Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.
”It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way...”
It may seem odd to quote Charles Dickens’ novel “A Tale of Two Cities” in an article that is about Phoenix Suns basketball but it seemed fitting to me as I believe it is an apt description of the Suns and Suns fandom at the moment. It’s been a series of highs and lows (mostly lows) but there are signs that this team might finally have something more than “potential.”
It’s still too early to say that they’ve definitely turned a corner though. It might turn out to be another case of “one step forward, two steps back” at some point. Many of us have let ourselves be fooled before when it comes to the Suns. It’s way too easy to let ourselves see what we hope to see rather than what is really there.
I really do like what I’ve been seeing lately though.
Devin Booker has been improving and expanding his game. T.J. Warren has become a deadly three point sniper. Deandre Ayton is a double-double machine as a rookie (he has 22 DD games so far this season). Playing defense has suddenly become a real thing in Phoenix again!
Much of this season has been “the worst of times” but we might be on the verge of “the best of times.” It very likely won’t happen overnight but maybe it will. Perhaps sometime before the end of this season things will suddenly ‘click’ and we’ll witness something that just a month ago no one thought they would see any time soon... the beginning of a return to relevance and respectability.
Here’s hoping that with the coming of the New Year, new and continued success will follow for our Phoenix Suns.
Fantable Questions of the Week
This week I asked the Fantable for two player evaluations - Josh Jackson and Kelly Oubre Jr. - and asked a question of them.
1. Josh Jackson
GuarGuar: Josh once again started the season being statistically one of the worst players in the NBA. For the first month I believe he had a negative PER, which is pretty impressive to accomplish. But also like last season, he’s slowly transforming into an NBA player again. He’s slowing things down and being more of a playmaker on offense. He looks to have improved defensively as well, making multiple great plays a night on that side. Oubre being brought into town might have been a wake up call for JJ.
Sun-Arc: I’m going to concentrate on the positive side of JJ. I’m sure others (I’m guessing most notably SDKyle) will harp on his negatives. And his negatives DO need to be pointed out. But I’ll leave that part to others and say what I like about him.
Let me start by saying I am often amazed by JJ’s physical abilities. I think he’s probably top-five in overall speed for his size in the league. When he has even a small opening between him and the rim, and utilizes it correctly, he’s unstoppable. He’s going to get in for a dunk or get fouled. Once he figures out how to use angles better (and hit FT’s) this will be a great asset. He’s also got that killer instinct and (for now, too much) confidence. He just needs to learn how to harness his gifts and he will be a very valuable player. And he appears to be figuring all this out lately.
Josh has been coming around over the past nine games, starting with the clippers game on December 10th. In the 26 games prior to that he had only one game with a plus/minus in double digits, which was the first game of the season against Dallas (plus-10). The only other games where he was in positive territory was the game against OKC on Nov. 17 (plus-3) and two games where he was a plus-1.
In the last nine games (ending with the win @ ORL) he’s had +8, -18, +14, +11, +13, +14, +2, -11, +4. That is quite an improvement. Some of that is the entire team improving, but I would turn that on its head and say a fair bit of the team’s improvement has occurred because Josh has played better.
As I mentioned in last weeks’ CotS fantable, Josh was inspired by Holmes and Melton’s effort and up’d his own. And as he’s played better, the bench improved, which in turn helped the team to be more competitive. Plus he just seems to have gotten smarter on which shots to take. He started off shooting 41% overall in his first ten games but has shot 60% over the past five games. If you look at his monthly splits, his points, rebounds, assists, and three-point percentage have all increased as his plus/minus along with individual defensive rating have decreased.
He’s still maddening far too often, but I feel like he’s learning and getting better as the season progresses. I think with Oubre around he’s likely to progress even more. Not because he’s worried (he seems to be the kind of guy that doesn’t worry about much) but because he desperately wants to learn how to be a better player and there is a lot he can learn from Kelly. And, speaking of the Cajun Delight, I think these two players have been really good together. They are major disruptors on defense together and provide two athletic, fearless players that love to frustrate the other team.
Some are saying he’s expendable. I do not agree. Not yet. I need to see more.
SDKyle: I really want to love Josh Jackson. I wanted him in the draft. I defended him when people questioned his character over that incident at Kansas, and I counseled patience with his wild play as a rookie. At least he showed some fire right? As opposed to Bender?
But now I’m basically looking at a reality where Jackson has played himself into expendability. He’s not as good as Bridges or Oubre and you have to take it as a win when he’s a net neutral on the floor. Which is rare.
I still think Jackson can be a useful NBA player, but are the Suns willing to put in the time and money to find out if Jackson can be a decent rotation player in 2-3 seasons? Should they? I’m less enthused each day.
