What: Phoenix Suns host Utah Jazz
When: 7 pm AZ time
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
Suns - Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss, Tyson Chandler
Jazz - Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert
OffRtg = 104.5 (19th), DefRtg = 105.1 (11th), NetRtg = -0.6 (17th)
After losing Gordon Hayward in free agency, many, including myself, expected the Jazz to fall off. However, the emergence of dynamic rookie guard Donovan Mitchell has already occurred.
I was high on Mitchell during the pre-draft process — he would have been the perfect piece to move Eric Bledsoe for on draft night — ranking him easily as a lottery prospect.
However, Utah beat others to the punch moving up with Denver’s No. 13 overall pick to obtain Mitchell. Alongside Rudy Gobert in Utah, Mitchell provides them a unique inside-out punch that can be built around.
I don’t think anybody expected Mitchell to be doing this so quickly, but he’s such a unique package on both ends. It’s likely he maxes out as an amazing No. 2 option on a championship contender one day.
One name to keep an eye on if Utah wants to sell at the trade deadline is Ricky Rubio. He was sent to the Jazz this past summer, but his fit there has not been great. With Mitchell taking over lead ball-handling duties more often now, Rubio is not really needed.
Utah might as well sell on Rubio while they can.
The question I want to present revolves around Phoenix: should they make a move for him? His contract will be off their books in the all-important summer of 2019, with his salary only $12 million a year.
Rubio isn’t my top option, but it’s been brought up by my co-host Brendon before. On the surface, a veteran pass-first point guard alongside Booker for 18 months might be a plausible idea.
I wonder how Marquese Chriss could look alongside someone patrolling the pace like Rubio. It’s definitely intriguing.
Either way, Utah has the foundational pieces with Gobert and Mitchell, but they need to capitalize on supplying them with talent that fits head coach Quinn Snyder’s schemes.
If the Jazz can ship off the likes of Rubio, Rodney Hood, Alec Burks, and Derrick Favors at the deadline they could restock their cupboard and make a playoff push by next season.
OffRtg = 103.2 (25th), DefRtg = 109 (27th), NetRtg = -5.8 (28th)
Over this stretch toward and after the All-Star break, keep an eye on the names around Booker. At this point, we know Booker has taken the jump in his game needed to become a franchise-altering star, but who will be his primary pieces around him long-term?
That could very well be decided February-April, as the Suns continue their experiment of Booker running the point. In his second career start there, Booker dropped 31 points and 10 assists. From there, he’s continued to control the pace.
Compared to Phoenix’s other options, Booker has by far been their best so thus far by a wide margin. Interim head coach Jay Triano went ahead with the Point Book lineup, while also placing Josh Jackson at shooting guard.
in January, the Booker-Warren-Jackson 3 man lineup had a net rating of +12. The best total for any Suns unit consisting of starters. Now, with that in place, let's see it marinate and stew together until seasons end.
Who knows, it could yield fantastic results.
Back on the young core alongside Booker, check out how three-fourths of them have performed so far in 2018.
Warren: 21.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.7 assists
Jackson: 14.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.5 assists
Chriss: 9.6 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1 block
That is fantastic production, and when it’s increased to 36 minutes it really proves that this group of 4 could be their long-term core with that one final piece being added in the 2018 Draft. Luckily for general manager Ryan McDonough, this class is loaded with elite ball handlers and big men.
Here’s a really ironic comparison I pulled between Jackson and Mitchell, per 36 minutes, last month. They are nearly identical, even all the way down to the shooting splits.
Jackson: 21.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 2.2 assists on 43.6/31.9/74.4 shooting splits
Mitchell: 22.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.5 assists on 45/32/79.2 shooting splits
That’s not a slight at Mitchell, but of the turnaround that has happened with Jackson since interim head coach Jay Triano gave him a DNP on Jan. 2 against Atlanta.
Give this core alongside Booker a summer to catch up — which sees the front office also aggressively pursuing key role pieces via drafting/signing talent — and the Suns could be in business to finally begin their push back towards playoff contention in 2019.
This should be a close one tonight, I imagine. Both Booker and Mitchell should have their way offensively, but will either one of their teams' secondary options step up as well? That’s what I believe it will come down to in this matchup.
In that case, keep an eye on Gobert and Warren as the x-factors, per usual, on both sides. The emergence of Phoenix’s young talent like Jackson and Chriss gives me hope of more consistent flashes occurring over these last few months, too.
This leads me to say that one of Jackson or Chriss will be key in the Suns pulling off their second victory in a row.
Another all-around team victory for the Suns, albeit in a nail-biter. Track meet type pace incoming.
Suns 119, Jazz 116