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Center of the Sun: Suns start the week strong in Utah, then crash at home

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Was the loss of Kelly Oubre Jr. the catalyst for their collapse?

Detroit Pistons v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

Phoenix Suns @ Utah Jazz W (131-111) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs LA Clippers L (102-92) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Detroit Pistons L (113-111) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Golden State Warriors L (115-99) Full Recap

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in starting out last week on cloud 9 following the Suns’ strong win against the Jazz in Utah. The Suns took control of the game in the 2nd quarter and dominated the Jazz for the rest of the game on their way to their 6th 20+ point win of the season. They looked focused and determined to make a run at getting back into the race for that final playoff spot in the West.

Then came the shocking news of Kelly Oubre Jr.’s knee injury. Diagnosed with a torn meniscus in his right knee, Kelly is presently listed as out indefinitely with April 1 being the most optimistic estimate of a possible return date. Don’t count on Kelly being back this season though. Without a big - and very unlikely - string of wins by the Suns between now and then to put them back in the playoff race, it’s doubtful that the Suns will risk further injury by bringing him back too soon.

In the first game following Oubre’s injury, the Suns actually didn’t look too bad against a strong Clippers team. They lost but that was expected, especially with Oubre sidelined. The Suns could still have come out of the week 3-1 with wins against weak Detroit and Golden State teams. Unfortunately, that idea was squashed quickly on back-to-back nights at TSRA.

Even without Oubre, they should have won those two games... but of course they didn’t.

In each of those two, the Suns had stretches of playing very well but then they seemed to lose focus, energy and just play sloppy basketball. They averaged 8.5 more turnovers, 5.5 fewer steals and 5 fewer offensive rebounds than their opponents in those games. That equals an average of 19 extra offensive opportunities per game for the opposition. The Suns surrendered an average of 38 points per game to Detroit and Golden State by way of turnovers and second chance opportunities while only averaging only 28 points themselves in those scoring categories.

It’s extremely hard to beat anyone if you gift them that many extra opportunities to score.

Regardless of the final score, the fans deserve to at least see hustle and effort on the court every night.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - Is there anyone on the Suns roster that could possibly step up his game and fill the void that losing Kelly Oubre Jr. has created?

GuarGuar: From a statistical standpoint, it’s possible that Cam and Mikal could step up and fill the void from losing Kelly. From a heart and energy standpoint, losing Kelly was probably the final nail in the coffin this season. This past weekend we had zero fight and energy against G-League teams. One of the more embarrassing homestands I can remember. It just feels like we keep reaching a new low with this organization.

Sun-Arc: Kelly’s infectious energy is a rare commodity in the NBA. Even more rare on the team. I don’t think there is anyone that fills that void on the team. It is possible a player such as Dario, Bridges, or Cam could step their game up in his absence. Though I do not think anyone on the team is consistently capable of providing the offensive lift Oubre normally does.

SDKyle: The best candidate is perhaps Cam Johnson. He has been providing steady three point shooting when he’s been healthy, but it would be great to see him step up and provide some of Oubre’s energy and hustle too. Not a knock on Cam’s production to date, but it would help if he could do that.

SouthernSun: No, there is nobody on the Suns roster that can fill the Oubre void, and the Suns have very obviously given up. And I don’t blame them. This is now painful. Again.

Alex S: I think the void that Kelly leaves needs to be filled by three guys: Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson.

Deandre needs to up his scoring and volume with Oubre out of the lineup. This is a good opportunity for him to be the undisputed #2 option and to work on elements on his game that will help going forward.

Mikal will get big minutes with Kelly out of the lineup and needs to up his 3PT volume. His game will be taken to another level if he can attempt 5+ threes per game on around 35% or more. This is a great opportunity for him to get reps in game situations.

Cam Johnson simply will get more closing lineup opportunities. Can he step up defensively and continue to provide spacing? Can he perform in the clutch? Let’s find out.

Q2 - Why do you believe that Monty Williams seems to prefer Elie Okobo to Jevon Carter as Ricky Rubio’s primary backup?

GuarGuar: I honestly have no clue why Elie is the backup PG for this team. He doesn’t do anything well. We would be better off if he stood in the corner and we went full Point Book. But Monty somehow trusts Elie to run the offense and it just isn’t going well. Not to mention a backcourt of him and Booker on defense is very bad. Carter at least defends pretty well and has knocked down catch and shoot 3s very well this season. Maybe Elie looks like Tony Parker in practice? I honestly have no clue how he’s still the backup.

