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Center of the Sun: Suns break even in Week Seven with two wins, two losses

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The Suns are still hanging around in the early playoff race as they await the return of their best men in the middle.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Houston Rockets Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

Phoenix Suns @ Charlotte Hornets W (109-104) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns @ Orlando Magic L (128-114) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns @ New Orleans Pelicans W (139-132) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns @ Houston Rockets L (115-109) Full Recap

It’s early December, the Suns are 10-12 and fans are counting down the days until Deandre Ayton returns from his suspension (8 days left) and Aron Baynes returns from his calf injury (hopefully, any day now). After 22 games last season, the Suns were 4-18 and four games into what would turn into a 10-game losing streak... which wouldn’t be their longest of the season.

We weren’t thinking about the playoffs then. We were once again already starting to talk about draft prospects, a topic of conversation that I’m quite happy to have not noticed among Suns fans this year... not yet anyway.

It’s still very early in the season but the Suns are in a three-way tie (with Minnesota and OKC) for the 7th spot in the Western Conference standings with a very real possibility of moving further up rather than down. The West is still strong but not quite as strong as many expected this season. All the better for the Suns who are finally moving forward instead of backwards - or sideways - as they’ve mostly done following the 2009-10 season in which they made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals before calling it a season.

The Suns still have 60 games to play and anything can happen before this season ends but everything looks good so far. Not great but good and very likely good enough that Suns fans will not really care much who does or doesn’t win the NBA Lottery this year because the Suns are likely to not be in it.

I don’t know about you but I’m very much looking forward to hopefully not caring about the lottery for a change.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - The Suns have gotten out to big leads lately and then lost them. Why do you think this keeps happening?

GuarGuar: Our bench was not good at all in the games we blew those big leads. A lot of youth and inexperience in our second unit right now. When Ayton is back and Baynes goes to the second unit that will certainly help. Our defense being as bad as it is with Baynes out is also a big reason why teams keep coming back against us. All it takes is a few stops vs. us and they’ll be right back in it if they hit their shots. We need to get to full strength.

Sun-Arc: There are several issues with the team, and losing big leads is just one symptom. The obvious first answer is injuries leading to worse overall play, and Baynes being out is part of the reason- but not all of it. Giving up 128 points to a Magic team that averages 103.4 points for the season is a symptom of a larger problem.

Another easy answer would be youth, though there was much talk in the preseason about how much vets like Saric, Rubio, Oubre, and Kaminsky who all have tasted the playoffs would keep everyone playing well. Those four guys, along with Booker, have been the starters during this extremely poor defense and allowing teams to come back from 20 points down. Again, Baynes and Ayton would help some- but I don’t think its that simple.

For whatever reason, the team is not buying into the idea of playing defense for the past eleven games. The players appear to be completely relying on offense to win games. That is not a good recipe for winning record, and we are seeing that in the results with recent losses to the kings, pelicans, wizards, and Magic (along with Celtics, Nuggets, and Mavericks) since having a 6-4 record. If not for Oubre turning into Kobe Bryant against Charlotte, we’d be 9-12.

Since the 6-4 record, our defensive rating has ranked 24th in the league, and appears to be continually getting worse with each game, giving up huge quarters, halves, and games to poor offensive teams. Opposing teams have found ways to shred through our defense and it seems the players are not buying into Monty Williams’ schemes any longer. I don’t think Baynes and Ayton coming back will make up nearly enough for this issue.

SDKyle: I think it’s a combination of a loss of focus and the fact that the Suns’ defense still isn’t very good. As of Sunday their defense has slipped to #19 in the NBA after the initially impressive showing, and if you aren’t playing good defense you will lose leads if your offense stops clicking for any stretch of time.

SouthernSun: That keeps happening for several reasons. The Suns are playing a really young lineup most of the time. Young teams have trouble closing games out. Also, the Suns are lacking a rim protector right now. Teams are able to score with relative ease near the basket. The Suns are also without their own players who can score inside (Ayton and Baynes), so they are heavily reliant on jump shots, which have a lot more variance.

Alex S.: It’s pretty easy to lose leads when you can’t defend the rim and can’t sustain a high level of scoring. The Suns have had to run out a rotation depending on 5 or more guys under 25 years old as well.

Q2 - Since his return from injury, Ty Jerome has become the primary backup for Rubio. Do you agree with Monty’s decision to do this?

GuarGuar: I’m okay with the decision to make Jerome our backup PG. He’s much better at initiating an offense than either Okobo or Carter. And I think that’s the main reason why he has gotten the minutes. The past 3 games he’s gone against extremely athletic point guards and that’s made him struggle a bit. He was much better against Charlotte where he wasn’t going against an athletic monster. I’m confident he’ll continue to get better as he adjusts to the league. He’s got a high IQ and is crafty.

