clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Center of the Sun: Suns win two of four on the road

New, comments

The Suns’ season record now stands at 8-26 after a 2-2 week away from home.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Washington Wizards Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

@ New York Knicks W (128-110) Full Recap

@ Boston Celtics W (111-103) Full Recap

@ Washington Wizards L (149-146 3OT) Full Recap

@ Brooklyn Nets L (111-103) Full Recap

The week started out very well with two big road wins against the Knicks and the Celtics that left the Suns with a four-game win streak. Many were expecting a fifth win in Washington but that just wasn’t to be. The Suns fought hard for 63 minutes (three overtimes!) but came up just short. The following night, after very little time to rest, they lost to Brooklyn.

I’m as disappointed as anyone that the Suns only won two of their four games this week. And I’m a little amazed at myself for being disappointed! Two weeks ago, I would have been delighted to see the Suns just make it through a week without experiencing another blowout loss.

Such was the life of a Suns fan... but not anymore.

Things have started to click for the Suns recently and they’ve started to look more like the team that many of us expected to see at the beginning of the season. Those hopes fell apart quickly after the win against Dallas on opening night though. Seven straight losses followed and many of them weren’t even close games. The team didn’t just look bad, they looked very bad, perhaps historically bad.

Then things started to turn around. The Suns started to be fun to watch again and they were winning games!

As much as I wanted to see that winning streak continue, I knew that it wouldn’t - couldn’t - last much longer. The Suns have proven to me that they aren’t as bad as they seemed early in the season but they still have a long way to go before they can truly be called “good”.

In the past two weeks, the Suns have a .500 record though. Even in the ultra-tough West, that would put them in the backside of the playoff race if they had been playing .500 ball all season. It’s way too late for them to make up all the ground that they’ve already lost but I’m at least encouraged enough by their recent play to have a little more faith in their future.


Fantable Questions of the Week

1. If the Suns could win half of their remaining games this season they would end up with a record of 33-49. Do you think that is remotely possible?

GuarGuar: I think it’s certainly “possible” that the Suns could win half of their remaining games this season, but it seems very unlikely. I’m proud of the strides this team has shown over the past couple weeks, but only time will tell if it will be consistent. The schedule does get a good bit easier in 2019 so we have that going for us. It’s encouraging we are even having this conversation though after the first two months being an absolute nightmare.

Sun-Arc: Its anyone’s guess whether they’ll play .500 ball from here on out, given the wild ride this season has been thus far. I can imagine a scenario where the team wins 30 games out of 50, but also one where they flame out after winning two more in a row, and then only six games more for the rest of the season after that. Anything in between seems plausible. The energy they’ve played with for the last six games or so has been so palpable it makes 25 more wins seem very likely. Can they keep that up? And if so, could they keep improving? Anything now seems possible.

SDKyle: It’s not beyond the realm of possibility but I’m more than skeptical they’ll hit 30 wins. The recent streak of wins and the tough loss to the Wizards was encouraging, but this team still has a ways to go before I figure it’s a .500 team. The depth still isn’t there even though Oubre is a big boost in that regard.

SouthernSun: Without a trade for a better point guard than Melton and perhaps a rotation caliber power forward, no, I don’t think that’s possible. However, I’m feeling a lot more confident in the team approaching 30 wins. This team simply lacks the talent necessary to win half of the rest of their games. Not to mention not having a usable power forward on the roster and their best point guard being a second-round rookie who regularly plays 25 minutes while scoring less than five points.

Alex Sylvester: I think the Suns have the talent as well as the current play style to be a .500 team the rest of the way, but I still can’t quite see them pulling this off without a true starting PG.

With the West still being incredibly difficult, I’m trying to temper my expectations to predict this team winning somewhere between 25-30 games.

My hope is that this team can jump above the worst teams in the East (CHI/NYK/CLE/ATL) and maybe even catch the Wizards. If that happens, I think we’ll all be very happy with the clear signs of improvement!

