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Center of the Sun: Undefeated Suns still need help

Will this week’s three games be the last of the season for Phoenix?

Phoenix Suns v Miami Heat Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

It was a wild week in the bubble with Suns fans’ hopes going up and down as the Suns continued to win but a few wins by their Western Conference opponents for that 8th seed tempered some of the early enthusiasm. The 124-121 win by Portland over Philadelphia yesterday was a big disappointment but still not a knockout blow.

It hurts though.

Here are the current standings in the race for the 8th & 9th seeds:

If the Suns win all three of their remaining games, they can win the 8th seed outright if Memphis goes 0-2 and Portland goes 1-1 or worse.

If the Suns go just 2-1, the 8th seed is out of reach. They would then need Portland to finish 0-2 and San Antonio go 1-1 or worse to make it to the play-in stage.

If the Suns go 1-2... they go home no matter what anyone else does.

In their final seeding games:

  • Memphis plays Boston & Milwaukee.
  • Portland plays Dallas & Brooklyn.
  • San Antonio plays Houston & Utah.
  • Phoenix plays OKC, Philadelphia & Dallas.

Some teams are starting to rest players now that their playoff seeds are set which could help or hurt Phoenix.

As Dallas is the toughest team remaining for Portland, it could significantly hurt the Suns chances at reaching the play-in stage if they continue to rest their best players until the playoffs begin. It would help the Suns as well if they sat for their game against Phoenix but if Portland goes 2-0 in their final two games the outcome of the Suns/Mavericks game won’t really matter.

The Suns are still in the hunt though, a spot that few people though they would be in just a few weeks ago. Hopefully Phoenix continues to ignore the odds, play well and rack up wins while we wait and see how the competition fares.

As fans, all we can do is continue to cheer them on and hope for the best.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - If you had to make a choice between the two, would you rather the Suns keep Cameron Payne or Jevon Carter next season?

GuarGuar: I would definitely choose Carter over Payne. Payne has been really fun to watch and a much needed boost off the bench. Carter’s defense and 3 point shooting are just so valuable for our team. He’s made so many timely plays this season. I think he’s a great complement to Booker when we run him with the second unit.

Sun-Arc: I’d really like to keep both- but if I had to choose right now it would be Payne. He’s shooting so well while also providing energetic defense. He’s more of a spark-plug than Carter. But I really do like how they play off each other.

SDKyle: Carter. I like him, and I’ve seen him a lot longer. He can shoot the three and is a great point of attack defender which makes him a great fit for our backcourt.

Payne has been a nice contributor in the bubble, but cmon. Five games and we’re already tossing Carter aside?

SouthernSun: Oh man that’s a tough choice. I love Jevon, he brings fire and intensity. He plays with a lot of heart and energy. However, if I had to decide between him and Payne, I’d probably go with Payne, given what we’ve seen of him so far, despite that amazing game by Carter on Saturday. Payne is a better creator and scorer, and I’d feel more comfortable having him run the offense when Book and Rubio sit.

That being said, I don’t think either of those two will be the best guard off the Suns bench next season. I believe that player will come via trade or free agency, will be a SG, and Payne will be the primary backup at PG, with Carter still around as well when the minutes are there for him, on a minimum deal.

Alex S: Man. Give me Cam Payne and let me be on the record saying this isn’t an easy choice. The reality is I want both guys together in the backcourt next year but if I had to pick, give me the shot creator and ball handler over the scrappy defender.

Acquiring Payne is starting to create a whole new conversation when it comes to what the Suns do this offseason. I now see a world where the Suns look to retain Saric in RFA, let Kaminsky and Diallo walk, and pick up Payne’s 2021 option.

Q2 - Dario Saric has been really good coming off the bench. Do you think he would accept that role next season and how much should the Suns offer him to stay?

GuarGuar: I think Dario would be cool coming off the bench. It’s tough to say how much we should offer him. I believe we should be saving space for the mega 2021 free agency (we have Oubre coming off the books then too). We are one of the few teams with legit cap space this offseason. A 1 year deal that might be a slight overpay is ok with me I guess, kind of like what we did with Ariza. Cam becoming an effective power forward makes losing Dario a little bit less of a hit, but it’s really important for us to have some depth.

Sun-Arc: I think he’d take that offer. He won’t be a starter on any team but a bottom feeder. We look to no longer be one of those types of teams. For starters I’d offer him $5m/year, which is what we offered Kaminsky. I’d drop Frank (sorry, dude. I like you, but not $5m worth) and see if we can give Saric a $20m deal over 4 years. He’s a solid player that can play either big position, which is valuable. More than $5m/year valuable? Maybe. I would pay more for him if need be, but not $10m/year.

SDKyle: How much do we have to spend?

I think Saric would accept a bench role but I’m not sure what a fair price is. $8 million or thereabouts? It’s really hard to say.

SouthernSun: I think there’s a strong chance he stays and is okay with coming off the bench playing 20 mpg as the primary backup center and getting minutes at PF as well. His qualifying offer is around 4 mil. I think if the Suns can get him for around 6 or 7 mil a year for two years, that’s a decent deal. With how little cap space is available around the league this off-season, he might very well take that. Might even just do a 1 year and hope to get more next off-season.

