever we want. This season has been a learning experience for both the Suns and their head coach. The players have had to learn new offensive and defensive schemes, their roles in each, how to adjust to new teammates and the expectations of a new coach. The coach has had to learn which players fit where in his system and how to best use them together on the court.

These haven’t been simple things to accomplish and the process certainly hasn’t been a pleasant thing for fans to watch much of the time. That process isn’t over - not by a long shot - as Igor Kokoskov now has three new players to work into the system in Moreland, Oubre and Rivers.

I can’t say where this is all going but progress finally seems evident and hopefully we can all at least be satisfied with that following such a wild, wild week.


Fantable Questions of the Week

It’s player review time again and this week I asked the Fantable to give us their evaluations of T.J. Warren, De’Anthony Melton and Troy Daniels.

1. T.J. Warren

GuarGuar: TJ has been absolutely phenomenal this season and I am so impressed with him. It’s very difficult to change your shot 5 years into your career and it actually work. And it’s not just working, it is elite right now. He’s on pace to set records for his 3 point % improvement if it holds. He definitely put a ton of work in this offseason and he should be proud of himself. TJ was a guy a lot of people were okay packaging in a trade during the summer. I think that’s the complete opposite feeling right now! If he continues this excellent level of play that contract is a steal. That game against Dallas was superb. Tony Buckets!

Sun-Arc: TJ went from being a fringe candidate to being on the team to being a full-on necessity. TJ3 is for real. I’m so proud of the work he put in during the summer to become a perimeter threat. Definite keeper and making his contract look more than reasonable.

SDKyle: Nobody could ask more of TJ Warren. His improved shooting stroke has taken him from a bench quality scorer to a viable starter despite his continued shortcomings in other facets of the game. Maybe he’ll surprise me and come back next season as a smooth-handling point forward?

SouthernSun: I’m a huge fan of the new and improved TJ Warren. His ridiculous jump in three point percentage is unprecedented to my knowledge, especially when factoring in that he’s not just taking like one per game. He worked on his biggest flaw tirelessly over the off season and we are reaping the rewards. This automatically vaults him into long term core piece status, instead of maybe a long term 6th man like we all thought of him last season. Even if you were a huge supporter of TJ last season, there’s no way you thought he would improve his stroke from outside this much. Everything else is basically the same. He could still stand to grab a few more rebounds, or improve his passing, or at least be a little better defensively, but he has become an absolute scoring machine, and even if that’s all he is for the rest of his career, it still makes him a valuable piece.

Alex Sylvester: Warren Jr. is a baaaaad man.

As most of us can admit to being guilty of, we as a fanbase did not value TJ very highly this summer. In our defense, Warren had proven nothing more than being able to score in bunches on a bad team.

Thanks to hard work and the ability to recognize his weaknesses, Mr. Warren Jr. has taken his game to another level and has established himself as a legitimate offensive star.

His shooting splits combined with his remarkable improvement as a catch and shoot player has taken his level of play to the point where he has solidified himself as a centerpiece of this franchise moving forward. He more than likely won’t be able to reach “Big 3” level of play due to his defensive deficiencies paired with his limited playmaking, but he’s quite the player.

2. De’Anthony Melton

GuarGuar: Melton has been a pleasant surprise to me. He’s way more polished than I thought he would be in his rookie year. He’s impressed me with his poise in running pick and rolls this season. He’s kinda taken a page out of Book’s book by being great at putting the defender on your hip, and then taking off toward the hoop. His jump shot motion looks really clean. No hitch. Short and compact and quick. He’s been able to shoot it clean off the dribble too. I’m really pleased with his defense and his level of play so far this season. Hope he continues to develop as I think he’s got a shot at being a long-term piece here if things go right.

Sun-Arc: Before the season began, but after the trade, I wrote a fanpost on why I thought he would be a success. While he hasn’t been a world-beater, he’s been our best and most consistent point guard this season. And while THAT statement certainly deserves a massive qualifier, Melton has actually displayed NBA starter qualities along the way. He’s more poised and in control than I thought he would be this early- another good sign he could be with the team long term. And his defense has really been a breathe of fresh air. The team started playing better overall when he got more minutes- and some of that is the defensive mindset that he (along with Holmes and JJ) has brought. And he’s has the 5th best 3pt% (.333%) and PER of the team, and climbing. If he keeps improving, he would be an excellent long-term fit next to Booker with his defense, passing, and ability to run the team- which has been my hope since acquiring him.

