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Center of the Sun: Suns get off to lackluster start following the All-Star break

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With just 25 games left to play, time is running out on the Suns’ 2019-20 season.

Phoenix Suns v Toronto Raptors Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

Phoenix Suns @ Toronto Raptors L (118-101) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns @ Chicago Bulls W (112-104) Full Recap

The Suns came back from the All-Star break at almost full strength but not quite at full steam. At times they look really good but then also really bad within a single game.

Against a severely injury depleted Chicago team, they did manage to get a win but only after getting down by double digits in the first half and then having their starters average playing 35.3 minutes each. I know that Monty wanted to try and cut back on the starter’s minutes after getting more depth returning to the bench but it just didn’t work out as he planned.

Devin Booker hasn’t quite looked himself lately either. For the season, he’s averaging 26.4 points per game and has a true shooting percentage of 62.4%. In January upped his game and was averaging 31.3 ppg with a 65.9% TS% but in February his TS% has dropped to 57.2% and his scoring to 22.9 ppg. Perhaps the high minutes per game average (35.9, the highest mpg average of his career) has worn him down. Devin has played in 54 of the Suns’ 57 games this season and the past 30 in a row. He hasn’t played that many games in a row since the 2016-17 season when he played in 78 of 82 games.

Hopefully he will return to form soon and February eventually just turns out to be a blip on the radar.

The Suns still have an outside chance at the playoffs but that small chance could disappear very rapidly if they don’t start to show more signs of life on the court in the coming weeks.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - The Suns bench has mostly been terrible at putting points on the board but a lot of the bench has been injured. Early in the season, some of them were also forced into starting roles due to injuries and Ayton’s suspension. With a healthy bench (except for Frank) and a solidified starting lineup, do you think we can expect improved scoring production from the bench after the break?

GuarGuar: Well I can’t imagine our bench being worse than it is. Hopefully as they get used to playing again we start to see better bench production. I think Carter should be the #1 PG off the bench. Jeveon at least does something well (defense). I don’t get Monty’s obsession with Okobo. Baynes hasn’t looked near his early season self since coming back from injury, but it’s only been a couple games. We really could use him getting back to form. Saric has been ok. Cam finally had a good game against Chicago, so maybe he can get on a roll. If we’re looking for big bench scoring, Cam is the most likely option. When Booker leaves the floor we just really struggle, no matter who is on the court. It’s a problem that needs to be figured out.

Sun-Arc: I’d like to think the bench production will go up, but I’ve seen very little to think it will improve much, if at all. Saric has underproduced all season. Jerome and Cam haven’t been as productive on offense as some have predicted. Okobo seems to have regressed a bit. Baynes isn’t the guy to give you big points, and Carter is not a giant offensive weapon either. Plus, outside of Baynes and Carter, the rest of them are not good defenders. The bench is plenty weak, frankly, and I don’t expect much of a bump from the guys being healthy. Even if they do score a bit more than before Baynes and Saric came back, they may give up as much on the other end.

SDKyle: I think it’s fair to expect improved bench potential with a healthy roster.

I think this season is going to be frustratedly remembered for what might possibly have been if Ayton hadn’t been suspended and that didn’t force Baynes to play twice his expected minutes, which probably contributed to his problems.

On paper the Suns bench should be average, so hopefully we get good average NBA bench production from them going forward.

SouthernSun: We will definitely see improved scoring production from the bench after they’ve gotten acclimated. Cam looks solid. Baynes should be healthy by now and will have some good games, and is going to be playing for another contract, as is Dario. When Frank comes back that should help a lot too (hopefully that’s soon). I dont expect much scoring from really anybody else off the bench, but Cam, a healthy Baynes, Dario, and a healthy Frank should help the bench scoring be maybe not the worst in the league at least.

Alex S: To a certain extent, yes.

However, the Suns still do not a true go-getter off the bench. Baynes will be nice to have back, Saric can provide scoring in spurts, but generally speaking this roster has a glaring hole at scoring 6th man. I fully expect Phoenix to have a bottom 5 scoring bench for the rest of the season, but that doesn’t mean they can’t provide help for the starting unit. The scoring needs to be addressed this summer aggressively.

