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Center of the Sun: Don’t expect the Suns’ play to be sharp if the season resumes

As a matter of fact, don’t expect any team to play at its best if/when that happens.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

If it could be done safely, everyone would welcome the resumption of the 2019-20 NBA season. The product on the court might not be quite up to our hopes and expectations then though.

While the situations are different, restarting this season would in some ways be similar to what we saw back in the NBA’s two lockout shortened seasons in 1998-99 and 2011-12. The NBA suspended this season two months ago and during that time virtually none of the players have done anything other than work out at home. No practices, no scrimmages, not even any pickup games.

It might surprise you to hear it but many (maybe most) NBA players don’t even have access to a hoop to practice shooting. When Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat found out that only one of his Heat teammates (Goran Dragic) had access to a hoop at his home, he took it upon himself to provide portable hoops to everyone on the team.

The longer the suspension of the season lasts, the more ‘rust’ will accumulate.

It’s already been stated that teams would need at least a 25-day period for workouts and practice before a restart could be attempted but with every passing day it’s more and more doubtful that the level of play would be back to pre-suspension levels when (if?) the restart happens. And the longer the suspension lasts, the more likely the NBA is to maybe even cut that 25-day period down by a few days... or more. In 1999, the lockout officially ended on Jan. 20 and that abbreviated 50 game season began on Feb. 5.

Just as many fans are already certain that the season will eventually be canceled, you can bet that there are also many NBA players that feel the same and aren’t exactly working too hard to keep in top shape at the moment. I wouldn’t expect many - if any - of them to get badly out of shape so quickly but many would be out of game-shape before workouts/practices possibly resume and, as I mentioned earlier, not all have access to hoops to even practice shooting.

The result could be that, by NBA standards, we could possibly witness some fairly ugly post-suspension basketball.

Following the 1998-99 lockout, offensive efficiency was pretty bad across the association and the season average for points per game was just 91.6. That is the 9th lowest PPG average in NBA history. The average offensive rating for teams was 102.2, the 6th lowest league OffRtg in history and the lowest since the NBA added the 3-point line. 2011-12 wasn’t much better with a 96.3 ppg league average (16th worst) and an OffRtg of 104.6 (13th worst). Even by time the playoffs rolled around things weren’t that great. In the 1999 Finals, neither the Spurs nor the Knicks broke the 100 point mark in any of the 5 games played and only once was 90+ points scored in that series. The Knicks only scored 67 points in their game 2 loss and the 5th and final game score was Spurs 78 - Knicks 77.

There are more substandard stats I could point to from those two seasons but I’m sure you catch my drift.

Forced layoffs are not good for athletes, especially those who play team sports. The longer the layoff, the larger the ripple effects that carry over into the eventual resumption of play, especially if the date of that resumption is uncertain. With nothing to do but workout at home and no clear idea as to when - or even if - the season will resume, players will have a difficult time staying ready to play... some more than others. They’re human, just like us.

I still have some hope that this season will eventually resume or at least end with some sort of playoffs. That may or may not include more Suns basketball games but I hope so.

If that eventually happens, I don’t expect to see really top-notch NBA basketball from the get-go... but I’ll still be watching.

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Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - Every team - including the Suns - faces injuries during a season. My opinion: The Suns’ injuries (and DA’s suspension) didn’t derail this season but they did expose a weak bench which derailed this season. FYI, my definition of “derailed” is taking them out of playoff contention. What’s your opinion?

GuarGuar: At the end of the day I still feel Ayton’s suspension had such a domino effect that it derailed our playoff hopes for the most part. Him getting suspended forced Baynes into a massive minutes and usage increase, something his body clearly isn’t capable of handling for a long period of time. We were forced to start Frank at center for a very long time and that was during one of the softest stretches of our schedule. We were unable to take advantage because we had zero interior defense. And James Jones was unwilling to sign any backup center while Baynes and Ayton were both out.

Also leading up to Ayton coming back, Monty decided to bring Baynes off the bench and still start Frank. This cost us a game or two, and then Ayton only came back for 3 quarters before getting hurt. It looked questionable for Monty to do this move then and in hindsight it looks really bad. Completely messed up any chance for us to get in a rhythm. It’s very clear our weak bench was a massive issue this year, but Ayton’s suspension had a gigantic impact on the outcome of our season.

SDKyle: I don’t think one could reasonably blame the Suns’ season on injuries or even on DA’s suspension. The Suns were a borderline playoff team under ideal circumstances, and the injuries and suspension just helped those ideal circumstances not occur. I agree with Rod... the real issue continued to be a bench of mostly sub-par journeymen.