2. What do you believe is the key to the Suns’ better play recently?

GuarGuar: Honestly there’s so many things we are doing better right now that contributed to such an abrupt week of success. The defense is the best it’s been in YEARS. Everyone is engaged, we are switching everything, active hands, and our stars are getting into the action too. This is the best defense Booker has played in his career by far. Ayton is making big strides on that end too.

The bench play might be the biggest factor to why we went on a win streak though. Even with Ariza, the starting lineup really was never a big issue. We would always be in games early and then the second unit would come in and completely take us out of the game. This forced Booker in way too early a number of times, which could be a reason for his early season nagging injuries. Jamal is playing like a true playmaker, JJ has been play sound basketball, Oubre actually wants to be here, and Richaun Holmes has been an energy monster. That second unit won us the Knicks and Celtics games in my opinion. Allowing Book/Ayton to be rested for crunch time is huge for our chances to win games.

Lastly, healthy Booker is a phenomenal player and the guy who makes this team run 10x better. Without him we are 3-28 in the last 31 games, including 1-9 this season. When he’s healthy he’s proven to be a star and he keeps getting better. We need him to win.

Sun-Arc: I think there are probably multiple reasons for the improvements:

First, and I think this is the main reason, playing time given to Holmes and then Melton brought defensive energy and intensity to the line ups. Jackson got inspired by this, then everyone else. Players started holding each other accountable. The better Josh Jackson has played, the more of a leader he’s been to Ayton and others. The more confidence he’s gotten with his role, the smarter he’s played. I think JJ’s improvement has been a big factor here because he and the bench are now looking damn good, and that’s been a major difference in winning these games. Now everyone on the team (including Crawford!) is buying into playing defense.

Second, finding the right line ups brought better chemistry- particularly less Trevor Ariza and more Jamal Crawford. Forced to play De’Anthony Melton, Igor stumbled upon line ups that keep the team balanced. DM has a long way to go to be a very good player, but he definitely changes the defensive tone while he’s on the court. He’s actually performing better than Patrick Beverly this season in many stats. Playing more Melton and Bridges alongside Booker has proven to be a good idea to start games. There are other examples, but this was a major improvement.

Third, with Booker and TJ out, the team found a bit of an identity on their own. Though they lost a lot of games, it made the overall team better when Tony and Devin came back.

Fourth, the team is finally understanding Igor’s schemes. Though I really think credit for the defense goes to the first reason I provided. Once the players started believing in each other and holding themselves accountable, everything else started falling into place. But some of that accountability goes to how Igor ran the team- pulling guys out when they were not trying hard (except Ariza, strangely), and benching players entirely if they weren’t effective (whither Anderson?)

SDKyle: A combination of being healthy, playing some not so great opponents, and getting good play from the right players when they needed it.

SouthernSun: I suppose the better play is part continuity. The players are getting more familiar with each other and more familiar with the system. Also the Suns are starting two rookies. No, excuse me, three rookies, so the players are getting used to the NBA game itself. They are so just got Devin Booker back which is huge. And he actually appears to be healthy for possibly the first time all season. Which is nice. Then there’s the getting rid of the malcontents like Ariza. Everybody on the Suns has a reason to play hard. Ariza didn’t. Holmes is playing for his NBA life. Melton is playing to prove he can be a core piece moving forward. Bridges and Jackson are fighting for the role of SF of the future. Each have a lot to prove and a lot to play for. They are giving 100% effort each and every night. That’s not something their opponents may always be willing to do. That will be in their favor.

  • Devin Booker is finally healthy
  • Igor is beginning to settle into a solid rotation that includes a lot of three-wing lineups
  • Ayton is starting to play more aggressively on both ends of the floor
  • Chemistry is the best it’s been in years
  • There’s a much bigger emphasis on defense in comparison to years past
  • Crawford/Jackson/Holmes are leading the bench unit and are becoming one of the better benches in the league
  • Kelly Oubre’s presence with his confidence and his beauty

3. Was it a mistake to just buy out Austin Rivers immediately after the trade with Washington was finalized?

GuarGuar: I don’t think it was a mistake to buy out Rivers immediately. I would hope the front office figured out beforehand there wasn’t any trade value for him, which I assume to be the case. Rivers has a reputation for being a locker room cancer, and this team has had too many of those guys over the years. It finally feels like the locker room is an enjoyable place to be for the Suns. Also, Rivers has been horrible statistically this season. The only place he’s played well for is the Clippers under his father. I’d rather give Melton the minutes to have him keep developing.