SouthernSun: Josh Jackson had a fantastic first game of the season, and then immediately started being awful for about a month and a half straight. But lately, he’s been a little less awful. Heck, I’ve actually seen him make a few pretty spectacular plays here and there. He’s almost reached a point where his good plays are nearly as frequent as his really bad ones. He is also one of the few players with any actual playmaking instinct on this Suns team. That’s not to say he’s been good.
He’s been below average at best, overall. But if he played like he’s been playing for the last couple weeks for the entirety of the season, I probably wouldn’t be quite as low on him. I still think he has a chance to be a pretty good player someday, but my expectations have lowered quite a bit.
Alex Sylvester: Jackson is starting to figure out what is going to make him successful in the long run.
Josh came into the league as a highly touted prospect with a chance at playing a lot of minutes on a young roster in Phoenix. He chose to push himself to try to become one of the stars that Phoenix desperately needed in order to get out of a near decade long drought of success.
That’s not who Josh Jackson is nor who he should try to be. His value comes from effort, defensive talent, and creativeness on the offensive end. The last month has shown JJ beginning to see what it’ll take for him to sustain results and it’s quite encouraging. Credit also should go to Igor for helping this realization to occur.
2. Kelly Oubre Jr.
GuarGuar: Oubre was absolutely fantastic on the road trip. He hit clutch shots, played great defense, and always had great energy. It was almost like he WANTED to be here. He fits into Igor’s system rather nicely. He’s made the bench mob really long and pesky, and they’ve turned into a defensive force lately. I love how we already are closing games with him next to Mikal and Booker. He probably doesn’t know the entire playbook either, but you wouldn’t know it based off his play. I would like to see his passing improve some, but other than that he’s been solid so far.
Sun-Arc: Oubre, so far, is essentially what we hoped Jackson would be- just without the passing. He defends and scores- what a concept! His defense is not perfect (114 DRtg), but seems plenty passable and knows where to be. He’s two years older than Josh with twice the on-court NBA experience, so he should be more effective on the court. I love his fearlessness and bravado- as long as he’s successful. Since arriving, he’s shot over 47% on threes on a small sample size of 19 attempts. If he can keep that up, he’ll command a pretty high price and be worth it.
The thing that has impressed me the most about him so far is his ability to seem so damn familiar with what the rest of the team is doing and go with it- on both ends of the floor. I never would have thought someone could step into our improving mess and help make it better RIGHT out of the gate. He seems pretty smart as well as talented. I have few complaints.
For now I’m not choosing between Oubre, Bridges, and JJ. Right now they all look like keepers- and I’m fine with having a bunch of versatile young wings that play on both ends of the court.
SDKyle: Kelly Oubre is the kind of decent bench wing most teams can benefit from. He’s not particularly great at anything but he’s at least mediocre at everything, and he brings good energy to whatever role you throw him into. He’s nothing special, but he’ll rarely embarrass himself out there. And there’s something to be said for that.
SouthernSun: Kelly Oubre is quickly becoming one of my favorite players on the team, and it has almost nothing to do with him being handsome. He’s played very very well for the Suns since being acquired in ridiculous fashion from the Washington Wizards, and I couldn’t be happier with the acquisition. He’s playing better than Ariza ever did for this team, and he actually has a future on it. Outside of trading for a starting point guard, I don’t think a better outcome was possible to come out of trading Ariza.
He plays good defense, gets his hands in passing lanes, spaces the floor with his shooting, and can create his own shot. I find myself wondering whether it wouldn’t make sense to replace Bridges with him in the starting lineup. I mentioned this recently in the comments section, and most people’s reaction was a resounding no. Some referenced he and T.J. Warren being too trigger happy and not looking to pass enough to play together. That may be a valid point... but I’m not sure you can ever have too many gifted scorers in your starting lineup, as long as there is one alpha scorer. The Suns have an alpha scorer. But another case for him remaining on the bench is his offense being needed on the second unit. I actually find that to be a more compelling argument, and it’s the one I made myself when initially bringing this question up. As long as Oubre is playing at least 30 minutes per game, I don’t suppose it matters who’s starting or not.
Alex Sylvester: Kelly is a dog. For the Suns, that’s exactly what was needed.
I find it funny that fans clamor that the Suns continue to have “too many wings” and that somebody has to be moved in order to fix it. Do they really need to fix an issue if the issue is non existent?
Maybe if the Suns were to add a point guard it becomes an issue, but that’s another subject. Oubre has been a fine (in all aspects of the word) addition to this franchise and has solidified the bench into becoming a strength rather than a weakness. He can be added to the closing lineup, he can switch 1-4, his shot has been money so far, and he adds to the tenacity that this team has shown of late.
