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Center of the Sun: Suns lose another four games, fall to 11-41

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Just 30 games left in the 2018-1019 season.

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NBA: Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

vs Minnesota Timberwolves L (118-91) Full Recap

vs Portland Trail Blazers L (120-106) Full Recap

@ Denver Nuggets L (132-95) Full Recap

@ LA Lakers L (116-102) Full Recap

With another horrible week gone by, what is there left to say about this team? I’m at a loss for words. All the excuses have already been run out and all of the fingers have already been pointed.

This team has disappointed their fans and should be very disappointed in themselves. They were without several key players this week but every team goes through that from time to time. If the front office can’t pull some sort of rabbit out of a hat between now and the trade deadline, the final 30 games of the season will likely continue to be hard to watch.

If nothing changes in the coming weeks, we will at least see what kind of character this team has. Will they keep playing hard or will they throw in the towel and just go through the motions for the rest of the season?

Time will tell.


Fantable Questions of the Week

1. We’ve done a lot of player evaluations this season but Devin Booker hasn’t been one of them. This week, that changes as I asked the Fantable for their opinions on Booker’s play this season.

GuarGuar: Fair warning, I’m going to go a little long on this given I think it’s an important topic to discuss. It’s been a pretty unconventional season for Devin Booker. Depending on who you ask, I’m sure you will get a different answer for how his year has gone. I think everyone on BSOTS is aware how much of a Booker stan I am, and how I will defend him for most of his criticisms. Before I get into my thoughts on his season, I want to go over the big picture here.

Booker worked diligently all offseason on his game, trying to take another leap this season. And right before training camp, his hand injury reappeared and was forced into surgery. He missed ALL of training camp under a brand new coach with a completely different system, and 10 new teammates. In an offense built around our guards/wings, we didn’t even get to practice the offense with him. And after 3 games and the team starting to get a feel for each other, Booker gets hurt. Back to square one. We have that historically awful stretch without him (back to back 9 point first quarters). Because of this, Devin rushed himself back from injury, and was MUCH slower than his norm. And as a result, he got hurt a month later. This time though, we sat him out until he was finally 100% healthy. And when he came back his burst and speed had returned. Add in Chandler/Ariza/Canaan leaving, alongside Oubre/Acy joining, and there has been anything but stability this season. And now currently both Holmes and Ayton have been out the past week. There’s been absolutely no consistency this season, so when judging Booker, Ayton, or whoever on this team, that HAS to be kept in mind.

That being said, I think Booker has had a pretty damn great year given the circumstances. Whether you acknowledge it or not, Devin has taken another offensive leap this year. He currently is 2nd among shooting guards in ORPM this season (was 16th last season). He’s averaging 2+ more assists this season and a 10% higher assist rate, despite his usage percentage only going up 0.7%. He’s turned into a complete offensive star this season, statistically. And you can’t tell me we are better with him off the court, because we have a positive net rating when he’s on the court this year. His numbers are very rare for a 22 year old. Booker even has a better True Shooting % this season despite shooting 6% worse from 3 point range this year. That brings up my first criticism of Book, which is his 3pt shooting. Hand surgery, no legs, new role, whatever it is… it HAS to get better. If he just gets to league average, he would be near 60% TS%. Booker’s free throw rate has also been better this season, an important metric for star players.

Despite the great things Booker has done this season, it hasn’t translated to wins this year, or last year, or ever. And I don’t really think it’s mainly his fault. But there are a bunch of things he needs to get better at. I think his defensive effort overall has been better this season, but he still has a ways to go. He needs to feed Ayton a lot more, and develop that 2-man game chemistry. The turnovers were really bad when the season first started, but they have improved and still need to improve. Just general things for a 22 year old rising star. Hope he stays healthy and we can watch our team improve down the stretch.

Sun-Arc: I wanted to break it down a bit:

Booker the offensive player: Truly special. Devin can score on just about anyone at anytime. He’s a bona fide three level scorer that can also pass and is now racking up FTAs at a really high rate. I said before the season that he will show he’s capable of putting huge number, nearly 30/6/6, and I think he’s shown he can do that already.

Booker the defensive payer: Truly mediocre at best. He’s trying a whole lot harder this season on that end, which is great. And he’s had some excellent defensive plays- but he still a gift to opposing offensive lineups. Teams are singling him out as our weakness, which isn’t good.