Q2 - I occasionally hear people mention “tanking”... not that the Suns should but that they might win an extra game or two when other teams tank for draft position. Frankly, I haven’t heard a thing about anyone in this draft class being worth tanking for and the new odds make tanking an iffy proposition now even if there was someone worth doing it. Could this be a year that no one deliberately tanks?

GuarGuar: I think towards the final weeks of the season we will see a couple teams rest guys to tank. This draft is atrocious though so I don’t expect teams like us to even think about it. The new lottery odds give teams less of a reason to tank too. Just hearing about tanking gives me flashbacks to the previous years.

Sun-Arc: Fewer teams are tanking. Even the Knicks are playing hard at this point. And; good on them. But GSW sure looks prone to it this season- with one BSoTS fan saying bringing Dragan Bender in alongside Marquess Chriss is a sure sign of it (I added they should grab Tyler Ulis too to seal the deal). The new rules definitely help the tanking issue at least somewhat, but it may also be that this draft is so weak. Those two issues combined mean far less tanking this season.

SDKyle: I don’t know if there will be NO tanking... teams would probably still rather draft Anthony Edwards than Nico Mannion... no offense to Mannion. It could still be worth it to a team to make sure they finish in the bottom three.

But I think it’s correct to say this year will feature less overt tanking than in some past years, especially the past two in which there were perceived franchise cornerstones available at the top.

SouthernSun: I think teams at the very bottom might deliberately tank to try and give themselves the best possible chances, but I imagine most teams won’t bother. Especially with how expensive the contracts for those guys at the top of the draft will be. Some teams may actually prefer the 5th pick or something, in a draft with no apparent front runner. I know I fully expect the Suns to compete for the rest of the season. They’ve tried their best to wash the stink of a losing culture off this team so far this season, and I don’t see them doing an about face for a few extra lottery balls.

Alex S: As you’re alluding to, it doesn’t seem like any franchises are truly tanking this year. Charlotte was a team I thought was going to be horrible but they found a few young pieces that are playing good ball, Atlanta is playing well lately, Golden State was a fluke tank, and the other bad teams are just ‘bad’. In terms of the Suns, I would be disgusted if they chose to tank. Have we not learned anything from the lottery odds from last year?

Let the lottery play out how it needs to. Furthermore, you can argue that it’s better to have a mid-lottery pick this year as their contracts are cheaper than the top of the draft yet the talent is somewhat comparable.

Q3 - Without a possible playoff spot to root for, what do you need to see from the Suns to keep you enthused for the rest of the season?

GuarGuar: I’m probably in the minority but I don’t think our playoff hopes are quite dead...yet. So I’ll use this question to explain my reasoning. We are 5.5 games back of Memphis with 25 games to play. Low chance of happening, but I don’t think it’s impossible. The only reason I think it’s possible is because of Memphis’s upcoming schedule, which is really difficult. In fact, Memphis has the hardest remaining strength of schedule in the league. @LAC @Hou vs. Kings vs. Lakers is their next 4 for example. If we steal one vs. Utah or LAC this week and then take care of Detroit and GS at home, suddenly we could only be 3 games back of the 8 spot. Keep in mind this week we will begin our big 6 game homestand (although we’ve been atrocious at home). Memphis also lost Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill and replaced them with giving Josh Jackson around 25 minutes a night.

We would have to steal quite a few games against good teams to make a true playoff push. We have the 10th hardest remaining strength of schedule. And the other problem is you have teams like San Antonio (has 23rd easiest SOS) and New Orleans (has the 2nd easiest SOS) who are ahead of us currently and rising. All I’m saying is if we steal a game this week against Utah or LAC, things might get a little interesting.

Sun-Arc: I stopped watching live games a couple of months ago. The team would have to build a lot more excitement for me to tune back into real-time games. As it is, the only games I watch on the DVR are when they play competitively for at least 3/4 of the game.

