clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Center of the Sun: Suns face a crucial week ahead if they want to stay in the playoff race

New, comments

The schedule gets tougher as the season goes on. Will the Suns do the same?

Phoenix Suns v Boston Celtics Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

Phoenix Suns @ Atlanta Hawks L (123-110) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns @ New York Knicks W (121-98) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns @ Boston Celtics W (123-119) Full Recap

Except for the Atlanta game, last week was a good one for the Suns. In fact, the Suns have been playing pretty well overall since breaking that horrific 8-game losing streak and are 7-4 during that stretch of games. Yes, it was one of the easier parts of the schedule and there’s a good case to be made that they should have come through it 10-1 but what’s done is done and we can only try to forget that and look forward.

Looking forward is what I’m focusing on today, specifically next week.

Right now, the Suns are 10th in the West, a half-game behind San Antonio for 9th and two games behind Memphis for the 8th playoff seed. The Suns will have the opportunity to cut into Memphis’ 2-game lead this week as well as move past the Spurs and take the 9th spot for themselves.

The Suns play San Antonio twice this week - once at home and then on the road - and then end the week with a game against the Grizzlies in Memphis. Both teams have been playing very well lately, so getting wins against them won’t be an easy task but if it can be done, it would greatly boost the Suns’ chances at remaining in the hunt for that 8th seed. Losses will push them further back in the standings and would make a playoff push later on even more difficult and unlikely.

I won’t go as far as calling these “must win” games but they are very important. We’ve already reached the mid-point of the season and the Suns need to get every win they can against the other teams that they’re directly competing with for that final playoff spot.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - After the win in New York, I’ve heard more talk from fans wanting to move Mikal Bridges into the starting lineup and have Kelly Oubre Jr. come off the bench as the Suns’ 6th man. What is your opinion of this idea?

GuarGuar: It makes more sense to me for Mikal to start when Rubio, Booker, and Ayton are all healthy. Mikal is a low usage guy and a phenomenal defender. He isn’t looking to handle to ball nearly as much as Kelly. Hopefully he can hit the 3 somewhat close to what he did against Boston. Our bench scoring has been atrocious for weeks now, so moving Kelly to a 6th man role could work out. Obviously the closing lineup should still be Rubio-Book-Mikal-Oubre-Ayton. We have to figure a way to get more bench production.

Sun-Arc: I’m mixed on switching up Kelly and Mikal. There have been a lot of games that would have gone sour quickly if Kelly had not been the starter. Just because it worked for one fun game against one of the worst teams in the league and after the worst loss of the season doesn’t mean it’s a sustainable idea to run with. I’d like to see more offense out of Mikal before going down that road.

SDKyle: I’m certainly fine with starting Bridges. I’ve been saying for almost a year now that Oubre is ideally sixth man material though he can serve as a starter in a pinch. Oubre’s energy and ability to somewhat generate his own offense is a boost to the bench unit.

SouthernSun: I really don’t think it’s necessary to switch Kelly and Mikal. Kelly has been having an amazing season, better than any of us could have reasonably expected, and I don’t think the team should reward that by moving him to the bench at the first signs of Mikal being not awful offensively. Kelly is the heart and soul of this team. I wouldn’t risk making him feel unappreciated. It’s easy enough to get pretty much the same result by starting Kelly, but sending him to the bench to bring out Mikal after like 4 or 5 minutes. Then, at the end of the first or beginning of the second quarter when Booker heads to the bench, bringing back in Oubre. That’s pretty much what they’re doing now and it’s essentially the same effect as what people are calling for with the switch.

Alex S: Sorry but this idea stinks. I get that our bench lacks scoring, especially if DA is a starter but Kelly has been the 2nd best Suns player this season. Monty needs to continue to get the Bridges-Oubre-Ayton lineup minutes together and hopefully James Jones can acquire some bench scoring before the deadline.

