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Center of the Sun: Suns end Week Six with a losing record for the first time this season

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Can the Suns claw their way back above .500 this week?

NBA: Washington Wizards at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

Phoenix Suns vs Washington Wizards L (140-132) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Dallas Mavericks L (120-113) Full Recap

22% of the Suns’ season is gone and the excitement of a 7-4 start quickly wore off as the injury bug bit hard and contributed to a 1-6 downward slide in their last seven games. Surprisingly, the 8-10 Suns are still tied with Sacramento for the 8th seed in the West so all is not lost. With Ricky Rubio and Aron Baynes healthy again and Deandre Ayton returning from his suspension on Dec. 17, the Suns will hopefully be able to get back on the winning track again.

Getting back on that winning track should be aided greatly by the fact that 10 of the Suns’ 15 games this month are against sub-.500 teams. In the eight games remaining before Ayton’s return, only two of those are against winning teams, one of which - Minnesota - the Suns have already beaten without Rubio and Baynes.

Having Ayton back is only going to make this team better. As Monty Williams said recently, “When we get him back, it’s gonna be like signing a big free agent.”

Think about that for a few seconds.

Ayton has been working out and practicing with the Suns throughout his suspension. There will be an adjustment period but I doubt it will last long and we will finally see what this team can do playing at full strength.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - What are your win/loss predictions for December?

December Schedule (15 games)

  • Mon, Dec 2 @ Charlotte
  • Wed, Dec 4 @ Orlando
  • Thu, Dec 5 @ New Orleans
  • Sat, Dec 7 @ Houston
  • Mon, Dec 9 vs Minnesota
  • Wed, Dec 11 vs Memphis
  • Sat, Dec 14 vs San Antonio *
  • Mon, Dec 16 vs Portland

--------Ayton Returns--------

  • Tue, Dec 17 @ LA Clippers
  • Fri, Dec 20 @ Oklahoma City
  • Sat, Dec 21 vs Houston
  • Mon, Dec 23 vs Denver
  • Fri, Dec 27 @ Golden State
  • Sat, Dec 28 @ Sacramento
  • Mon, Dec 30 @ Portland

* In Mexico City

GuarGuar: 9-6

I’m going a little conservative I feel predicting us to go 9-6 for the month. In general it’s much softer schedule than we’ve seen, but we still clearly have some kinks to work out. I can see this month being amazing if things begin to click again.

  • Mon, Dec 2 @ Charlotte - W
  • Wed, Dec 4 @ Orlando - L
  • Thu, Dec 5 @ New Orleans - W
  • Sat, Dec 7 @ Houston - L
  • Mon, Dec 9 vs Minnesota - W
  • Wed, Dec 11 vs Memphis - W
  • Sat, Dec 14 vs San Antonio - L
  • Mon, Dec 16 vs Portland - W

--------Ayton Returns--------

  • Tue, Dec 17 @ LA Clippers - L
  • Fri, Dec 20 @ Oklahoma City - W
  • Sat, Dec 21 vs Houston - W
  • Mon, Dec 23 vs Denver - L
  • Fri, Dec 27 @ Golden State - W
  • Sat, Dec 28 @ Sacramento - W
  • Mon, Dec 30 @ Portland - L

Sun-Arc: 6-9 (w/o Baynes), 10-5 (with Baynes and Rubio)

Win/loss without Baynes (win/loss with Baynes AND Rubio).

  • Mon, Dec 2 @ Charlotte - W (W)
  • Wed, Dec 4 @ Orlando - L (W)
  • Thu, Dec 5 @ New Orleans - L (W)
  • Sat, Dec 7 @ Houston - L (L)
  • Mon, Dec 9 vs Minnesota - L (W)
  • Wed, Dec 11 vs Memphis - W (W)
  • Sat, Dec 14 vs San Antonio - W (W)
  • Mon, Dec 16 vs Portland - L (W)

--------Ayton Returns--------

  • Tue, Dec 17 @ LA Clippers - L
  • Fri, Dec 20 @ Oklahoma City - W
  • Sat, Dec 21 vs Houston - L
  • Mon, Dec 23 vs Denver - L
  • Fri, Dec 27 @ Golden State - W
  • Sat, Dec 28 @ Sacramento - L
  • Mon, Dec 30 @ Portland - W

SDKyle: 9-6

I’ve optimistically got the Suns bouncing back a bit to go 9-6 in December. I don’t want people to read too much into the fact that I have the going 3-4 with Ayton, because 5 of those 7 games are on the road and three of those teams are solid playoff teams or elite.

