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Center of the Sun: Suns looking rusty after pair of scrimmages

Just one scrimmage game left to try and shake off the rust before the games that count begin on Friday.

Phoenix Suns v Boston Celtics Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

The wait is over. Real NBA basketball games are back and so are the Phoenix Suns.

Thankfully the NBA decided to have the inter-squad scrimmages before jumping back into the regular season because there’s a lot of rust to work out for just about everyone on every team. The Suns especially need to work on their three point shooting. They were 19th in the league at 35.3% before the season was halted in March and so far they’ve only shot 26.7% from three in Orlando... 16 of 60 in the first two games.

Their bench looked decent in the Jazz game but really reverted to form against the Celtics. The Suns just cannot afford to go deep into their bench, especially with Kelly Oubre Jr. and Aron Baynes out... and now potentially without Dario Saric (ankle sprain) for a while. Losing Dario for any length of time would be really bad for the Suns as he’s played very well in Orlando plus it forces Monty Williams to scavenge his already thin talent on the bench for a replacement to stick into the starting lineup.

The backup point guard problem is also going to continue to be a thorn in their side as Ricky Rubio will be on restricted minutes as he works to get back up to speed after recovering from the COVID-19 virus. Ty Jerome cannot defend faster and more athletic players (which is just about everyone else in the NBA) and the three point shooting that was a strength of his at Virginia (39.2%) has disappeared. Jevon Carter can defend and has shot very well from three for the Suns this season (39.3%) but is not a good distributor. Elie Okobo (who finally arrived in Orlando on Saturday) is probably the ‘best’ overall of the three but has still been a disappointment. Newcomer Cameron Payne is getting a chance to earn the bulk of the backup PG minutes but the jury is still out on him.

Other than their three point shooting woes, the starters have looked pretty good so far. To make some noise and win games they will likely have to play lots of minutes though and Monty might have to take a page out of former Suns head coach Mike D’Antoni’s old playbook and go to a 7 or 8 man rotation when the regular season games resume this week.

Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - It looks as though Aron Baynes will miss most if not all of the season restart. Who do you think would be the best choice for Deandre Ayton’s primary backup once the games that count begin?

GuarGuar: Diallo and Frank depending on the matchup should be the backup 5 going forward. Frank looked pretty good during our first scrimmage. I wouldn’t be shocked to see us run some small ball with Saric at the 5 either. I hope Baynes is able to join us soon but it isn’t looking likely.

Sun-Arc: So many unknowns right now. Hopefully Baynes can make it to Orlando at some point, but he’ll be so out of shape even if he does. And Oubre, as well - it would be great if he could play at some point. I’ll start with worst case scenario:

No Oubre, no Baynes:

Saric is definitely the best big we have next to Ayton if Oubre and Baynes are out. He is a solid big body and a solid player, if not above average. His 3pt threat is real, too, which helps. I think he starts at the PF spot. That leaves Frank as the backup, and he doesn’t thrill me as a player. His defense is so awful that it might be better to switch up Kaminsky as starter and Saric as backup, but our team got toasted on defense when Frank started next to Ayton. So I stick with Saric and try to limit Frank’s on-court time.

If Oubre is there, it’s a no brainer that he’s the starting BOBRA PF.

If Baynes is there (but no Oubre), then Saric starts and Baynes backs up Ayton.

SDKyle: I think we could see some Diallo, but I also expect Monty to roll with some very small lineups that don’t include someone who is a “center” by trade. I guess Kaminsky and Saric might also get some time as the big on the floor.

SouthernSun: I think Diallo will need to jump in for at least a few minutes each game, but without Baynes playing, Saric and Kaminsky should be getting the lions share of those minutes. Both aren’t much worse than Diallo defensively, and they are both a good bit better offensively. This may be where the team decides between Saric and Kaminsky for next season.

Alex S: I’m sure Diallo is going to get the minutes as the backup 5. To be honest… I believe this is actually a blessing in disguise because Monty and James can see if

  1. Cheick is worth the 1.8 million for 2020-21 as a cheap backup C if Aron walks.
  2. If you don’t like Diallo as the backup 5, give Dario some minutes at the 5 and see if you like the fit.

The Dario portion of this equation is interesting to me because the Suns are rumored to go aggressively after a PF this offseason. The only way Saric becomes of value to Phoenix long-term then is if he can play the 5. For example, he could get minutes with Ayton as a 4 or whoever is picked up (Lauri, AG, Gallo, even Kelly Oubre) as a 5.

(Edit – this was typed out before game 1. Dario has looked good in his minutes so far and let’s hope he’s healthy.)

Q2 - Cam Johnson has bulked up to the point where he’s only a few pounds lighter than backup center Chieck Diallo and they’re the same height. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cam J. playing some PF in the bubble but do you think Monty Williams might actually slip him in at the 5 under certain circumstances?

