The dust has settled from the first three game stint of the season as we’ve completed 4.16% of this shortened 72-game slate. While you should never make any definitive conclusions from such a small sample size, I’ll break down some things I enjoyed and some things I am not a fan of thus far through 144 minutes of action.
3 things I liked
1. Cameron Payne’s play
Payne has seemingly picked up right where he left off in the bubble, serving as a spark plug that plays with terrific pace and confidence every time he steps on the floor.
In his 11 career games for the Suns thus far here are his numbers:
10.3 PPG - 3.4 APG - 3.6 RPG - 1.0 SPG on 49/50/89 shooting splits in 21.6 mins per game.
Downright absurd numbers from an efficiency standpoint, and he’s done it in meaningful minutes to help keep the bench unit afloat. The Suns record in those 11 games is 10-1 in large part to Payne’s ability to ensure the team doesn’t miss a beat when Booker is off the court. If he keeps it up he could be in the running for 6th Man of the Year and Most Improved Player. Obviously there’s a ton of season left, but it’s looking like the Suns made the right call to stick with him as their backup point guard this offseason.
2. Mikal Bridges’ confidence
At this point it looks like Mikal has fully restored his jumper back to the Villanova days, and he’s not only shooting with confidence, but he’s attacking off the dribble and finishing when he needs to. Confident Mikal Bridges is the best Mikal Bridges. We all know he’s going to play pestering, impactful defense every night, but if you can get efficient production from him on the offensive end, then we’re talking about a two-way force on both sides of the court.
His numbers through three games are encouraging:
16.3 PPG - 5.7 RPG - 2.0 BPG - 0.7 APG on 52/45/100 shooting splits.
3. The 3 point attempt numbers
While the shots aren’t falling at the rate you’d like (33.0% as a team), they are currently tied for 7th in the NBA in total 3 point attempts at 109 through their first three games. The 33.0% shooting clip as a team is good for 19th in the league, and I expect that number to climb up closer to the top 10 range as the season moves along. If they can maintain that volume with improved efficiency they are going to have a potent offense.
3 things I did not like
1. The backup bigs
When one of Deandre Ayton or Dario Saric is out... things are going to be rough. Damian Jones should not see another meaningful minute on the floor, and frankly does not look like an NBA player. Initially I thought the signing of Jones was odd since he isn’t a James Jones or Monty Williams type of player by any means. I expect him to either regress into a garbage time role or get cut from the roster before the end of the season.
While Frank Kaminsky played exceptionally well in the win over the Kings on Sunday night, ideally Saric returns as soon as possible so they don’t need to rely as much on Jones or Kaminsky to give them any valuable minutes.
2. Booker’s turnovers
Oddly enough, of teams that have played at least three games the Suns are ranked 3rd in the entire NBA in fewest amount of turnovers per game at just 12.7. Devin Booker is responsible for nearly half of their total turnovers, averaging a league-leading 6.3 per game, and that simply has to change. He can place the blame on the spacing or his teammates all he wants, but at the end of the day a lot of those were unforced errors that are easily avoidable.
It’s better to get that sloppiness out of the way early on, so it can be corrected against the tough opponents that are coming up on the schedule. Let’s hope he cleans it up.
3. Lack of FT attempts
The Suns are 29th in the NBA in free throw attempts per game at a measly 16.7.
Simply put, this isn’t solely on the refs like many fans would like to believe. That being said, there were a plethora of Booker drives that went down as no-calls that should've easily resulted in and-ones or at least trips to the line. The offense as a whole settled for far too many jumpers or just didn’t attempt to generate contact on drives, which leads to more calls. Phoenix was in the bonus in with 9 minutes left in the 4th quarter in their loss on Saturday and only got to the line twice in that stretch, failing to capitalize on a golden opportunity.
The last thing I’ll quickly touch on is that the chemistry will take some time to form, so while I jotted down my initial thoughts from just a three game sample size, there is no reason to overreact to any of these things in a dramatic fashion one way or the other.
The next three game stint for Phoenix is a tough one:
vs. New Orleans Pelicans (TNT)
@ Utah Jazz (NBATV)