Booker the $158 million man: Booker certainly deserved a big contract. How much was a point of discussion. Clearly he’s been our best player for three seasons now, so his deal makes sense, particularly when you compare it to Otto Porter’s or Andrew Wiggins’. Even compared to Towns’ deal ($190 m/5 years) it seems team friendly. And given his increased efficiency on offense and energy on defense- plus willingness to play Point-Book, the contract looks quite good.

Booker the Bench Rider: Last season, and so far this season, he’s also missed 1/4 of the team’s games. I think he’s being asked to do too much of everything which wears him down. So this needs to be addressed.

Having said that, this is also worrying: It is with Booker’s on-off splits and injuries that his contract looks less like a full-on team friendly contract. This season when he’s off the court, the team has played better in most metrics, and opposing teams play better when he’s on the court. The caveats are the Suns have more assists and is a bit more efficient shooting when he’s on the court. How can it be that our best player is a negative when he’s on the floor? First: his defensive liabilities; Second: he’s asked to do too much (Point Book); third he engages in too much iso-hero-ball, probably at the request of the coaches. All that will have to be corrected for the team to have any real success.

Another set of stats I look discerning player impact, even ones whose defense lacks, is to see if their ORtg is higher than their DRtg. Greg Monroe, who isn’t even a really good offensive player, shows an example of this with a career average of 110 to 106 for a +4. Nash was 118 to 111 for +7. Amare was 113 to 105, for +8. And before you say it is because our teams lose, look at Ayton this season at 119 to 112 for +8. Kemba Walker’s numbers are also barely underwater 111 to 112 for -1. That Booker is not yet making his teammates markedly better is disconcerting to me. But so much of this may also have to do with our lack of a starting point guard and overall quality basketball players.

I don’t have a ton of hope for our owner and FO to suddenly find the ability to turn us into a real NBA team. And if they don’t actually ‘flip the switch’, Booker will likely bolt in a couple of season. Maybe Sarver will own up to his own on-off +/- and take himself off the court and team.

SDKyle: I have mixed feelings about Booker’s season overall, but it’s hard to separate the bad of it from his injury. I have to think that missing all that practice before the season and then coming back before he was 100% really limited his ability to be as positive an impact as he should have been through the first 30 games.

That aside, I have mostly positive things to say about Booker. I’ve accepted that he’s not the transformative Michael Jordan or even Kobe-esque figure that seemed possible a couple years ago. He’s still really bad at defense, and he has a tendency to force shots when he gets frustrated. But he’s an effective passer and is doing the best job of his career at getting to the line.

I continue to believe that Booker will thrive if healthy and playing next to another guard who can shoot.

SouthernSun: Booker has been alright this season. We can’t be too hard on him for his shooting percentage from three, because he’s been injured for like half the season and was coming back from a hand injury at the beginning. He’s certainly proven to be a competent playmaker, just not one who should necessarily be a “point guard.”

Booker can’t do everything for a team. He shouldn’t be asked to. He’s a scoring assassin. A Kyrie type. You don’t expect that guy to carry a team to a winning record by himself. You simply expect him to be your go to scorer. But he needs others around him who can score as well. Or at least more than just a couple other guys. And guys who can score AND do other things competently. The Suns team is made up of 60% players who shouldn’t get any NBA minutes at all. Warren should be a bench spark plug. Melton and Okobo should be learning in practice and in the off season and only playing sparingly in games for the next couple of years. Bridges should be playing 10-15 mpg off the bench. Oubre may be starter worthy, but he shouldn’t be the third of fourth best player on a team. Acy should be playing in China. Crawford probably shouldn’t see the floor anymore. Bender is a 4th overall pick who we are hoping can turn his recent stretch of ho hum mediocre play (which is way better than his entire body of work as a complete and utter bust worthless piece of nothing) into perhaps cementing himself as a long term useful bench player. Holmes is a competent backup center. Ayton appears to be a legit future star but has some glaring weaknesses (much like Booker).

Booker is a phenomenal scorer. But he’s carrying a team worse than the one LeBron had in Cleveland before going to Miami, and he’s not the caliber player LeBron was. So it’s not going well. At least the crappy players LeBron had were crappy veterans. They at least had veteran savvy.

Booker is not a point guard, but is often having to pretend to be one. When he shares the floor with Melton, Melton essentially just goes and stands somewhere, occasionally making an inconsequential trot across the court that no opposing defender cares about.

Booker has tried everything. He’s tried facilitating, but the players he’s attempting to carry don’t make shots. Then he briefly appeared to just not give a crap. And most recently he has said “screw it I’ll do it myself”, and that hasn’t worked either, because a 22 year old who isn’t LeBron CAN’T do it by themselves.

