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Center of the Sun: Phoenix Suns win one and lose three to finish the week at 19-46

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With 17 games left to play, the Suns are second in the reverse standings.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

@ New Orleans Pelicans L (125-116) Full Recap

@ Memphis Grizzlies W (110-102) Full Recap

vs Oklahoma City Thunder L (124-116) Full Recap

@ Atlanta Hawks L (113-112) Full Recap

While one win and three losses certainly doesn’t exactly qualify as a good week, just the fact that the Suns were actually in position to win near the end of the game in all of those losses is at least encouraging.

In Devin Booker’s ‘worst’ game this week, he scored 20 points (he had 40, 34 & 39 in the other three). Josh Jackson averaged almost 20 points per game (19.5) and scored a career high of 29 against Memphis. Elfrid Payton had two double-doubles and a triple double. T.J. Warren had his 5th 30+ point game of the season.

The problem has been getting good and/or consistent performances from the rest of the team (not including Shaq Harrison who has done a great job in a limited role).

I don’t need to name names. You all know who they are. And we all know that no matter how well Book, JJ, Elf and T.J. play on a nightly basis, without some changes this team isn’t going to suddenly start winning regularly this season or the next... let alone make it back to the playoffs.

Since getting to the playoffs is something that Suns fans can only dream of happening sometime in the future, many (if not most) have once again turned to looking forward to and speculating on the Suns’ fortunes in the NBA Draft. Draft position has become something of an obsession, especially with a draft class that looks to be loaded with top-end talent that might go as deep as the 6th or 7th pick plus more players with high potential even deeper in the draft.

And like it or not, the Suns are right there in the bottom of the NBA standings but also in the mix for possibly a very high pre-lottery spot in the draft order. Even if the ping-pong balls do not fall in the Suns’ favor (again) this year, I doubt that they will actually fall out of the top 5 in this year’s draft order.

With those thoughts in mind, I posed the following questions to the Fantable.


Fantable Questions of the Week

1. I think that it’s very unlikely that the Suns fall out of the top 5 in this year’s draft (even after the lottery drawing). Who you you think are the 5 best draft targets for the Suns with their top pick?

2. At the moment, it looks as though it’s possible that both the Miami and Milwaukee draft picks could convey to Phoenix this year. If that happens, do you think that the Suns should use all three 1st round picks, try to use them to try and trade up in the draft (depending on where their top pick winds up of course) or is there a possible trade that they might be used in with one of the seven NBA teams that won’t have a first round pick this year (Detroit, Houston, Toronto, OKC, New Orleans, Miami & Milwaukee... if it conveys) that looks like a good idea to you?

GuarGuar: I think the best 5 draft targets for the Suns are:

  1. Deandre Ayton - looks like a beast and would fill the center position we have struggled at for so many years. He’s so skilled for someone his size. His mobility and coordination are incredible too. Only concern is overall defense but I think he’ll be just fine.
  2. Luka Doncic - I used to think Doncic was the clear #1, but not anymore. I really am skeptical about his true superstar ceiling given his lack of burst and speed. However, he is so skilled already and is by far the safest pick in the draft. I would be thrilled to get him. He makes his teammates better.
  3. Jaren Jackson Jr - JJJ is a really good and smart defender, which is much needed for the Suns. His offensive game has come around big time this college season too. The biggest concern with him is foul trouble. Hopefully that isn’t any indicator of an inability to stay on the floor at the NBA level.
  4. Trae Young - I am high on Trae Young. I think he’s similar to Damian Lillard in terms of his scoring ability. His vision is off the charts too. If we strike out on Ayton/Doncic I would be more than okay drafting Trae. There are concerns pairing him with Booker defensively, but the emergence of JJ on the defensive end makes me feel more comfortable.
  5. Michael Porter Jr - I really like MPJ too. He sets up to be a dynamic scorer at the next level. He could be a solid defender too. His size and length allows him to play the 4 position at times too. Might end up being a top 2 player in this draft to be honest. He’s going to start playing for Missouri to close the season so I’m excited to watch!

#2 - Personally, I want to just actually draft with our own pick, and deal the other first(s). We have enough teenagers. We need to start placing established pieces around our young core. Draft with our own (hopefully top 3), and trade any other first for quality supporting players so we can start winning next year. Maybe Portland is ready to part ways with C.J. McCollum. Maybe Kevin Love (not sold on that tbh) is available if LeBron James leaves. Maybe we can use the picks in a sign and trade for Clint Capela. I don’t know exactly what will be out there at the time, but I’m sure there is a solid player or players we could acquire.

