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Center of the Sun: New look Suns begin NEW SEASON this week

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This is a very different team compared to last season’s. Will that lead to different results on the scoreboard?

Phoenix Suns v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

Phoenix Suns vs Denver Nuggets L (107-102) Full Recap

For the first time in a while, the Suns are going to begin a new season with experienced players at every position, a proven starting caliber point guard and everyone healthy. It’s still a young roster but, unlike those of previous years, the Suns have only a single player on it that can’t legally buy himself a beer (Jalen Lecque)... and he is not being counted on to play rotation minutes. And the only player they have that’s in his 30s (Aron Baynes) can actually still play at an NBA level.

There are plenty of new faces on the squad - and the coaching staff - though. Only Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Elie Okobo were together on last season’s opening night (and Booker missed preseason with the hand injury). Only those four plus mid-season additions Kelly Oubre Jr. and Tyler Johnson have ever played together in an actual NBA game that matters (preseason doesn’t really count). New head coach Monty Williams has yet to coach anyone on this team in a real NBA game.

Those are concerning things going into a new season, especially in the brutal Western Conference. The Suns should be a better team this season but how much better is a question that won’t be answered until games that actually matter begin to be played.

Can the Suns climb past some of the other teams on a crowded ladder to get themselves out of West’s basement?

It’s far from probably but it is possible. The Suns aren’t the only team to have undergone a lot of changes during the offseason so don’t expect them to be the only team to have adjustment issues early on. No one really knows how well all of the changes are going to work together on each team - including the Suns.

There are an almost endless list of “what if...” questions for every team in the NBA as a new season begins. Some teams will outperform expectations while others will underperform. New additions don’t always fit. Team chemistry can make or break a season. Injuries are always going to be an issue for every team.

It should be an interesting season for the Suns and, hopefully, a fun one as well.


Fantable Questions of the Week

From Kellan Olson (Arizona Sports):

Q1 - Do you agree with this approach in the preseason games?

GuarGuar: I’m pretty fine with this approach. If the team feels confident enough in practice about the sets for Devin Booker, than I’m cool with us not showing them during preseason. I think a big factor that could help this team win early is the element of surprise. Nobody is really expecting us to make a leap. Catching teams off guard early could be a big key for us.

Sun-Arc: I don’t agree with ‘hiding’ schemes in preseason, because teams will be able to scout for it after the first couple/few games anyway. But I do agree with forcing the offense through everyone except Booker. Devin will get his own.

SDKyle: I can see that approach making sense. Booker’s ability to create his own offense is well-known at this point. We know if it comes down to “let’s just let Book get some buckets,” that option is going to be there.

Meanwhile the team really did need to at least try to figure out the offensive dynamic with Rubio/Ayton/Oubre/Saric and some of the rotation guys. I don’t have really strong feelings about it, but it seems reasonable to me.

SouthernSun: I agree that it’s a good idea to get the rest of the guys used to scoring the ball without Booker always being the end all be all. It’s also a good idea to hide how exactly you’ll be playing until the regular season. So I’m fine with how they did this.

Alex Sylvester: Absolutely. Devin is the most sure-fire thing this franchise has so I’m not worried about prioritizing his touches during the preseason. He might have a rusty game or two getting acclimated to his role but even then, he came off a broken hand last season and had a great first game. It’s more importantly Monty to see how Rubio fits with the starters, to see his depth get opportunity to show what they can bring to the table, and to figure out his 4/5 rotation.

In Dave King’s recent BSotS article, Monty Williams: Suns aiming for ‘core four’ with at least two playing at all times this season, Dave gave us this quote from Monty: “Our rotation during the year, I gotta figure out a core of four. Of those four, I want to keep two on the floor all the time.”

Q2 - What’s your opinion of this strategy and who do you believe will be that “core four”?

GuarGuar: A big problem I had with Coach Igor last year was him not staggering our best players throughout a game. So this “core four” idea sounds pretty good to me. If I had to take a guess, it involves the 4 players who can create their own offense on our team: Booker, Ayton, Rubio, and Oubre. I’ve been pretty outspoken on how I feel we should stagger Ayton’s minutes like Philly does with Embiid. It helps with conditioning/energy and gives Ayton a bunch of minutes against backup centers.

