Thoughts on the first quarter of the Suns Season

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Thoughts on the first quarter of the season


  • Not too high, not too low. It's sound advice, especially in a season that has started this way. Let's look at this logically. If you were asked before the season, what record would you be very happy with after the first 20 games? Even in the absolute best circumstances with nobody missing any time (including Ayton), most people would have said they would be very happy to be 10-10 and there is good reasons for that, let's take a look.
    • A) New coaching staff & totally new offensive and defensive systems.
    • B) 9 of the 15 players who have played this year are new to the team.
    • C) A top 10 most difficult first quarter schedule, especially early on.
  • It was going to be a tough start to the season regardless of any setbacks the team faced and most people, even Suns fans, predicted this team to win less than 41 games this year. Now if you would ask fans where they would expect the team to finish after the first 20 games if their 2nd best player misses 19 of those games, 3rd best player misses 5 (6 really) of those games and their 4th best player misses 7. Throw in one of the 1st round picks missing 2 games and the other missing 18 just for fun. It would be hard for even the biggest homers to predict a 10-10 finish with those facts in hand.

  • So how people view the season so far is based on how they approach it mentally, a classic glass half-full vs half-empty issue. Glass half-full approach says we didn't even expect to be this good in the best of circumstances and things have not gone well at all. So to be here with all the adversity this team has faced is promising. There is a lot of room to grow and we'll be a much better team with Ayton and Baynes both on the court every game. It's been a good start and it's only going to get better.

  • The glass half-empty approach says we started hot but have fizzled out as teams figured out what we were doing. The only reason things have been so hard is because Ayton made a bad decision and hurt this team. It's possible if Ayton doesn't fail a drug test, then Baynes getting less minutes and not having to play such a focal role doesn't deal with injuries. We've taken a huge step back going 3-7 in our last 10 and it doesn't look like it's going to get better.

  • This is why context is so important in sports. When approaching something objectively the why's matter and help shape the reality in a world full of emotion and opinions. So let's take a look at what exactly happened with the Phoenix Suns in the first 20 games of the season.


  • At this point anyone unhappy with the Suns offense through the first 20 games of the season, especially considering the absences of Ayton, Baynes & Rubio, is simply not being realistic. Sure the offense can use some cleaning up and there is problems but the overall production of the offense has been a huge win for the Suns. If someone had polled Suns fans before the season and asked them how happy they'd be to have a top 10 offense after 20 games, regardless of guys missing time, it's safe to say the majority of fans would have been thrilled. So what are some of the strengths and weaknesses of this offense?
    • Strength - Transition Offense: First thing that jumps out on the stats is points off of turnovers and transition points per play. The Suns are causing plenty of turnovers and scoring off those turnovers both in volume and efficiency. Suns run mostly traditional fast break sets, working to get to the basket for easy dunks & layups. Many NBA teams in today's game look for open 3PT attempts on fast breaks, that does not seem to be the Suns strategy and that's fine.
    • Strength - Ball Movement: This is something that Monty talks about often and he's backed up that talk with action. Not only do the Suns understand the importance of ball movement in the offense, they have really embraced the execution of that ball movement. Passing is a general strength for this team so much so that when the Suns execute a lazy pass, it tends to stick out. The stats show this clearly with top tier assist numbers across the board and very low turnover numbers as well.
    • Strength - Free Throw Shooting: The great free throw shooting of the Suns shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, they have a lot of quality free throw shooters. Where the surprise may come is in the fact that the team ranks 9th in the NBA in free throw attempts. There is no particular player who is great at getting to the line, Devin Booker leads the team with 5 FTA per game, but the team as a whole has done a good job of making a point to attack the basket and look for contact.
    • Strength - Rubio Run Half-Court Sets: The half court set being run most often for the Suns so far this year is a Ricky Rubio orchestrated half court. This set comes in a few different variations, the most common ones being: A) Classic Pick & Roll or Pick & Pop. B) High Screen & Dribble Hand Offs. C) Freestyle - Reading the Defense. All these variations of the Rubio led half court sets have been effective and efficient despite the team missing so many wide open shots.
    • Weakness - Offensive Rebounding & Second Chance Points: This is the kind of stat that makes you miss Deandre Ayton. Every possession is important and an offensive rebound is a +1 possession for the Suns and a -1 possession for the other team for a net gain of 2 possessions. Ayton was 13th last year in ORB% and will be critical to helping the Suns get to at least average in this area.
    • Weakness - Wide Open 3PT Shots: This is an interesting issue for a few reasons. A) The team is shooting 3's well as a whole, top 10 in the league is not bad. B) The team takes a lot of wide open 3's, 21.8 out of the 35.6 total 3's taken or 61.23%, which is good enough for 2nd in the NBA. C) It's a really hard problem to fix, more mental and confidence related than anything. Here's some guys who need to improve in this area and have shown the ability to in the past. 1) Devin Booker shot 37.1% & 38.8% the preview 2 seasons, down to 33.3%. 2) Frank Kaminsky shot 41.3% & 37.3% the previous 2 seasons, down to 32.8. 3) Ricky Rubio shot 37.1% & 33.8% the previous 2 seasons, down to 31.7%.
    • Weakness - Points in the Paint: The team as a whole isn't doing terribly with points in the paint, 13th is slightly above average. Generally speaking they do a good job of scoring at the rim with their passing, the Suns are decent at hitting the roll guy when it's there (even though our screen setters are very limited in that right now) and good at hitting cutters heading to the basket. Most of our problems have come from the fact that our "bigs" scoring at the rim with Baynes out have been mostly Saric / Kaminsky / Oubre all 3 ranking decently below average at scoring within 5ft of the basket among forwards.
    • Weakness - Non-Rubio Half-Court Sets: We've spoken about this before. The team runs a lot of half court sets that do not involve Rubio as the main ball handler & distributor. Even when Rubio is in the game this is the case, around 50% of the time. These sets are extremely inconsistent and lead to a lot of turnovers and bad shots. It's important the Suns find other sets to run in the half-court that do not have Rubio as the primary ball handler & distributor but so far these sets have not gone very well.