If this is what we can come to expect from Kelly, there’s no reason to let him walk in RFA this summer.
3. Of the two (Jackson and Oubre), which do you believe is most likely to be included in a mid-season trade?
GuarGuar: Out of the two, I’m going to say JJ is the one more likely to be traded. Oubre is the better player right now. He’s more polished and his jumper is better than Jackson’s. JJ has the edge in playmaking, but there’s nights where that isn’t the case because Josh can get very erratic. Oubre is a RFA this summer while JJ you still have a year of control before deciding whether to pick up his option. I’m skeptical of either one being traded, but I certainly think it’s a possibility. And at this point, I would lean it being Josh Jackson.
Sun-Arc: The only way that I see JJ or Kelly being traded is for a young starting caliber point guard that works for us long-term. There are only two such players I think would be worth such a trade: D’Angelo Russell and Scary Terry Rozier. Oubre and Rozier have matching salaries, as do JJ and Russell. Since Oubre cannot be traded with other players from the Suns, unless the swap is for Rozier, which I think is highly unlikely, I’d say JJ is more likely to be traded. Brooklyn is also more likely to make a trade for one of these players as a stop-gap step-in for LeVert.
Both trades are gambles for us because the PG’s are both RFA’s, who could potentially walk (DLo seems more likely to stay). I like both our players as versatile wings, and am not excited about trading them, though I still would for a starting young PG. It’d be interesting to acquire Rozier for Ariza, huh? Or DLo for last season’s 4th pick after Brooklyn has made him a better overall player. But I’d miss whomever we trade away of the players mentioned.
SDKyle: I’m torn on this question. I think the market is better for Oubre because he’s proven he can be a positive contributor at least as often as not. But that might also induce the Suns to keep him around. I think it’s possible neither gets dealt just because the Suns don’t seem inclined to “overpay” in a deal and any deal involving either Oubre or Jackson is likely going to be either small potatoes or “expensive” because the Suns are also including a draft pick or two.
SouthernSun: Between the two, if I had to guess who is more likely to be involved in a mid season trade, I would say it’s Josh Jackson. This team is looking to “turn the corner”, and be a good competitive team sooner rather than later. Oubre is already a player who can help that. Jackson still requires development.
If I were the Suns, I would look to trade Jackson before I looked to trade Oubre, especially if they feel Oubre could be kept for something like 12-14 million a year. Jackson already makes 7 million, so that’s not a huge difference in terms of cap space, and the Suns can go free agent hunting, then go over the cap to re-sign Oubre. Josh and he probably have somewhat comparable trade values (Oubre having the edge). But Oubre can’t be packaged with other players, and therefore the contracts he can be traded for are limited. Jackson on the other hand can be packaged or traded by himself.
I don’t necessarily think that either will be traded this season, but if I had to bet on it, I’d say Jackson is the more likely of the two. Especially with how well Oubre has seemed to mesh with this team so far.
Alex Sylvester: Of the two, I would assume Jackson will be more expendable based off of two factors.
- He can be packaged with another player if the Suns were wanting to go all in on a point guard.
- Bridges has made him more expendable
I don’t know if I want either of them being moved, but if the price were right I wouldn’t complain!
As always, many thanks to our Fantable - GuarGuar, SDKyle, Sun-Arc, SouthernSun and Alex Sylvester - for all their extra effort every week!
10.5 steals, 5.8 blocks
In the month of December, the Suns led the NBA in steals with 10.5 per game and were 6th in blocks with 5.8 per game. Their averages for November were 8.3 steals (tied for 10th) and 4.6 blocks (tied for 21st).
