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Center of the Sun: Suns struggle and lose two of three games as they await the return of Deandre Ayton

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Ayton’s return will be a boost for the Suns but they will also need a healthy Booker back to significantly improve their season record.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

Phoenix Suns vs Minnesota Timberwolves W (125-109) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Memphis Grizzlies L (115-108) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs San Antonio Spurs L (121-119/OT) Full Recap

A few weeks ago I ran a poll asking the least amount of wins it would probably take for a team to make it to the playoffs in the Western Conference this year. 44 wins was the most popular answer (41.3%) and that might turn out to be a little overly pessimistic.

With a little over 30% of the 2019-20 season already in the record books, there are 5-6 teams in the West that are looking like sure winners in the race to the playoffs but after that things start to get less clear.

No one is happy that the Suns have taken a step - or two - back following what was a hot start. It’s not all gloom and doom though. At this point, the Suns are still tied with Sacramento and OKC for what would be the 7th seed if the season ended today. There are another six teams that have worse records with none of them looking as though they are prepared to make a significant leap forward anytime soon.

Of all the teams outside the top 6, only three seem to be in situations where a leap forward might be possible without making significant changes to their rosters through trades. Those three are New Orleans, Portland and your own Phoenix Suns.

On January 3, the number one pick in the draft, Zion Williamson, is presently projected to make his highly anticipated NBA debut with the Pelicans. This will definitely make the Pelicans a better team but the Pelicans have already said that they would be carefully monitoring his minutes and he wouldn’t play in back-to-backs for a while. With that in mind, I don’t expect a big improvement in the 6-21 Pels early on.

With Portland (10-16), they have suffered multiple major injury problems that will likely hamper them through the rest of this season. Rodney Hood (Achilles) is out for the season, Zach Collins (labrum) is out until at least mid-March and Jusuf Nurkic (leg) won’t be back until after the All-Star break at the earliest. Having any of them back would help but by time Nurkic and Collins are able to return, it might be too late. They did pick up Carmelo Anthony recently but his impact has been mixed and the Blazers have been just marginally better (5-7) in the 12 games that he has played in.

And then we come to the Suns. As I’m sure you are already aware of, Deandre Ayton will return to the Suns tomorrow. He’s been working out and practicing with the team throughout his suspension and should have an immediate impact. When Devin Booker’s arm/wrist also heals up, we could see the Suns start winning those games that we mostly thought they should/could have won but didn’t and even surprise fans with a few more wins over some of the better teams in the league.

Taking all of that into consideration, I believe that the Suns are the most likely team to begin to rise above the teams presently separated by only 2.5 games in the 7th-13th places in the WC standings. Of the 16 games that the Suns play over the next month (between now and Jan. 16), 12 of them are against sub-.500 teams. Now is a great time for Ayton to return and hopefully help make an early push to rise up to the point that they could at least have a significant lead over the other teams presently fighting for that 7th spot and perhaps even making a challenge for number 6.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - Deandre Ayton returns Tuesday against the Clippers. Do you think he will have an immediate impact or will it take a while for him to reintegrate with the team and get back up to full NBA speed?

GuarGuar: I definitely think Deandre will have an immediate impact. We need the big man depth and his defense (while questionable at times) is much better than Frank Kaminsky’s. Our rebounding should improve tremendously, and he gives us another dynamic to our offense. What I hope he really brings is a great energy. His first game is the 2nd night of a back to back and we are in the middle of the season. I hope he’s hungry.

Sun-Arc: I think Ayton will have an immediate impact as an offensive weapon. Not so sure about defensively. Its possible he may have picked up some screening tricks from Aron Baynes, as well as how to bark orders to his teammates on defense. Or maybe he hasn’t and actually muddles the already confused defense further. Either way, he will be the teams most athletic big-man defender, which should help in a lot of situations. The question is how much difference his offense and defense make towards more wins. My guess is he will not be a savior, and more work will need to be done to get the team playing more like they did early on.