GuarGuar: I would be very surprised to see Cam get minutes at the 5. I think the smallest we will ever go is Dario at the 5. I’m glad Cam has bulked up though because he can be very valuable playing the 4. The versatility he can now bring is pretty useful, especially with Oubre being out.

Sun-Arc: I feel like we may have seen Cam at center, though says he only played there 1% of his time, with PF at 78%. So, for sure we’ll see him at the four some or quite a bit. I can certainly imagine him as a small-ball five. Even if the weight had not been put on I could imagine it. Is it a good idea? I think I prefer it to Kaminsky playing in some circumstances, depending on the opponent. Cam, as a rookie, is the best bench person we have right now, which says a lot about the team’s construction. So I play him big minutes over Kaminsky, Diallo, or Jerome.

SDKyle: With Baynes out it is certainly possible we’ll see Cam used as a “5” in the restart. Why not? If there was ever a time to experiment this is it, especially when and if playoff qualification goes out the window. Get creative, get weird.

SouthernSun: There’s a slim chance we see Cam as the 5 once or twice, but only as a counter to another lineup or because of foul trouble/injury. Cam should not be regularly featured at the 5 spot. He’s not strong or athletic enough to make up for what he lacks in mass, probably even with all that newly added muscle.

Alex S: No to Cam as a backup 5.

He’s a potentially important piece for the Suns moving forward and even thinking about playing a SF as a C seems detrimental to his development. The 4 becomes somewhat intriguing but I have to see how he looks on the court before I get excited about the possibility.

Q3 - Did anything in the Suns’ first scrimmage game against the Jazz surprise you?

GuarGuar: Ayton taking and making a 3 actually caught me off guard. He’s talked about it so much but we never saw anything except if the shot clock was winding down. To see him take a designed catch and shoot 3 was very nice. The form is a lot better (although it still needs some work). I really hope he starts shooting 3s when left open. It’s a way more efficient shot than his 17 foot midranges.

Sun-Arc: The 3 by Ayton was a nice semi-surprise. But I’ll mention that the team actually came out focused and kept that focus for the entire game. They didn’t put their head down when the Jazz made their run, they stayed the course. I had hoped this would be the case, as I’d mentioned previously. What I wanted to see was this team taking this seriously and showing they mean business every game. So far so good.

Some people may feel Mikal Bridges’ aggressiveness was a surprise. To me it looked like he picked up where the season left off. I was happy to see him look totally ready to go. This guy was such a great draft pick. The last of Ryan’s moves - but this one is paying off.

SDKyle: Not especially, actually. Well, I was a little surprised at how bad the Jazz looked, but the Suns looked like a good version of the Suns. I had said I expected Ayton to at least attempt some threes in the bubble so the fact that he did it was not surprising to me... but I’m glad he made it.

SouthernSun: Ayton hit a 3! I suppose that wasn’t surprising. I’ve been thinking for awhile that Ayton was going to start jacking up threes next season, it’s just coming even earlier than I originally expected. Also, he just hit another one during this second scrimmage, so I’d call that a trend and not a fluke. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s happening. He is going to be unstoppable before long.

Alex S: I was surprised how energized the team looked. Its one thing to say you’re going to the bubble to get better but it’s another thing to actually execute. My biggest takeaway is Cam Payne might be a viable option at backup PG next season considering how cheap and how comfortable he looks so far. It’s still too early to tell but something worth keeping an eye on.

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

Key Stats

34.6% Field Goal Percentage, 27.3% 3-Point Percentage

Those are Devin Booker’s shooting percentages for the first two scrimmage games. During the regular season his FG percentage was 48.7% and he was hitting 36% of his three point attempts. The layoff seems to have taken a toll on his accuracy from the field but he’s still getting to the FT line where he’s hit 9 of 11 (81.8%). Hopefully he gets his shooting mojo back soon.

Game Highlights

Phoenix Suns vs Utah Jazz | SCRIMMAGE HIGHLIGHTS | July 23, 2020

Phoenix Suns Utah Jazz Scrimmage Breakdown

Phoenix Suns vs Boston Celtics - Full Game Highlights | July 26, 2020

Quotes of the Week

“He’s just someone that I rely on for a lot. The way he helped us change the program, I could go on all day and talk about all of his attributes. But he’s a guy that makes everyone better, and I’m thankful that I’ve had a chance to coach a guy like Ricky Rubio.” - Monty Williams

“I’m just ready, man. I’m just ready to play basketball.” - Deandre Ayton

“All the guys are really excited to be back and get a chance to fight.” - Dario Saric

Rookie Report*

Cameron Johnson - 24.5 mpg, 11 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 0.5 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.5 TO, 1.5 PF, 83.3% FT, 33.3% 3pt

Ty Jerome - 23.5 mpg, 5 ppg, 1 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.0 bpg, 1.0 TO, 3 PF, 100% FT, 0.0% 3pt (0/8)

* Scrimmage stats only.

