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Center of the Sun: Injury depleted Suns lose more ground in the playoff race

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Those playoff hopes just keep fading as the season goes on.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

Phoenix Suns vs San Antonio Spurs L (120-118) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Indiana Pacers L (112-87) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns @ San Antonio Spurs W (103-99) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns @ Memphis Grizzlies L (114-109) Full Recap

The Suns aren’t yet out of the playoff race but it seems likely that day will come soon.

Last week was critical for the Suns as three of their four games were against teams they were in direct competition with for that 8th seed. They won one of them and lost the other two plus an embarrassing 25-point loss to the Indiana Pacers.

Last week was the easiest week that the Suns will see for a while. That makes any push for a playoff spot even more difficult from here on as their remaining strength of schedule ranks 1st in the NBA.

Between now and the All-Star break (Feb. 14-19), the Suns have only three of nine games against teams with losing records. Even if they win all three of those and maybe also get a surprise win, that would leave them at 23-33 at the break. They’re already three games behind the Griz for the 8th spot and have lost the tie-breakers with both them and the Spurs who are 9th.

For the Suns to have any real chance of really getting back into playoff contention, James Jones is going to have to pull off some sort of trade deadline miracle.

I doubt that is going to happen.

As our own Dave King pointed out just two days ago, the Suns have very few good trade assets that they might be willing to give up. And now two of those - Aron Baynes and Cam Johnson - are out indefinitely with injuries which will cut into their trade value.

With the trade deadline just 10 days away and not too many obvious sellers on the market, the Suns may stand pat or just make a minor move or two to see if “shuffling the deck chairs” might somehow actually keep the ship afloat this time.

A major trade is possible but very unlikely. I don’t think that Jones will be willing to sacrifice much without a potential long-term improvement in the team... but he could view things very differently than I do and make a swing for the fences trade that I wouldn’t consider.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Since everyone is talking trades at the moment, that was the theme of this week’s questions. None of them have any real chance of happening but I thought each could make for an interesting discussion.

Q1 - If you were the Suns’ GM and another team called with a trade offer for Devin Booker, what would be the absolute minimum price that it would take for you to trade him?

GuarGuar: Giannis Antetokounmpo or Luka Doncic. That’s it. Those are the only two young players I think are better than him that don’t have injury issues (Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid). And Giannis would have to be on a contract extension too, because he will be a free agent at the end of next year. I’m obviously very high on what kind of player Booker is right now, and what he can be in the future. He’s been a top 15 player this season in my opinion. 26-6 on a 63 TS% is absolutely absurd. His impact on this team is very profound. He’s 23 years old and has had exponential growth as a player thus far. I don’t know what his ceiling actually is. I do know he can be a 1 or 1b guy on a championship team if your surround him with the right players.

Sun-Arc: Trading Booker would take either a superstar of higher value (why make a sideways move?). I might take a player like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in return. He looks really very good. But he’s not (yet) as dynamic as Book - not able to take over games like Devin can. And we really need that aspect out of him with how we are constructed. If other moves were made, maybe this deal or others makes sense, but that is too complicated to think about in a short answer. I would definitely trade Booker for Kawhi Leonard or Anthony Davis, but that’s not happening.

SDKyle: I’d only trade Booker for a legitimate two-way star. As much as I bemoan Booker’s defensive woes, he’s still a top bucket-getter in the league and a solid playmaker into the bargain.

I’m not personally in the mood for another extended rebuild, but if I were I’d also be open to a trade like a young potential star and a first-round pick.

As much heat as Booker takes as the de facto leader of a losing team, he’s still a rare talent that one doesn’t give up lightly.

SouthernSun: Oh jeez. Well, I suppose it would have to start with a young exciting player, plus other assets depending on the player. So perhaps a straight swap of him and Trae Young (though I think Booker is better than Young, I doubt we could extract anymore from them for him). Perhaps Shai Gilgeous-Alexander + a couple future firsts? I’d be hard to please.

Alex S: I think there’s probably around 5 guys I’d want to be involved if the Suns were to trade Devin straight up (or more from PHX):

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • Luka Doncic
  • James Harden
  • Anthony Davis
  • Zion Williamson

Then there’s other players that would need additional assets/player movement to consider such as Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Trae Young, Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns, Donovan Mitchell.

