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Center of the Sun: Suns have break even week, can’t make up for lost ground in playoff race

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To get to the playoffs, the Suns need to play every game as if each one is a playoff game.

NBA: New York Knicks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

Phoenix Suns @ Portland Trail Blazers W (122-116) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns @ LA Lakers L (117-107) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs New York Knicks W (120-112) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Memphis Grizzlies L (121-114) Full Recap

The scrum of teams fighting for the 8th seed remains as the Suns went 2-2 for the week. Although the Suns fell to 12th in the West, they’re still only 1 game behind the 8th place Spurs.

Devin Booker has been a consistent thorn in the side of opposing teams offensively scoring lately and averaged 35.8 points per game last week. He now has six straight games scoring 32+ points even though his three point shooting hasn’t been up to par. He shot just 30.8% from three last week on only 13 attempts. He’s made up for that by showing off his mid-range skills and getting to the free throw line where he made 45-47 (95.7%).

The rest of the team also hasn’t been shooting well from three but, unfortunately, they haven’t been able to make up for it in other ways as Booker has done.

Inconsistency has continued to rear its ugly head too. At times, the Suns have looked like two different teams during a single game. Sometimes sharp and focused, sometimes lackadaisical and distracted. Playoff teams do not play like that. The Suns need to stay dialed in at all times if they don’t want to start their offseason early again.

There’s still time though... and there’s still the possibility of altering the team’s trajectory through a good trade or two before the Feb. 6th trade deadline arrives. The Suns don’t really even need to make a big time trade, just find the right type of complimentary players to help push them forward a few steps while not giving up players that already contribute.

That’s easier said than done though.

A blockbuster trade would be a nice surprise but don’t count on it happening.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - Which Suns player is most capable of playing better than he has and needs to ‘step up’ his game the rest of this season?

GuarGuar: This is a tough one because most of our guys have been playing pretty solid for the past couple weeks or so. I’m going to go with Mikal Bridges. Mikal has been way better the past couple weeks, but it’s always about consistency when talking about him. His defense has been superb, but his aggressiveness on offense is where the questions lie. His impact on the team towards winning is very hard to deny. When Mikal has a usage rate of 10% or less in a game this season, the Suns are 2-9. His on/off numbers are pretty staggering too this year. We our team rating is +8.8 points better with him on the floor, per BBall reference. He’s the ultimate glue guy for us, and we need consistency and aggressiveness from him going forward.

Sun-Arc: I’ll have to go with Dario Saric. He’s been pretty solid in some facets of his game- namely post defense on big-men, passing, and rebounding. But he’s really lacked on the offensive end. Shooting only .331 on threes is below his career average of .355, and way below his best average of .393. Likewise, his overall points production is down, well below career average as well- about 20% low. His PER and VORP are also down from his Minny and Philly days. I think he’s capable. Maybe everything will come back for him. We could really benefit from his return to top form sooner rather than later.

SDKyle: It has to be Ayton. He has to be more assertive on both ends, force his way into being a featured player on offense as well as effective on defense. If Ayton can’t be a huge impact almost every night, the Suns will not make the playoffs.

SouthernSun: Tyler Johnson would be my pick here for who needs to “step it up”, but I think it’s likely he’s traded, so I guess I’ll use someone else. Dario Saric is my pick. He is capable of being a decent offensive option for this team, but he just hasn’t shown it. I want to see more aggressiveness from him. Where is the guy who was in [Miami]? Where is the guy who occasionally goes off for 20+ for this team? Monty has been playing him less during this stretch of winning games, and perhaps that’s because he’s been pretty bad offensively. He was playing decent defense and rebounding alright for most of the early season, but he’s fallen off a bit in those areas as of late as well. But I really do want to see him not be afraid to drive to the basket, or take a mid range jumper when he’s open.

Alex S: This question has two answers to it in my opinion. My first answer goes to Dario Saric because he’s been a part of the rotation the entire season and has regressed in play over the past few weeks. His minutes have been diminishing rapidly because of this and there’s a lot of reason to believe that he won’t be a Sun past this season if he doesn’t prove his worth before the trade deadline.

The second answer would be Deandre Ayton. Ayton is a different type of answer due to the fact he missed nearly 30 games because of injury and suspension, but his contribution to the team thus far has been minimal. The thing that excites me about Ayton is his physical presence has always made a difference in games this year on the defensive end (take the Portland game for example). However, his consistency and his dominance around the rim hasn’t been there. It’s tough when your matchups consist of Whiteside and McGee/AD but Deandre needs to provide stronger rim presence on the offensive end going forward.

Q2 - Rank all the Suns’ players on how likely you think they are to be part of a trade before the deadline.

  1. Very unlikely
  2. Unlikely
  3. 50-50
  4. Likely
  5. Probable

GuarGuar: Booker - 0: If we traded him…never mind I don’t want to think about that.