Sun-Arc: Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Michael Porter Jr, Jaren Jackson Jr., Mohamed Bamba (Then Trae Young/Marvin Bagley III). I go BPA all day.

#2 - Possible, but not probable that both convey. If it happens, though, it means more options during a must-win summer. I sure hope it happens. Three scenarios I considered...

2a. Its kind of feeling like the team may kind of blow things up this summer. They certainly keep Devin Booker and Josh Jackson. Everyone else is, IMO, on the trade or cutting table. They may trade T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, and Troy Daniels (plus Jared Dudley/Tyson Chandler if possible) away for 3&D prospects and/or future assets. They release every contract and cap hold they can (Davon Reed, Alan Williams, and Elfrid Payton) to free cap space to go after Aaron Gordon and/or Clint Capela. These might be sign-and-trades too. If they do go this route, its possible the MIL & MIA picks are used in trades during the draft OR - if they clear enough players they may actually keep and use these picks - though I doubt the latter as no one (including Ryan McDonough) is interested to wait to see if lower picks become useful players at this point.

The point is - its a bit of a fire-sale, rebuilding around Book and JJ (and my hope is TJ too), with fewer players of higher caliber. 8-9 man solid rotation of solid-to-good-to-great players- something like Payton, Book, JJ, TJ, Gordon, JJJ, Danny Green, Patrick Patterson, and maybe Bender and Brandon Knight are still around? I know those last two aren’t good-to-great right now but the team is moving in the right direction.

2b. Or maybe it isn’t a fire-sale and we stick largely with what we have and just try and keep building. I still think we drop all inessential contracts and go after Gordon/Capela and a good mid-level 3&D guy- with the picks going out in a draft-day trade (for someone like Danny Green). Thing about those teams without picks is there isn’t a lot I’d want from them. They won’t likely let go of higher end players (D Green would likely take two picks and a young player). So this roster change may be more boring... Payton, Book, JJ, TJ, Gordon, JJJ, D. Green, Bender, Reed, Knight.

2c. But let’s say we go all-in for a proven franchise player from one of those teams that don’t have high picks. What if we use all our first round picks (including our top 5 this year) and a couple of inessential players plus maybe even one of Book or JJ to get Kawhi Leonard or Anthony Davis, I’d do that. For now let’s say its a draft-day trade centered around picks + JJ for Kawhi, we drop our inessential remaining contracts and go after big fish. Bradley, Book, Kawhi, Gordon, Tyson, D. Green, Bender/Len, Daniels, Knight. Not ideal yet - but something to continue building around for sure.

SDKyle: Not necessarily in any kind of final order, my top 5 draft targets are:

  • - Deandre Ayton
  • - Luka Doncic
  • - Marvin Bagley III
  • - Jaren Jackson Jr.
  • - Michael Porter Jr.

All of these guys have the capability to be extremely good NBA players, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really want Ayton or Doncic.

#2 - Under no circumstances do I think that the Suns should draft three guys in the first round. We should keep the likely top 5 pick, but trade the others. I’d be interested in making a deal with New Orleans for Nikola Mirotic. He’s been bad there, but I have to think he’s still got something left at his fairly young age and that he could be had for one of those picks.

I’m also still interested in upgrading at PG by acquiring Kemba Walker. The Hornets have work to do and I have a feeling we could make a deal if we were serious.

Lastly I’d just like to mention that the Suns should be serious players in the play for whatever star gets disgruntled this off-season. If we haven’t used the picks in trades already, we could play those as well as some of our non-key players. So practically everyone who isn’t Booker or Jackson.