Alex S: I do think he’d be willing to play off the bench as long as he gets financial security! Dario seems like the bubble experience has been a blessing for him to spend more quality time with his teammates and is starting to find a true role for the first time in his NBA career. The Bridges/Johnson starting combo might be here to stay but if Dario can get 15-25 mpg off the bench depending on the flow of the game, I don’t see why he wouldn’t enjoy staying in Phoenix long-term.

In terms of contract, I think the Suns will offer him a 3 or 4 year deal at a low rate, let’s say 3 years 21 million for example. However, he is an RFA so I don’t think the Suns will offer a big deal out of desperation. I could very easily see Dario accepting a 1 year “prove-it” from Phoenix if he doesn’t get an offer he likes in FA.

Q3 - Whatever happens as this season winds down, what do you think of the Suns’ future?

GuarGuar: These Bubble games to this point have been so amazing and fun to watch. It’s what we’ve all imagined for years with this core. Seeing Booker lead us and the Suns be the biggest story of this Bubble is so awesome. I’m so excited about our core and the future of this team. The West is loaded but we are improving and I believe in Monty.

Sun-Arc: The future looks oh-so-much more bright after these first four games (wrote this before the Miami game). I have a renewed belief (or is it relief) in the team, Monty, and the organization. I’m not crowning anyone yet- but at least it looks like we no longer have to live in the basement. And that’s a big change.

SDKyle: I’m cautiously optimistic. This performance in the bubble has been amazing, and is something to be proud of already whether we make the playoff or not.

I still think we’re another star away from being able to really compete in this iteration, but we’re getting to the point where something is building. Maybe someone actually could be convinced to come be a part of this.

SouthernSun: I think the Suns will be a very good team as early as next season. If they add some more depth, they have a strong shot at the playoffs next season. And from there, I don’t see them leaving the western conference playoff locks until Booker is traded or retires. The future is very bright.

Next year, if they add a 6th man guard type this off-season, I believe they’ll win at least 45 games.

Alex S: This is the most excited I’ve been in quite some time. The Suns have three key pieces to build around with Devin, Deandre, and Mikal. Kelly is a super talented wing that would be incredibly valuable as a high energy, high minute 6th man if he can accept that role. You could even flip flop that and have Cam be the highly talented 6th man if you don’t want to take that risk with Kelly’s ego.

I believe the Suns are one quality bench piece (another shooter or a legit C) away from being a solidified low-end playoff team. Devin Booker needs to be a constant in top 20 NBA player conversations. Deandre Ayton is a two-way star now. Mikal is going to lock up your favorite team’s best wing. Monty Williams has created a culture that an entire franchise has bought into within a year. And James Jones (while making mistakes) clearly has a good sense of what it takes to win in the NBA. Regardless if the Suns sneak into the playoffs or not, we have a product to be proud of. It’s been years since we as a fanbase have been able to say that.

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

Three point shooting!

In the 5 bubble games, new addition Cameron Payne has led the Suns in 3pt percentage with 50% on 3.6 attempts per game. The defensive bulldog, Jevon Carter follows closely with 47.6% on 4.2 attempts per game. Ricky Rubio - the “non-shooter” - has hit 47.1% of his 3.4 attempts per game. Dario Saric - the Suns’ new super-sub - is making 46.2% of his 2.6 attempts per game.

For the entire season the Suns are 16th in three point shooting (35.4%) but inside the bubble they are 8th with a 37.4% team average from three.


Game Highlights

SUNS at CLIPPERS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | August 4, 2020

Devin Booker’s incredible buzzer-beater gives Suns the win vs. Clippers

Mikal Bridges Full Play vs Los Angeles Clippers | 08/04/20

PACERS at SUNS FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | August 6, 2020

Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton’s impressive highlights from Suns vs. Pacers

Cameron Payne Full Play vs Indiana Pacers | 08/06/20

SUNS at HEAT | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | August 8, 2020

Devin Booker 35 Points 6 Ast Full Highlights | Suns vs Heat | August 8, 2020

Jevon Carter 20 Points/6 Threes Full Highlights (8/8/2020)


Quotes of the Week

“I just think we have a group that wanted to come here and prove to the world that they were worthy of being here.” - Monty Williams

“This is what we owe to the fans.” - Devin Booker

“Overall, probably the greatest thing to see is the collective spirit that our guys play the game with on the court and the support they show each other off of the court.” - Jeff Bower


Rookie Report

Cameron Johnson - 21.5 mpg, 8.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.6 TO, 1.6 PF, 80.0% FT, 39.5% 3pt

  • This week - 33.8 mpg, 12.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.3 TO, 1.7 PF, 100% FT, 31.3% 3pt

Ty Jerome - 10.9 mpg, 3.4 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 1.5 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.1 bpg, 0.6 TO, 1.0 PF, 78.6% FT, 27.1% 3pt

  • This week - 2.1 mpg, 0.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 0.0 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.0 TO, 0.0 PF, 0.0% FT, 0.0% 3pt, 2 DNP-CD

All stats courtesy of NBA.com.