Sun-Arc: This is a complicated subject in some ways. I will give my opinion and which would be my core-four, but I’m not the coach and just hope Williams really does know the right way to run this team. I say that because we all know how the bench-mob has worked for this team in the past, particularly in 2010. I think there is merit to allowing a bench squad to create their own chemistry, and even their own types of offensive and defensive scheme and identity. When you constantly mix starters and bench you need consistent schemes, even if the variety of skills changes things up a bit for opposing defenses.

One important aspect of this idea of two of the core being on the court at all times that appeals to me is this is how Boston, Golden State, Philadelphia, and San Antonio have run their teams for years. And they’ve done well with it. The Suns used this arrangement in the SSOL era as well. So ultimately I’m perfectly fine with it as long as it makes sense with the personnel. The 2010 Suns may have been an anomaly for working so well with two squads.

My core four would be Rubio, Booker, Ayton, and one of Oubre or Saric, whichever gets their act together more quickly. That has players at four positions, making it easier to blend them in and out of rotations (rather than two PG’s or two SF’s). If Kaminsky keeps playing like he has been in preseason, he might be the fourth member, and play from off the bench but possibly finish games. I think its fairly likely both he and Saric return to their relative means. But Frank really has impressed me with his passing and overall IQ.

SDKyle: I like this approach and I think it’s pretty consistent with the way top teams operate. Last seasons Raptors, for example, pretty much always had two of Kawhi/Lowry/Siakam/Green on the floor.

I think our core four for the time being is probably Booker, Rubio, Ayton and Oubre. I could see Oubre potentially losing that spot later in the season if Bridges is really sniping from downtown and Oubre isn’t playing great, but for now that’s what I would guess Monty is thinking. With that core you’ve always got some leadership and scoring and energy on the floor.

SouthernSun: Oh man, we won’t really know who these core four are until we’ve seen a number of games and figured out which four players always have two out there. I believe this is different than the teams “core” moving forward. This is probably more like the teams core four for this season. The players most conducive to winning games. Really, that could be a number of guys. My guess for who that four are is Booker, Rubio, Oubre, and Bridges. But it may turn out to include Saric or Ayton.

I think it’s a fine strategy. It’s a good idea to constantly have at least two of the four players you feel impact your ability to win games the most out on the floor.

Alex Sylvester: 100%. I’m a huge fan of staggered rotations that always involve a starter or two on the floor at all times. To me, I can see his ‘core four’ being Devin, Deandre, Kelly, Ricky.

So out of these four, the pairings I prioritize the most are: Ricky/Deandre, Devin/Kelly, and Devin/Ricky.

The main three bench guys that will make this possible will be Tyler/Mikal/Aron. Having a guard/forward/center balance off the bench is crucial in order for this to work.

In an NBA.com article on the NBA’s new coach’s challenge rule that allows them to dispute a call, Monty Williams said, “I’m not a fan of it at all.” He continued, “This is just one more thing for coaches to have to do. Now we’re all going to have to delegate a guy on our bench to monitor things. If we’re gonna challenge, I wish it was a segment -- say, the last three minutes of the game. I want to coach. I don’t want to be focused all night on, ‘Should I have challenged [a call made earlier]?’ ”

Q3 - Do you agree or disagree with Monty?

GuarGuar: I agree with his view from a coaching perspective. It’s just one more thing to worry about. And the problem is the refs missing calls to begin with. But this is a good rule in my opinion because the refs have a history and this can help a little with big calls in a game. I just wish if you get your first challenge correct you are allowed another.

Sun-Arc: I can see his point, but its hard to imagine there haven’t been times in his career where he wouldn’t want to challenge a call. The challenge-a-call change is an experiment, so we’ll see how it goes. I think it could be short-lived.

SDKyle: I hate that the new challenge rule includes personal fouls. The out of bounds and goaltending challenges make sense to me, but allowing reviews of bumps and hand checks strikes me as stupid and is only redeemed by being limited to once per game. Also since it apparently costs a timeout to challenge, coaches will probably be judicious about their use.