  • The defense is a totally different story than the offense. The Suns started off really hot defensively and have stumbled tremendously as of late, especially in the absence Baynes who was the last real remaining rim defender. The inconsistency is likely a little more deep than a missing big man at the rim but the effect that no rim defense can have on the way a team plays defense shouldn't be discounted and we'll discuss more of that at the end of the article in the section about what Ayton's return will mean to the team. In the meanwhile let's discuss strengths and weaknesses.
    • Strength - Forcing Turnovers: The Suns boast a few guys on defense who are good at forcing turnovers. Forcing turnovers can come in a few different forms. A) Steals, B) Offensive Fouls C) Forced Mistakes. The master at forcing turnovers in all 3 is Ricky Rubio. Rubio is a cerebral defender with surprising length, good hands and later quickness. Other guys who have excelled in forcing turnovers so far are Bridges, Oubre & Baynes. The Suns are sitting beautifully at 4th on TOV% and 2nd in charges drawn.
    • Strength - Fast Break Points: This is a bit of a stretch as a strength, admittedly. The Suns fast break defense isn't bad, but it's not great. What makes the Suns look so good in points off turnovers and fast break points alike is that they are top 10 in field goal percentage and turnovers. Simply put, they are not allowing very many opportunities for fast breaks.
    • Weakness - Free Throws Allowed: There's a lot of reasons why the Suns are allowing the 24th most free throw attempts in the NBA. The problem is that a lot of these fouls are just really bad mistakes. Often times guys are fouling three point shooters for absolutely no reason, or they are trying to contest a lay up after they've already been clearly beat. There is an unfortunate amount of bad fouls that are sending guys to the foul line unnecessarily.
    • Weakness - Defense Against Screens: This is probably the single most disappointing aspect of the defense so far. It seems at times all the defense needs to do to stop the Suns is set a couple screens. Not only are perimeter defenders struggling to fight through screens but the interior defenders are either to slow to help defend off screens or there is some real confusion on what is happening in switch situations.
    • Weakness - Interior Defense: It seems unlikely that anyone was hoping before the season to be ranked in the bottom third of the NBA in points in the paint allowed. This is partly a byproduct of poor defense against screens, like we discussed in the previous point. Additionally the Suns currently have neither a big body who can absorb contact and still contest shots down low or an athletic big who can rise up and contest shots with their athleticism. It is seemingly impossible to have a good defense if your best rim defenders are Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky, more on that in the return of Ayton portion.
    • Weakness - Easy Buckets Allowed: The previous two points are some very big reasons why the Suns are allowing a lot of easy buckets. Besides that, the Suns struggle being disciplined on defense and keeping up with the fundamentals. There seems to be lapses of focus where players are flat footed, have their arms down and are biting on too many pump fakes and movements. Sometimes it appears that some Suns defenders would rather play defensive beside or behind their opponent rather than use lateral footwork to keep their bodies in front of the ball handler.