  1. Very unlikely: Ayton (Only scenario is if KAT formally asks out of Minny.), Oubre, Rubio, Cam Johnson, Kaminsky (His recent injury hurts his chances.)
  2. Unlikely: Baynes (If we somehow have an awful stretch going into the deadline, it wouldn’t surprise me if we sold Baynes for value), Bridges, Diallo, Carter, Okobo, Jerome
  3. 50-50: Saric (He’s pretty much out of the rotation now so I can see us trying to deal him.)
  4. Likely: Tyler Johnson (I think there’s a good chance we ship Tyler off if we are in playoff contention come the deadline.)
  5. Probable: None.

Sun-Arc:

  1. Very unlikely: Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Ricky Rubio, Deandre Ayton, Jared Harper (untradable), Jalen Lecque (untradable)
  2. Unlikely: Aron Baynes, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Jevon Carter, Ty Jerome, Elie Okobo (right now looks like the best PG insurance we have), Cheick Diallo (off Monty’s radar a bit, but at $1.7 mil there’s no reason to move him)
  3. 50-50: Dario Saric (* a 5 if its for a starting caliber PF), Frank Kaminsky (if someone wants his expiring for something of value), Tyler Johnson (his contract has value to us too, though if the right deal is there…)
  4. Likely: None.
  5. Probable: None. *

SDKyle: 1. Very unlikely

  • Devin Booker - Booker is the franchise’s lone really bright spot at the moment. He’s also a max contract. He isn’t getting traded this year.
  • Deandre Ayton - I don’t get the sense that James Jones is prepared to throw in the towel on Ayton. It would have to be a very splashy deal, and Jones seems like he wants to stay the course right now.
  • Ricky Rubio - Rubio was brought in as more than a half-season rental.
  • Cam Johnson

2. Unlikely

  • Kelly Oubre Jr.
  • Mikal Bridges - It wouldn’t break my heart if the return was good, but I don’t see it happening.
  • Ty Jerome
  • Jalen Lecque

3. 50-50

  • Aron Baynes - Expiring contracts are always marketable. If the Suns are pushing to contend Baynes probably stays. If not he’s gone.
  • Dario Saric - Really depends on what the market for him is.
  • Elie Okobo - Anyone want a backup PG? Who knows?
  • Jevon Carter - Could be a throw in.
  • Frank Kaminsky
  • Cheick Diallo

4. Likely

  • None.

5. Probable

  • Tyler Johnson - He gone.

SouthernSun: 1. Very unlikely

  • Devin Booker - Franchise player, not going anywhere.
  • Kelly Oubre - Playing great, heart and soul of the team.
  • Ricky Rubio - I just can’t see him being traded this year. He’s too important.
  • Deandre Ayton - He won’t be traded unless KAT requests out.

2. Unlikely

  • Mikal Bridges - Pretty unlikely he gets traded, but hey, if necessary to get the right deal done...
  • Cameron Johnson - Also pretty unlikely he gets traded.

3. 50-50

  • Ty Jerome - I don’t necessarily think he gets traded, but I don’t think there’s much reason not to if it helps get a deal done.
  • Aron Baynes - If they can trade him for a young decent player (Clippers Harrell or Shamet?) then they may.
  • Dario Saric - His minutes are dwindling and he hasn’t played that well lately. His chances are rising.
  • Jevon Carter - I don’t think he’s traded, but he is a potential throw-in.
  • Chieck Diallo - Possible throw-in.

4. Likely

  • Frank Kaminsky - I think its likely he is part of a deal as matching salary, especially if it’s for a PF.

5. Probable

  • Tyler Johnson - He has been terrible and his expiring salary is perfect for bringing in an impact player. He’s out of here.

Alex S:

  1. Very unlikely: Booker/Rubio/Oubre
  2. Unlikely: Ayton/C Johnson/Bridges/Jerome
  3. 50-50: Carter/Baynes/Diallo/Okobo
  4. Likely: T Johnson/Saric/Kaminsky
  5. Probable: N/A

A few comments about my rankings: Oubre was on the borderline of Very Unlikely/Unlikely. I can see him only being part of a deal that is for a legitimate star (KAT). Ayton is a similar vibe, but I think the Suns would lean towards moving on from him due to his higher value on the trade market. I didn’t include anyone as probable because the way these ratings are designed, that means I would see the likelihood being closer to 70-80% that they’ll be moved at the deadline. The piece I think is most likely to move is Tyler Johnson. Baynes will get moved if a contender overpays at the deadline, as the Suns can roll with Diallo or Kaminsky.

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


Key Stats

45.1% vs 24.5%

Those are the combined three point percentages of the Suns in their two wins (Portland and New York) and in their two losses (LA Lakers and Memphis) last week. The Suns are averaging hitting 34.7% of their threes for the season, 37.7% in wins and 32.7% in losses.

Random Stats: Kelly Oubre Jr. led the Suns in three-point shooting this week with a 55.2% average on 7.3 attempts per game. No one else who attempted at least 1 three-point attempt per game averaged over 33.3%.