Q2 - If you could swap Deandre Ayton in a trade for any other center (and only for a center) in the NBA, who would that be?

GuarGuar: Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic. Those are the only centers I would swap Ayton for. He’s a really solid player already and has a ton of potential. The only issue I have is his mindset and willingness to be consistently aggressive. His midrange jumper is a good shot, but has been something he uses as a primary option. The midrange should be a 3rd option for him. We need to get him the ball around the rim, where he’s generally very efficient. And if he isn’t going to be a bang down low guy, then he needs to shoot 3s. Ayton is shooting around 40% on midrange jumpers. Ayton shooting 27% from 3 is just as efficient offensively. And I think we all believe over time he can be better than 27% from 3. I’m glad he’s trying them in practice, but he needs to start attempting at least a couple in games. I’m still very high on Ayton. He’s made a ton of strides already, especially defensively.

Sun-Arc: I’d trade DA for Anthony Davis, KAT, Embiid, and Jokic. All those guys play better defense than Ayton and are at least equal on scoring. They are all young, still, as well.

SDKyle: I’d do it for Nikola Jokic. He’s so fun to watch and such a good all-around player. I think his gift for passing would greatly compliment the rest of the Suns, and he’s also capable of being your #1 scorer when he needs to be. He’s also only just about to be 25.

Honorable mention KAT.

SouthernSun: Jokic definitely is the first choice. Second has got to be Embiid. Even with the injuries and uncertainty about his long term health. The only other possible option would be Rudy Gobert. I think those are the only three centers I’d do it for, unless I’m completely blanking on somebody. If I HAD to trade him, and the other three I mentioned turned me down, I’d pivot to Jaren Jackson Jr, but I wouldn’t be happy about it at all.

Alex S: I’d swap Ayton for KAT/Embiid/Jokic, that’s about it. I’d only move DA if it involved a young center whose shown more promise and ability to impact a game, and these three fit that criteria. Other guys could be either older or make way more money to be a guy I’d want right now.

Q3 - If you could somehow trade Robert Sarver for any other NBA owner, who would that be?

GuarGuar: I’d trade Sarver for basically any owner in the league. That being said, I’d probably choose Steve Ballmer (Clippers owner). That kind of energy and dedication from an owner is contagious. And we wouldn’t have questions about making luxury cap saving moves, because his funds are much greater than Sarver’s.

Sun-Arc: I’d trade Sarver for a bag of potato chips, if I could. And it wouldn’t have to be Lay’s brand or anything. Generic labels would be fine. Even Safeway “Select.” The bag wouldn’t meddle with the team or anger the referees. I’m going with the bag. Final answer.

SDKyle: I’m going to stir the pot here... Mark Cuban. He’s the most famous NBA owner, and one of the richest too I believe. His personality can be polarizing, but his enthusiasm for the game is infectious and under his ownership the Mavs have made the playoffs 15 out of 20 years, won a championship, and become a way cooler brand than the garbage Mavericks of the 1990s.

There are other worthy owners out there, but I wonder what the Suns might achieve under a man who exudes the passion that Cuban does.

SouthernSun: Steve Ballmer because he is a gazillionaire who will do what it takes to win, cost be damned. At least that’s the impression I get from him. I like that he bought the team and then immediately just freaking went buck wild and made moves to make the team a winner. Sarver would never spend money like him. He doesn’t have it.

Alex S: Steve Ballmer just so I could see how he’d handle all the BS the Suns manage to get themselves into each night.

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


Key Stats

19.8 ppg

19.8 ppg would be a pretty good average for an NBA player but, unfortunately, that was the scoring average for the entire Suns bench last week. It was the worst bench scoring average in the NBA during that period and 12.3 points less than their season average (32.1 ppg).

Random Stats: Ricky Rubio had a rough week averaging only 4.3 assists in the Suns last four games, far below his 8.8 asp season average. Devin Booker led the team in assists last week with 5.8 apg.