All stats courtesy of

News & Notes

Bubble Life.

How the Phoenix Suns Are Training to Stay Game-Ready Inside the NBA Bubble. Men’s Health

What to Make of the Suns’ Big 2. Bleacher Report

The Whiteboard: Ricky Rubio remains vital to the Suns. Gerald Bourguet/The Step Back

NBA Disney Contenders or Pretenders: Phoenix Suns. Last Word on Pro Basketball

Phoenix Suns: What does Cam Payne bring to the team? Hoops Habit

Suns’ IG account invokes Kobe Bryant while dunking on troll hating on WNBA. Clutch Points

This Week in Suns History

On July 27, 2013, the Suns traded Luis Scola to the Indiana Pacers for Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and a 2014 1st round draft pick (Bogdan Bogdanovic).

On August 1, 2012, the Phoenix Suns signed P.J. Tucker as a free agent.

On August 1, 1999, former Suns 1st round draft pick (22nd) in the 1992 draft Oliver Miller was released by the Sacramento Kings and signed a 1-year contract as a free agent with Phoenix. During his return to Phoenix, Miller played in 59 games and started in 9 but was not offered a new contract at the end of the season. He spent the next three seasons out of the NBA before signing with the Minnesota Timberwolves on December 13, 2003. That was his last stint in the NBA but he continued to play for various teams in the now defunct CBA, ABA, USBL and PBL leagues until 2010.

Classic Suns Highlights

Gerald Green Scores a Career-High 41 Points!

Gerald Green - The Phoenix Sun [2013-14]

Suns Trivia

Devin Booker is presently 2nd in free throw percentage (91.6%), 4th in free throws made (405) and 9th in free throw attempts (442) this season. He is also 6th in total points scored this season (1619) and 10th in points per game (26.1). He is currently 12th on the Suns’ All-Time leaders in career points scored with 7,439. He needs 379 more points to move past #11 Tom Chambers and 596 more to move past Dan Majerle into the top 10.

Previewing the Week Ahead

Tuesday, July 28 - Phoenix Suns vs Toronto Raptors inter-squad scrimmage Noon AZT

Friday, July 31 - Phoenix Suns vs Washington Wizards 1:00 PM AZT

Sunday, August 2 - Phoenix Suns vs Dallas Mavericks 6:00 PM AZT

Three Suns games this week! The first is that last of the inter-squad scrimmages against the Raptors on Tuesday. It would be nice to see the Suns get a win in this one but hopefully they just play hard and get out of it without any injuries. It should be a fun one to watch though!

The first game that actually counts is against the Wizards on Friday afternoon. As almost everyone knows, the Wizards are without Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans who have been their two leading scorers this season as well as John Wall who has miss the entire season due to injury. The Suns should win this game as long as they don’t take the Wizards lightly. It’s as simple as that.

The Suns’ final game of the week is against the Mavericks. The Suns are 1-1 against Dallas this season with their loss (120-113) coming during Deandre Ayton’s suspension and Aron Baynes’ first attempt to play after missing 5 games due to injury. Baynes played fairly well in that game but was not fully recovered and wound up sitting out the next 4 games as well. In the second matchup, Ayton was back and the BOBRA lineup handed the Mavs a 133-104 loss on their home court. With Kelly Oubre Jr. out, I don’t expect a repeat of that performance but I do think that the Suns will get another win in this one.

In the games that count, I’m optimistically predicting the Suns will go 2-0 this week. What’s your prediction?

Important Future Dates

August 15-16 - Possible play-in tournaments.

August 17 - Start of postseason.

August 20 - NBA Draft Lottery.

August 30 - Guests/family members permitted to arrive.

August 31 to September 13 - Conference Semifinals.

September 15-28 - Conference Finals.

September 30 to October 13 - NBA Finals.

October 16 - NBA Draft.

October 18 - Free agency begins.

October 23 - Moratorium ends (noon).

November 10 - Target for opening day for 2020-21 season training camps.

December 1 - Target for 2020-21 season opening night.

Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “If Rubio isn’t available, who starts at point guard for the Suns?”

27% - The new guy, Cam Payne.

19% - Jevon Carter.

07% - Ty Jerome.

04% - Elie Okobo... IF he’s available.

43% - Go with Point Book and just put the best defender you have next to him.

A total of 170 votes were cast.

This week’s poll is...


How many of the 8 bubble games will the Suns win?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    2 or less.
    (11 votes)
  • 55%
    (76 votes)
  • 22%
    (31 votes)
  • 14%
    (20 votes)
138 votes total Vote Now

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