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Center of the Sun: Training camp starts this week for Suns

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The Suns will have just three weeks in camp before the Dec. 22 start of the 2020-21 season.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

For the first time in many years, the question most asked by Suns fans isn’t “Will they be good this year?” Instead, the question is “How good will they be?”

With all of the roster changes, the Suns are poised to make a massive leap forward this year. Fans have known for years that Phoenix had something special in Devin Booker but poor roster construction and tanking for high draft picks - which were largely squandered - made the team hard to watch as they struggled year after year.

The result? No playoffs for 10 years.

Well, that streak will very likely come to finally come to an end this season. The Suns finally have that other star player - Chris Paul - to pair with Booker and a roster loaded with complimentary players instead of the Rube Goldberg mishmash rosters that the GMs before James Jones always seemed to assemble. When you also throw in the possibility of Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson making significant leaps forward, the sky could be the limit this season.

The Suns finished last season ranked 12th in offensive rating, 17th in defensive rating and 14th in net rating. All three should rise this year with offense possibly leading the pack in improvement.

Using the Points Gained offensive metric, David Locke (the creator of Locked On Podcast Network) has projected the Suns to have the best offense in the West in 2020-21.

Points Gained is an offensive metric explanation:

This isn’t a prediction of the WC standings as it only relates to offense but having a high-octane offense will certainly make a big difference. Team defense - which was the 4th best in the bubble - should improve as well with all the new additions.

Health is an issue of course but when is it not? It’s going to be an issue for every team but the Suns finally have some real depth that should help them compensate for the inevitable minor injuries that sideline players for a few games from time to time. Hopefully that’s all the Suns will have to deal with this season and we’ll get to see the team reach it’s full potential.

All the speculation will soon have evidence to either back it up or refute it though as training camp begins tomorrow and the first of the Suns’ four preseason games tips off on Dec. 12 against the Jazz in Salt Lake City. Then the games that really matter will begin in just over three weeks on Dec. 22... just in time for Christmas.

The 1st half of the 2020-21 season schedule is expected to be out sometime this week... perhaps as early as today. Maybe the new-look Suns will finally get another Christmas Day game but I’m not really expecting it. If they do however wind up with a game scheduled for Dec. 23, I will be celebrating Festivus this year.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - The Suns have only 7 players (including restart addition Cameron Payne) returning from last season’s roster. With a shorter than usual training camp, do you think this amount of turnover might create some early season problems?

GuarGuar: I don’t think it will be a completely smooth transition but I don’t expect many early season problems. The players we added are mostly veterans and quality NBA players. It’s still shocking to me that we added quality players in an offseason but that is indeed what happened! All teams have the same situation too so I don’t think we are at some sort of disadvantage.

Sun-Arc: No and Yes. Per Dave King’s article on the roster from Wednesday, the 10-man roster will likely be Ayton, Booker, Bridges, Crowder, and Paul as starters; and Johnson, Saric, Payne, Carter, and Galloway as the bench. Of those players, only 30% are new. All three of those new players are vets, and Paul is basically a player-coach of sorts, who will hopefully whip the starters into shape. Crowder will be used much like Kelly was last season in that plays will not be run for him, relegating him to a catch-and-shoot player. Fairly simple. So I think there will be few problems there.

Yet with 9 new players to coach into the .5 system, there will surely be tough work to be done. How to allow players to rotate in and out and know their role and how to play it will make the start of the season more difficult. There are a lot of new pieces to evaluate - both in practice and in games. I imagine we’ll see several lineups for non-starters for, perhaps, a couple of months.

Yet every team will have some of this, many with as much or more than the Suns. It could be a sloppy start to the season for the entire league. But I’ll take it sloppy over nothing at all.

SDKyle: There might be SOME early issues firing on all cylinders, but I don’t expect any meaningful problems. I expect plenty of synergy between Booker and CP3, and I think that will spill over into good things for all the other Suns too. When you have a couple of experienced stars working hard (as those two reportedly already have been) to build that chemistry, everyone else on the roster is going to want to be a part of it and I think it will happen quickly.

SouthernSun: No I don’t believe there will be too many early season issues. The Suns starting unit will be pretty similar, and some of the same key bench players will still be around too. CP3 will probably fit right in nicely, and Crowder will too. Maybe for a game or two.

Alex S: I can’t see it being much of an issue as the turnover involves a HOF level point guard whose adapted to multiple situations and a recent NBA Finals starter that is a perfect fit in the starting 5. Had said turnover been more geared towards youth and/or players that would dramatically change our foundation I would be a bit more worried.

Furthermore the role players (Moore, Galloway, Jones, Smith) all serve simple roles such as 3/D pieces or rim rollers. Sure, there might be some time needed for elite chemistry but that’s to be expected for all teams.

Q2 - Other than Chris Paul and Jae Crowder, which one of the new additions to the roster do you think might have the most positive impact for the Suns this season?