SouthernSun: My Top 5 are:

  1. Deandre Ayton - He is without a doubt the player in this draft most likely to become a superstar. He is so dynamic offensively, and will be able to contribute to a team from day one. He’s recently shown some flashes of decent defense as well, and he has the tools to be better on that end. Some have pointed out that maybe he’s experiencing a case of being disinterested at the college level of play, and that’s why he doesn’t seem to be fully engaged defensively, and while that seems like a red flag, heck, I’m not sure I can blame him. He knows he’s going 1 or 2 in this draft, and he knows he’s a man among boys out there. Also, the idea of drafting an Arizona player to the Suns is always fun. Feels like you’re drafting a guy who may stay there forever.
  2. Luka Doncic - The most NBA ready player in this draft, and the player I think is most likely to first play in an all star game due to that fact. He doesn’t seem like a guy with true “superstar” potential, but he seems like a can’t miss pick who will be really good immediately, and will quickly become one of the better players in the league. Just maybe never one of the top 10-15 guys.
  3. Michael Porter Jr - This is really dependent upon how he looks over the course of the next month, and also how the medical staff feels about him, but MPJ seems like a perfect complement to Booker and Jackson. A sweet shooting scoring PF. We all keep saying that center and point guard are the main holes the Suns have to fill, but if we are true to ourselves, we know that PF is almost as bad a spot as the other two.
  4. Jaren Jackson Jr - A defensive beast who can knock down threes? Sign me up. Depending on Porter’s performance over the next month, and his medical evaluation, JJJ may very well jump up to number three on my list. For now though, he’s at 4. He’s just so solid. It’s almost guaranteed that he is an impact player on both sides. Spacing the floor with his shooting, and being a monster on the other end.
  5. Marvin Bagley III - Back to PF we go. I almost put Bamba here, but honestly, I just don’t think he has the star potential Bagley does. And while I felt inclined to put a center ahead of a PF in terms of need, realistically that’s just not the case. We need either. I think Bagley, if given the minutes next season, will be able to step right in and average something along the lines of 14 and 8 as a rookie. And if he can develop at least a league average three, he will become an extremely deadly player in this league.

#2 - Using all three of the Suns 1st rounders this summer, if all three do indeed convey, is a horrible idea. This team is one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams in the league. One of the biggest reasons they are one the worst (if not the worst) team in the NBA is because of the amount of youth on the team, and the lack of impact veterans. You don’t fix that problem by throwing more teenagers at it.

The Suns should draft one player, using their top pick, and then trade the other picks. Or at least, if they do draft players with them, only draft them with the intention of trading them later. For instance, that’s what would need to happen to get Clint Capela.

There are so many trade scenarios that could take place involving those picks. I’m going to touch on a few.

Here is a draft day deal that might make sense if the Suns draft Luka Doncic:

Suns trade Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley, along with the Miami 2018 pick and Milwaukee pick, and bring back Hassan Whiteside. He’s a little older than some might like at 28, but he’s an extremely good player, and would be a great addition to the roster in the event the Suns draft Doncic.

Here is a draft day deal that would make sense if the Suns draft Ayton or JJJ:

Suns trade Jared Dudley, Tyson Chandler, Marquese Chriss, and the Miami 2018 pick to the Hornets, and bring back Kemba Walker and Marvin Williams. Adding a good veteran point guard and a decent average starting caliber stretch 4 in Williams to start ahead of Bender for a couple of seasons. Hornets are looking to shed salary, and if they are legitimately looking to trade Kemba (which we don’t really know), this seems like a good move for them to get back some expiring contracts, a young prospect picked 8th overall in 2016, and a decent 1st rounder.

Now for two potential deals that would need to take place after the draft.

The first is a deal that makes sense if the Suns draft a PG like Doncic, and is with the Houston Rockets:

Suns trade Tyson Chandler, Marquese Chriss, and player drafted with either the Miami or MIL pick to Houston in a sign and trade deal for Clint Capela. The Rockets could then cut Chandler, and spread out his salary over several years, to give them enough room to pursue LeBron or re-sign Chris Paul (if they don’t feel they can afford to keep both Capela and Paul. I think this is a long shot. I’m under the impression that the Rockets will have a quiet summer, and bring back both Capela and Paul, no matter what happens in the playoffs this year.

The next potential deal works whether the Suns draft a center or a point, and would be with the Magic:

The Suns work a sign and trade with the Magic for Aaron Gordon. They send Tyson Chandler, Jared Dudley, and both players drafted with the Miami and MIL picks to the Magic, and perhaps Chriss, in exchange for Aaron Gordon. Again, in this scenario the Magic may or may not choose to reach a contract buy out with Dudley and Chandler to insure room on their roster for the young players they receive in the deal.

