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Center of the Sun: Suns end Week 3 with NBA’s second best record

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Your weekly roundup of Suns news, rumors, notes and videos from the prior week, previewing the week to come

Phoenix Suns v Indiana Pacers Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

Phoenix Suns vs Toronto Raptors W (123-115) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns at Detroit Pistons L (110-105) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns at Indiana Pacers W (125-117) Full Recap

Ten games into the 2020-21 season and the Suns are sitting pretty with a 7-3 record. The last time the Suns started a season 7-3 or better was 2009-10 when they began the season 8-2 and finished with a 54-28 record and a trip to the Western Conference Finals. Their good start this year doesn’t guarantee a result similar to 2009-10 though.

In the years between, the Suns have gotten off to solid 6-4 starts three times and still managed to fold at some point and wind up once again in the draft lottery. All of those season starts were something of a surprise though, something that can’t be said for this one. After the 8-0 bubble run and the Suns going all in to build a winning team around their young core during the offseason, 7-3 is actually considered a slightly disappointing start by some fans.

I can understand that point of view but to me it’s mostly a waste of time to let yourself feel that way. Good teams are occasionally going to have bad games just as bad teams are occasionally going to have very good games. The Suns have already won some ugly games this year in which they weren’t playing their best. That’s a sign of a good team and in the previous ten seasons that rarely happened.

Good teams just find ways to win even when they’re not playing at their best.

No, I don’t think that this season’s Suns will fold at some point as many previous Suns teams have done. This team not only has more talent in it’s starting five than any since 2009-10 but also has NBA level talent running deep down to the end of it’s bench. The bench is a strength rather than a weakness now with several guys sitting at the farthest end that would likely be at least getting steady rotation minutes on many other NBA squads.

This team is most definitely real and built to get back to the playoffs. Only not making it there would be a big disappointment and getting in as a low seed and/or bowing out quickly in the first round should be considered at least a minor disappointment this year. I don’t expect either of those to happen.

Sit back, enjoy the ride and don’t let the occasional loss spoil the overall pleasure of watching what looks to be a great comeback season for this franchise.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - The Suns starting unit (Paul, Booker, Bridges, Crowder & Ayton) still hasn’t seemed to gel offensively yet. Why do you think this has been slow in happening and do you think Monty should consider making a change in the starting lineup?

GuarGuar: I don’t think a lineup change needs to be made. If there was to be a change I’d like Cam in for Jae but it’s not necessary. I think the biggest issue is we are playing so slow. We are playing at the slowest pace in the league. Mikal, Booker, and Ayton are all great in transition and with pace. This was maybe my biggest concern with the Chris Paul signing. Obviously it’s bet a big net positive trade but this could be the biggest negative effect. We shouldn’t be last in pace.

Sun-Arc: My guess is the lack of pre-season pick-up games and short training camp time together are to blame for lackluster gelling of the starters. One of the main issues seems to be a lack of chemistry between Paul and Ayton in the pick and roll. If that were singing, this team would be that much better. We’ve seen glimpses of what they could be together, which has me excited - though its clear they don’t have the comfort or timing with each other down. Though any of these woes have not hurt us much thus far.

In comparison, it has been interesting to see the bench gelling just fine. Which makes sense, since the bench group is basically the Bubble Bench. I think the entire team will continue to gain comfort as the season moves on.

SDKyle: I think the team is just playing more deliberately than the team got used to last year because that’s CP3’s style. His Hornets teams were routinely among the slowest teams in the NBA, and his Thunder team last year was 22nd in pace. Only a handful of times in his career has he played a faster than average pace.

Now he’s leading the Suns as the slowest team in the NBA, at an estimated 96 possessions per 48 minutes. They were at over 100 the last couple of seasons.

All that said... I’m hesitant to mess with anything when the team is 7-3. Address it when it starts becoming a real problem. Right now it really isn’t.

SouthernSun: We’re only 10 games into the season with a bunch of new faces. I don’t think its any cause for concern. The only change I could think worth making would be replacing Crowder in the starting unit with Johnson, but that would take away from how great the bench has been.

One big thing the bench has going for it is continuity. Mostly, the bench is the same one that did so well in the bubble. They have experience playing together and fit really well.

