When: 7:00 p.m. AZ
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
Suns - De’Anthony Melton, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Dragan Bender, Deandre Ayton
Wizards - Tomas Satoransky, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Bobby Portis, Thomas Bryant
OffRtg - 104.6 (28th), DefRtg - 113.5 (29th), NetRtg = minus-8.9 (29th)
As I outlined in my column earlier today, Booker is on the fast track to superstardom if the post-All-Star break run is a precursor for his fifth season. Since mid-February, Booker is averaging 30.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 6.9 assists on a 58.6 true shooting percentage. And the 59-point outing at Utah was just the cherry on top of it all.
Now, looking ahead to next year with only a few games remaining, this offseason is becoming paramount for the Suns to capitalize on. Booker will be entering into his $158 million max extension, so it’s time to make some winning moves.
If Booker is a near 30-point per game scorer in 2019-20, the calculus definitely changes for Phoenix in the short and long-term outlooks.
Outside of Booker’s historic run right now, another reason you should continue to watch Suns basketball is the ever-growing confidence Bridges is gaining as a scorer. Some sequences here and there, Bridges is pulling stuff off he didn’t do earlier this season and even at Villanova.
Down the final stretch, the main storyline I'm following along with is Mikal Bridges' continued growth as a scoring threat.— Evan Sidery (@esidery) March 25, 2019
Over his last four games, Bridges is averaging 12 points, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals on 9.5 FGA. Ample opportunity for him now with all these injuries. pic.twitter.com/ejGsaNehZz
The Suns’ ceiling would be elevated if Bridges took a few leaps offensively throughout the course of his rookie contract. His floor seems to be solidifying already as an elite role player along the lines of Andre Iguodala or Andrei Kirilenko, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to higher projections in my opinion.
With Bridges’ work ethic, I’m not betting against him. And is it a hot take to say the 22-year-old wing could be the best overall player for the Suns a few years down the line? Honestly, I don’t think it is, if those projected leaps as a scorer actually do come to fruition.
An interesting note I wanted to end on actually relates to another one of the Suns’ rookies. Their current starting point guard, De’Anthony Melton, is in the mold of a great on-ball defender but how high he is his true ceiling? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself lately, because his swing skill set for me comes with catch-and-shoot capabilities.
Melton is shooting 36 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s this season, but he’s only 4-of-13 since the All-Star break. If I had to pick between one of Melton or Elie Okobo long-term, I would go Melton with not much hesitation.
However, there needs to be growth seen from him to become a threat offensively by next season. At the moment, Melton doesn’t really have much consistency to his offensive profile outside of savvy cuts to the basket and those aforementioned catch-and-shoot situations.
OffRtg - 110.1 (14th), DefRtg - 112.7 (27th), NetRtg = minus-2.7 (25th)
Beal is an interesting comparison to Booker. Not only because their games are so similar, but also the season numbers are alike too. Beal is averaging 26 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists throughout the 2018-19 campaign, but check out his numbers since John Wall went out for the season right after Christmas: 28.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.9 steals on 59.5 true shooting percentage.
Those post-Wall injury splits are why there is some serious buzz about Beal challenging Kemba Walker for the final spot on the All-NBA team. Beal has proven to become a legitimate No. 1 option in Wall’s absence while improving his playmaking ability as well.
I wouldn’t be stunned at all if Booker and Beal challenge each other for scoring titles over the next five-plus years. And don’t be surprised if both eclipse 27-28 points per game next season either.
Tonight also marks the return of Trevor Ariza to Phoenix since the trade that sent Kelly Oubre Jr. Ariza was traded in the first place because he didn’t want to be here, and his effort reached embarrassing levels at the end of his tenure.
There might be a chance Ariza doesn’t play, though. The former Sun for two months re-aggravated his strained groin against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night, so I doubt he plays in front of his former team’s fans. If he does, though, I wonder what the reception will be for him.
In the end, I wanted to close on the Wizards with a long-term thought: How will this team look next year?
Will they get lucky in the draft lottery, or just end up blowing it up altogether? If Washington decides to choose the second option, Beal will fetch enough value to retool the franchise on the fly.
This game should feature plenty of back-and-forth. Whatever the over/under is on lead changes, I’m taking the over every time after what happened back in December. I don’t expect overtime again, but a close contest should be in store tonight at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Booker and Beal will both go for 30-plus points, but the matchup I’ll be following along with is Ayton versus Bryant. If Ayton learned from his previous mishaps, he should be able handle Bryant while Bridges probably draws the assignment of guarding the Wizards’ shooting guard.
For some reason, I’m leaning toward the Suns pulling off the win tonight. Washington is ripe for the picking on the second night of a back-to-back while Booker will be motivated following his 59-point explosion in a blowout defeat. Also, I lean toward Ayton and Bridges in their respective one-on-one battles as well.
If the Suns can pull off the victory over Washington, they have a light schedule the next few games (Memphis and Cleveland) so this could start another little mini winning streak here.