To watch on the DVR the next day I need:

  • playing with intensity for at least 3/4 of the game
  • a huge game from Ayton, Booker, and/or Rubio
  • a blow-out win

To start watching a live game the team would need:

  • to show me they recaptured what they had in the first 10 games and sustain it, along with Ayton showing even more growth

SDKyle: In all honesty... there isn’t much they can do. At this point I’ve decided the Suns are going to be somewhere from a 30 to 35 win team and an extra game or two either way won’t make a big difference to me.

I’m certainly interested in continuing to watch Ayton... that Chicago game was a great one for him. And if they do get within a couple games of the playoffs with 3 or 4 left that will be interesting.

Otherwise, though, this team is basically stuck with me regardless.

SouthernSun: I need to see a fully engaged Booker, who looks like he isn’t pissed or depressed about his two friends teaming up without him. I need to Ayton continue to play well defensively and impose his will on opposing players around the basket. I want to see him throw it down every single time. Mikal Bridges continuing to trend in the right direction in his three point shooting, and to a lesser extent, the same for Oubre. A strong finish to the season for Cam would be a nice cherry on top of the rest of these things. I dont expect much of anyone else, including Ty Jerome, though it would be great if he proves me wrong and looks like he belongs on a NBA court.

Alex S: Minimum 30+ wins for this season. Yes, there’s a selfish reason for this as I need to win a bet but it’s also important to have tangible evidence that the Suns are heading in the right direction. I’d prefer to see Phoenix play .400+ ball and approach closer to the 33-35 win mark but we’ll see if the tough schedule will take its toll.

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


Key Stats

43.2, 9.8, 12.3

Those numbers are the Suns’ rebounds per game (21st), offensive rebounds per game (21st) and 2nd chance points per game (24th). Rebounding isn’t a strong point of the Suns and weak offensive rebounding leads to fewer 2nd chance point attempts and fewer 2nd chance points.

Random Stats: For the season, Mikal Bridges has the 2nd highest True Shooting percentage of all Suns players averaging at least 20 minutes per game at 60.5%. For the month of February, his TS% is the highest in that group at 61.0%.

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


Game Highlights

Phoenix Suns vs Toronto Raptors - Full Game Highlights | February 21, 2020

Phoenix Suns vs Chicago Bulls - Full Game Highlights | February 22, 2020

Deandre Ayton 28 Pts 19 Reb Full Highlights | Suns vs Bulls | February 22, 2020


Quotes of the Week

”We’ve got an outside chance to make the playoffs and that’s in view. Anything can happen.” - Monty Williams

”Just seeing that last quarter, how intense things are and how detail oriented everybody is. Their passion for winning. So I’m going to try and drop those jewels on my team. Be a better leader everyday and hold myself to that standard. If I hold myself to that standard, I have to work like that. It’s an everyday grind.” - Devin Booker speaking of his All-Star experience


Rookie Report

Cameron Johnson - 19.8 mpg, 7.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.1 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.6 TO, 1.4 PF, 39.1 3PT%

  • This week - 19.0 mpg, 9.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.5 TO, 1.5 PF, 40.0 3PT%

Ty Jerome - 11.7 mpg, 3.8 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 1.7 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.1 bpg, 0.6 TO, 1.1 PF, 27.5 3PT%

  • This week - 10.7 mpg, 2.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 2.0 TO, 1.0 PF, 0.0 3PT%

Jalen Lecque - 6.6 mpg, 2.5 ppg, 0.0 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.3 TO, 0.5 PF, 0.0 3PT%

Tariq Owens - 5.1 mpg, 1.3 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 0.0 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.0 TO, 0.3 PF, 0.0 3PT%

Jared Harper - 2.6 mpg, 0.7 ppg, 0.0 rpg, 0.0 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.0 TO, 0.0 PF, 0.0 3PT%

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.


Injury Status Report

Frank Kaminsky (kneecap) - Expected to be out until at least March 20.