Cam has proven to be firepower off the bench that the Suns can ill afford to change up from. Crowder playing a 3 and D role in the starting unit is great for now. The starting units offense will come around as soon as Booker and CP3 learn how to not only coexist, like they are now, but thrive. That will come with familiarity. And that CP3/Ayton relationship is just as important.

Alex S: To start, absolutely not when it comes to making a starting 5 change. We’re only ten games into the season with two new starters, a brand new floor general and an increased role for Mikal Bridges/decreased role for Devin Booker. It’s simply a matter of time and experience for this group to click on all fronts, but there’s been signs of greatness that you need to see. As Saturday against the Pacers showed, once the team cleans up the turnovers they can put up an offensive explosion (125 points). Lastly, it’s clear they’re making a huge effort to get Ayton involved early and I think teams know that heading into the game. I’d like to see Devin and CP3 attack earlier on then they have which would open up the game for DA.

To expand on the first statement, I don’t think there could be a more foolish thing than to bench an offseason acquisition (Crowder) when your franchise is atop the West. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Q2 - What has Monty Williams done best with the team so far this season and what do you think he could still improve on?

GuarGuar: I like how he staggers CP and Book and how Dario is our small ball 5. I was concerned he wouldn’t use Dario that way but he is. Dario was a beast in that role in the bubble and he’s started the season right where he left off. And again I think the biggest improvement to make is with our pace of play.

Sun-Arc: The rotations look so much better than most of last season. I love taking Paul and Ayton out after around seven minutes into each half to bring them in at the start of the 2nd & 4th quarters (against opposing bench players). This also staggers Booker and Paul, helping keep a sure playmaker and offensive threat on the floor at all times. Not that Payne hasn’t been amazing in his playing time on those fronts. Monty has played the right players the right amount of minutes too - particularly since Dario has been available.

Though its really the way that Monty and Jones have built a culture together that deserves the most praise.

SDKyle: I think his best achievement has been establishing (with help of course) a culture of winning and toughness. This Suns team has a real edge to it which we haven’t seen in a long time.

I think he could still improve on his substitution patterns a bit... they seem kinda random and nonsensical at times. Like any time Frank plays meaningful minutes. But that’s just nitpicking really. I’m pretty happy.

SouthernSun: I mean, he’s obviously doing something right with the way this teams been playing. He’s done a good job with some sets out of timeouts recently. Those seem to be improving. He’s got this team very engaged on defense and playing the stingiest D I’ve seen the Suns play in pretty much ever. He’s able to keep egos in check pretty well. There hasn’t been any peeps about playing time, despite E’Twaun Moore not getting hardly any minutes at all, and Jevon only averaging 11mpg for the first 7 or so games until he came alive offensively in the last couple.

Alex S: The thing he’s done best so far is get the buy in on the defensive end. Although he’s been helped with guys like Carter/CP3/Crowder, he deserves credit for creating a culture that starts with effort and defense.

The one thing I want to improve a bit is get Galloway more minutes. He should be playing 15 a night, not 5-10. Find a way to make it happen!

Q3 - Deandre Ayton recently said he doesn’t care about offense and that he’s concentrating on being the best defensive player he can be. What’s your opinion of this?

GuarGuar: I think that’s a good approach to have for this specific team. We don’t need him to score 20+ points every night. We have a lot of offensive weapons and are very deep. We do need him to be a consistent force defensively every night. Him being a top defensive anchor is really what we need most. I like this mindset from DA.

Sun-Arc: As much as I never like hearing any player saying they don’t care about one side of the ball, in Ayton’s case right now its not all bad. As a rookie we never thought he’d be this good on defense, full stop. And to have gotten this much better in (basically) under two seasons is amazing. The offense comes easier to him anyway, so its good for him to concentrate on what he sees as his weakness. When CP3 and he get the pick and roll going, he (and we) won’t have to worry about his offense at all.

SDKyle: I appreciate where he’s coming from, and his defense is a real positive for this team.

But I think it’s an overcorrection. Basketball is played on both ends, and both ends matter. For Ayton to only average 13 points a game is not a really good long-term outcome for the Suns... we don’t want him to be just Jarrett Allen plus 20 pounds.

I’ve accepted that this is where Ayton is this year. He’s made a choice to assert himself on defense and just play opportunistic offense. The Suns are winning so I’m not stressing it. But if the Suns lose one of these scorers to an injury, and odds are good one of Booker, Paul, or Johnson will miss time this year, we will need Ayton to get some buckets more consistently.