SouthernSun: I think Rod is right on with his assessment. The Suns were not going to make the playoffs this season with their bench the way it is now. They have a nice core of talented young guys and a solid distributor in Ricky Rubio to help lead them, but the bench was atrocious this season, even if Frank Kaminsky hadn’t gotten injured. If your most effective offensive option off the bench is Frank Kaminsky, you’re not making the playoffs (nothing against Frank, he’s good at what he does, and is a fine offensive player). The Suns need a scoring guard off the bench who can give Booker a rest, and even play alongside him some so he isn’t always such a focus of the opposing defense.

This team fell off a cliff every time Booker left the court. They need a bench.

This is the first season the Suns had 5 NBA caliber players starting most of the time in over half a decade. They even had a couple on the bench.

Next season I’m looking forward to them having a whole bench unit of actual NBA players. Imagine it. An entire team full of NBA players. Wouldn’t that be a fun and welcome change for this NBA team?

Rod Argent: Well, my opinion is already in the question but I’ll expand on it a bit.

I think the Suns entered this season with what amounted to 3-4 fairly reliable players on the bench. Fairly reliable. Unfortunately, none of them were guards. Deandre Ayton’s lengthy suspension hurt but having no reliable backup PG really hurt. With Rubio and Booker off the court, they had no one who could run the team or no guard who could really be counted on to put points on the board. I’m sure that Jones and Williams were hoping that Tyler Johnson would be the guard off the bench that they could count on for those things but we all saw how well that worked out.

After missing a total of 46 games due to injury in the past two seasons, we were actually lucky with Devin Booker this year. Even though he did miss 3 games, he still played the 2nd most total minutes in the NBA while averaging the most minutes per game of his career. We shouldn’t have to rely on him that much.

Q2 - Let’s play Dr. Frankenstein! Take one skill, talent or physical/mental attribute from 3 of the Suns’ 4 bench point guards (Okobo, Carter, Jerome & Lecque) to add to the 4th to make the best player possible.

GuarGuar: I’ll take Carter’s defense, Jerome’s playmaking, Lecque’s athleticism, and Okobo’s driving ability. That would be a pretty interesting player to watch!

SDKyle: I’ll take Jerome’s 6’5 200 lb frame, Carter’s defensive toughness, and Lecque’s athleticism to create the ultimate expression of Elie Okobo. That player may still not be all that great a point guard, but now he’s a versatile defender who gives you some highlight reel dunks into the bargain, at least.

SouthernSun: Okobo’s three point shooting (which isn’t as good as Carter’s was this season, but I can only choose one thing from each, and thankfully Okobo was league average from three this year, otherwise I would have had to pick his multilingual ability).

Carter’s tenacity/bulldog mentality/hustle.

Jerome’s passing. In theory.

Lecque’s athleticism.

Rod Argent: I’d start with Ty Jerome then give him Jalen Lecque’s athleticism, Jevon Carter’s defensive chops and Elie Okobo’s 6’8” wingspan. Some might think he’d still be too slow but I consider speed as a component of athleticism which he would get from Lecque.

Q3 - The Suns were very up and down this season with both unexpected wins and unexpected losses. Which game would you consider their best win and which was their most disappointing loss?

GuarGuar: Not my favorite win of the year, but I think their best was the game in Utah. Really felt like a complete team effort. Booker, Ayton, Ricky, Kelly, and Mikal all had solid games. Normally we don’t see all 5 having a good night. The result was a domination against a team we have really struggled against in recent years.

And their worst loss was within a week of that game against Golden State. We just got embarrassed against a depleted Pistons team, and we came back out and lost to a team starting Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. It was a pathetic display and the nail in the coffin for any playoff hopes.

SDKyle: I think both the best win and worse loss came at the end of the season I’ll start with the loss because it came first.

Feb. 29, at home against the 13-47 Warriors. The Suns are missing Oubre, but have basically everyone else who matters. The Warriors, meanwhile, look like a roster composed as a joke. Damion Lee, Andrew Wiggins, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss started. Some guy named Mychal Mulder played almost 34 minutes.

Final score? 116-99 Warriors. Ugh.

But then, on March 8, the Ayton-less Suns turn around and beat the Giannis-less Bucks 140-131. Anytime you can beat a 53-11 team you have to consider it a good win. And it was a great team effort with four Suns scoring more than 20 points and two more also in double figures.