  • Rubio has come in and been what most people wanted him to be, a calm and steadying veteran presence. Ricky's leadership has been easy to see and a much needed piece on this team. Rubio has been a huge net positive on both ends of floor contributing to an on/off rating of +9.0 which is good enough for 3rd on the team behind Aron Baynes and Ellie Okobo.

  • Rubio Offense: Your outlook on Rubio's offense is completely dependent on what your expectations were. Rubio was not brought in for his scoring. If you were expecting a big jump in that area, you're likely to leave disappointed in Rubio but you'll be missing out on the rest of his offensive game which is really good. As we've discussed before Rubio will surprise you with a good to great scoring game about 20-30 times a year. He'll provide you with probably as many poor shooting nights.
    • So far that's been the case for Rubio. Ricky has 5 games scoring 18 or more, shooting 51.4% from the field, 56.5% from 3pt and 85.7% from the line. 5 games scoring 9 or fewer points, shooting 21.4% from the field, 0% from 3pt and 86.7% from the line. Lastly, 5 games between the 10 & 17 points, shooting 38.5% from the field, 28.6% from 3pt and 76.5% from the line. This is a fairly consistent thing for Ricky the past three seasons.
    • Now for the real reason you bring him here, offensively that is, passing. It's hard not to fall in love with Rubio's passing ability. He doesn't just pass the ball well, he has great passing IQ, vision, expectation and execution. Some guys who rack up assist in the NBA hit the guy with a solid pass who already had an opportunity, Rubio goes above and beyond. He doesn't take advantage of opportunities, he creates offense and he creates opportunities for his teammates they otherwise wouldn't have had.
    • It obviously shows up in the stats too. Rubio is dominating pretty much all the assist related stats but he is handily in control of the most important one, assist to turnover ratio. Ricky is nearly at a 5-1 ratio of assist to turnover which is something pretty amazing. The offense is operates much better when he's in, shooting 1.1% better EFG% despite his poor shooting numbers bringing that average down. Overall the offense is 4.7 points per 100 possessions better when he's on the court then when he's off of it which is the 5th highest number on the team, but 2 of those players are very low minute rotation players Okobo and Diallo.
  • Rubio Defense: This is one area where Rubio is constantly underrated by the basketball world at large. His basketball IQ doesn't just apply to the offensive end as Rubio brings a wealth of basetball IQ and knowledge to the defensive side of the ball. He leads on the defensive side of the ball by understanding everyone's rotations and switch responsibilities on screens. If you look closely, you'll see Rubio directing traffic often on the defensive side, especially on screen's he's involved in.
    • Ricky's defensive play has been two sides of a coin if you will. On one hand, he is a huge difference maker in team defense and that shows in how often he gets steals, forces turnovers, takes offensive fouls and forces players into bad situations. The stats clearly show the difference he makes on that end of the court.
    • His on/off shows other teams score 4.3 less points per 100 possessions while he is in, then when he is out, good for 3rd on the team. He also rebounds well for a guard, ranking 9th among the 68 eligible guards in total rebound percentage and that in part leads to the team rebounding 10.3% more missed shots while he is in the game, as opposed to when he's out, 2nd on the team.
    • On the other side of that coin we have Rubio's on ball defense. Earlier in the season we discussed how good point guards tend to have bad games against Rubio and that has been a trend this year too, especially early. With Baynes out, it has been a struggle for everyone playing on ball defense knowing there is no rim protector to back you up.


