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Center of the Sun: Suns fall further even behind in the playoff race

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Mounting injuries have taken their toll.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

Phoenix Suns @ Dallas Mavericks W (133-104) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Oklahoma City Thunder L (111-107) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns @ Milwaukee Bucks L (129-108) Full Recap

The Suns are now 4 full games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the 8th spot in the Western standings with Portland and San Antonio also between them and Memphis with a 2.5 game lead on Phoenix. The New Orleans Pelicans, fueled by the return of Zion Williamson, are only a half game behind the Suns and looking to pass them in the standings.

With the rash of recent injuries, the prospect of the Suns even staying in the Western Conference playoff race is looking quite grim.

I could point out a lot of statistics and tell you that these things show that the Suns are still a much better team than in years past (those stats do exist and they are a much better team) but I won’t. I won’t do that because many of you, like myself, had very high hopes for this team after that 7-4 start and managed to hang on to those hopes even as the win/loss column progressively turned against us.

Do the Suns still have a chance at making the playoffs this year?

Sure they do but it would be a near miracle for them to overcome the obstacles now in front of them, especially after the injury bug has bitten them so hard lately.

The Suns have 33 games left in the season and the trade deadline is still ahead. Every team competing with them for that 8th spot is also going to be looking to make improvements through trades and I don’t believe that the Suns will make any moves that will significantly improve the team at the deadline.

I believe that because James Jones has said repeatedly that he wants to build a team that will be able to compete for years, not a one-playoff hit wonder. He won’t gamble on trading away good, young players to make a potentially failed attempt at a playoff run today.

I do think that he might make some small moves that could make an overall improvement to the team that could spark a small playoff run though. But those moves will be made with an eye to the future as well as the present.

I still really want to see the Suns back in the playoffs but I won’t be overly sad if they don’t make it there this season because I believe that they are finally on the right track to returning to relevance.

I’m sure you’ve heard that before and I’ve probably said that before so don’t take my word for for it. Just try to take an objective look at this team - and their progress - and judge for yourselves.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - This isn’t really a question. It’s your chance to speak your mind regarding Devin Booker not being selected for the All-Star reserves.

GuarGuar: I’m still extremely upset about Booker being snubbed, for a number of reasons. He was more than deserving of a spot, and has had a historic season statistically to this point. It’s not like we were a 12-13 win team like Trae’s Hawks or Beal’s Wizards. Devin Booker is a better player than Mitchell, CP, Ingram, and Westbrook. And so it’s really upsetting to see him not get the respect he deserves. And next year we’re going to have Steph and Klay back, and I’m sure the Zion hype will get him into the game too. We probably would need great year as a team next season for him to make it.

It’s very clear the ASG is a goal of Booker’s and him realizing how disrespected he is because he plays for Phoenix is a little concerning to me. I don’t think Devin is considering asking out any time soon, but this is the type of thing that factors into those decisions down the road. He’s been very patient thus far and has continued to get better. Hopefully we get the right pieces around him sooner than later. Hopefully Booker makes an All-NBA team.

Sun-Arc: I feel like Booker deserved it. And based on the twitter outcry, I’m not alone. Yet I didn’t expect him to get it based on the lack of love for the team for so many years, so I wasn’t surprised at all.

What is a shame, in a strong way, is that Doncic was listed as a guard instead of a forward. Yeah, he plays the PG position, but for the ASG, it would have made a lot of sense for Luka to be a forward instead of Ingram, which would have left an appropriate spot for Booker to be selected. Even then, honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if they snubbed Booker anyway.

SDKyle: Devin Booker missing the all-star game sucks, but also doesn’t surprise me that much despite my repeated predictions he would make it. There are a lot of worthy players and it’s just easy to snub a guy on an 11th place team.

The main complaint I’m hearing is that Westbrook made it. Would I have chosen Westbrook over Booker? No.