Sun-Arc: First off, I cannot say for sure that Monty prefers Ellie to Jevon. For example, he might have made a decision on Carter but not on Okobo in terms of assessing potential, and wants to make a decision on Ellie before the offseason - and maybe that long-term decision is more important than chasing a seemingly impossible 8th seed. Otherwise, I’m not sure why Monty brings Okobo off the bench first. While neither have really cemented themselves as a #1 backup option, Jevon has clearly performed better (albeit not in a big way in most areas). He’s a better shooter and defender. Though perhaps Monty sees Carter as more of an undersized 2-guard because he is not very good at being a floor general - which is the only area where Okobo shows a bit more skill (7.5 to 4.4 assists per 100 possessions).

SDKyle: Search me. I’ve never really seen Okobo as anything but a late draft flier. I preferred Melton, now I prefer Carter. I can only guess that Monty has either gotten a message from the front office that Okobo should be the go-to, or he just meshes better with Okobo in practice and rewards him with playing time as such. Either way I don’t agree, but it’s not as if it’s likely costing the Suns much.

SouthernSun: Because he’s under the false impression that Elie Okobo can do things on offense. Carter can at the very least hit threes occasionally, and tries hard on defense. Okobo theoretically has more offensive skills, but he flashes them only every once in a while.

Alex S: I think it’s because in theory he’s more of a “true” playmaking PG when in reality he’s an undersized 2. I would prefer Jevon to be the backup PG and we aggressively pursue a 6th man SG over the summer but who knows what the FO is going to prioritize when it comes to this lackluster bench.

Q3 - The Suns still have an open roster spot and I expect another 10-day contract signing will come soon. Should the Suns re-sign Jonah Bolden, look elsewhere or just call up 2-way contract player Tariq Owens from the NAZ?

(Author’s Note: This question was asked before the rumor that the Suns were interested in signing soon-to-be free agent Jordan McRae came to light.)

GuarGuar: I think we need to use a 10-day on a wing. We have enough bigs now with Ayton, Baynes, Diallo and Frank coming back in a couple weeks. We have 4 point guards on the roster already. With Kelly going down I think it’s pretty obvious to use the 10-day to build some wing depth. Mikal and Cam are really the only forwards left on this team now.

Sun-Arc: I assume the team will bring up someone from NAZ to fill in a forward spot in Kelly’s absence- though I really don’t know who that will be. Based on the level of play Bolden provided, it could be him, but really none of the available players should be expected to deliver much. They probably will not even play much if Dario and Cam stay healthy, and more so if Kaminsky takes the floor again.

SDKyle: I’m fine with any of the options to fill the last roster spot. Maybe it makes sense to try Tariq Owens out. I don’t see a lot of point in re-signing Bolden, but we’re into the stretch and out of the playoff hunt here... may as well start the search for the next deep bench fan favorite.

SouthernSun: The Suns should absolutely sign someone like Allen Crabbe to fill the Oubre sized void on the team, however it would seem they are going to do what I didn’t expect and just tank the rest of the season. If they actually sign someone like Crabbe, then they care about still trying to win. If they don’t bring on anybody else, or sign someone who is just as awful as the options on the roster now, then we know they are just going to coast the rest of the season to a better draft pick.

With it looking like the Suns will be adding Jordan McRae, that appears to be a sign that the Suns will be looking to remain competitive (or... get back to being competitive) in the absence of Oubre. So it looks like they aren’t tanking. For now.

Alex S: I could see the Suns just calling up Owens from the G-League.

I was a fan of the Bolden pickup and thought he deserved to get some backup minutes for the rest of the season but apparently James Jones would disagree. PF is a suspect position for this franchise and it appears Dario will be on the way out this summer so the Suns are going to need to address the position in at least one, maybe two ways. It’d be great if Tariq could step up and claim a spot going into next season but it’s hard to see that happening.

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


Key Stats

Credit and thanks go to Ed Küpfer for this week’s Key Stats. Below is a larger version of his chart.

There is a lot of data in Ed’s chart but one of the first things to grab my attention is that - for the season - the Suns have on average had the lead in games for only 20:33 minutes per game. That means that they have been behind on the scoreboard for 57.3% of the time on average. That’s 18th in the NBA.

The image below shows how they did in their last 10 games.

Random Stats: The Suns only scored 38 points in the paint in their loss to Golden State, far below their season average of 48 (15th). The Warriors scored 54, far above their season average of 43.4 (29th).