SDKyle: I think Ayton will make an immediate impact. It’s not as if he’s been rehabbing an injury and needs weeks to begin regaining basketball shape. He’s been healthy and practicing with his teammates this whole time.

That’s not to say I think the Suns will instantly start winning a whole bunch of games. This is still a team fighting some flaws even with the added scoring punch and depth Ayton will bring. But it IS to say that I don’t think fans can lean on the “he’s just getting back into it” excuse for more than a couple of games.

SouthernSun: It will take a few games before he’s in game shape and and properly conditioned, and that may limit his impact, but he will absolutely have an immediate impact. He is an efficient inside scoring machine. He will also help the Suns rebounding woes, particularly those of the offensive variety. Suns can’t get him back fast enough. And once he and Rubio have gotten some chemistry together, look out.

Alex S.: I could certainly see Deandre coming out with a ton of energy but making silly mistakes/fouls in the first few games back. The only thing I want to see is DA bring the energy when he’s on the floor. If a 25 game suspension can’t fire him up, what will? I don’t mind if it takes him some time to get acclimated with NBA speed and physicality again just as long as he’s being aggressive and playing tough around the rim.

Q2 - If you could ask Monty Williams OR James Jones ONE question - and be guaranteed to get an open and honest answer - what would it be?

GuarGuar: I would ask James Jones about the Terry Rozier rumors. Terry reported to the media that we made him an offer and then Charlotte outbid us. I want to know if this is true, because if Rozier was our #1 then that’s a major red flag for this front office. Thank goodness for MJ saving our butts. Ricky has been incredible for us.

Sun-Arc: I really want to know what happened to the energy and defensive will power the team had early on. Is it as simple as a lack of conditioning or opposing teams’ scouting? Or as complicated as a lack of trust amongst the players? Inquiring minds want to know...

SDKyle: I’d ask James Jones to explain how he’ll decide whether to make a major trade deal this season, and what his goal would be in doing so.

What Jones has said so far is that he’s waiting to see what this team is with Ayton, and he’d reevaluate then. Will that evaluation be based on the team’s record at a certain point? Would a trade be aimed at a playoff push even at the expense of a long-term asset, or is he envisioning a long-term play and preaching patience?

I’m sure others will choose to “ask” Monty about substitution patterns, and that’s valid...but after 10 years of futility and a lot of BS about timelines, THIS Suns fan is ready for some straight talk about our goals.

SouthernSun: James Jones - Are you planning on making a trade using Johnson’s salary for another competent NBA player to try and push for the playoffs this year, and if so who are you targeting?

That’s the question I most want answered right now.

Alex S.: James Jones, who is your main target that is an all-star level player on the trade market? If I were allowed to add any follow up to this question, I’d add who are the most expendable players on our current roster to make a trade like this realistic?

Q3 - So far, Devin Booker has played in every game this season. If he does miss a game (or games), who should the Suns start in his place? *

* Author’s note: I sent out this question before the San Antonio game which Booker did miss due to injury. Sun-Arc and Alex S. returned their answers to me before it was known that Booker would miss that game. GuarGuar, SDKyle and SouthernSun returned their answers after that game.

GuarGuar: Rod clearly jinxed Booker with this question so I’m 100% putting the blame on him for whatever mysterious forearm/wrist injury he has now. The Suns went with Mikal against the Spurs on Saturday, and he was fine. That’s probably the right move. Tyler Johnson got a lot more minutes and he was really bad. Hopefully Booker is back for Portland.

Sun-Arc: I think Cam Johnson is the obvious choice. Some might pine for Bridges in that situation, but Booker’s offense is not going to be replaced by Mikal. Cam provides the shooting the starters need to compete on offense, where as Mikal - along with Rubio, Saric, and Oubre - would mean four of the five starting players are shooting below average from distance. Five out of five if Ayton is the fifth starter instead of Baynes.

SDKyle: As of this writing Booker did miss a game, and Monty went with Bridges in the starting five. I don’t hate that, but I also think it might make sense to try Tyler Johnson next time to get a little extra playmaking ability on the floor on next to Rubio. Replacing Booker in our lineup is a tough thing, though. It’s hard to get very judgmental about how one tries to do so.

