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Center of the Sun: Suns finish homestand strong despite mounting injuries

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The Suns haven’t thrown in the towel on this season yet.

Milwaukee Bucks v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

Phoenix Suns vs Toronto Raptors L (123-114) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Portland Trail Blazers W (127-117) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Milwaukee Bucks W (140-131) Full Recap

Just when you think you’ve got the Suns figured out, they do a 180 and leave your head spinning.

After a terrible 0-3 start to a six game homestand, they play a strong Raptors team tough in a loss and then follow that up with two surprising wins in which they led from start to finish. The win against the Blazers might not have been that much of a surprise but I dare say that virtually no one expected a win against the Bucks... especially in such convincing fashion.

Since Deandre Ayton went down with a sprained ankle against Toronto, the Aron Baynes that we all fell in love with back when the Suns raced out to a 7-4 start to the season has returned. Ricky Rubio is playing his best ball of the season. Mikal Bridges is getting in a good offensive groove to complement his outstanding D. Cameron Johnson was starting to be a real threat off the bench before getting ill (get well soon, Cam!). Jevon Carter is getting confidence back in his shooting.

Oh, and that Devin Booker guy looked as if he finally got over his slump during the Bucks game.

Don’t get me wrong. I am extremely happy over the way the Suns performed this week but, as I indicated in the beginning, they could quickly do another 180 next week. My happiness could also do a 180.

Hopefully, Deandre and Cam will both return sometime this week. The Suns will need them as they play out the season and try to get to the 30-win mark for the first time since the 2014-15 season.


Fantable Question of the Week

Q1 - This week, instead of asking the Fantable members questions, I asked them what questions they would most like to ask the Suns’ players, coaches and/or front office staff.

GuarGuar: 1. To James Jones: Why didn’t we sign a backup big when both Ayton and Baynes were out earlier in the season? It really cost us quite a few games and ruined our rhythm when we had to start Frank for 3-4 weeks. If we had a Jonah Bolden for that stretch for example, it could have been a difference maker.

2. To Monty Williams: Why are you insistent on Elie Okobo being our backup PG when Carter has been better by a large margin? The obsession with Elie is weird, especially pairing him with Booker. Carter fits better and at least defends well. When Elie comes in teams just attack him and go on runs.

3. To Deandre Ayton: Are the Puma shoes at all a reason why you’ve had 6 ankle injuries the past 2 seasons? I know the last one wasn’t caused by it, but with other Puma signings having injury issues too (Bagley, Cousins, Barrett), it is a thought I have.

4. To James Jones: The West is already insane, but is getting even better next year. How do you plan on this team making the playoffs soon in such a stacked conference? The Warriors will be back next season. Portland with be healthier. Young teams like Dallas, New Orleans, Memphis, and Sacramento will only be better.

Sun-Arc: 1. What is the issue with Monty Williams not having the team prepared for so many games? I’ve seen him take the blame for several games this season, even when there have been a couple of off days before the team plays a bad game.

We’ve seen this in years past, particularly last season, where the team would play well in some games and not others- and that is certainly human nature in general. But the NBA doesn’t work that way for competitive teams. The good teams have a stinker every 8-10 games, not blow two games in a row against weaker competition by not showing up.

If Monty is being honest when he says he didn’t prepare the team well- why hasn’t this been fixed through the season? Are the players not up for the challenge, or is it really more involved with the coaching staff (plus video & stats guys)?

2. What is needed to really turn this team around? Monty and James Jones make it sound like it will just take more time to build the culture and create a winning atmosphere. After years of losing, I suppose there is an argument to be made the team needs to be rebuilt over a period of years- GSW and OKC took time to get there too. Yet it sure feels like it is going to take more than time and a coach like Monty to make it happen. While Jones likes to quote Popovich saying “there are no shortcuts,” are we close enough this team can become a 50-win team next season? What other changes will need to occur to make that happen- even to make it occur in 2021-22?

3. How disheartened/disappointed (and/or dare I say ‘guilty’) is Sarver at this point, and does he have any desire to shift ownership of the team to someone else (I do not mean sell, as he doesn’t seem the type of person to walk away from something that continues to build financial value)? Perhaps Fitzgerald is being groomed to be the next face of Suns ownership?

SDKyle: 1. For James Jones - Suns fans have by and large patiently accepted the front office’s efforts to downplay expectations at the outset of each of the last several seasons. Are you prepared to say that won’t happen at the start of next season? Are you confident in being able to say that next year’s goal is to reach and be competitive in the postseason?

2. For Monty Williams- A lot of the close losses this year appeared to be caused by bench unit struggles. Do you see this as mostly a function of injuries, or are there other things the team can do going forward and next season to win more of those close games?

3. For Devin Booker - Do you find it difficult to find the “sweet spot” for you in the team’s offesnse? How do you find what is the optimal dynamic between yourself and the other scoring options on the floor, and also the optimal dynamic between yourself and Rubio as the playmaker?

4. For Deandre Ayton - You lost a lot of this season to the suspension and some additional time to injuries, but noticeably improved as a defender over your rookie season. What is your primary goal now besides winning games? To expand your offensive presence, be more active and effective without the ball or something else?

SouthernSun: To the front office:

1. What is the general gameplan for this coming offseason?

2. What types of players are you looking to acquire? Are there specific holes that need filling? If you already have specific targets in mind, who are they?

3. Does Devin have any role in discussions or decisions about player acquisition? Is he kept in the loop and asked his opinion?

Then I’d ask Booker that same question to see how close the two sides are.

4. Do you feel at the Suns are treated unfairly by the referees? Is there a marked different between how they call things for the Suns and for other teams?

Alex S: 1. For the players: What’s the biggest key for the rest of the season that will translate towards next season?