  • Mon, Dec 2 @ Charlotte - W
  • Wed, Dec 4 @ Orlando - W
  • Thu, Dec 5 @ New Orleans - L
  • Sat, Dec 7 @ Houston - L
  • Mon, Dec 9 vs Minnesota - W
  • Wed, Dec 11 vs Memphis - W
  • Sat, Dec 14 vs San Antonio - W
  • Mon, Dec 16 vs Portland - W

--------Ayton Returns--------

  • Tue, Dec 17 @ LA Clippers - L
  • Fri, Dec 20 @ Oklahoma City - W
  • Sat, Dec 21 vs Houston - L
  • Mon, Dec 23 vs Denver - L
  • Fri, Dec 27 @ Golden State - W
  • Sat, Dec 28 @ Sacramento - L
  • Mon, Dec 30 @ Portland - W

SouthernSun: 9-6

I think with this stretch playing a lot of sub .500 teams coming up, the Suns should be able to claw their way back above .500. I believe they may have some struggles re-inserting Ayton back into things, but mainly the losses I predicted post-Ayton returning are due to opponent strength (Clippers, Denver, Houston, Portland at home).

  • Mon, Dec 2 @ Charlotte - W
  • Wed, Dec 4 @ Orlando - W
  • Thu, Dec 5 @ New Orleans - L
  • Sat, Dec 7 @ Houston - L
  • Mon, Dec 9 vs Minnesota - W
  • Wed, Dec 11 vs Memphis - W
  • Sat, Dec 14 vs San Antonio - W
  • Mon, Dec 16 vs Portland - W

--------Ayton Returns--------

  • Tue, Dec 17 @ LA Clippers - L
  • Fri, Dec 20 @ Oklahoma City - W
  • Sat, Dec 21 vs Houston - L
  • Mon, Dec 23 vs Denver - L
  • Fri, Dec 27 @ Golden State - W
  • Sat, Dec 28 @ Sacramento - W
  • Mon, Dec 30 @ Portland - L

Alex S.: 7-8 (no individual game predictions)

Lots of road games and still having Deandre/Aron out is tough. The Suns are clearly a different team w/out Baynes on the floor.

It’s going to take a little bit of time for the Suns to build their chemistry and rotation up in the early portion of this stretch. Maybe this team is streaky and can rattle off 5 straight? Maybe the struggles continue? We will see.

Q2 - Some fans are already talking about trades and on Dec. 15 everyone except Kelly Oubre Jr. will be eligible to be traded (KO will be eligible Jan. 15). Do you think that James Jones will attempt to pull off a big trade, make a smaller trade or trades to “tweak” the roster a bit or just keep things intact for the rest of the season?

GuarGuar: I don’t think we’ll be making any moves come December 15th. We haven’t yet seen what this full roster is capable of when Ayton comes back. I’m not sure who exactly we would be looking to trade outside of maybe Frank Kaminksy. I think there’s a much better chance we make a move at the February deadline if this team establishes some sort of identity once DA comes back.

Sun-Arc: Jones may want to stick with the roster as constructed through the season IF he thinks the first 7 games this year was a sustainable model and the players will all stay healthy. I will guess that he believes the winning was sustainable enough to warrant keeping the team together for the most part. Though I also believe he’d like to make upgrades where he can. The tradable player that comes to mind for me is Tyler Johnson because of the huge expiring contract and less than stellar season he’s having. But Tyler will not be enough in the trade- and I have a feeling he would have to give up more. And that will be a sticking point.

Contending teams would really love to have Baynes on their roster. Imagine the Clippers or Houston with Aron, for instance. I don’t believe such teams would part with anything we would want, IMO. If the goal were to receive a really good piece in exchange (for Baynes and Johnson), a third team would have to be involved- and that gets too complicated for me to speculate about.

Some people have suggested Johnson and pieces for Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, or Aaron Gordon. I’ve looked into these options...

Kevin Love - Too past his prime to fit well with this team. We need athleticism along with 3&D type big men, and Love does not have any of that besides being able to shoot the three. Very hard pass for me.

Blake Griffin - Great player when healthy, but also past his prime, has trouble staying healthy, and his contract is absolutely stifling moving forward. He gets paid $34m this season, $36.6 next season, and $39m in 2021-22. That would put Booker and Blake at around 2/3 the cap, meaning we wouldn’t have money for players like Saric or another center around Baynes’ level. Too big a price tag for such a gamble. Hard pass for me.

Aaron Gordon - While his overall play has not been at the star level many felt he would ascend towards, his contract is much more friendly than Blake’s, and his age fits with the team. He gets payed $19m this season, $18m next, and $16.4m in 2021-22. That last season would put him getting paid around Oubre’s level. And there’s something about Gordon that makes me feel he would be a better player here than Orlando- much like Oubre showed since the trade. Gordon has athleticism and versatility to play either forward position, which we could really use. But his shooting is far from ideal and his defense has never lived up to the hype. Its a gamble, but one that may be worth it. I’m not pulling the trigger if Baynes or Mikal goes with Johnson on the deal. Johnson and Saric I’d do (or Kaminsky, but ORL wouldn’t go for that) for Gordon. That would give us a potentially good fit at PF for the longer term. Though maybe the scouts and front office feel he’s just not worth it in the end, which would not be the end of the world to me.