Weekly Book Report
36.1 mpg, 25.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 7.2 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.2 bpg, 3.9 TO, 3.4 PF
45.0% FG, 32.2% 3PT, 85.4% FT
This week - 36.3 mpg, 29.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 8.7 apg, 2.0 spg, 0.3 bpg, 3.3 TO, 3.3 PF
50.0% FG, 44.4% 3PT, 88.2% FT
Random Stats: Deandre Ayton has 22 double-doubles so far and is tied with DeAndre Jordan for 9th in total DDs this season. He has twice as many as fellow rookie Trae Young (11) who is tied for 33rd on the list. Devin Booker ranks 3rd in fourth-quarter points per game with 7.5 (Kemba Walker - 8.4, LeBron James - 8.3)
Phoenix Suns vs Orlando Magic Full Game Highlights | Dec 26, 2018
Oklahoma City Thunder vs Phoenix Suns Full Game Highlights | Dec 28, 2018
Denver Nuggets vs Phoenix Suns Full Game Highlights | 12/29/2018
Quote of the Week
”I think we got a taste of winning, and (that desire to win) is contagious. I think any time in the season can be that turning point. Some teams just click sometimes. I remember (two years ago), the Miami Heat ran off 13 straight. Last year, the Utah Jazz (won 17 of 20) late in the season. You never know when a team can click and something can start working. Maybe it’s an adjustment, or a new player... We just added Kelly (Oubre). You never know what it can be, and that’s what keeps me going.” - Devin Booker
Deandre Ayron - 31.2 mpg, 16.8 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 2.2 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.9 bpg, 1.8 TO, 2.8 PF
- This week - 35.3 mpg, 19.0 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 1.7 apg, 2.3 spg, 1.0 bpg, 1.0 TO, 1.3 PF
Mikal Bridges - 25.9 mpg, 7.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.5 bpg, 0.87 TO, 2.2 PF, 35.3% 3PT
- This week - 34.7 mpg, 11.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.3 spg, 1.3 bpg, 1.0 TO, 2.3 PF, 47.4% 3PT
De’Anthony Melton - 19.5 mpg, 5.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.3 bpg, 1.7 TO, 2.4 PF, 32.1% 3PT
- This week - 24.3 mpg, 4.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.7 bpg, 1.7 TO, 3.3 PF, 16.7% 3PT
Elie Okobo - 19.5 mpg, 6.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.4 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.2 bpg, 1.5 TO, 2.6 PF, 26.9% 3PT
- This week - 17.0 mpg, 4.5 ppg, 0.5 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 1.5 TO, 1.0 PF, 33.3% 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
- This week - DNP
Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.
News & Notes
Suns’ length, athleticism similar to ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ teams. Duane Rankin/Arizona Republic
Kelly Oubre Jr. bringing more energy, enticing lineup options for Suns. Kellan Olson/Arizona Sports
Tum Tum Nairn Masters the Rare College Player-to-NBA Assistant Transition. The Crossover/SI
Deandre Ayton on the Phoenix Suns: ‘It is us against the world’. Hoops Hype
Suns History in Video
Phoenix Suns Top 10 plays from 10 years ago (2008-2009 season)
Did you know that former Suns great and Ring of Honor member Connie Hawkins once appeared in a movie? It was a bit part in a 1979 basketball/sports comedy movie called “The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh”. He even has his own Internet Movie Database page.
Previewing the Week Ahead
Monday, December 31 - Phoenix Suns vs Golden State Warriors, 7:00 pm AZT
Wednesday, January 2 - Phoenix Suns vs Philadelphia 76ers, 7:00 pm AZT
Friday, January 4 - Phoenix Suns vs LA Clippers, 7:00 pm AZT
Sunday, January 6 - Phoenix Suns vs Charlotte Hornets, 6:00 pm AZT
Four home games for the Suns this week and all but one are against teams with winning records.
Tonight the reigning NBA Champs come to town. Golden State is still a powerhouse team in what has become a powerhouse conference. The Suns will hopefully make this a good game but a win would be a major upset and I doubt that happens.
On Wednesday, the Sixers come to town for their second game of the season against the Suns. Philly won that first game but not convincingly... and that was with Trevor Ariza and Isaiah Canaan playing large rotation minutes. With Kelly Oubre and De’Anthony Melton taking over their roles this time around, I think that the Suns have a very good chance at stealing a win against the 23-14 Sixers. I put their chances at 50-50.
Friday night the Suns host the LA Clippers. I’m sure most of you remember that just over three weeks ago the Suns lost to the Clips 123-119 in overtime, in LA, without Devin Booker and with T.J. Warren getting ejected after playing only 12 minutes and scoring 6 points. If the Suns play as hard in this game as they did in that one, I’d say that they have another very good chance at pulling off an upset. Once again, I put their chances at 50-50.
On Sunday the Suns face the Charlotte Hornets in the first meeting of the two teams this season. The Hornets have only been hovering around .500 this season but Kemba Walker just went off on Washington last Saturday for 47 points. Walker pretty much is that team but he has a solid if unspectacular supporting cast that can’t be taken lightly. They don’t turn the ball over much (2nd in turnovers) and are a good three point shooting team (36.0%, 7th in the NBA) but I think that the Suns will get a win in this game.
This week I believe that the Suns will go 2-2 after winning at least one of the 50-50 games mentioned earlier. I also believe there is an outside chance of them going 3-1... but not a big chance.
What’s your prediction?
This week’s poll is about the Suns’ win/loss record for the rest of the season. They’re at 9-28 now with 45 games left to play.
Out of their final 45 games, how many do you think the Suns will win?
This poll is closed
10 or less.
11 to 15.
16 to 20.