But it can’t be a surprise. Westbrook is a 9X all-star, 2X all-star game MVP, was the MVP of the league in recent memory, and is averaging 27/8/7 for a playoff-bound team. Sure, he’s inefficient. But he always has been. It’s never stopped him from getting these accolades.

So it sucks, but it is what it is. Hopefully next year.

SouthernSun: I was pretty furious. I don’t know why. I shouldn’t have expected anything different. I won’t go so far as to say the NBA has an agenda against the Suns, but I won’t not say that either. Actually nevermind. The NBA definitely has an agenda against the Suns. They want to officiate Suns games and Booker in particular so horribly that he leaves and goes to one of the places they want stars in. Or at the very least for him to leave and join up with another star. The only way to get them to stop doing that is to get another star here.

Alex S: Devin Booker is an all-star. He’s been an all-star level talent for two years now.

He’s doing historically good things at this stage in his career so it’s incredibly frustrating as a fan of his to see him fall short of accolades that he deserves. The thing I want to say about Devin being snubbed is the NBA needs to simplify the ASG criteria. As Devin stated on Friday, the best players in the NBA need to be in the ASG.

The truth is that Devin wasn’t an all star this year because of the requirements that coaches needed to select three forwards. Had that not been the case, Devin makes it over Brandon Ingram no doubt in my mind.

Scrap any criteria and make it as simple as the best players are in.

Q2 - Should the Suns move Mikal Bridges into the starting lineup and have Dario Saric coming off the bench full time? (Author’s note - This question was asked before Saric’s ankle injury.)

GuarGuar: Mikal and Oubre together is clearly our best lineup so playing it more minutes just makes sense. Now there are certain games where it probably hurts (like playing the Lakers), but overall we should stick to Mikal starting. He’s a great glue guy for us and does the dirty work. Hopefully his 3 point shot can finally come along. It’s very tough to watch the hitch in his current shot.

Sun-Arc: I think Mikal should be in the starting lineup situationally. Meaning, against certain matchups it is a good idea. If a team has twin towers at the front court, it might be a better idea to have Saric start. But for a lot of the teams out there, Mikal and Oubre as the two forwards can work very well.

With Saric also out, it means Mikal will definitely be starting for the foreseeable future. Which hurts because on Friday we could see how Gallinari was able to do more damage against our smaller line ups. Other teams will try to take advantage of mismatches too.

SDKyle: I’m agnostic here. I know some people are super passionate about the specific lineup that starts the game, but I’m not really. It’s worth trying I guess. I think Bridges is a better player, but Saric has size.

I don’t think shuffling five minutes between them will make a meaningful difference, personally, but I’m not against it.

SouthernSun: Unless the Suns make a move for a better starting PF (Gallinari, Aaron Gordon, Ibaka), then yes, the Suns should replace Saric in the starting lineup with Bridges. Bridges may not be able to spell the word score on most nights, but he plays tenacious defense and hustles and does the little things to help a team win. Saric adds a little bit of extra scoring to the 2nd unit. When the opposing frontcourt is too big for Bridges to deal with the PF, Saric can be brought in quickly.

Alex S: Yes. The net rating for the Rubio-Booker-Oubre-Bridges-Ayton lineup speaks for itself. You can stagger the minutes where you have one of your three best scorers on the court at all times. The Suns can create an identity defensively by having length and athleticism in their front court.

Mikal has also taken strides throughout the year on the offensive end! This move makes all the sense especially if Cam and Aron get back on the court soon.

Q3 - The trade deadline is this Thursday at 3 pm ET. What do you think the Suns will actually do (or not do) before it arrives?

GuarGuar: History tells me the Suns will not do anything exciting or good for the team. We will probably stay quiet and not make any moves to address our weaknesses. I’m hoping we make a couple moves to improve our bench, as that has been the main issue with the team the past month. An Alec Burks, Derrick Rose, Dennis Schroder, Terrence Ross type of player. We need bench scoring so badly.

