Let’s continue our season preview series for the 2019-20 Phoenix Suns!
This initial series will explore how the Suns are seen by their Western Conference (possibly lottery bound) counterparts. I know Suns fans are all over the board on how the team matches up to the West — some of you are real high on the team, and some are real low.
So, let’s see how the Suns are seen by bloggers who don’t follow them, but are huge NBA fans in their own way.
Today, we exchange thoughts with Bruno Passos of our SB Nation team site PoundingTheRock.com.
We compare our teams in terms of playmakers, wings and bigs:
- Suns: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Tyler Johnson, Ty Jerome (R), Elie Okobo, Jevon Carter
- Spurs: Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Patty Mills
First, Bruno’s turn:
At first blush, the Spurs look pretty lean here, especially if you factor in a slight regression with Mills due to age, Murray’s uncertain level of play coming off an entire season missed due to an ACL injury, and opponents beginning to scheme more against White after his breakout second season. Even with White and Murray’s defensive chops, when you weigh that trio against Devin Booker’s undeniable talent and Rubio’s known strengths, the advantage probably tilts the Suns’ way.
But this grouping probably also needs is the inclusion of DeMar DeRozan given the way he functioned on the Spurs last year, initiating offense through pick and rolls, post-ups and isos on his way to a career-high 6+ assists. Even going into next season, with Murray’s return and White’s rise, it’s hard not to imagine much of the offensive flow going through the former Raptor.
DeRozan’s game has long been criticized for the lack of a three-pointer, but there is some sneaky efficiency to how he’s utilized within the Spurs system, something that a recent John Schumann tweet highlighted. The offensive rating shown below is a testament to how Pop made the most of his drives, some of which resulted in, yes, contested mid-rangers, but others leading to open three-point looks, dishes around the basket, and trips to the foul line for DeRozan.
I’ll go with the Spurs getting the edge here, but not by much.
I’m a big fan of the way the Spurs get the most out of their players. They’ve turned so many marginal NBA players into difference-making stars — or at least difference-making role players — that I have a hard time giving the Suns the nod, even in this simple category that includes better individual talents.
However, the Suns top two playmakers — Ricky Rubio and Devin Booker — are just better players at this point. The Spurs only way to win this individual matchup at playmaker is by committee, and by shutting down the Suns offense with their stifling defense.
I just can’t give this win to the Spurs. Sorry.
- Suns: Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson (R)
- Spurs: DeMar DeRozan, Lonnie Walker IV, Bryn Forbes, Marco Belinelli, Rudy Gay, DeMarre Carroll, Keldon Johnson
The depth of this Spurs group speaks to the fluidity of how players’ roles and functions can be in this new NBA, especially with guys like Gay and Carroll who will need to play most of their minutes at the 4, more than likely. Forbes and Belinelli are plug-and-play shooters that Pop will ride with until their defense becomes an issue. Gay has transitioned from divisive star-level guy to super role player -- one who keeps improving his feel for the Spurs’ system. Walker will head into his second season with heaps of potential and managed expectations, allowing him to patiently grow into the type of pro he can be.
While Booker is amazing, and Oubre and Bridges both offer upside and versatility, I like San Antonio’s edge here, too, because of their depth and how well most of their guys should fare within their respective roles.
Any time you have to talk about depth over talent, you’re putting all your faith into the coaching staff to get the most of the players. And of course, Spurs fans have the best possible coach to do that with. So, I don’t blame them using Gregg Popovich and his schemes as the springboard for confidence.
Deciding which player is better right now between DeMar DeRozan and Devin Booker is difficult because they are both highly efficient and productive.
I personally choose Booker over DeRozan any day of the week and twice on Sundays, but I can see why Spurs fans are in his foxhole.
How about the No. 2 guys?
To this point, Gay is a better player than Oubre. He rebounds, assists and shoots 3s better than Oubre.
So you rank Booker, DeRozan, Gay, Oubre, Bridges and Walker in that order, in my opinion, which put the Suns just a tiny little bit on top of the Spurs. Yes, the Spurs go deeper on the wing than the Suns but only so many guys can play in one game.
I love the future of Lonnie Walker, but he has to show it on the court before we can make any kind of claim of him over Cameron Johnson, let alone Mikal Bridges.
ADVANTAGE: (barely) SUNS
- Suns: Deandre Ayton, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes, Frank Kaminsky, Cheick Diallo
- Spurs: LaMarcus Aldridge, Jakob Poeltl, Trey Lyles, Luka Samanic, Chimezie Metu, Dedric Lawson
I’m still not sure if Metu can contribute at all next season, or how often we’ll see Lawson or Samanic in San Antonio as rookies, or how well Trey Lyles will adapt on his third NBA team.
What I do know is that LaMarcus Aldridge had another strong, borderline All-NBA-caliber season last year, and that Poeltl is a serviceable rim protector with an efficient, low-usage offensive game. I also know the pair isn’t exactly compatible on the floor at the same time, something their negative two-man net rating last season attests to.
I like the group of bigs the Suns are rolling out -- Ayton is somehow underrated after his very good rookie season, and Saric, Baynes and Kaminsky can all contribute -- but they may have similar compatibility issues as the Spurs, and I think Aldridge remains overall the best of the bunch, at least for another year. Understanding fully how homer-ish I may come across here, I’ll go 3 out of 3 and lean ever so slightly towards the San Antonio bigs.
I can’t argue with Bruno here on his bottom line. At this point, the Spurs have the better starters at the front. Aldridge still trumps anyone the Suns have until Ayton develops further with his offensive game.
I’d rank the bigs in this order: Aldridge, Ayton, Poeltl, Saric, Baynes, Kaminsky. So, that has to give the edge to the Spurs.
Where I do disagree with Bruno is his concern about “fit” with stretch fours Saric and Kaminsky next to Ayton. I think they are great fits because they fully stretch the floor, while the Spurs combo of Poeltl and Aldridge both need the inner 20 feet to operate. The Spurs best big man combo is likely with Rudy Gay at the four to stretch the floor for Aldridge to work with more room. Adding Gay to the Spurs “bigs” gives them an even bigger edge.
What do you think, Suns fans? Who’s the better overall team?