  • Booker Offense: When it comes to scoring the ball, Booker has been phenomenal. Ranking ninth among 82 eligible guards and wings in true shooting percentage tells the entire story. He is scoring 24.1 points per game, good for 15th in the NBA as a whole and 7th among his peers. High scoring with high efficiency is a great way to start the season off for the best scorer on the team and it shows as the team is 10.3 points per 100 possessions better on offense when he's on the court then when he's off, good for 2nd on the team behind only seldom used rotation player Ellie Okobo.
    • A lot of people have been wanting to see Booker break out of the offense, play more iso ball and take over more often. While he is certainly capable of going on some scoring runs those won't happen every night and when Devin is showing a hot hand he should get the green light to go off.
    • On the other hand, Devin is uniquely suited to be a great off-ball scorer as well. He has a tremendous shooting ability and has shown he can definitely be a potent off-ball scorer. Most players are either a good on-ball scorer who need to have the ball in their hand to be successful or need facilitators to help set them up for good shots by play off-ball.
    • There's not a ton of guys in the NBA who are capable of being proficient at both and its a tool the Suns should continue to learn to use to their advantage. The offense runs the best when the ball is in Rubio's hands but there is 3 times when Booker should have the absolute green like to go off.
    • 1) Booker has the hot hand. Let's be real here, when he gets hot it seems like he can't miss. It makes sense to allow him the freedom to go on a run when he's feeling it. 2) The standard offensive is not working. If the team is missing shots and struggling to execute the offense Rubio is creating, trying a different approach is needed. 3) When Rubio is on the bench. Let Booker be the creator when Rubio is on the bench, this includes him scoring buckets and creating for others.
  • Booker Defense: To start the season the entire Suns team was on fire on defense, Devin included. There has been a steep regression to the mean after that hot start. Overall Devin has the 2nd worst on/off defensive showing as opposing teams are scoring 10.4 more points per 100 possessions when he is on the court as opposed to off.
    • It doesn't end there. Teams shoot 2.2% better EFG% with him on as opposed to off too and opposing teams turn the ball over 3.6% less often with him on the court as opposed to off as well. The stats of Devin's negative impact on the defensive end are fairly overwhelming for the first 20 games of the season.
    • Other contributing factors to this include Devin's poor rebounding numbers and 81st among 82 eligible guards/wings on steal percentage. Booker does seem to be giving more of an effort on the defensive end but that's not always enough. It's clear that he's made strides on that end of the court and hopefully he continues to try to grow, making the defensive side of the ball a priority.


  • Kelly Offense: Perhaps nobody takes Suns fans on as many ups and downs offensively as Kelly Oubre. Kelly often times plays in a way that makes fans question his basketball IQ. One minute he's driving to the basket with 4 defenders closing in on him and he goes up for a massively contested shot at the rim only to get blocked. The next minute he's getting a putback dunk over 2 defenders, from his own miss. Overall Oubre is still a net positive on the offensive end, with a +1.7 on/off rating.
    • As for stuff that makes you question his basketball IQ. Kelly rarely passes the ball and virtually never on drives. When he drives to the basket, 99 times of out 100 he is going to attempt that shot. This leads to him being one of the most frequently blocked players in the league. It also leads to him not shooting particularly well within 5ft, ranking around 57th out of 71 forwards who have at least 3.5 FGA in that range. Head scratching plays are not uncommon.
    • On the other hand despite some of these issues, he fairly regularly has high energy splash plays. Whether it's a 3 at the right moment, a big emphatic dunk or a solid cut right at the right time. He makes these plays often times when the team needs them most. He also knows where to take his shots. Despite not being a great finisher at the rim, at 55.6% it's still one of his most efficient shots.
    • 10.5 out of Kelly's 13 shots come within 5 feet of the hoop or beyond the 3pt line. He also does well getting to the free throw line, his 35.9% free throw rate is 11th among 60 qualified wing players. These things all lead to a true shooting percentage of 57%, average among wings getting 23.5 minutes or more and average is where most of Oubre's stats land.
  • Oubre Defense: He is pretty much the same guy on the defensive end as he is on the offensive end. There will be times where he get's cause flat footed on a back door, giving up an easy layup to his man. On the next play he'll poke the ball loose, starting a fast break for an easy bucket for this team. This leads to his team getting scored on for 1.9 more points while he is on the court, rather than off.
    • Kelly is a pretty aggressive defender and this, as all things with Kelly, can be a strength and a weakness. His aggressiveness leads steals and some really timely blocks, but they also lead to some really untimely fouls, even on 3pt shooters at times. He really struggles working his way around screens and this has been exploited by opposing teams to create open looks for their wing scorers.
    • If Oubre was a little bit more fundamentally sound and played with more of a tamed aggressiveness he could be an above average defender. Where he sits now, it seems as though the negative defensive plays are pretty much a wash with the positive ones. Just like on offense, Oubre appears to be an average starting wing who helps provide energy and swagger to the team.