That said, I think Monty is overreacting as far as how much of a burden this will be on coaches. Just assign an assistant to keep his eyes on this and have him signal you if he thinks its the time for a challenge. That’s how coaches are rolling in other sports and it seems to be working out for them.

SouthernSun: I’m actually a little surprised that he doesn’t want the ability to challenge a call. It seems like something coaches would be excited about. But based on what he said, I can see his point of view. But I don’t see why it’s a huge deal to have one of the like 6 assistants sitting behind the bench to pay attention and tell him when a good time to use a challenge would be. So I’ve got to say I disagree with Monty here.

Alex Sylvester: I don’t really see the appeal of a challenge unless it’s going to change the balance of a game. I agree with Monty where NBA coaches already have a lot of responsibility and I’d much rather him focus on the core elements of this team as opposed to putting energy into a hit or miss call each game.

However, if an assistant is able to pick up on a blatantly obvious missed call, I guess that’s not so bad.

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


Key Stats

34.6% Three point shooting

34.6% from three in their 4 preseason games is a nice improvement from the 32.9% the Suns shot last season. This was good enough to rank them 14th (they finished last season at 30th). 33.3 attempts per game falls at 19th vs the rest of the NBA (the Suns took 29.3 attempts last season and were 23rd in the NBA in 3pt attempts). They’ve been inconsistent game to game in both percentage and attempts but I still see this as a good sign even though it was during preseason games.

Random Stats: The Suns were tied for 9th in the preseason for free throw attempts and 3rd in FT percentage (82.7%) among NBA teams. Tyler Johnson (57.1%), Dario Saric (50.0%), Cameron Johnson (45.0%) and Frank Kaminsky (42.1%) all made over 40% from three with at least 3 attempts per game during preseason. Rookie Cameron Johnson led the team in 3pt attempts with 5.0 per game.

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.


Preseason Rookie Report

Cameron Johnson - 24.3 mpg, 9.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.8 TO, 1.0 PF, 45.0 3PT%

Ty Jerome - 17.0 mpg, 6.8 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.5 bpg, 1.8 TO, 1.3 PF, 22.2 3PT%

Jalen Lecque - 4.9 mpg, 3.7 ppg, 0.3 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.7 TO, 0.3 PF, 0.0 3PT% (0 attempts)

Jared Harper - 4.5 mpg, 2.3 ppg, 0.3 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.0 TO, 0.7 PF, 0.0 3PT% (1 attempt)

Tariq Owens - 7.2 mpg, 1.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.0 apg, 0.5 spg, 1.0 bpg, 0.5 TO, 3.5 PF, 0.0 3PT% (2 attempts)

Norense Odiase - 4.1 mpg, 2.0 ppg, 0.0 rpg, 0.0 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.0 TO, 2.0 PF, 100 3PT% (1 attempt)

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.


Preseason Highlights (and a review)

Phoenix Suns vs Denver Nuggets Full Game Highlights | October 14, 2019

Phoenix Suns - “0.5 Second Offense” and What We Learned from Preseason

Video by The Timeline: A Phoenix Suns Channel


Quotes of the Week

”I always tell him (Deandre Ayton), man, don’t get comfortable with success. What is it, 16 and 10? You’re not a 16 and 10 player. That’s really good, first rookie ever to do it, but that’s not you. You’re 30 and 20.” - Devin Booker

”It’s an old Mike Tyson thing, everybody has a plan until they get hit in the mouth. When we deal with adversity, then I’ll find out who we are. I believe our guys are up for it, but you don’t really know until that happens.” - Monty Williams


News & Notes

The Phoenix Suns might be better... you just have to take a leap of faith. Kent Somers/Arizona Republic(via USA Today)

Suns rookie Cam Johnson definitely notices NBA having more space. Kellan Olson/Arizona Sports

Phoenix Suns: Can Booker and Ayton be the next dynamic duo? Hoops Habit

Mikal Bridges is in line for a massive breakout season for the Suns. Clutch Points

Phoenix Suns: Can Deandre Ayton live up to high expectations? Duane Rankin/Arizona Republic(via USA Today)


This Week in Suns History

On October 22, 1976, twin brothers Tom and Dick Van Arsdale played together in a game for the Phoenix Suns, becoming the first pair of twins to play for the same NBA club. The Suns ended up losing the game 111-98 to the New Orleans Jazz.