SouthernSun: For best win, I’m torn between Boston on the road, or the Clippers early in the season. Game against the Mavs is up there as well. I’m going to have to say it was the game against the Clippers. It was impressive to see Booker really take the team on his back and will them to victory against a tough opponent, even though Paul George wasn’t playing.

For most disappointing loss, that’s tough. They’re all disappointing. I’m not sure whether to go with one where the Suns keep it close until the final minutes against the better team, then miss every shot or don’t even get one off for the final few minutes, or one where the Suns just get bludgeoned by a team we expected them to easily handle.

Even then, it’s hard to choose one. I just can’t. So I’m going to go with the overall “get bludgeoned by a team they clearly have a talent advantage over” loss archetype.

Rod Argent: I’ll start out by agreeing with GuarGuar and SDKyle about the loss to Golden State as being the worst of the season. I think they both already covered the reasons why it was the worst and I can’t think of anything else to add on that subject.

To me, the best win was on Dec. 30 against Portland. It was DA’s first game back after tweaking his ankle shortly after his suspension was up and he came off the bench in that one. The Suns had a terrible start and were down 19 points at the end of the first quarter but they didn’t fold and give up as I expected. Instead they fought back and outscored the Blazers in each of the remaining 3 quarters to get a 122-116 win on the road. I almost turned that game off after the 1st quarter but thankfully didn’t give in to that temptation!

As always, many thanks to our Fantable members - GuarGuar, SDKyle and SouthernSun - for all their extra effort every week! (Sun-Arc and Alex S. did not participate this week.)

2019-20 Season Highlights

Phoenix Suns vs Sacramento Kings - Full Game Highlights | October 23, 2019-20

Devin Booker Full Highlights vs Kings (2019.10.23) - 22 Pts, 10 Ast!

Ricky Rubio vs Kings (10/23/2019)

Deandre Ayton 18 Pts, 11 Reb: All Possessions (10/23/19)

Quote of the Week

“We’ll be a very good execution team and that requires us to add guys with a level of maturity and grit to be able to perform in this competitive environment. That’s the one thing that we’ve been consistent with since day one is that in order for a guy to be on this roster he has to have an elite NBA skill and he has to be able to compete consistently and demonstrate that skill.” - James Jones

News & Notes

Devin Booker can shed ‘empty stats’ label, but Suns must first provide stability around him. CBS Sports

“He Was Unlike Any Player I’ve Ever Played Against”: Steve Nash Ranks Three NBA GOATs in Order. Essentially Sports

The Whiteboard: Which lottery teams would be most screwed if NBA jumped right into playoffs? Gerald Bourguet/The Step Back

Steve Nash admits embarrassing attempt to lure in Kevin Garnett to Suns. Clutch Points

Through the Lens with Barry Gossage: Capturing Basketball History.

One trade the Phoenix Suns need to make in the offseason. Clutch Points

This Week in Suns History

On May 16, 1976, the Phoenix Suns defeated the defending NBA Champions, the Golden State Warriors, 94-86 in game seven of the Western Conference Finals to earn their first conference championship and their first trip to the NBA Finals to face the Boston Celtics.

Classic Suns Highlights

Since ‘68 - Oliver Miller’s Game 5 vs Lakers

Oliver Miller Mix

The Crazy Career Of The Heaviest Player In NBA History!

Suns Trivia

In the deciding Game 5 of their 1st round, 5-game 1993 playoff series with the LA Lakers, Suns rookie center Oliver Miller scored 17 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked 7 shots. Miller, Hakeem Olajuwon (1993) and Dikembe Mutombo (2001) are the only players to ever post a double-double and block at least 7 shots in a winner-take-all playoff game. That game went to overtime and in the overtime period, Miller by himself scored as many points as the entire Lakers lineup (9-9) and out rebounded them 5-1.

Previewing the Weeks Ahead

Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “If the next NBA season starts in December, would you prefer the later start to be a temporary move or a permanent one?”

41% - Temporary.

15% - Permanent.

44% - I don’t care. Either is fine with me.

There were 93 votes cast.

This week’s poll is...


The Suns best win of the season was...

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    The 131-111 win over Utah.
    (22 votes)
  • 16%
    The 140-131 win over Milwaukee.
    (8 votes)
  • 26%
    The 130-122 win over the Clippers.
    (13 votes)
  • 4%
    The 122-116 win over Portland.
    (2 votes)
  • 8%
    A different win.
    (4 votes)
49 votes total Vote Now

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