I don’t know what other tinkering Jones would want to do. And I don’t think he wants to move any of the younger guys (Cam Johnson, Mikal) where most of the others no one would want (Carter, Kaminsky, Diallo, Okobo).

SDKyle: I think we’ll see a small to medium move or two, possibly unloading Tyler Johnson’s expiring deal and another of the backup guards to shore up the PF spot a bit.

Jones seems like a measured executive, I just don’t see him deciding to push all his chips in and get a star because of what it would take to make that happen when our pick no longer looks like a lock to be top 4. He may take a long look at Domantas Sabonis and even Kevin Love, but it’s hard for me to picture a deal really happening.

SouthernSun: I don’t think any of us can really have much of an idea what he will do. On one hand, the Suns have played above expectations so far (even with the recent stretch of losses), so he may want to keep it intact, or only make one or two small deals, like for a backup PG, or another sharp shooter off the bench. On the other hand, if your team surprisingly looks like it has a shot at the playoffs, and you’ve got plenty of young talent, as well as a perfect huge nearly 20 million expiring contract (attached to a player who hasn’t been performing that well so far this season) perhaps it makes sense to send a little of that plus some draft assets out to bring back somebody who solidifies your chances at the post-season for the next couple years.

There are a number of ways to go on this. If it were me, I’d look into all avenues to improve. You could look into making a trade for Dragic from the Heat, perhaps, or a move similar to that for a better backup PG and a little extra firepower off the bench. Other options of players to target who are on expiring contracts themselves and wouldn’t tie up cap space long term are Gallinari, Iguodala, or maybe even Serge Ibaka if the Raptors are open to it.

Those would be smaller moves that wouldn’t affect the Suns much in the long term.

Then there are moves that would tie up the Suns cap space for awhile.

Kevin Love is an option, and probably the easiest and cheapest to obtain. He’s having a great year so far, but how much longer can he hold up? His game isn’t predicated on his athleticism, so that’s not much of a worry, but there are certainly injury worries.

Another probably more expensive option is Blake Griffin. This is my favorite. The thing about Blake is, his contact expires at the same time Rubio’s does. And sure, acquiring Blake now would mean the Suns can’t go free agent shopping this summer or next summer. But what are the chances they lure a player as good as Blake anyway? His stats are a little down, and he’s only played 7 games so far this season, but when healthy he is a monster. And he’s continued to get better year after year. He’s become a solid three point shooter (aside from his first games so far this season), and a fantastic passer for a big. If the Suns were to trade for him, say Tyler Johnson + Bridges + Kaminsky + 2020 Suns 1st top 3 protected, that still leaves them with a very solid front court rotation around Blake to cover if/when he has injuries. The Suns can go over the cap to re-sign all their own players this summer anyway, and then use the exception to sign another guard (either to play in front of or behind Ty Jerome). They can bring back Saric and Baynes, as I mentioned before. Re-sign Saric to a decent deal, and Baynes to something like 2 years 30 million. Having those two plus Ayton and Diallo gives the Suns great insurance for any injuries Blake has over the next couple years. And the Suns probably make some fun playoff runs, getting Booker, Ayton, Kelly, and Cam some great experience. Then, when Rubio, Blake, and Baynes contracts are up, the Suns have a good amount of cap space, and can reload around their young core.

Team for next several seasons after this trade:

  • Rubio/Jerome/Carter
  • Booker/FA
  • Oubre/Johnson
  • Griffin/Saric
  • Ayton/Baynes/Diallo

I wouldn’t mind that for a few years to see what happens. If things break right and some opposing teams have a little misfortune, that’s a kind of team that can perhaps even sneak into the finals.

Alex S.: I think it’s going to be boom or bust for Jones at the deadline. There was so much roster turnover this summer that I can’t see James trying to acquire a “diamond in the rough” type player in a small trade. I can however see him pushing his trade chips into the mix and try to acquire a star level player like a Blake Griffin.

I think I’m going to lean with Phoenix being quiet at the deadline but we will see.

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


Key Stats

125.0 DefRtg

That is the Suns’ defensive rating for last week, 29th in the NBA. Over the last two weeks it was 115.2 (23rd). Part of the fall in the Suns’ defense can be attributed to the absences of Ricky Rubio and Aron Baynes due to injuries. Some of it might be due to a lack of effort on the defensive side but I’m prone to believe that it’s also quite likely that other teams have started to figure out Phoenix’s defensive schemes and are making adjustments to beat them.

Random Stats: Ricky Rubio is hitting on 37.8% of his 3-point attempts this season. His career average is 32.4% and his best previous season 2017-18 (with Utah) when he shot 35.2% from three. Devin Booker is 2nd in free throw percentage (95.6%, 86/90) this season behind only Malcolm Brogdon (96.8%, 60/62) among qualified players.