Sun-Arc: Jerome looked good in his first game and pretty bad in the latter two in terms of looking like a rookie. He’s impressed me with his ability to get steals and he passed very well in the Orlando game (where he was a minus -16 in his time). You can see he’s smart and talented, but not fully ready for NBA minutes. Yet, I think it is a good idea, for now, to give him some minutes to see how he does. It could pay off well for his (and the team’s) future. If he struggles, have him play in the G-league and/or watch the games from the bench more. Williams has looked for that sturdy backup to Rubio and hasn’t found it yet. At this point it feels like its between Jerome and Okobo, who are both 22 years old. I could see giving them both some minutes moving forward.

SDKyle: I don’t have strong feelings about it either way. Jerome has looked alright for the most part. He hasn’t done much to establish that yes he CLEARLY is the second PG, but neither has anyone else. I’m hardly upset that he’s taking minutes from Okobo or Tyler Johnson. May as well try to see what we’ve got in one of our new picks.

SouthernSun: He’s not as good as I was hoping for, but he’s been decent. He’s a good playmaker and shooter. Definitely sets up others a little better than Jevon Carter, which is necessary especially now while the second unit lacks so much scoring and shot creation ability. I wish the Suns could play Jevon Carter those minutes, because of his defense and energy, but Jerome does things he can’t do.

Alex S.: I like Ty a lot. He’s going to struggle at times with the speed and athleticism of the nba game but the reason I’m comfortable with him getting minutes is he looks like he belongs out there. He doesn’t hesitate with decisions and plays with confidence.

Q3 - Do you believe that Monty Williams could have handled his lineups/rotations better recently with both Ayton and Baynes sidelined?

GuarGuar: I think Monty has been solid except for the amount of time he’s played Frank at the 5. He is such a horrible rim protector, and we haven’t had 1 good defensive game when he starts at center. His missed layups make me go insane, and his general awareness is much to be desired. He wasn’t signed to be our starting 5, so I want to keep things into perspective. Diallo however, has been much better than Frank and offers a lot more defensively. I wish Diallo would have started more games is basically my only issue with Monty over this tough stretch.

Sun-Arc: At this point, the only rotation issues I have are wanting to see more of Diallo to see if he can keep up the high-quality play. He’s been scoring far more and shooting far better than his other two seasons. Maybe it’s not a fluke? With how Kaminsky and Saric seem to take turns fading away, I’m surprised Williams hasn’t gone Diallo’s direction more.

The other intriguing player is Okobo, as I mentioned in question 2. His offense has been pretty darn legit so far (3pt% at .400 at a high rate of attempts per 100 possessions), he’s third on the team for AST% at 35.6%, and third best on turnovers at 1.3 per 100 possessions. He’s been an intensive defensive liability, but who hasn’t been on this team lately?

SDKyle: Not particularly, actually. Having no true big to put on the floor is a hard situation for an NBA coach and I think Monty was doing a good job trying to feel his way through that. In fairness to him, it’s not frequently going to look great when you lean heavily on Kaminsky and Diallo as your big guys. I personally prefer more Diallo and less Kaminsky, but I’m not going to rip Monty’s management over that.

SouthernSun: I really don’t see how Monty could do things any differently. With the exception of starting Diallo over Frank, he’s pretty much doing what he probably should be. And even then, I get wanting to have a threat from three out there at the 5 with the starters. He’s kind of rotating through the different bench guards, all of similar ability, looking for who can get it done on any given night and giving them each a shot.

Alex S.: I’m not going to blame him too much for losing his two best bigs. After all, he did a great job once the Ayton news broke! It’s hard to win when you have quite honestly one of the worst defensive frontcourts I’ve ever seen.

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


Key Stats

14.3 vs 17.2 turnovers per game

Everyone would love to see fewer turnovers per game but the Suns’ 14.3 TPG average is in a three-way tie for the 8th best TOV rate in the NBA. The Suns’ opponents are averaging 17.2 TPG which is 2nd and the Suns are scoring 19.9 points per game off those turnovers which is also 2nd in the NBA. Opponents are averaging 16.3 ppg off Suns turnovers which ranks 7th best.

Random Stats: The Suns are 28th in blocks this season with a 3.9 bpg average. Kelly Oubre Jr. leads the team in total blocks with 16. He and Aron Baynes both average 0.7 bpg. In Deandre Ayton’s single game played so far this season, he had 4 blocks.