Q2 - The Suns’ bench is still a big concern to me. If we could trade for just one player to beef up our bench, what type of player would you want?

GuarGuar: We need a guard who can consistently create their own shot. We have two players on this team who can do it in Book and Kelly. Everyone else is reliant upon a specific action or others getting them the ball. Derrick Rose is a guy that’s not a great player in a vacuum, however his play style would help us a lot. He can create his own shot and be the backup PG. A Terrence Ross type is also interesting. Get a guy who can run off some screens and chuck some 3s at a good % when Book is off the court. When Booker leaves the floor, it doesn’t matter who else is on, we can not generate offense. Before the Boston game, we have had an 83 ORTG when Devin is off the court for the past couple weeks. He’s had to play major minutes lately because we can’t sustain anything when he’s subbed out. It’s very frustrating and we need to figure out something as soon as possible. Whether it’s a lineup change or a trade, I don’t know. But something has to be done.

Sun-Arc: The bench is still a big concern. We need better defense and shooting all over the place. I have said many times that I think this team needs more 3&D players around Book and Ayton. A Danny Green type role player or two. We could single out PF and PG as positions of need, but in terms of an in-season trade, it could be a SG or SF to come off the bench.

SDKyle: I’m split between upgrading at the bench guard slot or getting another defensive presence since Monty apparently doesn’t want Diallo playing. I guess I’d say I’d want a steady defensive presence with a jumpshot and some veteran savvy.

SouthernSun: The Suns really need wing or combo guard who can fill the classic 6th man role of “the scorers in the starting lineup are on the bench so I’m just going to go get buckets.” Preferably one of those, but with some playmaking ability. Dennis Schroder seems like the most likely candidate. Then you have your Luke Kennard, your JJ Reddick, Bogdon Bogdonovic, etc. A couple of those guys are rumored to be readily available (JJ and Schroeder), so hopefully the Suns are kicking the tires. Having one more decent to good scoring/playmaking guard/wing would make things so much easier for this team. And the guys on that list of targets would all cost less than other trade targets being thrown around (Tobias, Gordon).

Alex S: A scoring guard. One name that I’m starting to get higher on is Dennis Schroder. I put together a quick mock trade and did:

Out: Tyler Johnson, 2020 top 3 protected 1st

In: Dennis Schroder, Terrance Ferguson

Oubre/Booker/Ayton provide the majority of the scoring punch for Phoenix. It’s a problem when your most prolific scorer off the bench is Cam Johnson. Floor spacing and bench scoring continues to be an issue for this team.

Q3 - If the Suns make NO changes before the trade deadline, what would you expect their full season record to end up as?

GuarGuar: If we make no changes, the median outcome is probably 36 wins. I still believe we can catch fire at some point and go on a nice run. This is now the second 7-4 stretch we’ve had this season. The schedule is the hardest in the NBA going forward. But we still have quite a few games against bad teams. How fast can this core gel together? We’ve had very few games with our core 4 playing. Can we find some consistency? We’ve been consistently inconsistent since Ayton has come back. Some really good highs like Boston and Portland, and some very bad lows like Sacramento and Atlanta. Is this current 7-4 stretch actually something or are we going to flop the ensuing month like last time? A lot of questions to be answered. Time will tell.

Sun-Arc: Before the season started I was predicting 32-33 wins (depending on the week), and I’m sticking with it. With a record of 17-24 as I write this, I’ve developed an opinion about the team on a couple of issues.

  1. The Suns acquired 41% of those wins in the first eleven games. Since then their record is 10-20, or .333%, which equates to 14 wins in the second half of the season. That would be 31 wins. I’m guessing they surpass that by a game or two.
  2. The season is half finished, and we’ve seen the full team together for enough games to see there are serious issues. To put it simply, the Suns are not a good team. Even a decent team would not lose to all the teams below .500 we’ve lost to at home (SAC x2, NOP, WAS, MEM x2, POR, ATL). We have a losing record and couldn’t climb up the standings even through the cupcake portion of our schedule.