SouthernSun: J.J. Reddick after they trade for him. Okay, I’m halfway kidding. They desperately need a competent veteran guard off the bench, though. As for who should start in Booker’s place while he is out though, barring a trade, that should be Bridges probably. Or maybe even Cam. But, given the Suns limited offensive options in the 2nd unit, it should probably be Mikal, so Cam can come off the bench and give them something at least resembling a scorer.

Alex S.: I think Tyler Johnson would be a smart choice to start in place of Devin. He’s a proven vet and although he hasn’t played well this season, you could keep the rotation the way it is and simply give more minutes to guys like Jerome, Bridges, Carter etc. If that’s not a viable option, I guess I’d be okay with Mikal starting but the spacing wouldn’t be very optimal with Ricky/Mikal as your backcourt.

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


Key Stats

48.3 vs 43.1 rebounds per game

Lost in the gloomy haze of last week’s 1-2 record is that the Suns are learning how to get more rebounds. While they are 25th in rebounding for the season (43.1 rpg), last week they averaged 48.3 rpg which would be good enough for 3rd in the NBA if they had been doing that all season long. The main culprits in this increase are Dario Saric, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mikal Bridges. Saric has averaged 7.6 rpg for the season but last week he pulled down 10.3 per game. Oubre went from his 6.3 rpg season average to 8.3 and Bridges increased from 3.9 to 7.0 rpg.

Random Stats: Ricky Rubio leads the Suns in double-doubles this season with 10. Dario Saric has six, Kelly Oubre Jr. has 4 and Devin Booker has 3. Four other Suns (Ayton, Baynes, Diallo and Kaminsky) have one each.

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


Game Highlights

Phoenix Suns vs Minnesota Timberwolves - Full Game Highlights | December 9, 2019

Phoenix Suns vs Memphis Grizzlies - Full Game Highlights | December 11, 2019

Phoenix Suns vs San Antonio Spurs - Full Game Highlights | December 14, 2019


Quotes of the Week

”I’m never happy about where I’m at. There’s always room for improvement. It’s like a bar that you just keep trying to set higher for yourself and just keep trying to reach it.” - Devin Booker

”Right now, my main focus is my team’s success. In the past, I’ve put the numbers up, and it doesn’t matter. Right now, I think everything comes with winning.” - Devin Booker


Rookie Report

Cameron Johnson - 20.8 mpg, 9.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 0.9 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.6 TO, 1.7 PF, 40.7 3PT%

  • This week - 27.7 mpg, 10.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.7 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.0 bpg, 1.0 TO, 0.7 PF, 37.5 3PT%

Ty Jerome - 12.8 mpg, 2.8 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.0 bpg, 1.0 TO, 1.7 PF, 33.3 3PT%

  • This week - 12.5 mpg, 0.0 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.0 TO, 1.5 PF, 0.0 3PT%, 1 DNP-CD

Jalen Lecque - Assigned to NAZ Suns

Jared Harper - Assigned to NAZ Suns

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.


Injury Status Report

Devin Booker (forearm) - day-to-day.

Deandre Ayton (suspension) - Out until Dec. 17.


Bright Side Night Returns!

We are proud to announce the FIFTH annual BRIGHT SIDE NIGHT, where our community sent 3,000+ deserving and underprivileged children from the Valley to a Phoenix Suns game last year!

It’s only $9 of your hard earned money for each ticket you donate.

Last year, we sent a record 3,300 kids to a game. Over four years, we’ve sent more 7,400! All from you guys. From us.

This time it’s our January 7 home game against Bogdan Bogdanovic, De’Aaron Fox and the Sacramento Kings. The kids get to see Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker and the crew raining threes supplemented by the return of Deandre Ayton!

And your help can earn you some neet stuff too depending upon the size of your donation! You can read more about that HERE or you can just click on the link below and donate right away.

