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Wash, Rinse, Repeat: Are these Suns a retread of last year’s non-playoff team?

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Both had hot starts. Both sorta fell off the rails.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Last year’s Phoenix Suns team surprised the national landscape with a 7-4 start that began to fall off the rails due to nagging injury and suspension.

This year’s Phoenix Suns team roared out to a 6-2 start that has already begun to fall off the rails due to nagging injury and COVID safety protocols.

Both teams’ record was 7-4 after 11 games, and 8-7 after 15 games.

Both teams were pretty good in ret rating. A year ago after 15 games, the Suns ranked 13th in net rating with a plus-3.9 points per 100 possessions (roughly, a full game adjusted for teams’ varying pace). This year, the Suns rank 10th in net rating with a plus-1.8 p/100.

Both teams were basically top-10 teams after 15 games. A year ago after 15 games, the Suns were ninth on offense and 12th on defense. This year, it’s 11th on offense, 10th on defense.

Both teams had already begun losing important rotation players after a fast start. Last year’s 8-7 team had already suffered the loss of Deandre Ayton for 14 games, Aron Baynes for three games and Ricky Rubio for four games. This year, they’ve lost Dario Saric for eight games, Cameron Payne for two games, and Devin Booker for a game.

Both teams had uncertain health future going forward from game 15.

Last year, Ayton would still miss 11 more games, Baynes would miss six more and Rubio another two before returning to the lineup. Both Rubio and Baynes came back hobbled, shadows of themselves after injury. By the end of the calendar year, 33 games in, the Suns had also lost Booker for three important games.

This year, we don’t have any idea when Dario will return though it’s likely in the next week or so. And we don’t know how long Booker will be suffering from a hammy injury, in or out of the lineup. And frankly, Chris Paul moves around like he’s going to suffer some nagging injury sooner than later, doesn’t he? I don’t mean to predict the worst, but I’ve suffered through the later Nash years and a prematurely aged Rubio for a year, so I expect the worst.

Last year, they lost 14 of 20 games (including an 8-game losing streak) after the 7-4 start through New Years Eve, punctuated with several hard-fought, last-second, heartbreaking losses to good teams (San Antonio in Mexico City, Portland and Denver at home) and ugly losses after big leads over beatable teams.

This year so far, they have lost 5 of 7 games since the 6-2 start, punctuated by uninspired losses to Detroit and Washington, a frustrating loss to Memphis and heart-breaking back to back losses to the Denver Nuggets in overtime.

Are these Suns teams destined to be carbon copies of each other?

Should we expect a bad run of heart break due to injuries/COVID over the next few weeks?

Who knows for sure. I certainly would not have predicted losing five of seven this past couple weeks. Of course it didn’t help that the Suns lost a whole three-game homestand in the middle of that due to a COVID hiatus, or that the Nuggets games each ended in patchwork lineups due to foul/injury issues.

Where do the Suns go from here?

Hopefully back to health. Devin Booker’s hamstring might bounce back quickly, and we can only hope Dario’s COVID situation is not long-lasting. Those two are team leaders that the Suns will sorely miss whenever they are out.

My hopes for a brighter 2021 lie in the supporting cast being better this year than last year.

  • Deandre Ayton > Aron Baynes
  • Chris Paul > Ricky Rubio
  • today’s Mikal Bridges > last year’s Mikal Bridges
  • today’s Cameron Johnson > last year’s Cameron Johnson
  • Dario Saric and Cameron Payne >> Frank Kaminsky and Elie Okobo as primary backups at center and point guard
  • Jevon Carter > Ty Jerome as third point guard
  • Langston Galloway, E’Twaun Moore, Abdel Nader > Ty Jerome, Tyler Johnson as Booker’s primary backups

The only wash or net losses in this year’s rotation over last year, through 15 games:

  • Jae Crowder is even more inconsistent than Kelly Oubre Jr., who basically carried the Suns the first 23 of the season as second leading scorer (but I think the improvements of Bridges and Johnson outweigh this loss)
  • today’s Devin Booker is a bit worse than last year’s Devin Booker, so far

Because this year’s rotation is deeper and more talented, I don’t see this year’s Suns losing their hold on a playoff position over the next two months through the first half of this year’s schedule. Unless there’s even more unexpected injury or COVID issues, that is. But assuming health, I believe this is just a blip on the radar rather than a harbinger of worse to come.


Poll

Are this year’s Suns doomed like last year’s?

This poll is closed

  • 26%
    Yes, the train is off the rails
    (158 votes)
  • 73%
    No, this team will recover more quickly that last year’s team
    (446 votes)
604 votes total Vote Now