  • It's really difficult to form a hard opinion on Dario at this point in the season. He is a guy who does so many of the small things well and this is shown in his on/off stats. He sports the teams 3rd best NET total rebound percentage behind Baynes and Rubio. The team shoots 1.3% better when he's on the court, despite his poor shooting so far. He does most things at an average to above average rate.

  • Saric Offense: Now this is where part of the bad comes in. Saric's scoring has gotten to a fairly unacceptable level. It's well known that Saric has a tendency to get off to slow starts and he's been hurt and he's been negatively affected more than most with the absence of Baynes & Ayton. We'll get a much clearer picture over the next 20 games if Saric will be the efficient and effective scorer at the 4 that the Suns need or if they will need to make an upgrade.
    • So far, Saric is in the bottom tier in both shooting within 5 feet of the basket and getting to the free throw line. There is reason to believe that both of these things will improve with the return of Ayton. Asking Saric to be the primary scorer down low is problematic. Not only is it not one of his strengths but there is no other talented big man down low to take pressure off, like Ayton will. Last year Saric 62.3% from 5ft and in, as opposed to the 56.9% he's got going this year. So there is a history of better performance from him.
    • Aron Baynes has only played 1 of the last 9 games and it has clearly affected Dario's 3pt shooting. Dario was shooting 39.3% from 3 before Baynes went down and since he's shot 27.5% from 3. Saric is not capable of being a premier big man at the NBA level, if that wasn't clear before it should be now. The question is, when the Suns are back at full health, can Saric return to numbers like he had in 2017-18 when he put up 14.6PPG on a 45.3%/ 39.3% / 86.0% split.
  • Saric Defense: On the defensive end we most likely have another example of Saric proving he cannot be a premier big man. His defense when Baynes was healthy in the first 12 games, playing mostly as a secondary big man option, was mostly regulated to playing on ball & team defense. Since Baynes went down, Saric is now generally charged with both guarding the biggest guy on the court and trying to protect the rim, two things for which he is not built.
    • Saric displays solid fundamentals on defense. He does a good job of keeping his hands up, rarely gets flat footed and has great lateral footwork that helps him stay in front of defenders. He's also a very smart players on the defensive side, rarely making mistakes and playing great team defense.
    • His weaknesses on the defensive side are trying to guard much bigger or more athletic big men and being the primary rim protector. For the last 9 games he's been playing away from his strengths and right into his weaknesses. Just like on offense, we'll get a better idea of who Saric is as a defender once we get back to full strength with the rest of our bigs.


  • The decent the Suns have gone on since Baynes went down is two fold. 1) It's important to recognize that Baynes is a great player and his contributions to the team were important. Baynes improves most aspect of the game for the Suns and man do the stats show that. From Baynes win shares per 48 to his box plus minus to his player efficiency rating, the importance of Baynes as a player to this team should not be diminished.
  • 2) Besides Baynes great play, he was our last true center. Part of the reason his on/off ratings look so good is because without him the Suns have nothing left at the 5. This isn't meant to diminish his play, he has been phenomenal, but if the on/off was going from Baynes to Ayton or even a servicable back up 5, it would look totally different than going to Saric & Kaminsky.