Suns.com/Brightside


News & Notes

Monty Williams and James Jones: The only black coach-general manager duo in NBA. Marc J. Spears/The Undefeated

The Phoenix Suns Can Probably Do Better Than Kevin Love. Brendon Kleen/Forbes

Devin Booker feels Phoenix is in the ‘best position’ to be competitive since he joined. Clutch Points

The 5: Big questions for Deandre Ayton’s return from suspension. Kellan Olson/Arizona Sports

5 Trade Targets For The Phoenix Suns. Arizona Sports Zone

Monty Williams is the coach the Suns always needed. Ricky O’Donnell/SBNation

Everything Devin Booker Wants ‘Is Ok The Other Side Of Hard’. Bleacher Report


This Week in Suns History

On December 22, 1989, the Suns lost a close game to the San Antonio Spurs 119-115 and fell to 9-12 for the season. The Suns would go on to overcome their slow start, finish the season with a 54-28 record and make it all the way to the Western Conference Finals before falling to the Portland Trail Blazers 2-4.


Suns Trivia

The Suns have twice recorded 3-game streaks of games with 30+ assists this season, from Nov.12-18 and Dec. 2-5. Prior to this season, the Suns hadn’t had a 3-game streak with 30+ assists per game since Nov. 8-11, 2009. The Suns already have 10 games with 30 or more assists this season. All of last season they had only 8 such games.


Previewing the Week Ahead

Monday, December 16 - Phoenix Suns vs Portland Trail Blazers, 7:00 pm AZT

Tuesday, December 17 - Phoenix Suns @ LA Clippers, 8:30 pm AZT

Friday, December 20 - Phoenix Suns @ Oklahoma City Thunder, 6:00 pm AZT

Saturday, December 21 - Phoenix Suns vs Houston Rockets, 7:00 pm AZT

The Suns have another busy week of four games - two at home and two away - with two back-to-backs. All four are against WC opponents.

Tonight the Portland Trail Blazers (10-16) come to Phoenix. The Blazers have dealt with a lot of injuries and have under-performed this season but the still have Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum - as well as new addition Carmelo Anthony - which makes them dangerous on any given night. This game is the last one of Ayton’s suspension and the Suns may still be without Devin Booker which makes it difficult to call. Portland is only 5-10 on the road this season though so I’m calling this one a win for the Suns if Booker plays. If he doesn’t play, I think that the Suns still can get a win but am not sure that they will.

On Tuesday, the Suns - WITH Deandre Ayton - travel to LA to face the 20-8 Clippers. The Suns (without Deandre) beat the Clips 130-122 back on Oct. 26 but they were still without Paul George who will almost certainly play in this one. The Clippers will also be well rested after two days off so don’t expect Kawhi Leonard to be taking the night off for “load management” either. If Booker is also playing in this one, I expect the Suns to make a good game of it but a win isn’t likely to be in the cards.

After a day off, the Suns head to OKC for their first meeting with the Thunder this season. The Thunder are presently tied in the standing with the Suns at 11-14 and are 6-4 in their last ten games. As I haven’t seen the Thunder play this season, this one is a tough call. If Booker is ready to go for this one (and I expect him to be back), I think he and Deandre can get them another much needed win.

Finally, the Suns return home to take on the 17-9 Houston Rockets on Saturday night. Even though the Suns lost their first match with the Rockets two weeks ago, they gave them a good game - in Houston - and I have a sneaking suspicion that they will pull off an upset win at home this time.

I’m predicting that the Suns go 2-2 this week... if Booker is healthy for all or almost all of them.

What’s your prediction?


Important Future Dates

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).

February 14-19 - NBA All-Star break.


Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “So far, Kelly Oubre Jr. has been...”

21% - Worth more than his new contract.

79% - Worth his new contract.

00% - Not worth his new contract.

There were 206 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

Deandre Ayton’s return will...

This poll is closed

  • 68%
    Improve the Suns a LOT.
    (145 votes)
  • 29%
    Improve the Suns some but not a great deal.
    (63 votes)
  • 2%
    Not really make much of a difference.
    (5 votes)
213 votes total Vote Now