There will be a season where Booker averages 30 ppg or close to it. We will sing his praises. He won’t need to average 7 assists per game. He won’t need to play for the entirety of first quarters to keep the team from getting into 20 point deficits in the first 11 minutes of games.

The Suns are doing him a disservice, and he looks worse than he is this season, because he is being forced to be the end all be all on offense. He’s basically the point guard AND the shooting guard out there, and being doubled every other possession. Because who gives a crap if Melton or Okobo or Quincy Acy are left open?

Booker has fought through injury, and put up what many would see as a disappointing season so far, despite averaging career high in assists to go along with his gaudy point totals.

But I’m just crossing my fingers hoping that he doesn’t say “enough” or “I quit.” The fact that he hasn’t done that yet is the thing that probably most impresses me about him.

Alex Sylvester: I’m excited about some of the areas Devin is improving in, but there are a couple areas in which to be concerned.

His overall playmaking, inside scoring, and spurts of defensive improvements have been encouraging to see!

However, the 3 point shooting % as well as his overall attitude this season have been quite subpar. Look, it’s easy to be disappointed in Book from the standpoint of his impact on overall W-L but his development is more important to think about long-term.

Devin needs to get through his rough patch with instagram models and child support drama and get through the rest of this season in one peace. Ultimately, his success will be dependent on the Suns FO being able to surround him with proper coaching and talent to create a team that is capable of competing in the near future.

2. Dragan Bender has recently shown that he might at least turn into a useful bench player. Should the Suns at least make him an offer this summer to attempt to keep him in Phoenix? If they do, what do you think a fair contract offer would be?

GuarGuar: I’m willing to offer Dragan a 1 year contract for a few million this offseason. He’s really impressed me with his aggressiveness since filling in for Ayton/Holmes. Never really thought I would say that about Dragan, but here we are. His 3 point shooting and rebounding have been dreadful though. If he can clean up those parts of his game (especially the shooting), then I really think he actually might turn into a legit bench rotation player. He’s been so much better than I anticipated since he started playing. Not all hope is lost!

Sun-Arc: Oh Dragan Bender. I rode on your hype train for two seasons thinking it was only that you needed more time to develop, gain weight and toughness, and then we’d see this versatile type player in the role of Andrei Kirilenko or Toni Kukoc. And I suppose that might still happen. But you won’t find me on the hype train again until you become a far less calamitous player that makes my team look worse with your presence. And when you ultimately end up playing in Tel Aviv again (or possibly China or Greece), I won’t be looking up your stats and thinking what if.

And in case you were wondering what Bender’s ORtg vs DRtg looks like: 94 to 114 for a bloody fantastic -20 on average over his brief career.

SDKyle: I honestly just want to move on from Bender. I don’t want to contemplate the idea of the Suns signing him to a multi-year deal and forcing us to go through the trials of watching him try to be a good 7th man. We could probably sign someone better for only marginally more than it will take to keep him here, and I’ve got to imagine the relationship between him and the front office is a little strained over his option being declined.

In my opinion, the Suns should just wish Bender luck and invite him to continue his career elsewhere.

SouthernSun: If Bender keeps up his recent string of games where he looks like maybe he played basketball before somewhere and isn’t 7 feet tall with a jump shot for nothing, then maybe give him a vet minimum contract next season after all other moves have been made. And if someone swoops in and nabs him, oh golly gee whatever will we do? I myself definitely won’t find it hard to sleep at night. Let some other team figure out how to stab him with an adrenaline needle or feed him bath salts before every game to try and get some intensity out of him. Apparently it took being benched for approximately 8,000 games in a row to get him to even eek out his 12 points and 5 rebounds in 30 mpg or whatever his averages have been while the Suns entire center rotation has been injured.

Alex Sylvester: Yes. Dragan was “two years away from being two years away”. Does that mean he’ll eventually become an all-star forward for this franchise? Not necessarily.

But if Bender is able to show value in terms of fit and progression, why wouldn’t you offer him a contract?

It’s not as though you’ll be forced to pay him 20+ million. This team desperately needs improved PG and PF play, and maybe Bender can provide value for 1 of those 4 rotation players next year.

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


Key Stats

41.4% and 26.6%

The first number was the Suns’ field goal percentage last week. The second was their three point percentage. Both are well below their season averages of 45.5% and 33.1% respectively. Surprisingly, they were only 29th in both categories for the week and not dead last.