  • Baynes Offense: Aron started the season of with a bang on the offensive side of the ball, posting a ridiculous 67.7% true shooting percentage, ranked 4th among 70 eligible bigs. Not only was his scoring impressive but he is clearly a high IQ player and has great passing ability. His assist percentage ranked 8th among that same 70 bigs and the vast majority of his decisions on offense were smart ones.

  • Baynes Defense: He doesn't put up top tier numbers on the defensive side, in any way really, but that didn't matter. At the end of the day 2 things were true when Baynes was on defense. 1) The team could rely on a big body to play smart, albeit limited defense at the rim. Baynes ranks 30th out of 83 players who defend 3.5 shots at the rim or more. 2) His leadership, help defense and willingness to sacrifice his body to constant contact at the hoop were difference makers.


  • About a month ago after the fast start from Kaminsky I started to talk about some things I saw on film that concerned me. Because of his good pre-season and fast start to the year some people we very critical of this take but the reality is Frank has a lot multiple years of film and production. Frank is an overall liability to the team, despite some hot streaks he can go into it at times. This is more clear than anything in his on/off numbers, the team plays so much better when he's on the bench.

  • Frank Offense: He is bad in virtual every statistical category offensively with the exception of passing and getting to the free throw line. Frank is not truly as bad as it appears in the stats. He's an extremely streaky player and simply shouldn't be getting the amount of time he is. That's not to say he's not useful, Frank can bring a big of a play maker roll in limited units to a unit that needs that from the 4. After the Suns are back at full health Frank should be getting somewhere between 10-15 minutes per game.

  • Frank Defense: The two worst parts of Franks defense are this. 1) He is virtually non existent as a rim defender. Kaminsky is allowing scorers to shoot 66.1% at the rim when he is there, one of the worst in the NBA. 2) Rebounding tanks when he's in. Frank rebounds like a guard, he grabs them when they are nearby. This leads to him having an average total rebounding rate of 12.3%, but the reality is when the team is much worse at rebounding when he's in. Frank simply doesn't create rebounding opportunities for himself or other wish good box outs.

  • Bridges Offense: Most people expected Bridges to be a good 3 & D player this year, myself included. Unfortunately Bridges seems to have forgotten the 3 part of the equation and only brought the D. Bridges has had a disastrous start to the season from deep to the tune of 27.8%, yeah that bad. On the flip side we've seen the development of slash & D Bridges. Bridges has become very good at attacking the basket, especially with off the ball cuts.
    • Even though Mikal is struggling mightily from deep, his overall shooting percentage is still a very good 48.2%. A huge part of the reason for that is his shooting within 5ft is at 64.8%. That's nearly 10% better than Oubre or Saric. As Mikal started slowly on offense, barely even engaging, most fans desperately wanted him to be more aggressive and contribute something on the offensive end, no he is. It may not be the 3 that everyone wanted but he's being productive.
  • Bridges Defense: As with the rest of the team, Bridges defensive numbers have fallen off a bit since he's last seen a rim protector on the court with him but they are still impressive none the less. Bridges is still ranked 6th in the NBA in steal percentage and that in combination with excellent team defense causes defenses to turn the ball over 2% more frequently when Mikal is on the court. Overall opposing defenses are 2.5 points per 100 possessions worse when he is on the court, 3rd on the team behind Rubio and Baynes.

  • Cam Johnson Offense: It's hard to be anything but excited for the future of Cam on the offensive side. It's not often a rookie can hit such a high percentage of 3's on a pretty decent volume. Cam is never afraid to take a 3. His length and quick release allow him to be more open than he seems, more often. His ability to finish at the rim is better than most thought it would be, in part because of a surprising amount of athleticism. Overall Cam is a rookie but a rookie that looks good on offense with a great stroke.

  • Cam Johnson Defense: Cam's defense isn't without its issues. He's still a rookie after all and has a lot to learn still. Never the less he can put some really good stuff on film. That sneaky athleticism comes into play on this end as well and so does his basketball IQ. Cam is very good at using his feet and length to keep himself in front of scorers and disrupt shot attempts. The on/off data show the defense being slightly better with Cam on the floor than off.