SDKyle: De’Anthony Melton is a hard-nosed young player who shows some good guard instincts. He looks to have a decent feel for the P&R and he cares about his defense which is already pretty good. His future will be determined by his ability to develop a consistent jumpshot and keep his turnovers to a minimum.

SouthernSun: I’m not quite as high in De’Anthony Melton as some are. I think he’s shown promise, and provides pretty decent defense, but I’ll have to see it for a larger sample size, and I think that about 20 mpg is probably plenty for him right now. If the Suns had an actual starting caliber point guard right now, he would slot perfectly into a backup role and perform admirably.

Alex Sylvester: De’Anthony might be establishing himself as the long term backup PG for this team moving forward.

As much as I like Okobo’s upside, can the Suns afford to wait for his talent to develop? I don’t think they can. Melton provides immediate defensive intensity and size in the backup role, but he has a way to go in terms of offensive game. Imagine putting him behind a guy like DLo? Sign me up.

3. Troy Daniels

GuarGuar: I’ve been banging the drum for Troy to be in the rotation all season. I’m really glad he’s in it right now and is making the most of the opportunity. It’s pretty simple. He’s an elite spot up shooter. We don’t have many players with elite skills on this team. He’s our #1 3 point shooter and we need to give him around 10-12 minutes a game. It’s not like we are a good 3 point shooting team either, so keeping him out of the rotation didn’t make a lot of sense. But Igor has shown to do some weird things with rotations this season. I hope Troy continues to see minutes and keeps stroking it from 3!

Sun-Arc: I didn’t think Daniels would be on the roster at this point in the season. But honestly, I’ve been really glad that he has. I love his ‘never give up’ mentality. He and Jamaal have brought the vet mentality these young guys really needed, raising the bar and slowly changing the culture. I would not be surprised to see him remain for the season and beyond, and I’d be just fine with that.

SDKyle: Troy Daniels continues to Troy Daniels. The man can shoot. His inability to contribute any other way limits his value though. I’d be a little surprised if he’s a Sun beyond this season as he will hit free agency. He might even end up being traded this season. His tenure as a Sun has been unremarkable to say the least, but he delivered what he implicitly promised.

SouthernSun: Daniels hasn’t really had many minutes this season until recently. We know what he can do. If he gets hot from 3 he can change the course of a game. However, if he’s not hitting, then he’s a liability. His defense is pretty awful (although he has appeared to me to be exerting a bit more effort on that end recently) and he really only has the one skill. But he’s really good at that one skill.

Alex Sylvester: Troy is a savvy vet and I respect him but there’s not much in terms of basketball that he’ll provide for the franchise here on out. Good guy to have in your locker room and good for random appearances but his minutes will dwindle.

As a bonus, GuarGuar and Alex Sylvester also sent me their opinions on the final version of the trade with the Wizards.

GuarGuar: That was a pretty wild Friday night as the details of the trade kept unraveling and it became clear there was a major miscommunication. Pretty happy the way it turned out as I’d rather have Oubre over Dillon or Marshon Brooks. How I will view this trade will be based on the role Austin Rivers is given. If Rivers is given a starting job and major minutes, this trade is awful in my opinion. If he just plays a backup role, then the trade seems pretty solid.

Oubre is definitely the main piece. A young 23 year old hustle guy who has a decent shot and great potential. Looking forward to watching him in the rotation next week. He makes Josh Jackson pretty expendable in my opinion, and John Gambadoro hinted the same thing too. Wouldn’t surprise me if now until February is a tryout for JJ and Oubre, and whoever doesn’t perform as well might get dealt. Oubre is a RFA so we have first control over him.

I just really hope the Suns didn’t make this trade to make Austin Rivers a major minute player on this team. That would not be good to say the least. At the end of the day getting a solid young player with potential for an expiring 33 year old Ariza is pretty good.

Alex Sylvester: Trade Grade: A-

The Suns managed to pull off a trade in the most Suns-way possible. The Brooks dilemma was quite possibly one of the most entertaining situations to unfold this NBA season!

With that drama occurring and all the laughs and memes directed towards the Suns, James Jones managed to rebound wonderfully in a matter of hours.