These deals have all been for impact veteran players (some young, some in the latter stages of their prime) and so are interesting and fun to come up with. However, there’s always a chance that the Suns use these picks to help them send out salary to another team in return for a player with an non-guaranteed contract they can waive, or a similar deal, to make room for a free agent or two that they get a commitment from (i.e. DeAndre Jordan).

I think a dark horse for a player the Suns may try to sign and trade for that nobody is really talking about is Jabari Parker. Depending on how he finishes this season, he may be somebody the Suns try and snatch up to fill their glaring hole at PF, since neither Bender or Chriss seem to be anywhere close to ready to be a starter on a playoff team.

There may very well be a lot of moving pieces this summer. The only two players I feel comfortable saying are going to almost definitely be on the team next season are Booker and Jackson. And in the extremely unlikely event that Kawhi Leonard or Anthony Davis become available, you can shorten that list to just Booker.

Summary: Our Fantable is unanimous in making Deandre Ayton (1) and Luka Doncic (2) their top 2 draft targets for the Suns. Michael Porter Jr and Jaren Jackson Jr are pretty much a tossup at 3/4, Marvin Bagley III comes in 5th with Trae Young and Mo Bamba both getting into the conversation but not selected in the top five by most. Let us know in the comments section who your top five draft targets for the Suns are.

Many thanks to our Fantable, GuarGuar, Sun-Arc, SDKyle and SouthernSun for all their input!


Key Stats

88.1 points per game

That is what Booker, Warren, Jackson and Payton combined averaged this past week. Everyone else averaged a combined 25.6 points per game. That wouldn’t be a really big deal if the Suns could actually rely on defense to win a few games.

Weekly Book Report

33.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.8 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.3 bpg, 3.8 TO, 3.3 PF, 40.6% 3pt

Random Stats: Devin Booker has a 19.75 points per game career average. That ranks 10th in Suns history for that category. His 25.12 ppg average for this season ranks 8th in all-time single season PPG averages.

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com and LandofBasketball.com.


Game Highlights

New Orleans Pelicans vs Phoenix Suns Full Game Highlights / Feb 26 / 2017-18 NBA Season

Phoenix Suns vs Memphis Grizzlies Full Game Highlights February 28, 2018 2017 18 NBA Season

Oklahoma City Thunder vs Phoenix Suns Full Game Highlights / March 2 / 2017-18 NBA Season

Atlanta Hawks vs Phoenix Suns Highlights 3/4/18


Quote of the Week

”At the start of the season I didn’t play too great. I made a lot of mistakes. It was really good for me to go out there and be able to make those mistakes just because I feel like I learned from them. There’s times and there’s plays where you just know what to do and you know what not to do just because you’ve been in that position before.” - Josh Jackson


Rookie Report

Josh Jackson - 27.6 mpg, 11.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.4 bpg, 1.7 TO, 2.8 PF

  • This week - 30.2 mpg, 19.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.5 bpg, 1.8 TO, 3.3 PF, 20.0 3PT%

Davon Reed - 8.0 mpg, 1.3 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 0.6 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.1 bpg, 0.3 TO, 0.9 PF

  • This week - Assigned to the NAZ Suns

Alec Peters - 9.1 mpg, 1.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.8 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.2 bpg, 0.1 TO, 0.2 PF

  • This week - Assigned to the NAZ Suns

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.


News & Notes

Empire of the Suns mailbag, Part III: T.J. Warren, Elfrid Payton’s futures. Kellan Olson/Arizona Sports

Devin Booker reveals late-game message from Russell Westbrook vs. Thunder. Brandon Lee/Clutch Points

Paul George did not have fun guarding Suns’ Devin Booker, Josh Jackson. Kellan Olson/Arizona Sports

Phoenix Suns: Josh Jackson looks like a top-5 rookie. Gerald Bourguet/Hoops Habit

Foul call: Suns’ Jay Triano wondering if it’s time to get technical with officials. Scott Bordow/AZCentral Sports

Maturity the biggest difference in Phoenix Suns rookie Josh Jackson. Craig Grialou/Arizona Sports

Bickley: Suns need to hire Dan Majerle as their next head coach. Dan Bickley/AZCentral Sports

NBA tankathon: Who will win the best lottery odds? ESPN

Phoenix Suns’ Marquese Chriss needed All-Star break to work on mental health. Scott Bordow/AZCentral Sports


Suns History in Video


Suns Trivia

When the Suns played the Grizzlies on Wednesday night it was only the 6th time in NBA history where two teams entered a game on double-digit losing streaks. The (then) Vancouver Grizzlies were the last winning team in such a situation, snapping a 13-game losing streak, 88-77, on Jan. 20, 1998 against the Denver Nuggets, who entered that game on a 20-game slide.