  • Carter Offense: He is best described as a specialty player. Jevon can hit the three, shooting an impressive 41.2% this season, but he struggles to create his own shot and get his shot up over bigger defenders. Carter is not only short for the NBA but he lacks real NBA length too. This causes problems at the rim as well as he only shoots 31.3% within 3ft, for his career so far. Carter is not a good distributor of the basketball and using him in that manner has been a mistake. Lately he's played with Rubio and Booker as the main ball handlers and worked as a spot up 3pt shooter, it's worked.

  • Carter Defense: There is no denying that Carter is a tenacious, aggressive and smart defender. His issues on this end of the court mirror the ones on the other side as well. He is a huge mismatch problem to any guard with legit size and length. Carter also struggles to work around guards as his small frame is heavily displaced by a strong screen. If you need a bull dog to attack a smaller opposing guard for a few minutes, Carter is your guy.

  • Okobo: His time has obviously been limited but Ellie has impressed so far as a ball distributor. Okobo has posted an assist to turnover ratio of 9.5. He's taking care of the ball and taking what the defense is giving him. He's not a particularly gifted scorer but the offense has shot 6% better in his limited time on the court. This has led in part to a huge on/off net rating, good for best on the team in that small sample size. We'll need to see more to get a good idea but in the time he's gotten he's done well.

  • Diallo: Well Diallo has certainly surprised this year. In his limited minutes Diallo has shot an astounding 79.6% from the field, including one surprising corner 3. Diallo has played mostly spot duty so far but in the 2 games he received substantial minutes, vs DEN & WAS, he average 19.5 points on 85% shooting in 29.6 minutes per game. He's even shooting almost 90% from the free throw line. He has been an interesting development and if Franks not careful, Cheick could steal some of his minutes as the 4th big man on the team.

  • Jerome: Whether you are completely on board the Ty Jerome Train yet or not, it's important to remember he's a rookie. Both of his games in the first 20 had both great and terrible aspects to it. In the game against the Hornets, 4pts 3rbs 4ast and 3stl is a stellar stat line in 12 minutes. On the other hand he had 4 fouls in 12 minutes and would have been fouled out by 16 minutes at that rate. Against the Magic, 7ast and 2stl in 18 minutes is a nice little game but those 5 turnovers were bad. Rookie mistakes like lazy passes, being overly aggressive and trying to press to much. Let's see what Jerome shows us over the next 20.

  • Ty Johnson: It's really hard to ignore the data here. There is parts of Ty's game that are not bad but he has been a huge net negative for the team. The team is an incredible 14.9 points per 100 possessions worse when he's on the court as opposed to off. This isn't a small sample size either, Ty is 8th in minutes played, despite being a healthy scratch the last 3 games. For comparison sake, the next 2 guys on that list are Cam Johnson and Frank Kaminsky at -7.0 & -6.9 respectively, less than half.

  • The Deandre Ayton Effect & The Future of the Suns: The return of Deandre Ayton doesn't simply just effect Deandre Ayton, it effects everyone. Regardless of whether you think Ayton is going to be an improved version from last year, it would be shocking if he hasn't improved at all, the return of Ayton is big and it's what the future of the Suns is all about. We'll focus on how his return will effect the rest of the team from the coaching down to the individual players.