Sun-Arc: I would have felt it would have been a mistake to put a Suns jersey on Austin Rivers. Oubre was the prize in that trade and I’ve never liked River’s game. He’s always been inefficient and just average in everything with a below average PER. So, no, I’m not crying into my pillow at night over buying him out. Bye, Felicia.

SDKyle: It was slightly puzzling to me, but Austin Rivers isn’t good enough for me to say not keeping him around was a “mistake.” He’s not anything the Suns especially needed. He’s not a particularly good shooter, he’s not a good defender, he’s not a guy who has historically succeeded in a playmaking role...he didn’t add anything of great value.

SouthernSun: None of us know what the conversations were behind the scenes that took place prior to his buyout. If there was no conversation, or not much of one, and he never said he wanted to start or wanted nothing to do with the team, then it was pretty dumb to waive him. He’s probably a slightly better guard than any guard the Suns have other than Booker. Rivers at the very least should have been able to provide some decent minutes off the bench for a 2nd unit (and team in general) woefully devoid of in their prime NBA players. If he did say he wanted no part of coming off the bench ever though, it was an understandable move.

Alex Sylvester: I was one of the few people that liked Rivers game (the LAC version) once the trade was made but even I can see that the decision to part ways with Austin was beneficial for both parties.

What true benefit does the organization get in acquiring a veteran that might help with one or two more basketball games this year?

Especially if Rives were to mess with the new chemistry the Suns are developing, we would all be kicking ourselves for letting Doc’s Sun (see what I did there) ruin things.

The Suns still need an upgrade at the PG position, but it’s beginning to feel less dire and more so a move that needs to happen at the right time.

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


Key Stats

minus-8.8 vs. plus-0.5

The first number is the average point differential for the Suns for the entire season. To put it plainly, that means that the Suns have been out scored by an average of 8.8 points per game. The second number is the average point differential for Phoenix over the past two weeks (eight games). A positive 0.5 APD certainly isn’t great but it is another indicator of how much the Suns have improved over the course of this season.

Weekly Book Report

36.1 mpg, 24.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 7.0 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.2 bpg, 4.0 TO, 3.4 PF

44.4% FG, 30.9% 3PT, 85.1% FT

This week - 39.8 mpg, 30.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 8.3 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.8 bpg, 3.8 TO, 3.5 PF

43.3% FG, 25.8% 3PT, 87.9% FT

Random Stats: For the season, Deandre Ayton is averaging 2.9 offensive rebounds per game. In the four games last week he averaged 6.3 offensive rebounds per game.

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


Game Highlights

Phoenix Suns vs New York Knicks Full Game Highlights | 12.17.2018

Boston Celtics vs Phoenix Suns Full Game Highlights | 12.19.2018

Phoenix Suns vs Washington Wizards - Full Game Highlights | Dec 22, 2018

Brooklyn Nets vs Phoenix Suns Full Game Highlights | Dec 23, 2018


Quotes of the Week

”We’re not thinking so much anymore. We’re just playing basketball.” - Devin Booker

”It’s a very young team, but at the end of the day we all have pretty much the same energy. We all want to get better, we all want to play basketball and play great playing basketball. If your mind is strong enough, you can do anything.” - Kelly Oubre


Rookie Report

Deandre Ayton - 30.9 mpg, 16.6 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 2.3 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.9 bpg, 1.9 TO, 2.9 PF

  • This week - 33.0 mpg, 24.0 ppg, 16.5 rpg, 0.8 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.0 bpg, 2.3 TO, 3.3 PF

Mikal Bridges - 25.2 mpg, 7.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.4 bpg, 0.7 TO, 2.2 PF, 33.3% 3PT

  • This week - 33.8 mpg, 7.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 21.3 apg, 2.3 spg, 0.5 bpg, 0.5 TO, 2.5 PF, 33.3% 3PT

De’Anthony Melton - 19.0 mpg, 6.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.2 bpg, 1.6 TO, 2.2 PF, 34.0% 3PT

  • This week - 20.6 mpg, 3.3 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.0 bpg, 1.3 TO, 2.0 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 - DNP

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

  • This week - DNP

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!