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


Game Highlights

Phoenix Suns vs Charlotte Hornets - Full Game Highlights | December 2, 2019

Phoenix Suns vs Orlando Magic - Full Game Highlights | December 4, 2019

Phoenix Suns vs New Orleans Pelicans - Full Game Highlights | December 5, 2019

Phoenix Suns vs Houston Rockets - Full Game Highlights | December 7, 2019


Quote of the Week

”We’re not only going to welcome him (Deandre Ayton) back with open arms, but we’re going to throw him back into the fray.” - Monty Williams


Rookie Report

Cameron Johnson - 19.7 mpg, 9.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 0.8 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.4 bpg, 0.7 TO, 1.9 PF, 41.2 3PT%

  • This week - 21.9 mpg, 10.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.5 bpg, 1.0 TO, 2.5 PF, 45.5 3PT%

Ty Jerome - 13.0 mpg, 4.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.0 bpg, 1.5 TO, 1.8 PF, 50.0 3PT%

Jalen Lecque - Assigned to NAZ Suns

Jared Harper - Assigned to NAZ Suns

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.


Injury Status Report

Aron Baynes (calf strain) - day-to-day.

Deandre Ayton (suspension) - Expected to be 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.

And right now, the Suns are matching every donation 1-for-1! So every $9 counts double!

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 neat stuff too depending upon the size of your donation! You can read more about that by clicking HERE or you can just click on the link below to donate right now.

Suns.com/Brightside


News & Notes

Booker Passes Connie Hawkins on Suns All-Time Scoring List vs Rockets. Suns.com

5 potential trade destinations for Kevin Love. Gerald Bourguet/The Step Back

Suns coach Monty Williams speaks out on reintegrating Deandre Ayton when he returns from suspension. Clutch Points

Suns’ Monty Williams, Devin Booker react to proposed rule changes. Arizona Sports

Are the Suns and Kings Better Off Without Their Prized Big Men? The Ringer


This Week in Suns History

On December 9, 1993, Kevin Johnson of Phoenix became the 13th NBA player to record 10 steals in a game, during the Suns’ 114-95 win over visiting Washington.

On December 10, 1969, the Phoenix Suns recorded 77 total rebounds and 46 in the second half in a 137-107 victory over the Baltimore Bullets. Both records still stand.


Suns Trivia

In last week’s win against New Orleans, Devin Booker scored a season high 44 points, Kelly Oubre Jr. had a career high 15 rebounds and Ricky Rubio had a season high 15 assists. This was the first time that Suns players have recorded performances of 40+ points, 15+ rebounds and 15+ assists in a single game since March 9, 2005 when Amare Stoudemire scored 44 points, Shawn Marion grabbed 17 rebounds and Steve Nash dished out 15 assists in a 107-101 win over the San Antonio Spurs.


Previewing the Week Ahead

Monday, December 9 - Phoenix Suns vs Minnesota Timberwolves, 7:00 pm AZT

Wednesday, December 11 - Phoenix Suns vs Memphis Grizzlies, 7:00 pm AZT

Saturday, December 14 - Phoenix Suns vs San Antonio Spurs, 3:00 pm AZT (in Mexico City)

After a week on the road the Suns have returned to Phoenix for a four game homestand - sort of - with three of those games this week. It’s only a “sort of” homestand because one of those home games will be played in Mexico City, a neutral site. More on that later.

Tonight the week begins as the Suns face off against the 10-12 Minnesota Timberwolves for the second time this season. The Suns won that first game in Minnesota 100-98 without both Ricky Rubio and Aron Baynes. At least Rubio will be back for this one (and hopefully Baynes but no official word on his injury status for tonight yet) and Minnesota will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back on the road after a loss to the Lakers in LA yesterday. I’m picking the Suns to win this one.

On Wednesday the 6-16 Memphis Grizzlies come to TSRA. At the moment, the Griz are on a 3-game losing streak and are 1-9 in their last 10 games. The Suns have already beaten them once this season and did it in Memphis but Aron Baynes was still healthy for that game and his 20 points that night were a big boost for the Suns in their 9-point win. I don’t expect this to be an easy win but I do expect the Suns to win... whether Baynes is back for this one or not.

Finally, the Suns head to Mexico City for another “home game” against the 9-14 San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs seem to have fallen back into the realm of mere mortals this season but still can’t be taken lightly. But Devin Booker seems to like playing in Mexico City and has a career average of 39 points per game in the two games the Suns played there back in 2017... and one of those games was a 108-105 win against the Spurs. I like the Suns chances in this one too.

This week, I’m predicting that the Suns go 3-0. That might sound like a homer prediction but these are all winnable games in my opinion... even more winnable if Aron Banyes returns from injury for any of them.

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

16.0% - At least 48.

27.3% - At least 46.

41.3% - At least 44.

15.3% - At least 42.

There were 150 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

So far, Kelly Oubre Jr. has been...

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    Worth more than his new contract.
    (43 votes)
  • 78%
    Worth his new contract.
    (162 votes)
  • 0%
    Not worth his new contract.
    (1 vote)
206 votes total Vote Now