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


Game Highlights

Washington Wizards vs Phoenix Suns - Full Game Highlights | November 27, 2019

Dallas Mavericks vs Phoenix Suns - Full Game Highlights | November 29, 2019


Quote of the Week

”He’s (Deandre Ayton) attacking every day. Everything that he’s done, he’s done at a high level. His maturity level is increasing. You expect that to happen in a second year but he’s had a lot of time to reflect and a lot of time to improve. It’s gonna pay dividends.” - James Jones


Rookie Report

Cameron Johnson - 19.2 mpg, 8.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 0.8 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.6 TO, 1.7 PF, 40.0 3PT%

  • This week - 22.5 mpg, 9.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.5 bpg, 0.5 TO, 1.5 PF, 33.3 3PT%

Ty Jerome - DNP - Assigned to NAZ Suns

Jalen Lecque - Assigned to NAZ Suns

Jared Harper - Assigned to NAZ Suns

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.


Injury Status Report

Cameron Johnson (illness) - Game Time Decision (Monday vs Charlotte)

Aron Baynes (calf strain) - Game Time Decision (Monday vs Charlotte)

Mikal Bridges (bruised quadriceps) - Game Time Decision (Monday vs Charlotte)

Cheick Diallo (illness) - Expected to be out until at least Dec 4

Deandre Ayton (suspension) - Expected to be out until Dec. 17.


News & Notes

Suns’ Deandre Ayton will likely start when he returns from suspension. Clutch Points

The Ricky Rubio ‘overpay’ is paying off for the Phoenix Suns. Gerald Bourguet/The Step Back

Of all the players the Wizards let go in recent years, is Kelly Oubre the one that got away? Yahoo! Sports

Rebuild over: Phoenix Suns are here to win now. Basketball Society

Suns have plan in place for suspended Deandre Ayton, will reintegrate him. Kellan Olson/Arizona Sports


Suns Trivia

The Suns are on pace to total 1,071 three-point makes and 2,897 three-point attempts this season. The franchise records for each are 837 three-point makes (2005-06) and 2,400 attempts (2018-19). The Suns are currently making 81.6% of their free throws. The Suns’ all-time single-season record for FT shooting is 80.8% in 2006-07.


Previewing the Week Ahead

Monday, December 2 - Phoenix Suns @ Charlotte Hornets, 5:00 pm AZT

Wednesday, December 4 - Phoenix Suns @ Orlando Magic, 5:00 pm AZT

Thursday, December 5 - Phoenix Suns @ New Orleans Pelicans, 6:00 pm AZT

Saturday, December 7 - Phoenix Suns @ Houston Rockets, 6:00 pm AZT

This week, the Suns head East for a four-game road trip.

Tonight the Suns are in Charlotte to take on the 8-13 Hornets. Charlotte is 4-6 in their last ten games and the Suns are 3-7 but three of those Hornets wins were against the 6-13 Detroit Pistons and the other was against the 4-15 New York Knicks. Charlotte has only one win against a team with a winning record (Indiana) so far this season. With the Suns finally healthy again, they should put this one in the win column.

On Wednesday the Suns head to Orlando. The Magic are 8-11 on the season and 5-5 in their last ten games. Orlando has also struggled against winning teams with just a single win over a team with a .500 or better record. The Magic have the worst OffRtg in the NBA (102.4) but play solid defense (104.0 DefRtg, 11th). I think the Suns will get the win in Orlando too.

The Suns will have little time to rest as they play New Orleans Thursday on the second night of a back-to-back on the road. The Suns looked good against them in their first game even though it resulted in a 124-121 loss for Phoenix. The Suns were also without Rubio and Baynes in that game. The homer in me wants to say that the Suns will get another win in NO but realistically I can only give them a 50-50 chance because it’s on the second night of a B2B.

Finally, the road trip ends on Saturday in Houston. The 13-6 Rockets are likely to be too much for the Suns to handle on the road. If they go into it with a fully healthy roster, it should be a good game but I’m picking the Rockets to win.

This week, I’m predicting that the Suns go 2-2 with a fair chance of going 3-1.

What’s your prediction?


Important Future Dates

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).

February 14-19 - NBA All-Star break.


Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “Would you be happy if the Suns made the playoffs this year even if they were swept in the 1st round?”

90% - Yes.

06% - No.

04% - Only if they barely sneak in as the 8th seed.

There were 229 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

What do you think are the least amount of wins it will take to make it to the playoffs in the West this year?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    At least 48.
    (24 votes)
  • 27%
    At least 46.
    (41 votes)
  • 41%
    At least 44.
    (62 votes)
  • 15%
    At least 42.
    (23 votes)
150 votes total Vote Now