Weekly Book Report

34.5 mpg, 24.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 6.7 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.2 bpg, 3.9 TO, 3.3 PF

45.3% FG, 31.9% 3PT, 84.5% FT

This week - 30.2 mpg, 24.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 3.8 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.3 bpg, 4.8 TO, 2.5 PF

48.5% FG, 30.8% 3PT, 93.1% FT

Random Stats: The Suns’ offensive and defensive ratings for last week (97.0 and 119.7) were dead last in the NBA.

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


Game Highlights

Minnesota Timberwolves vs Phoenix Suns Full Game Highlights | 01/22/2019

Phoenix Suns vs Portland Trail Blazers Full Game Highlights | 01/24/2019

Phoenix Suns vs Denver Nuggets Full Game Highlights | 01/25/2019

Los Angeles Lakers vs Phoenix Suns Full Game Highlights | 01/27/2019


Quotes of the Week

”We feel like each guy here has grown, and we all learn from our mistakes. I don’t think Devin will get kicked out of a game again any time soon. I don’t think I’ll get kicked out of a game again any time soon. But in the heat of the moment, it’s hard to control those emotions. But I feel like we all learn from our mistakes.” - Josh Jackson

”Sometimes, it’s (starting a fight) a part of the game plan. International guys will do that. ‘Hey, take one for the team. Go fight (the other team’s) best player. Both of you get ejected, so we win’.” - Igor Kokoskov


Rookie Report

Deandre Ayton - 30.8 mpg, 16.4 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.8 spg, 1.0 bpg, 1.8 TO, 2.8 PF

  • This week - DNP (Injured)

Mikal Bridges - 26.8 mpg, 7.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.6 bpg, 0.7 TO, 2.3 PF, 34.7% 3PT

  • This week - 32.6 mpg, 8.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.8 bpg, 0.3 TO, 3.5 PF, 33.3% 3PT

De’Anthony Melton - 20.5 mpg, 5.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.5 bpg, 1.7 TO, 2.6 PF, 31.2% 3PT

  • This week - 17.0 mpg, 3.0 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 1.5 TO, 1.5 PF, 0.0% 3PT

Elie Okobo - 18.2 mpg, 6.0 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 2.3 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.1 bpg, 1.3 TO, 2.3 PF, 30.2% 3PT

  • This week - 21.0 mpg, 5.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.5 TO, 1.8 PF, 30.8% 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

With Suns’ small margin for error, Devin Booker can’t let lack of star treatment from referees deter him. Duane Rankin/Arizona Republic

Booker Becomes Fifth Youngest Player to Score 5,000 Career Points. Suns.com

Devin Booker’s gotta know basketball fights are OK, real fights aren’t. Greg Moore/Arizona Republic

Kelly Oubre salutes Devin Booker for seeking out Gorgui Dieng after elbow in the face. ClutchPoints

Should the Suns have urgency to add a PG before the trade deadline? Arizona Sports


This Week in Suns History

On January 29, 1984, the NBA’s first All-Star Saturday took place in Denver at McNichols Arena. The first Nestle Crunch Slam-Dunk winner was Phoenix Sun Larry Nance, who used a two-ball windmill dunk to beat favorites Julius Erving and Dominique Wilkins.


Suns Trivia

During the 1969-1970 season, new Suns’ acquisition and future HOF member Connie Hawkins was so popular that posters of Hawkins dunking on a Chicago Bulls player were prominently displayed in every Phoenix Jack in the Box restaurant and palming the basketball was often called ‘Hawking the ball’ on Phoenix playgrounds.


Previewing the Week Ahead

Tuesday, January 29 - Phoenix Suns @ San Antonio Spurs, 6:30 pm AZT

Saturday, February 2 - Phoenix Suns vs Atlanta Hawks, 7:00 pm AZT

Only two games this week? And three days off between games? It’s a much needed gift from the scheduling gods for a team that has struggled so much this season.

First up, the Suns head to San Antonio. Ayton may be back for this game but I doubt that it makes any difference in the outcome, just the final score. Facing that Spurs on their own court is a loss for the Suns.

After three days off, a well rested Suns team will face the Atlanta Hawks who will be on the second night of an on the road back-to-back. The Suns will have a large edge against one of the few NBA teams that are about as bad as they are and should get another win.

I believe the Suns will go 1-1 this week.

What’s your prediction?


Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “Which losses do you hate the most?”

59% - The blowouts.

09% - The last second losses.

32% - A loss is a loss... I hate them all.

A total of 175 votes were cast.