Donate now and help send twice as many kids per donation!

It’s still $9 per ticket but now your $9 buys TWO tickets thanks to the Phoenix Suns matching each donation, dollar for dollar! 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

For NBA players, navigating in-season trades can be a little tricky. Washington Post

Kelly Oubre Jr. on youth of Suns: “I don’t really believe in age”. Sporting News

Minnesota Timberwolves: 3 vital trades for the Phoenix Suns’ T.J. Warren. Dunking with Wolves

Trevor Ariza Clearly Wasn’t Happy In Phoenix, Which Might Explain The Rushed Trade. UPROXX

Do the Suns look like a team on the verge of breaking through? Tom Ziller/SBNation

NBA Daily: Finding a Point Guard for the Phoenix Suns. Basketball Insiders

Deandre Ayton’s Big Night Provides a Rare Glimpse of Optimism for Phoenix. Sports Illustrated

What is fueling the Suns recent surge? BBall Index


This Week in Suns History

On December 25, 1968, the Suns made their national television debut on Christmas day, 1968, as an ABC audience and a season-high Coliseum crowd of 10,355 witnessed the Los Angeles Lakers post a 119-99 victory.

On December 30, 1992, the Phoenix Suns defeated Houston 133-110 to finish December with a 14-0 record, tying for the third-best month in NBA history.


Suns Trivia

The 146 points scored by the Suns in their triple-overtime loss to the Washington Wizards on Saturday night is tie for 10th on the All-Time list of most points scored in a single game by the Suns. It’s the first time they’ve scored 140 or more points in a game since March 16, 2010 when they beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 152-114.

Two of the games in which the Suns scored more than 146 points (151 points in 1992 and 149 points in 2006) were also in losses.


Previewing the Week Ahead

Wednesday, December 26 - Phoenix Suns @ Orlando Magic, 5:00 pm AZT

Friday, December 28 - Phoenix Suns vs Oklahoma City Thunder, 7:00 pm AZT

Saturday, December 29 - Phoenix Suns vs Denver Nuggets, 7:00 pm AZT

Three games this week with the Suns wrapping up their East coast road trip and returning to Phoenix for a seven game home stand.

The day after Christmas (and two days off), the Suns will face off against a pretty solid Orlando Magic squad. The Suns lost their first game against the Magic 99-85 but that was a month ago and without Devin Booker and T.J. Warren. The Magic were at full strength for that game. The Magic have been pretty solid defensively this season but their offense has been slipping as the season has gone on. I believe that the Suns will end their road trip with a win in Orlando.

On Friday the Suns will play their first home game in almost two weeks against the OKC Thunder. This will be their fourth and final game against the Thunder this season after losing their first three matchups. I wish I could bring myself to think that the Suns could get a win against them but the truth is that they will probably lose and wind up with a 0-4 record verses OKC this season.

The Suns’ final game of the week is on the second night of a back-to-back against a very strong Denver Nuggets team. I expect the outcome to be better than the 119-91 pasting the Nuggets gave the Suns back in their first meeting on Oct. 20 but it should still be a loss.

I’m predicting that the Suns will go 1-2 this week.

What’s your prediction?


Last Week’s Poll Results

The poll was “The Suns’ two wins last week were...”

02.5% - A fluke.

68.0% - A sign that the team is getting better.

29.5% - Ask me again in a week or two.

There were a total of 326 votes cast.


No poll this week just us wishing all of you a...