GuarGuar: I think Jalen Smith will be the biggest impact player eventually. His floor spacing will be very valuable as a backup center. We saw last year with Baynes what that did for Rubio and Booker. I don’t think he will play much early on but by the end of the season he should be seeing consistent quality minutes.

Sun-Arc: If we do stick with who Dave thinks are the 10 best players, and therefor the starters (in my mind), it has to be Galloway. He is the best of the new fringe guys, and may be better than Payne or Carter. He is definitely the best high-volume shooter on paper on the team now outside of, maybe, Cam Johnson. He’s smart too, and I think will work well with what Monty wants to build.

Jalen Smith could be that player, though. It totally depends on how much he improved his mobility and whether he can defend on the perimeter. Without that, I don’t know if he gets to play much, honestly. I’m not ready to buy into his shooting until he shows he can hit NBA threes with some consistency. If the defense and consistent shooting isn’t there, he might have less impact than Kaminsky. But if it is there he could easily push out Payne or Galloway.

I also think Nader might be in for a bit of a breakout season as a bench player. He’s improved in some important metrics each season such as perimeter shooting, FT%, 3Par, PER, VORP, and OWS. His defense is solid too. I’m not saying he’ll become Bogdan Bogdonavic - but he could become a rotational bench player getting 18 mpg by the end of the season. Though I know I could totally be wrong and he might not see court time. It will be telling if Paul talks about him - or if he says nothing at all.

SDKyle: I guess I’m thinking Galloway. He’s a shooter who you could use as a point guard if need be. It’s a close call between he and Moore because they play similar roles I’d say.

SouthernSun: I would absolutely love if Jalen Smith had a great rookie season and proved to be an impactful acquisition as soon as this season, but I believe Langston to be a safe bet. We know what he can do. Hit threes at insane rates from the corners, move the ball, and not be horrible on defense.

Moore is the next most likely. He’s a sniper like Langston but has a few extra scoring tools in his bag, though he’s just not quite as much of a dead shot as Langston.

Alex S: I’m going to go with the most obvious choice and say E’Twaun Moore. He’s a former starting level pro with high-level shooting ability that would play well with just about any lineup. As long as he can compete on defense and keep his three point percentage above 36 or so, he should be getting close to 20 mpg give or take.

Q3 - I strongly believe that the Suns starting unit will be Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Deandre Ayton. Their second unit... I’m only certain that Cameron Johnson will be a part of it. Who are your selections for the probable 1st and 2nd units this season?

GuarGuar: While I would like Cam to start, I agree the starting lineup will most likely be CP, Booker, Mikal, Jae and Ayton. I would be pretty surprised if we went 10 deep. We will be staggering CP3 like we did with Rubio last year.

The second unit should be Cam Payne, Galloway/Moore, Cam Johnson, Saric and Smith. I also think it’s possible Dario is our backup 5 to begin the season. He has experience with it during the Bubble.

Sun-Arc: I agree the starters will be:

Ayton, Crowder, Bridges, Book, and Paul. (unfortunately no fun BOBRA acronym there.)

Bench unit to start will likely be:

Saric, Johnson, Carter, Galloway, Payne.

But I could see that bench eventually include Smith and/or Nader by the end of the season. I need to see how the three undersized guards actually play this season. Any of them may disappoint (though I’m not betting on that being Carter). If Saric can recreate his bubble impact, it would be great to have Nader give more size and strength to the bench. Likewise if Smith turns out to be a strong player.

Smith, Saric, Johnson, Nader, and Carter might be how it ends up. Here’s hoping that is the case - and for good reasons.

SDKyle: Cam Johnson, Dario Saric, Langston Galloway, E’Twaun Moore, and Jalen Smith will get the most burn among the bench guys. Cam Payne and Jevon Carter will still see some time, but mostly in noncompetitive games or due to injuries. I don’t think the Suns plan to use a traditional backup point guard, and will instead lean on Booker and Saric to be distributors situationally when CP3 is on the bench.

SouthernSun: That’s a tough question. The 4 main backup guards will probably be played situationally. Moore and Langston are known quantities, so we know they can be effective players, particularly off the ball. Jevon has his uses defensively. Payne is probably the best ball handler of the bench bunch, so he will need minutes, particularly during any game where one of Book or CP3 is out.

We also don’t know how well Jalen Smith will play. Though I imagine we will see some Damien Jones minutes early in the season over Smith, initially.

  • CP3 / Payne / Carter
  • Book / Galloway / Moore / Carter
  • Bridges / Cam Johnson / Moore / Nader
  • Crowder / Saric / Johnson / Smith
  • Ayton / Saric / Jones / Smith

There will be a lot of 3 guard lineups, and a lot of Saric at the 5 in the 2nd unit.

This roster has many interchangeable parts, and a ton of depth. This roster is custom built to survive a season where players will randomly be out for 2 weeks with covid tests, etc. And also to be effective in a shortened and compressed season.