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


Game Highlights

Phoenix Suns vs Portland Trail Blazers - Full Game Highlights | December 30, 2019

Phoenix Suns vs LA Lakers - Full Game Highlights | January 1, 2020

Phoenix Suns vs New York Knicks - Full Game Highlights | January 3, 2020

Phoenix Suns vs Memphis Grizzlies - Full Game Highlights | January 5, 2020


Quote of the Week

”The way we play, it’s hard to have a short bench. We play so hard, we play with such force, to keep guys fresh to play our style, I don’t think you can have a short bench.” - Monty Williams


Rookie Report

Cameron Johnson - 20.5 mpg, 8.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.7 TO, 1.6 PF, 39.9 3PT%

This week - 15.7 mpg, 4.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.8 TO, 1.8 PF, 33.3 3PT%

Ty Jerome - 13.4 mpg, 4.2 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.9 TO, 1.3 PF, 30.0 3PT%

This week - DNP-CD

Jalen Lecque - Assigned to NAZ Suns

Jared Harper - Assigned to NAZ Suns

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.


Injury Status Report

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


Bright Side Night is back on Tuesday night!

With the help of the most generous and caring fans anywhere, we are proud to announce that we are sending 4,248 deserving kids to the 5th annual Bright Side Night game against the Sacramento Kings this Tuesday night!

A new record!

4,248 kids... that is 23.5% of Talking Stick Resort Arena’s seating capacity!

In the five years that Bright Side Night has been in existence, the total number of kids you’ve helped to send to these games would fill almost 70% of the seats in TSRA and would have completely filled the old Madhouse on McDowell when it first opened.

Many thanks to everyone who has donated over the years! You’ve helped to make a lot of kids very happy and helped create what we’re sure were - or soon will be - some great memories for all of them.


News & Notes

Monty Williams: Deandre Ayton ‘doesn’t know how dominant he can be’. Kevin Zimmerman/Arizona Sports

The Search For ‘Stability’: The Phoenix Suns’ Backup Guard Situation Is Untenable. Brendon Kleen/Forbes

Yes, the Suns really are experimenting with Deandre Ayton and Aron Baynes. Gerald Bourguet/The Step Back

Phoenix Suns Holiday Wishlist: Get Devin Booker Some More Help. UPROXX


This Week in Suns History

On January 9, 1972, the NBA’s 2,000,000th point occurred in either the Baltimore-Phoenix or Detroit-Buffalo game.

On January 11, 1997, Robert Horry, recently suspended for throwing a towel in the face of Phoenix coach Danny Ainge, was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-player deal Friday that sent Cedric Ceballos back to the Suns.

Horry screamed obscenities at Ainge and threw the towel before being restrained by teammates.


Suns Trivia

During the month of December, Ricky Rubio led the NBA in assists with 10.64 per game. Ricky also had seven games with 13+ assists, the most by any Suns player in a calendar month since Steve Nash had eight in March of 2012.


Previewing the Week Ahead

Tuesday, January 7 - Phoenix Suns vs Sacramento Kings, 7:00 pm AZT

Friday, January 10 - Phoenix Suns vs Orlando Magic, 7:00 pm AZT

Sunday, January 12 - Phoenix Suns vs Charlotte Hornets, 6:00 pm AZT

The Suns have three games this week, all of them at home.

Tomorrow night, it’s Bright Side Night again and the Suns will be facing off against the Sacramento Kings for the fourth time this season. The Suns are 2-1 against them so far with their lone loss coming on a night when Ayton and Baynes were out plus Rubio tried to play with an ailing back but had to give it up after 16 minutes. I don’t think that the Suns will let down the Bright Side Night kids and get another win against the Kings.

After a 2-day layoff, the Orlando Magic come to town for their second game of the season against the Suns on Friday. The Magic won that first one in their house by 14 points but that was also a game in which the Suns had neither Ayton nor Baynes available and were out rebounded 45-29. I think the Suns will even the season series with Orlando and get their second win of the week.

Finally, the Hornets will be at TSRA for their chance at getting revenge for the 109-104 loss they suffered to Suns in Charlotte on Dec. 2. The Suns got that 1st win against them without Ayton or Baynes and on the road. Charlotte shocked Dallas by beating them by 3 in Dallas a couple of days ago so the Suns can’t afford to take them lightly. I don’t think the Suns will look past them though and get win number 3 for the week.

The Suns have three very winnable games this week - all at home - and I believe they can win them all. Whether they will win them all is another question though...

What’s your prediction?


Important Future Dates

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 “Between now and the trade deadline the Suns should...”

20% - Go all out to make trades to get back to the playoffs this year.

80% - Try to improve through trades but do nothing that could hurt their future.

There were 169 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

If the Suns play .500 ball for the rest of the season they will end up with a 37-45 record.

Poll

A 37-45 season record would be...

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    A good step forward.
    (82 votes)
  • 40%
    Okay but a little disappointing.
    (75 votes)
  • 10%
    Barely acceptable.
    (19 votes)
  • 4%
    Unacceptable.
    (9 votes)
185 votes total Vote Now