I hope he will be ready if and when that time comes.

SouthernSun: It’s very interesting. It is almost certainly better for his development in the long run. I’m assuming some fans don’t like how that sounds (though the majority probably do), but it makes sense. It could also be that he knows he hasn’t played well on that end so far and he’s paying lip service, saying whatever necessary to call attention away from that. He tends to say lots of good things. That being said, I like what I’ve seen from him defensively, despite the fact that statistics say he’s actually playing poorly on both ends right now. The eye test mostly says otherwise. As I’ve mentioned before, I fully expect him to look like a completely different beast once he and CP3 form a good connection. And either way, as long as he’s doing what Monty tells him to do, and the team is winning, I won’t have many complaints.

Alex S: That’s the right approach and the most realistic for his development. It’s quite shocking the change in career arc from rookie year DA to current DA. The initial question was would Ayton ever be an impact player on a winning team or would he just be a stat stuffer? Now it’s will his offense be impactful enough to make him a two-way force?

Deandre’s best case for this season is now looking like 16 and 12 on really good efficiency while playing elite defense around the rim and on switches. This type of player is somebody the Suns will want for their long-term future.

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


Game Highlights

Toronto Raptors vs. Phoenix Suns [FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS]

Phoenix Suns vs. Detroit Pistons [FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS]

Phoenix Suns vs. Indiana Pacers [FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS]

Mikal Bridges CAREER HIGH Highlights vs. Pacers - 34 Points (12-18 FG), 3 REB, 2 AST


Key Stats

2.0 turnovers per game

That was Devin Booker’s TO average for the 3 games this week. That brings his season average down to 4.3 TOs per game and drops him down to 7th in the league after being the league leader early on.

12.9 contested shots per game

This is a “hustle” stat and that figure belongs to Deandre Ayton and it places him at 7th in the NBA in this category. Deandre is also 7th in the league in the sub-category of contested 3-pt shots with 4.5 per game and is the only center in the top 10.

36.4 PITP (Points In The Paint)

The Suns are presently dead last in scoring points in the paint this season. In 2019-20 the Suns averaged scoring 47.8 PITP per game (14th). They average giving up 45.0 PITP per game which is 11th in the NBA and improved from their 49.8 average from last season.

Random stats: The Suns’ bench has the best Net Rating (plus-8.7) in the NBA. The entire team is ranked 4th in net rating with a plus-6.1. The Suns have 7 players - including all 5 starters - who are averaging double figures in scoring.

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


Quotes of the Week

“Jevon (Carter) is one of the few people in the league who plays 94 feet every night.” - Monty Williams

“When you look at the best defense in our league, it’s not just one guy on the court. It’s team defense. You’ve gotta play on a string.” - Jae Crowder


Rookie Report

Jalen Smith - 10.2 mpg, 2.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.5 bpg, 0.5 TO, 0.5 PF, 0.0 3PT%

  • This week - Did Not Play (Injured/Health & Safety Protocols)

Ty-Shon Alexander - 2.5 mpg, 0.0 ppg, 0.5 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.0 TO, 0.5 PF, 0.0 3PT%

  • This week - Did Not Play (Coach’s Decision)

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.


Injury Status Report

Cameron Payne - Ankle/Expected to be out until at least January 11.

Jalen Smith - Health and safety protocols/Expected to be out until at least January 13.


News & Notes

VIDEO: Mikal Bridges drenched in locker room after shattering career high. Clutch Points

Phoenix Suns’ Jae Crowder one who got away from Miami Heat. South Florida Sun Sentinel

The most surprising thing about the Phoenix Suns’ hot start. Clutch Points

7 Game Review: Real or Not Real. Cody Hunt/Zona Hoops

Tom Chambers on Phoenix Suns: ‘They’re just getting warmed up’. Arizona Sports

Phoenix Suns Showing Surprising Defensive Strength In Fast Start. Forbes

NBA Tweaks Rules For Hardship Provision, 10-Day Contracts. Hoops Rumors

As rosters thin, NBA has no plans to pause season. Adrian Wojnarowski/ESPN


This Week in Suns History

On January 11, 1997, Robert Horry, recently suspended for throwing a towel in the face of Suns head coach Danny Ainge while also screaming obscenities at him, was traded to the LA Lakers in a four-player deal that brought Cedric Ceballos back to the Suns.