News & Notes

‘That Dude Is Different’: Devin Booker Has Put the NBA on Notice. Chris Mannix/SI

Devin Booker reacts to Draymond Green wanting him to be traded away from Suns. Clutch Points

Against The Odds. Suns.com

Phoenix stunning NBA world with red-hot restart. NBA.com

How Ricky Rubio Became Elite At Drawing Free Throws. Matt Esposito/The Playgrounder

Coach Monty Williams proud of his ‘scrappy team,’ as Suns keep streaking during NBA restart. ESPN

Cam Johnson’s growth for the Phoenix Suns should not be overlooked. Gerald Bourguet/The Step Back

Ten things I like and don’t like, including the most exciting nerd thing in the NBA. Zach Lowe/ESPN


This Week in Suns History

On August 16, 1987, former Sun Nick Vanos and his fiancee, Carolyn Cohen, tragically died when their plane crashed after takeoff from the Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus, Michigan en route to Phoenix. Vanos and Cohen were among the 154 passengers and crew that died in the crash.

Vanos was 24 and had just finished his second season in the NBA after being selected by Phoenix in the second round of the draft with the 32nd pick.

Vanos played college ball at Santa Clara University, the same college where Steve Nash would play almost ten years later.


Interesting Suns Stuff

How have the Suns been the biggest surprise in the race for the West’s 8 seed? | The Jump


Suns Trivia

Cameron Johnson is not only is the fastest Sun to hit 100 career three point shots, he is also the twelfth Suns player with the last name Johnson. The Suns have had more players with that last name than any other.

The first Johnson to play with the Suns was Neil Johnson who played 2 seasons in the Valley from 1968-1970. Neil played his first two seasons for the New York Knicks before Phoenix selected him in the 1968 expansion draft after also selecting his Knicks teammate, Dick Van Arsdale. After being waived by the Suns following the 1970 season, he went on to play in the ABA for 3 more seasons as a member of the Virginia Squires. Known as an ‘enforcer’, one referee described a punch he saw Neil throw in an ABA game as, “the most devastating punch ever seen on the court”.


Previewing the Week Ahead

Monday, August 10 - Phoenix Suns vs Oklahoma City Thunder 11:30 AM AZT

Tuesday, August 11 - Phoenix Suns vs Philadelphia 76ers 1:30 PM AZT

Thursday, August 13 - Phoenix Suns vs Dallas Mavericks 1:00 PM AZT on TNT

Saturday/Sunday, August 15-16 - Play-in games???

This week we’ve come to the final three seeding games for the Suns and the end of the “regular” season (although little could be called regular about this season). They are all potentially tough games but, as we’ve already seen in some other recent bubble games, some of the teams already in the playoffs are starting to rest their best players. Will this happen in any of the Suns’ games this week? Perhaps but it’s not something we can count on.

First up are the OKC Thunder later this morning. Yes, it’s a very early game - 11:30 am - for fans back in the Valley against a team that might still be playing for post season positioning. The Thunder are most likely to wind up as the 5th or 6th seed in the West with the difference presently being whether they prefer their first round series to be against the Houston Rockets or the Denver Nuggets. The Suns have faced the Thunder twice this season and come out on the losing end on both occasions, 126-108 on Dec. 20 and 111-107 on Jan. 31. Will the third time be the charm and the Suns finally beat these guys this season? I actually think so and the Suns will get another win.

Next up are the Sixers on Tuesday afternoon. This will be the second game of the Suns’ only back-to-back series in the bubble. While the Suns will be playing their second game in 24 hours, Philly will be without All-Star player Ben Simmons who is out for the season due to injury. In the teams’ lone meeting this season back on Nov. 4, the Suns pulled out a 114-109 victory as Devin Booker posted a 40 point game. That was necessary back then as the Suns’ bench collectively scored just 19 points. Within the bubble their bench has averaged 33.6 ppg. I’m betting on the Suns to get the win in this one.

The Suns’ final seeding game will be a bubble rematch with Dallas. The Suns used a huge 3rd quarter comeback to win that one 117-115 despite Doncic and Porzingis combining for 70 points. This one is hard to call for multiple reasons. Will Dallas be looking for some payback or will they be locked into their playoff seed and resting players as they look ahead? Also, will the Suns still have something other than pride to play for by then? While their playoff/play-in hopes are not completely in their own hands, I think pride alone will be enough motivation for the Suns.

It’s strange that while I like the Sun’s chances at winning every game this week, I’m still reluctant to predict that they will go 3-0. I think 2-1 is a more likely scenario although I can’t decide which game they’re most likely to lose.

What’s your prediction for this week?


Important Future Dates

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 “Are you surprised at how well Cam Johnson has played as a starter in the bubble games?”

62% - Yes.

38% - No.

A total of 199 votes were cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

If the Suns were to somehow make it to the playoffs, how do you think they would do against the Lakers in the 1st round?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    0-4.
    (5 votes)
  • 40%
    They would win at least 1 game but that’s it.
    (78 votes)
  • 34%
    They might take it to 6 or even 7 games but lose eventually.
    (66 votes)
  • 22%
    They would win the series!
    (44 votes)
193 votes total Vote Now