Things in the rotation could change drastically by the end of the season though.

Alex S: My early season prediction for the bench rotation will be Payne, Carter, Moore, Johnson, and Saric. The players to watch will be the Galloway/Payne battle and whether or not Saric will play the 4 or 5. If Dario plays the 5, it’ll be tough to get Jalen Smith minutes early on. I can see Jones getting run at the 5 when we play bigger frontcourts to go along with DNPs against smaller teams as well.

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


5 Seasons of Devin Booker Highlights

Highlights of Devin’s highest scoring games in each of his first 5 NBA seasons.

Devin Booker at Nuggets (2016/03/10) - 35 Pts, CAREER HIGH! (Rookie season)

Devin Booker’s HISTORIC 70-PT Night 3/24/2017 (2nd season)

Devin Booker AMAZING Full Highlights vs Sixers (2017.12.04) - 46 Pts, 8 Reb, SHOWTIME! (3rd season)

Devin Booker Goes Off For A Season-High 59 Points | March 25, 2019 (4th season)

Devin Booker goes off for 44 points in Suns vs. Pelicans 12/4/2019 (5th season)


Quotes of the Week

“Always stay ready and take care of your body. You never know when it’ll be your turn to get in the game and make an impact on your team. You want to make sure you’re ready when your number is called.” - Mikal Bridges

“There was never a time I asked Jalen (Smith) to do something and he didn’t do it. He didn’t look at it as silly. He took it that, ‘You know what? This can make me better. Coach is asking me to do this for a reason.’” - Bino Ranson, Head Coach University of Maryland


News & Notes

Former NBA Player Explains How Western Conference Changes After Chris Paul’s Trade to Phoenix Suns. Essentially Sports

The Whiteboard: NBA’s 3 unpredictable Western Conference playoff teams. Gerald Bourguet/The Step Back

Disciplined. Regimented. Focused. Suns.com

Five things every NBA rookie should know heading into the 2020-21 season. ESPN

How High Can Chris Paul Take The Phoenix Suns? UPROXX

Suns PF Jae Crowder already chopping it up with Chris Paul, Devin Booker. Arizona Sports

2020 NBA Free Agency: Best under-the-radar moves of free agency. Sporting News


This Week in Suns History

On December 1, 1984, Suns Coach John MacLeod became the 10th coach in NBA history to compile 500 career wins as the Suns defeated Golden State 115-103. MacLeod eventually amassed 579 regular season and 37 playoff wins over his 14 years as the Suns head coach.


Interesting Suns stuff

How CHRIS PAUL Make Bigs More Efficient


Suns Trivia

Devin Booker has averaged scoring a total of 1,536.6 points per season during his career. He only needs to score 747 points this season to move past Tom Chambers, Dan Majerle and Larry Nance to claim 9th place in the list of All-Time leading scorers for the Suns. If he hits his season average this year he will also be just 345 points behind Paul Westphal for 8th.

Devin scored 1,863 points last season in just 70 games played. He has never scored less than 1,000 points in a season and his lowest point total for a single season is 1,048 in his rookie year.


Previewing the week ahead

Tuesday, December 1 - Training camp opens. Schedule for the 1st half of the season to be released.


Important Future Dates

December 12 - Phoenix Suns @ Utah Jazz (Preseason Game 1) 7 pm AZT

December 14 - Phoenix Suns @ Utah Jazz (Preseason Game 2) 7 pm AZT

December 16 - Phoenix Suns vs LA Lakers (Preseason Game 3) 7 pm AZT

December 18 - Phoenix Suns vs LA Lakers (Preseason Game 4) 7 pm AZT (on ESPN)

December 22 - Opening night for 2020-21 NBA season!

??? - NBA trade deadline (TBD).

March 5-10 - Mid-season break (no All-Star game).

May 16 - Regular season ends.

May 17 to 21 - Play-in tournament for 7-to-10 seeds.

May 22 - First-round playoffs.

June 7 - Conference semifinals.

June 22 - Conference Finals.

July 8-22 - NBA Finals.


Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “If this Suns team stays healthy, how far do you think it can go?”

10.7% - 1st round exit from the playoffs.

46.3% - 2nd round exit from the playoffs.

29.5% - Western Conference Finals exit.

13.5% - All the way to the NBA Finals!

A total of 512 votes were cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

Other than Chris Paul and Jae Crowder, which one of the Suns’ new players do you think will have the most positive impact this season?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    Langston Galloway
    (103 votes)
  • 13%
    E’Twaun Moore
    (36 votes)
  • 41%
    Jalen Smith
    (114 votes)
  • 2%
    Damian Jones
    (6 votes)
  • 3%
    Abdel Nader
    (10 votes)
  • 1%
    Ty-Shon Alexander (2-way)
    (4 votes)
273 votes total Vote Now