Previewing the Week Ahead

Monday, March 5 - Phoenix Suns @ Miami Heat, 5:30 pm AZ time

Thursday, March 8 - Phoenix Suns @ Oklahoma City Thunder, 6:00 pm AZ time

Saturday, March 10 - Phoenix Suns @ Charlotte Hornets, 3:00 pm AZ time

There are three games this week, all on the road, starting with a trip to Miami to face the Heat... who have recently not been to hot on the court. Miami is 32-30 for the season and hanging on to the 8th seed in the East but have been 3-7 in their last ten games. I think that the Suns have a chance to get a win there but because it’s the second night of a back-to-back for the Suns (the day following the Atlanta game), I’m predicting a win for the Heat.

After two days off the Suns head into OKC for a rematch with the Thunder. As we all know, the Suns have played OKC very well this season and I expect another good game but I don’t think that the Suns will be able to pull off another win against them.

And finally the Suns head back Eastward for a Saturday afternoon game against the Hornets in Charlotte. Charlotte has been playing better ball lately and are still within striking distance of the 8th seed in the East. They aren’t good enough that I don’t think that the Suns can’t pull off something of a minor upset win but - unlike the Suns - these guys still have more than just pride to play for so I’m giving them the nod to get the win.

My prediction for this week is that the Suns go 0-3 with a slight possibility of going 1-2 if the steal the game from the Heat. And a win help keep that Heat draft pick would be a nice plus if they can get a win there.

What’s your prediction?


TankWatch 2018

Starting this week we’ve added a new section to the Center of the Sun titled TankWatch. What is it? Well, each week for the rest of this season I’ll give you all a weekly update on the reverse standings and a schedule for all of the games being played by all the teams other than the Suns that are in contention for those prized top draft picks this year.

As you can see, it’s going to be a tight race for the bottom with just a 3 game separation between #1 and #8 in the reverse standings and no team with more than 20 games left to play. Memphis is in the lead with the Suns in second place but back only by .5 games. The Knicks aren’t really in the race for the #1 spot but they have been steadily falling since they lost Kristaps Porzingis for the season and could slip into the bottom 8 by the end of the season.

Weekly Reverse Standings Games Schedule

Monday, March 5: Phoenix @ Miami, Boston @ Chicago, Memphis @ San Antonio & Orlando @ Utah.

Tuesday, March 6: Atlanta @ Toronto, Denver @ Dallas, New York @ Portland and Brooklyn @ Golden State.

Wednesday, March 7: Memphis @ Chicago, New Orleans @ Sacramento & Orlando @ LA Lakers.

Thursday, March 8: Brooklyn @ Charlotte & Phoenix @ OKC.

Friday, March 9: Chicago @ Detroit, Atlanta @ Indiana, Utah @ Memphis, New York @ Milwaukee & Orlando @ Sacramento.

Saturday, March 10: Phoenix @ Charlotte & Memphis @ Dallas.

Sunday, March 11: Toronto @ New York, Chicago @ Atlanta, Sacramento @ Denver, Houston @ Dallas & Philadelphia @ Brooklyn.

There are four out and out tank battle games this week (all highlighted by bold print), the results of which will create larger shifts in the reverse standings than the other games.


Last Week’s Poll Results

The poll was, “What is the most important objective for the Suns during the off-season?”

The results were:

18.0% - Hiring a new head coach.

24.0% - Hitting a home run in the draft.

01.5% - Hitting at least a triple in free agency.

56.5% - All of the above. (They’re equally important!)

There were a total of 198 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

Who is #1 on your draft time ‘wish list’ for the Suns?

This poll is closed

  • 84%
    Deandre Ayton
    (196 votes)
  • 8%
    Luka Doncic
    (19 votes)
  • 0%
    Jaren Jackson Jr.
    (2 votes)
  • 3%
    Michael Porter Jr.
    (7 votes)
  • 2%
    Marvin Bagley III
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (2 votes)
231 votes total Vote Now