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


Game Highlights

Phoenix Suns vs San Antonio Spurs - Full Game Highlights | January 20, 2020

Phoenix Suns vs Indiana Pacers - Full Game Highlights | January 22, 2020

Phoenix Suns vs San Antonio Spurs - Full Game Highlights | January 24, 2020

Devin Booker Full Play vs San Antonio Spurs | 01/24/20

Phoenix Suns vs Memphis Grizzlies - Full Game Highlights | January 26, 2020


Quotes of the Week

”I’ve seen him (Deandre Ayton) make some moves recently that are like… wow. He’s banging in the post, lowering his shoulder. He can be so strong and dominant, and coach is just preaching that to him. He’s been all ears.” - Ty Jerome

”He’s a monster. He’s a monster. I like that kid (Devin Booker).” - Former Sun Tim Thomas


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 - DNP-Injured

Ty Jerome - 10.6 mpg, 3.3 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 1.6 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.1 bpg, 0.7 TO, 1.2 PF, 32.0 3PT%

This week - 9.6 mpg, 3.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.3 TO, 0.8 PF, 40.0 3PT%, 1 DNP-CD

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%

This week - Assigned to NAZ Suns

Jared Harper - Assigned to NAZ Suns

Tariq Owens - Assigned to NAZ Suns

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.


Injury Status Report

Aron Baynes (hip) - Expected to be out until at least February 2.

Cameron Johnson (quadriceps) - Expected to be out until at least February 2.

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


News & Notes

Deandre Ayton is posting big numbers, winning since Suns return; is it enough to start a Big Man revolution? Arizona Daily Star

NBASuns’ Dario Saric declares Devin Booker the best player he’s ever played with. Clutch Points

NBA Legend Makes Eye-Opening Comments About Kobe Bryant, Devin Booker. Heavy.com

Devin Booker And Monty Williams Respond To Larry Fitzgerald Joining The Phoenix Suns As A Minority Owner. Brendon Kleen/Forbes

The Rise of Devin Booker. Suns.com


This Week in Suns History

On January 29, 1984, the NBA’s first All-Star Saturday took place in Denver at McNichols Arena. The first Nestle Crunch Slam-Dunk winner was the Phoenix Suns’ Larry Nance, who used a two-ball windmill dunk to defeat favorites Julius Erving and Dominique Wilkins.


Suns Trivia

Devin Booker actually did get a triple-double against the Spurs on Friday night... sort of.


Previewing the Week Ahead

Tuesday, January 28 - Phoenix Suns @ Dallas Mavericks, 6:30 pm AZT

Friday, January 31 - Phoenix Suns vs Oklahoma City Thunder, 7:00 pm AZT

Sunday, February 2 - Phoenix Suns @ Milwaukee Bucks, 12:00 noon AZT

The Suns only have three games this week, but they’re all very tough matchups.

On Tuesday they’ll head down to Big D to take on Luka Doncic and the Mavericks. Losing starting center Dwight Powell for the season due to a torn Achilles hasn’t slowed them down much and they just acquired Willie Cauley-Stein from the Warriors to fill in his spot on the roster. With all of the gaps due to injuries that the Suns have in their roster, I don’t think that they can hang with Dallas for long. The Suns’ starters will make a game of it for a while but they will not be able to play enough minutes to get a win.

The Suns will get two days off before facing OKC at TSRA on Friday. Their patch-work roster following all of their player turnover this summer has played surprisingly well landing them at 7th in the West with a fairly comfortable 6-game lead over 8th place Memphis and only 1.5 games back of 5th place Houston. I don’t see the Suns getting a win in this game either.

The Suns’ final game of the week will be in chilly Milwaukee where they will face the top team in the NBA, the 40-6 Bucks. Although the Suns swept the Bucks last season, don’t expect a repeat this year even though the Suns have improved since then. Chalk this one up as another loss.

I really can’t see the Suns having a realistic chance of winning a single game this week and am predicting they go 0-3. I hope they surprise me and prove me wrong though.

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 “Which do you think happens first?”

72% - Devin Booker makes it to the All-Star game.

12% - The Suns make it back to the playoffs.

16% - Phoenix gets hit by a blizzard.

There were 324 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

If the Suns fall out of the playoff race...

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    They should tank the rest of the season for the best possible draft odds.
    (10 votes)
  • 95%
    They should continue to play their best and try to win as many games as possible.
    (221 votes)
231 votes total Vote Now

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports