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Center of the Sun: Suns winless preseason makes way for regular season opener

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It all gets real on Wednesday night.

Los Angeles Lakers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

Phoenix Suns at Utah Jazz L (111-92) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs LA Lakers L (112-107) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs LA Lakers L (114-113) Full Recap

Going 0-4 wasn’t the preseason performance that anyone wanted but those games were really glorified scrimmages which don’t count toward who gets a playoff berth at the end of the season. They were good for what they were really designed to do though, get a look at the team/players under realistic game conditions to identify strengths and weaknesses before the games that do count begin.

When thinking along those lines, who better to schedule your preseason games against than the world champs and a strong payoff team that was returning almost all of it’s 2019-20 roster (including all of it’s starters)? Sure the Suns might have won a few games if they had scheduled their preseason matches against teams that didn’t make the playoffs last season but would have beating up on some of last season’s cellar dwellers really been more helpful? I doubt it. Measure yourself against the best, not the worst.

In that preseason measurement, the Suns looked good and bad at times. Part of that has to do with integrating all the new players, part is not having everyone available for any of those games. Chris Paul (ankle), Jae Crowder (personal reasons), Cameron Johnson (calf), Cameron Payne (knee) and Abdel Nader (concussion) missed half of the games and Dario Saric (quadriceps) missed them all. With the exception of Nader, all of these guys are going to be starters or high-minute rotation players in the regular season. It’s difficult to make an accurate assessment of the team with that many important players missing that amount of game time.

That sort of thing is going to pop up throughout the season though so I suppose it’s good to get an idea of how to possibly deal with it now rather than trying to figure it out on the fly after the regular season begins.

At the moment, none of the injuries have been serious and it’s possible that the Suns could finally be at (or at least near) full strength for Wednesday’s season opener against Dallas.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - First impression time. What did you see that you most liked and what did you see that you most disliked in the preseason games?

GuarGuar: I was very impressed with our depth during the preseason. We have a ton of shooters. Galloway and Cam coming off the bench is a deadly shooting duo. It’s nice seeing guys hit their open 3s when Book is triple teamed. I wasn’t impressed with Ayton’s inconsistency. We all know when he’s good he’s really good. It’s always been about consistency with him for me. And he was very inconsistent this preseason. The good news though is he was much better in the final two preseason games.

Sun-Arc: I’m writing this prior to the 4th game, so ignore what happened in that game. I liked and disliked a lot of what I saw.

Some players (Paul, Booker, Crowder, Galloway, and 1.5 games of Ayton) looked pretty sharp. Most of the rest did not look great- though Carter had his moments.

I loved Chris Paul on the pick and roll. He should be able to turn Ayton into a monster on that end. I still firmly believe that. Two years of Paul laying into him should help too.

Booker gonna Book. Love that too.

The defense of the starting unit in game 3 looked pretty good.

What worries me is the defense overall and the shooting. Neither have been good, with the defense at time being non-existent- particularly on the perimeter. Monty didn’t show much about his schemes in preseason last year either, and that might be a good chunk of the issue. Conditioning also seemed to be a problem regarding the shooting (most misses hit the front of the rim). Obviously injuries/availability has been part of the issue too.

Until the regular season starts, we’ll just have to keep waiting to see what this team really has in store for us.

SDKyle: I saw a lot of good things. I saw some good rapport starting to build. I saw Booker in midseason scoring form. I saw Chris Paul starting to gel with the team, and I saw some pretty sharp shooting from the bench.

I saw some inconsistent effort from a few guys, but I won’t harp more on that unless it continues into the regular season.

SouthernSun: I loved the starters in the first game against LA. That unit will have one of the best net ratings in the league. If that exact group gets a lot of minutes together, the Suns will be a top 5 seed for sure.

Now, that leads into what I didn't like.

The backup point guard position is not great. I love Cam Payne and I hope he’s successful in that role, but the backup unit minute, both with him in the first game and without him the next two, did not look good at all. And its not because of lack of talent/depth. Galloway and Moore are very solid off ball rotation players, but they aren’t going to set anybody up, really. I’m hoping the addition of Saric, and getting Payne back, will help that out, but im not sure.

Unfortunately, the lack of an established backup PG is going to result in a good bit of staggering Book and Paul. Which means we won’t get that amazing starting 5 lineup as much as we would like to see it.

It sure would be great if George Hill were to be waived by the Thunder soon...

Alex S: Best: The brief glimpse of the starting 5 potential against Los Angeles.

Worst: Going 0-4

The Suns should be able to sustain a top-5 starting unit in net-rating for the 2020-21 season. Seeing CP3 and Crowder take the floor for the first game against LAL provided a preview towards the strengths this unit will have. Leadership/balance/talent are the three things that come to mind when I watched the Paul/Booker/Bridges/Crowder/Ayton lineup in full effect. The biggest questions will be A) The aggression DA plays with this season and B) The leap Mikal can take offensively.

In regards to the worst, it’s simply losing their matchups. I’m not worried about depth or talent on the bench when guys like Saric, Johnson, Payne, and Nader all missed games during the preseason. Nothing stands out yet, although Ayton’s motor will be a thing to watch in the first quarter of the season. I believe he needs a few weeks to get his cardio where it needs to be, as most players do.

Q2 - Monty Williams recently said Dario Saric is one of his favorite players he’s ever coached. Dario has missed all of the preseason so we can only guess what his role on the team will be. What’s your opinion on how Dario could be best utilized once he’s healthy and back on the court?

GuarGuar: I think we will see a good amount of small ball 5 Dario this season. That was a key lineup for us during the bubble. He’s a very good playmaker for his size. I think we will see quite a lot of action with him as a ball handler and our shooters running around him.

Sun-Arc: I’ve been pretty outspoken in comments about Dario and what his role should be. He’s a very talented player that is smart and versatile. He’s best used as a facilitator to run a team as the 4 or 5, preferably as an off the bench center. His bubble role off the bench was exactly it- and kudos to the coaches for finally figuring out how to really use Dario. Guards can bring the ball up, hand it to Saric at the top of the perimeter where he can go “.5” into dribble, pass, or shoot. He was excellent at driving and kicking.

On defense, he’s really good at using everything at his disposal that doesn’t require athleticism. He’s strong with a steady base. He holds his ground and makes opposing bigs work. Saric needs guys around him that can cover for his lack of perimeter defense, but he’s still a smart team defender, which helps.

I am glad he’s still here. I think he’ll do well once he’s able to play as long as he can be in the above role.

SDKyle: I see Saric as a high post facilitator for the second unit. He can start readily if needed, but I like his fit on the second unit. The main goal should be to avoid putting him in a position where he has to guard a physical 4/5.

SouthernSun: Dario will be used as primarily a backup 5 next to Cam or Jae who will get the bulk of the PF minutes. They’ll run a fair amount of offense through him, since he’s the best passer off the bench not named Payne.

There’s a reason players in Philly called Dario “The Homie”. He’s unselfish and is a great teammate. That’s probably a lot of what Monty sees.

Dario often starts seasons off kinda slow and finishes strong, so I hope fans don’t get down on him early in the season. He will be key to the reserve unit. Particularly in the playoffs.

Alex S: Dario is going to be heavily depended on as a facilitator and mismatch creator with the second unit. What I mean by this is Saric should be able to take advantage of slow-footed bigs as a scorer but should be able to get guys like Cam Johnson, Payne, Carter, Galloway, and Moore some open shots depending on how the defense approaches their scheme against our bench. He’s a very smart basketball mind and generally makes the right decisions more often than not.

Side note: I walked by Dario this week and he’s a big dude.

Q3 - Using the following ranking system, where would you rank all of the Suns players?

  1. All-NBA/All-Stars
  2. High-End Starters
  3. Solid Starters
  4. Low-End Starters
  5. High-End Backups
  6. Depth Pieces
  7. End-of-Bench Pieces
  8. Shouldn’t get minutes

Author’s Note: Jonathan Motley was waived by the Suns on Saturday after some of the Fantable members had already answered this question. That’s why his name is included by some and left out by others.

GuarGuar:

  1. All-NBA/All-Star: Devin Booker, Chris Paul, DeAndre Ayton
  2. High-End Starters: None
  3. Solid Starters: Mikal bridges, Jae Crowder, Dario Saric
  4. Low-End Starters: Cam Johnson, Langston Galloway
  5. High-End Backups: None
  6. Depth Pieces: Jevon Carter, Cameron Payne, Jalen Smith, E’Twaun Moore
  7. End-of-Bench Pieces: Damian Jones
  8. Shouldn’t get minutes: Tyshon Alexander

Sun-Arc:

  1. All-NBA/All-Stars: Chris Paul, Devin Booker
  2. High-End Starters: Deandre Ayton (1 in the future)
  3. Solid Starters: Mikal Bridges
  4. Low-End Starters: Jae Crowder
  5. High-End Backups: Cameron Johnson, Dario Saric
  6. Depth Pieces: Galloway, Carter, Payne, Moore, Nader
  7. End-of-Bench Pieces: Jones, Smith (may work his way up)
  8. Shouldn’t get minutes: Motley, Alexander (may work his way up)

SDKyle:

  1. All-NBA/All-Stars: Booker, Paul
  2. High-End Starters: Ayton
  3. Solid Starters: Bridges
  4. Low-End Starters: Crowder, Saric
  5. High-End Backups: Galloway, Johnson
  6. Depth Pieces: Moore, Carter, Payne, Smith
  7. End-of-Bench Pieces: Nader, Jones
  8. Shouldn’t get minutes: Alexander

SouthernSun:

  1. All-NBA/All-Stars: Devin Booker, Chris Paul
  2. High-End Starters: Deandre Ayton
  3. Solid Starters: Mikal Bridges
  4. Low-End Starters: Jae Crowder
  5. High-End Backups: Cameron Johnson, Dario Saric, Langston Galloway (boarderline HEB/DP)
  6. Depth Pieces: Moore, Carter, Payne, Smith
  7. End-of-Bench Pieces: Jones, Nader
  8. Shouldn’t get minutes: Alexander, Motley

There are going to be a BUNCH of 3 guard lineup minutes off the bench. Most of our decent depth pieces are off ball guards.

Alex S:

  1. All-NBA/All-Stars: Devin Booker, Chris Paul
  2. High-End Starters: Deandre Ayton
  3. Solid Starters: Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder
  4. Low-End Starters: N/A
  5. High-End Backups: Cameron Johnson, Dario Saric
  6. Depth Pieces: Jevon Carter, E’Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway, Cameron Payne
  7. End-of-Bench Pieces: Jalen Smith, Damian Jones, Abdel Nader
  8. Shouldn’t get minutes: Johnathan Motley, Ty-Shon Alexander

The three decisions I debated over:

  • Does Cam Johnson qualify as a low-end starter due to being a good player or keep him as a high-end backup?
  • Where should Jalen Smith start?
  • Is Deandre Ayton good enough to be a high-end starter yet?

Rod Argent: The following ranking aren’t mine, they are from NBA Math’s article #CrystalBasketball: Ranking the Phoenix Suns for 2020-21. I didn’t share these with the Fantable members before asking them this question as I thought it might influence their answers and it would also be interesting to compare their rankings to those from NBA Math.

  1. All-NBA/All-Stars: Devin Booker, Chris Paul
  2. High-end starters: Deandre Ayton
  3. Solid Starters: Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder
  4. Low-End Starters: Dario Saric, Cameron Johnson
  5. High-End Backups: Langston Galloway
  6. Depth Pieces: E-Twaun Moore, Jevon Carter, Jalen Smith, Cameron Payne
  7. End-of-Bench Pieces: Abdel Nader, Damian Jones, Ty-Shon Alexander, Jonathan Motley
  8. Shouldn’t get minutes: None.

While there’s not a great deal of difference, the most interesting thing is that NBA Math’s staff actually seems to have a slightly higher opinion of the Suns’ roster overall than the Fantable members for the most part. Our guys definitely aren’t homers. NBA Math also listed players from best (Booker) to worst (Motley) within these rankings which I did not ask the FT to do.

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


Game Highlights

SUNS at JAZZ | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | December 14, 2020

LAKERS at SUNS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | December 16, 2020

LAKERS at SUNS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | December 18, 2020


Key Stats

78.5% on 19.8 free throw attempts per game

The Suns were 5th on FT percentage in the preseason but 29th on FT attempts. The Suns will need to get to the FT line more often in the regular season for their good shooting from the line to make a significant difference on the scoreboard.

28.3 personal fouls and 31.8 opponent FTs per game

This is 28th in the league on both counts. The Suns gave up an average of 23.8 ppg scored at the free throw line to their opponents which was 29th in the NBA during preseason. The Suns averaged scoring 15.5 ppg (25th) from the FT line which is a minus 8.8 ppg. This differential needs to equalize at least as the season progresses.

3 players with 40+ percent 3-point shooting on 5 or more attempts per game

Devin Booker (40.0%), Jae Crowder (46.2%) and Langston Galloway (52.2%) are leading the Suns in three-point shooting percent with good volume (Crowder 6.5 - attempts PG, Galloway - 5.8 AttPG, Booker - 5.0 AttPG). The Suns finished the preseason at 15th in 3-pt shooting at 34.3% and 17th in volume with 35.8 attempts per game.

Random stats: Jae Crowder and Jevon Carter led the Suns in steals in the preseason with 2.0 spg and 1.8 spg respectively. Deandre Ayton (1.3), Mikal Bridges (1.3) and Cameron Payne (1.0) all also averaged at least one steal per game. As a team, the Suns were 14th in steals during the preseason with 9.3 per game.

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


Quotes of the Week

“We had some good spots and some spots to learn from. I don’t think we played one game full roster. That’s no excuse. Trying to find the chemistry out there. I think we got better as we moved on.” - Devin Booker

“These four games have been great for us because we’re a new group kind of forming, coming together and we haven’t had time to play pick-up or anything like that in the summertime, which you normally have.” - Langston Galloway


Rookie Report

Jalen Smith - 21.2 mpg, 4.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.5 bpg, 1.3 TO, 2.5 PF, 14.3 3PT%

Ty-Shon Alexander - 7.9 mpg, 2.3 ppg, 0.0 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.3 TO, 0.0 PF, 25.0 3PT%, 1 DNP-CD

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.


Injury Status Report

Chris Paul - Ankle/Game Time Decision

Dario Saric - Quadriceps/Game Time Decision

Abdel Nader - Concussion/Game Time Decision


News & Notes

Ranking top 15 young NBA players yet to reach playoffs: Suns’ Devin Booker, Hawks’ Trae Young crack list. CBS Sports

Phoenix Suns finish winless in preseason after loss to L.A. Lakers. Duane Rankin/Arizona Republic

Chris Paul sends surge through Suns. NBC Sports

Will the Phoenix Suns finally make the Playoffs? TalkBasket.net

Phoenix Suns starting lineup: Locks, fringe, potential break-ins. Hoops Habit

LeBron James Angers Fans After Dirty Play On Mikal Bridges. HotNewHipHop

Suns C Deandre Ayton donates Puma gear to Phoenix YMCA kids. Arizona Sports


This Week in Suns History

On December 22, 1989, the Suns lost a close game to the San Antonio Spurs 119-115 and fell to 9-12 for the season. The Suns would go on to overcome their slow start, finish the season with a 54-28 record and make it all the way to the Western Conference Finals before falling 2-4 to the Portland Trail Blazers.

On December 25, 1968, the Suns made their national television debut on Christmas day as an ABC audience and a season-high Coliseum crowd of 10,355 witnessed the Los Angeles Lakers post a 119-99 victory.


Interesting Suns stuff

Deandre Ayton: The Next Step


Suns Trivia

Every time Chris Paul joined an NBA team’s roster, they improved their win/loss percentage over the previous season by an average of 14.9% in his first year with his new team. If that average is maintained this season with the Suns, Phoenix should finish with a 44-28 record for 2020-21.


Previewing the week ahead

Wednesday, December 23 - Phoenix Suns vs Dallas Mavericks 8:30 pm AZT (ESPN)

Saturday, December 26 - Phoenix Suns @ Sacramento Kings 8 pm AZT

Sunday, December 27 - Phoenix Suns @ Sacramento Kings 7 pm AZT

First up is the season opener against Dallas at home. Dallas went 2-1 in the preseason with two wins over the Bucks on the road followed by a close 2-point overtime home loss to the Timberwolves. They led the NBA in scoring in the preseason (122.3 ppg), were 3rd in 3-pt percentage (44.4%) and had the fewest turnovers per game (12.3)... all with Kristaps Porzingis sidelined while still recovering from torn ACL in his left knee. None of this really sounds good for the Suns’ chances but they played very well against the Mavs last season (winning 3 of 4 against them) and I think they’ll continue that on Wednesday to start off their season with a close win against Dallas.

The next two games are the Suns’ first back-to-back on the road against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday and Sunday nights. The Kings were 2-2 in the preseason with a win and a loss each against both Golden State and Portland. In their win against Portland, Lillard, McCollum and Nurkic played limited minutes and their one-point win over the Warriors was due in a large part to the King’s bench outplaying the Warriors’ bench. Kyle Guy (who was Ty Jerome’s backcourt mate on Virginia’s 2018-19 National Championship team) was 6-10 from three that night and led the Kings in scoring with 20 points in 21 minutes. The Suns will need to keep a close eye on this guy when he comes off the bench.

The Kings are a team the Suns need to take seriously even though I think Phoenix has the better squad overall. I honestly believe they can win both games but I’m also tempted to hedge my bets and say the Suns will win only one of two in Sacramento... but I won’t. A healthy Suns team should win them both.

In my certainly biased opinion, I believe that the Suns will start off the season with a 3-0 record this week.

What’s your prediction?


Important Future Dates

February 6 - Most free agents signed this offseason can be traded.

February 23 - First day that teams can sign players to 10-day contracts.

February 27 - Leaguewide salary guarantee date.

March 3 - All free agents signed this offseason can be traded.

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

March 25 - NBA Trade Deadline.

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 “What’s your prediction of the Suns’ record after their first 10 games?

06.2% - 8-2 or better.

25.7% - 7-3.

46.5% - 6-4.

16.0% - 5-5.

05.6% - 4-6 or worse.

A total of 144 votes were cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

Do you believe that injuries could be the biggest problem for the Suns this season?

This poll is closed

  • 82%
    Yes.
    (136 votes)
  • 17%
    No.
    (29 votes)
165 votes total Vote Now