  • The Ayton Effect Offense: On the offensive end it starts with coaching. As we've discussed above the Suns offense has struggled to find success and consistency in the half court outside of the Rubio run sets. With the return of Ayton the Suns will be able to add to Rubio's sets in what is sure to become an elite pick & roll combo. There's also times when the Suns attempt to slow things down and establish the down low, that person currently is Kaminsky or Saric, that set will be much better.
    • Ayton is easily the most talented roll man Rubio has ever played with. Soft hands and extremely athletic, a pick & roll savant's dream. Ayton is going to feast on constant easy opportunities from Ricky. Ricky will also benefit from Ayton with cleaner looks at the basket during his drives and if not an easy pass to a wide open Ayton under the basket.
    • One aspect of Ricky's game that has not been able to be unleashed yet is a fairly decent mid range game. Big men have been cheating off of their counterparts but are less likely to cheat off Ayton to pressure Rubio on a mid range shot. Ayton will open up the court and the rim for Rubio and everyone will benefit from that.
    • Oubre, Booker & Bridges all 3 play the role of the cutter to the basket fairly often. They've done a good job moving without the ball and Rubio has delivered good passes, hitting them in stride. The problem is they are frequently met with strong opposition at the rim. That opposition will often times hesitate to leave Ayton alone or will commit to protecting the rim leaving Ayton wide open for an easy dunk or potential offensive rebound.
    • Booker will benefit from Ayton's return too with a decrease of pressure and when trapped with a double team while he's the primary ball handler or an easy outlet target in Ayton who has the size and strength to go up and get the ball when Booker needs an escape. Booker has undoubtedly lacked someone to take the pressure off and an escape outlet when he gets in trouble, Ayton will help make his life easier too.
    • Saric will no longer have to be a post up option to help slow things down on offense. He can stick to his strengths shooting the 3 and cutting to the basket for easy layup and dunk opportunities. He will also benefit from a solid dump off option if they choose to protect the rim against him. He is also more likely to see less physical and athletic defenders as they will be guarding Ayton more often than not. Saric can go back to playing to his strengths on offense and he can stop trying to play outside of himself.
    • I would expect a decent jump in efficiency from none other than Frank Kaminsky as well. A reduction in minutes for Kaminsky will be good for him. He can focus more on spacing the floor and being a spot up 3pt shooter as opposed to constantly trying to create shots for himself and others.

      Frank should settle in at 12-15MPG as a back up PF (not C) and he can be playing in a similar role to what he did in the 2018-19 season for the Hornets where he got 16.1MPG and shot a career high 58.7% TS%.

    • How can Baynes be helped by Ayton's return? Hopefully a small reduction in minutes and the need to be the main big guy on offense and defense all the time helps him stay healthier. Baynes took a beating early this year on both ends of the court being the only reliable guy to defend the rim and bang around down low on offense.
  • The Ayton Effect Defense: Even if Ayton regresses to the same defender he was last year, the return of Deandre still has a legitimate positive effect. The Suns clearly lack depth when it comes to players who are capable of being any sort of rim protector. With both Ayton and Baynes off the floor the rim was virtually unguarded and it put a lot of players in bad positions.
    • Playing perimeter defense with a cardboard cut out behind you instead of a real NBA big man is a recipe for disaster. It's the reason that the game plans with Ayton and Baynes out have essentially consisted of giving either the 3 or the paint to opposing teams based on what they do well. Perimeter defenders have seen their defensive win shares per 48 min and defensive box plus minus fall because of the lack of a big body to help them on pick and rolls and in the paint.
    • Good defense comes from forcing the man your guarding into his weaknesses and in bad situations for him overall. Famed defensive specialist Shane Battier would memorize tendencies of opposing players and force them to their worst shot possible, statistically. Without a paint defender, that defender is exposed on an island and his job becomes tremendously harder. Simply having someone back there who is capable is worth a lot in and of itself.
    • Additionally this will help decent defenders like Saric who are forced to take a load on that they are not built for. Saric can go back to a more comfortable role of playing solid man defense and good team defense without having to worry about protecting the rim or guard players who are substantially larger and or more athletic than him, same goes for Frank.
    • We identified one of the main problem areas on defense being the ability to defend around screens. While the perimeter players have to do a better job fighting around screens, it sure helps to have quickness and athleticism from that big to help give you a little more time to recover. That's something that Ayton brings that not even Baynes could really help with, he was simply too slow.
  • Even if you expect 0 growth from Ayton this year, his return changes the dynamic of the any game he's in. Teams always have to account for him on the court. It seems fair to expect some growth from Ayton, if for no other reason because of the much improved surrounding cast. Rubio will make Ayton better on both sides of the ball and having more reliable bigs with him like Saric and Baynes will do wonders for his opportunities as well.

  • The future of the Suns is undecided still and we don't really know what this team looks like at full strength. It's going to be a very excited following 20 games to see what the trio of Rubio/Booker/Ayton looks like together. Then we will know more about who fits around those pieces and where upgrades and trades need to happen. Here's to hoping for better health, more great basketball and no more suspensions for the next 20 games.

  • The Suns are 9-11 at the 1st quarter break. Where do you see them at the end of the first half?