News & Notes

Roommates, brothers, opponents: Coby White, Cam Johnson reunite and show out. NBC Sports

Devin Booker looks to carry All-Star game lessons into rest of season with Phoenix Suns. Duane Rankin/The Republic

ESPN NBA mock draft has Suns selecting Arizona’s Nico Mannion. Kellan Olson/Arizona Sports

The NBA’s Five Most Interesting Teams of the Stretch Run. The Ringer


This Week in Suns History

On February 25, 1988, the Suns sent James Edwards, their 7-foot center, to the Detroit Pistons for Ron Moore and their second round pick in 1991.

On February 26, 1988, the Phoenix Suns, unhappy with the prospect of heading for a fourth consecutive losing season, traded All-Star forward Larry Nance and Mike Sanders to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Mark West, Tyrone Corbin and Kevin Johnson. In the exchange, Phoenix also sent the Cavaliers the 1988 first-round pick they got from Detroit for William Bedford and received the Cavaliers’ first-round choice in 1988 and their second-round choices in 1988 and 1989.

The Suns then made their third deal in two days - an exchange of small guards - as Phoenix sent Jay Humphries to the Milwaukee Bucks for Craig Hodges and their 1988 second-round draft pick.


Suns Trivia

The Suns are 8-4 in the 12 games in which Deandre Ayton, Devin Booker, Ricky Rubio and Aron Baynes were all available to play. They are 15-13 in the 28 games in which Booker, Rubio and Baynes were all available.


Previewing the Week Ahead

Monday, February 24 - Phoenix Suns @ Utah Jazz, 7:00 pm AZT

Wednesday, February 26 - Phoenix Suns vs LA Clippers, 7:00 pm AZT

Friday, February 28 - Phoenix Suns vs Detroit Pistons, 7:00 pm AZT

Saturday, February 29 - Phoenix Suns vs Golden State Warriors, 7:00 pm AZT

The Suns’ schedule is loaded this week with four games. The good news is that after one more away game they start a 6-game home stand.

First up is a trip to Utah to face the 36-20 Jazz tonight. The Jazz have lost their last two games at home and are 4-6 over their last 10. In those last two games the opposing teams won in part with superior three-point shooting. I don’t expect the Suns to do the same tonight and expect the Jazz’s losing streak to end in this one.

On Wednesday, the Suns head home to play another very good team that has recently been on a losing streak, the 37-19 LA Clippers. The loss of Paul George (hamstring) and Patrick Beverley (groin) to injuries played a big part in those losses and it’s unclear as to whether they will return for this game yet. If they’re both still out, I give the Suns a 50-50 chance to get a win at home. If they’re both back, expect another loss for the Suns.

Friday night’s game against the 19-39 Detroit Pistons should be a win for the Suns as the Pistons have pretty much traded away or released much of the team that beat the Suns 116-108 in Detroit a few weeks ago. Andre Drummond who went off for 31 points and grabbed 19 rebounds is now in Cleveland. Reggie Jackson who had 25 points and 9 assists is now with the Clippers.

I can’t help but pick the Suns to get a win in this one

The final game of the week is at home against the 12-44 Golden State Warriors. Even though it’s on the second night of a back-to-back, I think the Suns will still have enough juice left to beat the Warriors at TSRA.

I’m predicting the Suns go 2-2 this week with a small chance of going 3-1.

What’s your prediction?


Important Future Dates

March 1 - Playoff Eligibility Waiver Deadline.

  • Players waived after this date are ineligible for the playoffs.

April 15 - Regular Season ends.

April 18 - NBA Playoffs begin

May 19 - NBA Draft Lottery

May 21-24 - NBA Draft Combine

June 25 - NBA Draft 2020


Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “I believe that the Suns will...”

57.7% - Win a higher percentage of their remaining games than before the AS break.

07.8% - Win a lower percentage of their remaining games than before the AS break.

34.5% - Win about the same percentage of their remaining games as before the AS break.

There were 333 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

When it comes to watching Suns games I...

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    Still watch every Suns game live that I can.
    (96 votes)
  • 5%
    Only watch the games live that I think they might win.
    (9 votes)
  • 7%
    Record most of them and watch later if they won or it was close.
    (13 votes)
  • 32%
    Mostly just watch highlights and/or read the recaps/box scores.
    (56 votes)
174 votes total Vote Now