Sun-Arc: Man, I have no idea what they will do. I’m sure they are looking at options, but whether there are any worthy trade partners is a total unknown right now. I’ve been feeling like keeping Tyler Johnson’s contract into the offseason might be a good idea to bolster the roster with money to play with in free agency. So I won’t be upset if they don’t use his contract in a trade.

SDKyle: I think the Suns will make some small move involving the unloading of some expiring deals, probably Tyler Johnson and Aron Baynes. I’ve said before that James Jones doesn’t strike me as a guy ready to make the gamble of his career and go all-in at this deadline, and my mind hasn’t changed.

They’ll probably get back what they can for the expiring contracts, then potentially make a major trade this summer.

SouthernSun: The Suns will almost certainly disappoint me and everyone else who wants them to do something. I think they may get somebody like E’Twaun Moore, but it won’t be any big splash. They better know what they’re doing. It is such a shame for them to be so close to the p playoffs for the first time in so long, but won’t trade this year’s 1st rounder (as the youngest team in the NBA) for someone to help push them into the post season.

Alex S: I do think the Suns make a minor tweak to the bench. I could see Baynes getting moved for draft capital and I can see the Suns moving a 2nd or some minor assets for a guy like Alec Burks. My dream would be to go after Joe Harris or Spencer Dinwiddie. Schroder is a target I like as well.

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


Key Stats

11 of 17

That’s how many players that were physically able to play for the Suns against Milwaukee this past Sunday... and those healthy 11 included Jalen Lecque, who has spent almost the entire season with the NAZ Suns, and both two-way contract players, Jared Harper and Tariq Owens. Before that game, the three of them had accumulated a total of 4.5 minutes of NBA court time with the Suns. That left only 8 players in that game that have been playing with the “big team” for the majority of the season.

Random Stats: Ty Jerome averaged 10.5 ppg last week and was the Suns’ 4th leading scorer during that period of time. Jevon Carter averaged 7.7 ppg last week and was the Suns’ 5th leading scorer during that period.

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


Game Highlights

Phoenix Suns vs Dallas Mavericks - Full Game Highlights | January 28, 2020

DeAndre Ayton 31 Pts Full Highlights | Suns vs Mavericks

Phoenix Suns vs Oklahoma City Thunder - Full Game Highlights | January 31, 2020

Phoenix Suns vs Milwaukee Bucks - Full Game Highlights | February 2, 2020


Quotes of the Week

”His (Deandre Ayton’s) ceiling can go as high as he wants it. We can all talk, but it’s how much he wants it to go higher. That’s the biggest thing.” - Suns assistant coach Mark Bryant

”He (Mark Bryant) basically polished up my game, like the cherry on top. Everything I have, he enhanced it and added more to it.” - Deandre Ayton


Rookie Report

Cameron Johnson - 19.8 mpg, 7.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 0.9 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.6 TO, 1.5 PF, 39.8 3PT%

This week - DNP-Injured

Ty Jerome - 11.8 mpg, 4.1 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.2 bpg, 0.7 TO, 1.2 PF, 35.5 3PT%

This week - 20.8 mpg, 10.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.5 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.5 bpg, 0.5 TO, 1.5 PF, 50.0 3PT%, 1 DNP-Injured

Jalen Lecque - 6.5 mpg, 2.0 ppg, 0.0 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.0 TO, 0.5 PF, 0.0 3PT%

Tariq Owens - 7.1 mpg, 2.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.0 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.0 TO, 0.0 PF, 0.0 3PT%

Jared Harper - 2.2 mpg, 0.0 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

Ricky Rubio (ankle) - Expected to be out until at least February 3.

Ty Jerome (lower leg) - Expected to be out until at least February 3.

Dario Saric (ankle) - Expected to be out until at least February 3.

Aron Baynes (hip) - Expected to be out until at least February 3.

Cameron Johnson (quadriceps) - Expected to be out until at least February 3.