We stand today at 11th in the west, and I think we ought to get used to being in the bottom five for the duration of this season. Leuer’d help us if GSW, SAC, MIN, and/or NOP get healthy and hot enough to climb up the standings.

That’s not to say that I don’t have hope that the team does show improvement in the second half of the season. Its possible. I’m just at a place where I am not expecting it.

SDKyle: I’m feeling more upbeat today. I’ll go 36-46.

SouthernSun: With no changes, 35 - 47. Which, you know, progress. But also... just trading for a bandaid like one of the guys listed above would immediately put them in 40+ win territory... If all it costs is a protected 2020 1st, do it!

Alex S: If there were no additional moves made at the deadline, and the Suns currently sit at 17-24…I’d project around 34 wins. We’re exactly halfway through the season and the Suns are pacing at my prediction. The reason it’s not higher is due to the SOS for the rest of the season (#1 in the league). The reason it’s not lower is because I’m starting to see the impact Ayton can have on this team for the rest of the season with his substantially improved defense and shot selection. Hopefully that keeps up!

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


Key Stats

113.5 OffRTG, 103.8 DefRTG, plus-9.7 NetRtg

Those are Deandre Ayton’s numbers for the 12 games he’s played this season. It’s a small sample size but still impressive as his OffRtg is 2nd only to Devin Booker and his Defensive and Net ratings are 1st on the team.

Random Stats: Devin Booker is tied with Russell Westbrook for 4th in the NBA in points scored off turnovers (4.4 ppg) and 3rd in fast break points per game (4.5 ppg). Deandre Ayton is tied with Anthony Davis for 12th in 2nd chance points per game (3.3 ppg).

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


Game Highlights

Phoenix Suns vs Atlanta Hawks - Full Game Highlights | January 14, 2020

Phoenix Suns vs New York Knicks - Full Game Highlights | January 16, 2020

DeAndre Ayton 26 Pts 21 Reb Full Highlights

Phoenix Suns vs Boston Celtics - Full Game Highlights | January 18, 2020

Devin Booker 39 Pts Full Highlights

Mikal Bridges Career High 26 Points Full Highlights


Quotes of the Week

”Everybody wants to see each other’s success. We are working every day. We are not getting complacent. After a win, we are not satisfied. We have goals in-house that we keep as a team that we want to reach.” - Devin Booker

”Mikal is all over the place. He can guard 1-5 and he is our secret weapon when it comes to switching on guys with mismatches, whether it’s a guard or a big. That is our secret weapon.” - Deandre Ayton


Rookie Report

Cameron Johnson - 19.8 mpg, 7.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 0.9 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.6 TO, 1.5 PF, 39.8 3PT%

  • This week - 24.3 mpg, 9.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.5 apg, 0.5 spg, 1.0 bpg, 1.0 TO, 1.5 PF, 66.7 3PT%, 1 DNP-Injured

Ty Jerome - 10.9 mpg, 3.2 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.1 bpg, 0.7 TO, 1.1 PF, 30.0 3PT%

  • This week - 2.6 mpg, 0.0 ppg, 0.3 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.0 TO, 0.3 PF, 0.0 3PT%

Jalen Lecque - 2.2 mpg, 0.0 ppg, 0.0 rpg, 0.0 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.0 TO, 0.0 PF, 0.0 3PT%

Jared Harper - Assigned to NAZ Suns

Tariq Owens - Assigned to NAZ Suns

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.


Injury Status Report

Kelly Oubre Jr. (concussion) - Game Time Decision.

Cameron Johnson (quadriceps) - Game Time Decision.

Aron Baynes (left hip soreness) - Game Time Decision/Doubtful.

Frank Kaminsky (kneecap) - Expected to be out until at least March 1.