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


Game Highlights

Phoenix Suns vs Utah Jazz - Full Game Highlights | February 24, 2020

Phoenix Suns vs LA Clippers - Full Game Highlights | February 26, 2020

Phoenix Suns vs Detroit Pistons - Full Game Highlights | February 28, 2020

Phoenix Suns vs Golden State Warriors - Full Game Highlights | February 29, 2020


Quotes of the Week

”I’ve been saying since Day One he’s (Kelly Oubre) kind of the heart of the team. He brings a lot, not just scoring. Momentum, good energy, on and off the court, he helps us a lot.” - Ricky Rubio

”You can’t talk about playoffs with that kind of effort. You can’t talk about playoffs when you’re not willing to share the ball and stick together.” - Monty Williams


Rookie Report

Cameron Johnson - 20.1 mpg, 7.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.6 TO, 1.5 PF, 39.8 3PT%

  • This week - 23.2 mpg, 8.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 0.8 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.3 TO, 2.0 PF, 47.4 3PT%

Ty Jerome - 10.9 mpg, 3.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.6 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.1 bpg, 0.7 TO, 1.0 PF, 27.5 3PT%

  • This week - 1.9 mpg, 1.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.0 TO, 0.0 PF, 0.0 3PT%, 2 DNP-CD

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

Kelly Oubre Jr. (knee) - Expected to be out until at least April 1.

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


News & Notes

‘They Don’t Like When I Don’t Agree With Them’: Phoenix Suns Analyst Eddie Johnson On What’s Wrong With Analytics in Basketball. Brendon Kleen/Forbes

What Kelly Oubre Jr.’s torn meniscus means for the Suns. Gerald Bourguet/The Step Back

Suns’ Devin Booker makes cameo in Drake’s ‘Chicago Freestyle’ music video. Clutch Points

Kelly Oubre Jr. Injury Could Be Final Straw For Phoenix Suns’ Playoff Hopes. Brendon Kleen/Forbes

Charlie Scott: Paving the Way for Future Generations. Suns.com

Shawn Marion Q&A: ‘I was a big part of what the game is right now’. Hoops Hype


This Week in Suns History

On March 3, 1995, the Suns defeated the Seattle SuperSonics 122-118 in an overtime game in which a total of 7 players were on the court for 40+ minutes each. Dan Majerle led all with a total of 48 minutes played.


Suns Trivia

Deandre Ayton is on pace to join Shawn Marion (2005-06) as the only Suns players to ever average at least 15 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 blocks for a season.


Previewing the Week Ahead

Tuesday, March 3 - Phoenix Suns vs Toronto Raptors, 7:00 pm AZT

Friday, March 6 - Phoenix Suns vs Portland Trail Blazers, 7:00 pm AZT

Sunday, March 8 - Phoenix Suns vs Milwaukee Bucks, 4:00 pm AZT

The Suns play all three of their games at home this week but it’s a gauntlet of tough challenges they will have to go through.

First up is a Tuesday night rematch with the Toronto Raptors who whipped the Suns soundly just 10 days ago. I don’t expect a different outcome this time around, especially with Oubre out of the lineup.

Next, the Portland Trail Blazers come to town. If Damian Lillard is still out (he’s presently out but expected to be back by then), the Suns might have a shot at a win Friday night. The Blazers - like the Suns - are on a 3-game losing streak and won only 3 of their last 10 games. I’m giving the Suns a 50-50 chance at getting a win in this one.

And finally the Suns will welcome the league’s best team, the Milwaukee Bucks, to Phoenix for a late-afternoon game. I don’t think that there’s any reason to waste time giving out reasons why the Suns will lose this one. The only chance they have is if the Bucks decide to give multiple players the day off for “load management”.

Unfortunately, I’m predicting the Suns go 0-3 this week with a 50-50 chance of going 1-2.

What’s your prediction?


Important Future Dates

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 “When it comes to Suns games I...”

55.4% - Still watch every Suns game live that I can.

05.2% - Only watch the games live that I think they might win.

07.4% - Record most of them and watch later if they won or it was close.

32.0% - Mostly just watch highlights and/or read the recaps/box scores.

There were 175 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

What’s your opinion on the Suns possibly adding Jordan McRae to the Roster?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    Good addition.
    (45 votes)
  • 43%
    Too little, too late.
    (52 votes)
  • 19%
    You couldn’t print my opinion.
    (23 votes)
120 votes total Vote Now