2. For the front office: Would you say player performance from this current season or the key pieces such as Booker, Ayton, and Oubre are going to be a bigger influence on the decisions made this summer?

3. For Monty: What would you say was the biggest failure and the biggest success from your first year as head coach of the Phoenix Suns?

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


Key Stats

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from the team averages in the chart above. Hopefully, the hot shooting streak evidenced by the March data continues for the rest of the season and beyond.

Random Stats: Mikal Bridges is the only player in the NBA averaging at least 1.5 steals with one or less turnovers per game. 42.7% of Aron Baynes’ field goal attempts this season have been from three-point range. Last season (in Boston) only 27.4% of his FGAs were from three and his 2017-18 percentage of 3-pt attempts was only 4.7%.

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


Game Highlights

Phoenix Suns vs Toronto Raptors - Full Game Highlights | March 3, 2020

Phoenix Suns vs Portland Trail Blazers - Full Game Highlights | March 6, 2020

Phoenix Suns vs Milwaukee Bucks - Full Game Highlights | March 8, 2020


Quotes of the Week

“One thing we’ve done well as a team is a next-man-up mentality. If you go out there and play within Monty’s system, he usually puts you in places to succeed.” - Aron Baynes

”You expect him (Aron Baynes) to make some threes but you don’t expect him to make that many.” - Blazers coach Terry Stotts


Rookie Report

Cameron Johnson - 20.3 mpg, 8.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.1 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.6 TO, 1.5 PF, 39.7 3PT%

  • This week - 21.0 mpg, 13.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 3.0 bpg, 1.0 TO, 2.0 PF, 38.5 3PT%, 2 DNP-Illness

Ty Jerome - 11.1 mpg, 3.6 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 1.6 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.1 bpg, 0.7 TO, 1.0 PF, 28.9 3PT%

  • This week - 14.0 mpg, 4.0 ppg, 0.5 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.0 TO, 1.0 PF, 40.0 3PT%, 1 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

Deandre Ayton (ankle) - Expected to be out until at least March 10.

Cameron Johnson (mononucleosis) - Expected to be out until at least March 23 (Updated 3/10/20).

Kelly Oubre Jr. (Knee) - Expected to be out until at least April 10.

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


News & Notes

Mikal Bridges: One of the NBA’s Most Versatile Players. Suns.com

Suns hope Kelly Oubre can return after knee surgery; Oubre sporting cane. Kevin Zimmerman/Arizona Sports

GM: Deandre Ayton’s ankle sprain history has Suns being proactive. Kevin Zimmerman/Arizona Sports

Former Celtic Aron Baynes pours in career-high 37 points as Phoenix Suns win. Boston.com

Phoenix Suns Star Devin Booker Gets ‘Be Legendary’ Tattoo in Tribute to Kobe Bryant. Yahoo! Sports


This Week in Suns History

On March 9, 2003, three time All-Star “Thunder Dan” Majerle was placed in the Phoenix Suns’ Ring of Honor.

On March 14, 2007, the 49–14 Suns met the 52–10 Dallas Mavericks in a match-up where both teams were fighting for the top seed in the Western conference and Nash was going for his third consecutive MVP award against Dirk Nowitzki. Though the Suns won the game in double overtime, the Mavericks would finish with the West’s top seed at 67–15, and Nowitzki would narrowly win the MVP award ahead of Nash.


Suns Trivia

In 17 games with Deandre Ayton, Aron Baynes, Devin Booker and Ricky Rubio all available to play, the Suns are 9-8. In the 35 games with Baynes, Booker and Rubio all available, they are 18-17.


Previewing the Week Ahead

Tuesday, March 10 - Phoenix Suns @ Portland Trail Blazers, 7:00 pm AZT

Saturday, March 14 - Phoenix Suns @ Dallas Mavericks, 11:00 am AZT

The Suns have a very short schedule of games this week with two at hand with both on the road.

First up on Tuesday night is the Suns’ final game of the season against the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers will surely want a little payback for last Friday’s loss to the Suns and will certainly pay more attention to game prepping for Aron Baynes. Deandre Ayton (and Cam Johnson) may be back for this game though which gives them even more to prepare for. With Baynes’ shooting 9 of 14 from three, the Suns shot 45.2% from downtown vs Portland last week. The Suns have been an inconsistent team from three all season long and I don’t expect them to repeat that shooting display in this one but I do expect them to play hard and get a close win on the road.

After three full days of rest and practice, the Suns head to Dallas for their 3rd game of the season against the Mavericks. They’re 1-1 so far against the Mavs after losing their first match 120-113 in Phoenix while Ayton was still on suspension. Two months later, the Suns with Ayton beat them soundly in Dallas 133-104. Dallas is 39-25 and hoping to move up from 7th in the Western Conference standings (they’re just 2 games behind 4th place Utah) before the end of the season so I don’t expect them to take this game lightly. If Ayton and Cam Johnson are back for this game, I think it will be a tight contest that the Suns could possibly win... but probably won’t.

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

What’s your prediction?


Important Future Dates

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

38% - Good addition.

43% - Too little, too late.

19% - You couldn’t print my opinion.

There were 120 votes cast.

Author’s Note: McRae was claimed off waivers by Detroit and averaged 12.3 pts, 2.7 rebs, 1.3 assists and shot 23.1% from three while playing 23.7 minutes per game in his first three games with the Pistons. Because Detroit had a worse season record than Phoenix, they had priority over the Suns in waiver claims.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

How important is it for Deandre Ayton to become a threat from 3-point range?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    Very important.
    (78 votes)
  • 41%
    Somewhat important.
    (100 votes)
  • 25%
    Not important if he can dominate inside.
    (62 votes)
240 votes total Vote Now