Suns Trivia

Cameron Johnson is currently 5th on the Suns’ All-Time list for career 3-pointers made per game with 1.99. Quentin Richardson is number one on the list with 2.86 made per game.

For a single season, Cam is currently 3rd on the All-Time list with 2.7 3-pt makes after 10 games this season. Mikal Bridges is currently 2nd on that list with 2.8 makes this season and Jae Crowder is 5th with 2.5. Quentin Richardson also tops this list with his 2.86 makes per game during the 2005 season and Raja Bell is 4th with 2.63 from the 2007 season.


Previewing the week ahead

Monday, January 11 - Phoenix Suns @ Washington Wizards 5 pm AZT

Wednesday, January 13 - Phoenix Suns vs Atlanta Hawks 7 pm AZT

Friday, January 15 - Phoenix Suns vs Golden State Warriors 7 pm AZT

Saturday, January 16 - Phoenix Suns vs Indiana Pacers 7 pm AZT

The Suns have four games this week beginning with their final game of the Eastern Conference road trip started last week followed by a three-game homestand. Yet again they will have another back-to-back to deal with (their fourth of the season) but at least this one will be at home.

First up are the 2-8 Washington Wizards. Don’t be fooled by their record because the Wizards are a dangerous team... offensively. They’re 2nd in the NBA in points per game (119.7) and play at the fastest pace (107.0) in the NBA. If they played even average defense they would be much more dangerous but they don’t (27th). The Suns could be getting a break as Bradley Beal in out on health and safety protocols but he might be cleared in time for the game. Regardless of Beal’s availability, if the Suns can control the pace and not get into a high-speed shootout with them they should get win number 8 in DC.

Next the Suns head home to take on yet another Eastern Conference team, the 4-5 Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks spent a lot of money in free agency this year to get veteran talent to surround their young core headlined by Trae Young. They got off to a good 4-1 start but are presently on a 4-game losing streak due at least in part to rash of injuries. The Hawks could be without as many as 7 players on Wednesday or as few as 2 (only Danilo Gallinari and Kris Dunn are definitely out) but none of their five losses have been by more than 8 points so don’t expect the Suns to have an easy time in this one. I expect the Suns to get another win at home though.

On Friday the 6-4 Warriors come to Phoenix and former Sun Kelly Oubre Jr. gets his first chance at a revenge game... although I’m more worried about Steph Curry. The Warriors’ numbers for the season don’t look great but in their last 5 games (4 wins, 1 loss) they’ve had the 2nd highest rated offense in the NBA, their defense has jumped up to 9th and their net rating is number 1 during that period. I’m calling the odds for the Suns getting a win at 50/50 in this game.

To finish off another busy week, the Suns again play the Pacers on a Saturday night and again the Suns will be playing them on the 2nd night of a back-to-back. We saw how good the Pacers are just a couple of days ago and it’s probable that exact same lineup will be back for round two in Phoenix. The chances for the Suns to get a second win against them are good but could also be heavily influenced by how the game against GS on Friday goes. I’m giving the Suns 50/50 odds in this one too.

I believe that the Suns will go 3-1 this week with the loss coming against either the Warriors or the Pacers.

What’s your prediction?


Important Future Dates

February 6 - Most free agents signed this offseason can be traded.

February 23 - First day that teams can sign players to 10-day contracts.

February 27 - Leaguewide salary guarantee date.

March 3 - All free agents signed this offseason can be traded.

March 5-10 - Mid-season break (no All-Star game).

March 25 - NBA Trade Deadline.

May 16 - Regular season ends.

May 17 to 21 - Play-in tournament for 7-to-10 seeds.

May 22 - First-round playoffs.

June 7 - Conference semifinals.

June 22 - Conference Finals.

July 8-22 - NBA Finals.


Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “Has Cameron Payne proved that he deserves the Suns’ backup point guard slot yet?”

87.5% - Yes.

11.5% - Not yet.

01.0% - His performance so far is a fluke. He’ll eventually fail.

A total of 313 votes were cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

More and more players have started to miss games due to the NBA’s health and safety (COVID-19) protocols. Do you believe this will ultimately lead to another season "suspension" at some point this year?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    Yes.
    (55 votes)
  • 69%
    No.
    (127 votes)
182 votes total Vote Now