News & Notes

2020 NBA Trade Deadline Primer: Phoenix Suns. SLAM

Phoenix Suns should consider young reserve rentals at trade deadline. Kevin Zimmerman/Arizona Sports

DeAndre Ayton becomes youngest player in Phoenix Suns history with a 20-20 game. TalkBasket.net

Suns coach Monty Williams ‘tempered’ after Deandre Ayton’s 20-20 game. Kevin Zimmerman/Arizona Sports

Mikal Bridges is the understated linchpin in the Suns rebuild. Gerald Bourguet/The Step Back


This Week in Suns History

On January 20, 1970, Phoenix’s Dick Van Arsdale and Cincinnati’s Tom Van Arsdale become the first brothers to play in the same All-Star Game. Dick scored eight points for the West team, while Tom scored five for the East, which won the game 142-135 at Philadelphia.

On January 22, 1968, the NBA Board of Governors granted franchises to the cities of Milwaukee and Phoenix.


Suns Trivia

The Suns are 2nd in the NBA with 27.6 assists per game. This is the Suns’ highest team assists average since the 1987-88 season when they averaged 28.4 apg.


Previewing the Week Ahead

Monday, January 20 - Phoenix Suns vs San Antonio Spurs, 7:00 pm AZT

Wenesday, January 22 - Phoenix Suns vs Indiana Pacers, 7:00 pm AZT

Friday, January 24 - Phoenix Suns @ San Antonio Spurs, 6:30 pm AZT

Sunday, January 26 - Phoenix Suns @ Memphis Grizzlies, 4:00 pm AZT

The Suns have four games this week, starting with two at home and finishing with two on the road.

Tonight the Spurs are in town for their second game of the season against the Suns. The Spurs squeaked out a 2-point overtime win in their first match which was played in Mexico City. The Suns were without both Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker for that game which won’t be the case this time around. The Suns are also coming off a day of rest while the Spurs are on the second night of a tough back-to-back after playing Miami at home yesterday. I think that the Suns get the win in this one.

Wednesday night T.J. Warren and the Indiana Pacers come to the Stick for their first game against the Suns following the off-season trade that sent Warren East. TJ has stated that he was worth more than “cash considerations” and might have a bone to pick with his old team. The Pacers are 27-15 and 5th in the Eastern Conference standings which will make them a big challenge for Phoenix. I expect the Suns to put up a good fight but I have to give the edge to the Pacers - even though they’re playing on the road - and call this a loss for the Suns.

On Friday the Suns head back out on the road for a quick rematch with the Spurs in San Antonio. I can’t say that the Suns will win this game but I do believe that they can. I’m calling this one a toss-up which could go either way.

And finally, the Suns head back to Memphis for the fourth and final game between the two teams this season. Memphis has a 2-1 lead in the season series and a win for the Suns to even up the series at 2-2 would help a lot if they’re serious about a playoff run. Memphis is on a hot streak at the moment though and are 8-2 in their last 10 games. As much as I want to call this one in favor of the Suns, I think the Griz will be too tough at home for the Suns to handle. I hope I’m wrong but I’m calling this another loss for the Suns.

I like to try and remain positive but realistically I think the odds are 50-50 on whether the Sun will go either 2-2 or 1-3 this week.

What’s your prediction?


Important Future Dates

February 6 - NBA Trade Deadline (3 pm ET).

February 14-19 - NBA All-Star break.

March 1 - Playoff Eligibility Waiver Deadline.

  • Players waived after this date are ineligible for the playoffs.

April 15 — Regular Season ends.


Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “With an eye toward potential trades, which is more important for the Suns?”

43% - Improving their defense.

57% - Improving their bench scoring.

There were 287 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

Which do you think happens first?

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    Devin Booker makes it to the All-Star game.
    (233 votes)
  • 12%
    The Suns make it back to the playoffs.
    (39 votes)
  • 16%
    Phoenix gets hit by a blizzard.
    (52 votes)
324 votes total Vote Now