On October 25, 1975, Suns Ring of Honor member Alvan Adams made his NBA debut for the Phoenix Suns in an 89-88 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. That year he was selected to play in the All-Star Game, won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award and was named to the All-NBA Rookie Team. Adams spent his entire 13-year career with the Suns and retired in 1988 as the second all-time Suns scorer with 13,910 career points.


Suns Trivia

Ricky Rubio ranks 18th in NBA history with 7.7 career assists per game and 19th with 1.95 career steals per game. He is one of just five players to rank in the top 20 in NBA history in both categories. The other four players to rank in the top 20 in both are Jason Kidd, Magic Johnson, John Stockton and Chris Paul.


Previewing the Week Ahead

Wednesday, October 23 - Phoenix Suns vs Sacramento Kings, 7:00 pm AZT

Friday, October 25 - Phoenix Suns @ Denver Nuggets, 6:00 pm AZT

Saturday, October 26 - Phoenix Suns vs LA Clippers, 7:00 pm AZT

On Wednesday night, the Kings come to TSRA for the Suns’ opening game of the 2019-20 season. The Kings trounced the Suns 105-88 in their lone preseason matchup in Sacramento as they out rebounded the Suns 59-43 and the Suns had one of the worst shooting nights I’ve every witnessed (31,4% FG, 18.2% 3PT). I don’t expect that to happen again and I expect the Suns to win their season opener in a tightly fought game.

Next up, the Suns travel to Denver to face the Nuggets. The Suns didn’t look too bad against them in their 107-102 preseason loss but the Nuggets are one of the best teams in the NBA, they will be playing at home and in this game no one will be trotting out their end of the bench players unless the game is already all but won before time actually runs out. I’m expecting a Denver win and really just hoping that the Nuggets’ end of the bench players stay on the bench until the final buzzer.

Finally, the Clippers come to Phoenix on Saturday night. I’m tempted to call this one a win for Phoenix. Why? The Clippers finished their preseason with a 2-3 record with their only wins coming against non-NBA teams, Melbourne United and the Shanghai Sharks. They’re also going to be without one of their top 2 offseason acquisitions, Paul George who is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. The Clips are also dealing with a lot of roster turnover from last season.

But they also added Kawhi Leonard as part of that turnover and they won’t be playing on the second night of a back-to-back as the Suns will be doing. I’m giving the nod to the Clippers but I’m also not saying that it’s a sure win for them.

I’m predicting that the Suns finish this week with a 1-2 record.


Important Future Dates

October 21 - Regular season rosters must be set (17 players maximum including 2 two-way contract players).

October 22 - NBA 2019-20 regular season begins.

October 31 - Last day that teams can exercise team options on the rookie scale contracts of former first-round picks.

December 15 - First day that players signed to new contracts can be traded.

  • The Suns cannot trade Frank Kaminsky, Cheick Diallo, Ricky Rubio or Jalen Lecque until 12/15/19 and Kelly Oubre Jr. cannot be traded until 1/15/20.

January 5 - First day that teams can sign players to 10-day contracts.

January 15 - Last day to sign players to Two-Way contracts.

February 6 - NBA Trade Deadline (3 pm ET).


Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “The big win in Portland was...”

08% - Luck.

29% - A sign that the Suns’ bench/supporting cast is better than expected.

03% - A sign that Monty Williams is a really good coach.

60% - A little bit of all of the above.

There were 242 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

Did the preseason games alter your expectations for the Suns this season?

This poll is closed

  • 26%
    Yes, I have higher expectations now.
    (69 votes)
  • 67%
    No.
    (172 votes)
  • 5%
    Yes, I have lower expectations now.
    (15 votes)
256 votes total Vote Now