Kelly Oubre Jr. is an incredibly intriguing piece the Suns now get to evaluate in their uniform for the next 50 games. His athleticism, his length, the fact that he’s lefty, and his defensive upside are all things that make him more valuable to this roster than Trevor Ariza could provide. Let’s not forget the fact that the Suns will beat anyone in the league in a modeling contest.

Rivers is an interesting piece as well. His last two seasons with the Clippers showed impressive development and good scoring ability as a combo guard. Is he the PG of the future? Of course not. But this change of scenery allows for him to resemble the LAC version of Austin Rivers, then this was another impressive pickup.

There’s still plenty of time for the deadline to come, so the Suns should continue to evaluate their roster and look to upgrade PG/PF if a good deal arises.

Overall, I like the deal a lot.

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


Key Stats

111.5 DefRtg vs 105.5 DefRtg

Those are the Suns’ defensive ratings for the season and for the 4 games last week. They rank 26th for the season but last week’s rating would put them at 7th place if it were for the entire season. They have also held their opponents to 105.5 ppg (12th best over that stretch of games) as opposed to their season average of 112.7 (24th in the NBA). For the season, the Suns’ opponents have made 48% of their field goal attempts (29th) but last week the Suns held opponents to 45.6% which would rank 14th if it was for the entire season.

The Suns also held both Dallas and Minnesota to 20 percent or lower from three-point range on 30+ attempts. This is the first time in NBA history that a team has held their opponents to 20 percent or worse on 30+ attempts from three-point range in consecutive games.

Weekly Book Report

35.3 mpg, 23.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 6.8 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.1 bpg, 4.0 TO, 3.4 PF

44.6% FG, 32.0% 3PT, 84.2% FT

This week - 36 mpg, 28 ppg, 7 rpg, 7 apg, 0 spg, 0 bpg, 2 TO, 2 PF

62.5% FG, 50.0% 3PT, 83.3% FT

Random Stats: Over the past four games, Josh Jackson’s DefRtg was 97.3 and over the past six games it was 97.0. Devin Booker leads the Suns in personal fouls drawn (PFD) at 4.8 per game. Deandre Ayton is second in PFD with 2.9 per game.

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


Game Highlights

Phoenix Suns vs LA Clippers Full Game Highlights | 12.10.2018

San Antonio Spurs vs Phoenix Suns Full Game Highlights | 12.11.2018

Dallas Mavericks vs Phoenix Suns Full Game Highlights | 12.13.2018

Minnesota Timberwolves vs Phoenix Suns Full Game Highlights | 12.15.2018


Quotes of the Week

”I feel great. It’s the best I felt all season. I kept saying that before I came back, I wanted to be 100 percent healthy. Been playing through injuries all year and got a little contagious so just wanted to make sure I was fully ready to go tonight.” - Devin Booker (after the Minnesota game)

”Obviously he’s one of our best defenders on the ball and he’s a smart kid. He runs the team well, he understands the tendencies when it comes to the offense and certain plays what the purpose of the play is, which tells me that he’s a very smart basketball player and I think he’s going to be in this league for many, many years.” - Igor Kokoskov on De’Anthony Melton


Rookie Report

Deandre Ayton - 30.6 mpg, 15.6 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 2.5 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.9 bpg, 1.9 TO, 2.9 PF

  • This week - 27.6 mpg, 14.3 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 2.5 apg, 0.5 spg, 1.8 bpg, 1.5 TO, 3.8 PF

Mikal Bridges - 24.0 mpg, 7.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.4 bpg, 0.8 TO, 2.2 PF, 33.3% 3PT

  • This week - 33.3 mpg, 11.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.8 bpg, 0.8 TO, 1.5 PF, 37.5% 3PT

Elie Okobo - 19.8 mpg, 6.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 2.6 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.2 bpg, 1.4 TO, 2.7 PF, 26.5% 3PT

  • This week - 22.9 mpg, 2.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 4.0 apg, 5.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 2.0 TO, 3.0 PF, 0.0% 3PT

De’Anthony Melton - 18.5 mpg, 7.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.2 bpg, 1.8 TO, 2.2 PF, 33.3% 3PT

  • This week - 27.9 mpg, 9.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5.0 apg, 2.3 spg, 0.5 bpg, 3.3 TO, 2.5 PF, 26.7% 3PT

George King - 5.9 mpg, 0.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 0.0 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.0 TO, 0.0 PF

  • NAZ stats - 33.4 mpg, 15.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.5 bpg, 3.8 TO, 2.5 PF, 43.3% 3PT

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.