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


News & Notes

Hoos in the NBA: Ty Jerome is heating up for Suns. 247 Sports

Devin Booker is right to call for removing positional requirements from NBA All-Star consideration. Yahoo! Sports

Russell Westbrook making the NBA All-Star game over Devin Booker is a sham. Brendon Kleen/The Step Back

Why The Phoenix Suns Need To Stick With Their New Starting Lineup. Evan Sidery/Forbes

Mark Bryant Playing Critical Role in Deandre Ayton’s Development. Suns.com


This Week in Suns History

On February 9, 1986, the struggling 1985-86 Suns (final record of 32-50) had no player in the All-Star game for the first time in team history.


Suns Trivia

Last season the Suns swept the Milwaukee Bucks in their two-game season series. It was the first time in NBA history that a team with less than 20 wins swept another team with 60 or more wins.


Previewing the Week Ahead

Monday, February 3 - Phoenix Suns @ Brooklyn Nets, 5:30 pm AZT

Wednesday, February 5 - Phoenix Suns @ Detroit Pistons, 5:00 pm AZT

Friday, February 7 - Phoenix Suns vs Houston Rockets, 7:00 pm AZT

Saturday, February 8 - Phoenix Suns vs Denver Nuggets, 7:00 pm AZT

No rest for the weary - and injured - Suns as they start this week of four games on the second night of a back-to-back on the road tonight.

The day after the Milwaukee game, the Suns are back in action in Brooklyn. At 21-27, the Nets’ record isn’t much better than that of the Suns although they are in 7th in the East. They’ve been struggling lately (3-7 in their last ten games) and Kyrie Irving will be out with a sprained knee tonight. Normally, I’d be encouraged at the Suns’ chances at getting a win in this one but with so many many players currently on the Suns’ injured list and the uncertainty as to when each might return to the court... I just don’t know. The deep bench guys put on a fairly good show in Milwaukee though.

On Wednesday the Suns head to Detroit for a matchup with the 17-33 Pistons. Detroit was on a 6-game losing streak before a surprising 128-123 OT win over Denver (who were playing without Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Paul Millsap) on Sunday but trade rumors continue to swirl around them. As this game will be played the night before the trade deadline, some of their best players might be at home packing their bags instead of playing. Even if that doesn’t happen, I think that the Suns can get a win in the Motor City... if they can get just a few players back from the injured list.

The Suns will then head home for their next two games, starting off with the Houston Rockets on Friday. Houston has been playing small-ball lately - really small-ball with no one over 6’6” in their starting lineup - with Clint Capela out with a heal injury. They haven’t done too badly with it but it hasn’t been a great success either. I still love P.J. Tucker but he shouldn’t be anyone’s starting center! Capela could be back for this one but James Harden is the guy the Suns have to worry about regardless of who is playing at any of the other positions. The Suns have already lost to the Rockets twice this season - the last time by 14 points in Phoenix - and I really don’t expect a different result in this one even though Deandre Ayton missed both of those previous games.

The final game of the week will be on the following night against the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets are a really good team and playing really well right now. The Suns will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back and the Nuggets will be coming off of two days of rest. I see no way that the Suns can win this one.

With all of the uncertainly about when several of the Suns’ injured players might return, this week is a little tougher to call than most. The Suns’ two easiest games (which by no means would be “easy” even at full strength) are the first two of the week and likely to be the ones most impacted by the present rash of injuries.

I’m predicting the Suns go 1-3 this week although 2-2 could be possible if enough players return from injury soon.

What’s your prediction?


Important Future Dates

February 6 - NBA Trade Deadline (3 pm ET).

February 14-19 - NBA All-Star break.

March 1 - Playoff Eligibility Waiver Deadline.

Players waived after this date are ineligible for the playoffs.

April 15 — Regular Season ends.


Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “If the Suns fall out of the playoff race...”

04% - They should tank the rest of the season for the best possible draft odds.

96% - They should continue to play their best and try to win as many games as possible.

There were 231 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

Which is more important?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Making the playoffs this season.
    (37 votes)
  • 75%
    Building for the future.
    (117 votes)
154 votes total Vote Now