Bright Side Night Returns!

Over 1,400 tickets sold and we still have a long way to go! We want to exceed last year’s 2,100 ticket donation total, but there’s just two weeks left to donate.

It’s $9 per ticket. No extra fees or charges. Everything goes to the kids.

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

Phoenix Suns: De’Anthony Melton must remain starting point guard. Gerald Bourguet/Hoops Habit

Phoenix Suns seek first-time NBA head coach Igor Kokoskov’s opinion on roster moves. Duane Rankin/Arizona Republic

It’s Time for Deandre Ayton to Lift the Suns Out of the Abyss. The Ringer

Suns shouldn’t panic over PG now, says former NBA exec Marks. Kevin Zimmerman/Arizona Sports

Bulls Mutiny, Suns Misery, and the Power of Bad Ownership in the NBA. The Crossover/SI

De’Athony Melton shows promise amidst Suns losing streak. BBall Index


Suns History in Video

Happy Holidays, Suns fans!


Suns Trivia

The Suns two game “win streak” may not be that impressive but it isn’t the only active win streak that the Suns have. Including last week’s win, the Suns have beaten the Dallas Mavericks seven straight games over this and the past two NBA seasons. Their last loss to the Mavericks was on January 12, 2017 and the Suns are 8-1 verses Dallas since the beginning of the 2016-17 season.

Courtesy of LandofBasketball.com


Previewing the Week Ahead

Monday, December 17 - Phoenix Suns @ New York Knicks, 5:30 pm AZT

Wednesday, December 19 - Phoenix Suns @ Boston Celtics, 5:30 pm AZT

Saturday, December 22 - Phoenix Suns vs Washington Wizards, 5:00 pm AZT (TNT)

Sunday, December 23 - Phoenix Suns vs Brooklyn Nets, 4:00 pm AZT

This week the Suns begin a five game Eastern Conference road stretching over ten days. The Suns may not be home for the holidays this years but the will be getting a late Christmas gift from the NBA schedulers in a seven game home stand immediately after this Eastern swing. The first four games of that trip happen this week so let’s take a look at those.

Tonight the Suns are in the Big Apple to take on the New York Knicks. The Knicks are only three games ahead of the Suns in the win/loss column but are also one of the few teams that have a worse defensive rating than the Suns this season (Knicks 28th/Suns 26th). They are a slightly better offensive team (21st OffRtg vs 28th) but I’m betting that the Suns - with their new found defensive intensity and a fully healthy roster - can pull off a win tonight.

On Wednesday, it’s Suns vs Celtics in the TD Garden arena. The Celtics are 18-11 this season and 8-2 in their last 10 games. Boston has the 3rd best defense in the league and the #12 offense for the season. Their offense has kicked into higher gear lately though and they were #1 over their last 10 games. Just hope that the Suns give them a scrappy, competitive game because hoping for a win is probably just setting yourself up for disappointment.

After a couple of days off, the Suns will face the Washington Wizards. The 12-18 Wiz have had their own brand of turmoil this season and so far have only beaten three teams with winning records (LA Clippers, Portland and LA Lakers). This is another team with a worse defensive rating than the Suns (29th) but a better offense (17th). The trade they made with the Suns to get Trevor Ariza was one to hopefully bolster their D. Maybe it will work for them, maybe not but I’m picking the Suns to win a close one against the Wiz.

On the second day of an on the road back-to-back, the Suns will take on the Brooklyn Nets late Sunday afternoon. With tired legs and not enough sleep, I don’t think that the Suns will get payback for their previous loss to the Nets at home. Another loss for the Suns in their final game of the week.

Maybe I’m being too optimistic but I think that a fully healthy Suns team can go 2-2 on the road this week.

What’s your prediction?


Last Week’s Poll Results

The poll was “Has Deandre Ayton lived up to your expectations this season?”

22% - Yes.

38% - Yes on offense, no on defense.

40% - No.

There were a total of 162 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

The Suns’ two wins last week were...

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    A fluke.
    (8 votes)
  • 68%
    A sign that the team is getting better.
    (222 votes)
  • 29%
    Ask me again in a week or two.
    (96 votes)
326 votes total Vote Now