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Center of the Sun: Suns struggle in Week 5, Booker out indefinitely

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Your weekly roundup of Suns news, rumors, notes and videos from the prior week plus a preview of the week to come.

Denver Nuggets v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

Phoenix Suns @ Memphis Grizzlies L (108-104) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns @ Houston Rockets W (109-103) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Denver Nuggets L (130-126 OT) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Denver Nuggets L (120-112 DOT) Full Recap

Although the Suns had a dismal showing in the win/loss column last week and lost Devin Booker for a yet to be determined period of time due to a hamstring injury, it was a very good week for Deandre Ayton. In the last 4 games, Deandre averaged 22 pts, 14.8 rebs and 2 blocks per game... a very welcomed increase over his season averages of 15.0 pts, 12.2 rebs and 1.3 blocks.

While the increase in his stats is good by itself, the way he’s been playing during that time is the really impressive thing. Deandre’s been aggressive and slamming home dunks instead of going for layups/layins. He’s been using his size to move defenders out of the way instead of trying to out-finesse or out maneuver them. More driving to the basket instead of settling for jumpers. He’s been playing with confidence on both ends of the floor.

The question among fans though is “Will it last?”

We’ve seen glimpses of this Ayton in the past but usually only in single games and not often enough for those to silence his critics. This present four game stretch doesn’t really answer that question but it’s a good start as well as a good sign.

With Devin Booker out for a while with an injury, the Suns will need to be able to lean on Deandre more than ever to get wins. Hopefully he will be up to the challenge.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - The Suns are playing at the 3rd slowest pace (27th) in the NBA. In their previous 5 seasons they were 9th (last season), 12th, 2nd, 2nd and 4th (2015-16) in pace. It has been suggested that this slower pace is playing a big part in why Devin Booker’s offensive production has been down this year. What’s your opinion on this?

GuarGuar: I think our slow pace has affected a number of our starters. Book, Mikal, and Ayton are all great in transition and playing at a faster pace. It seems like we are playing a little faster lately but I still would like to see more. I think Booker’s slow start is more of him just missing shots he normally makes and getting used to playing with CP.

Sun-Arc: I would think the slower pace has at least some effect on Booker’s production. Though his FTA per game are only down from 18.5 to 17.1, which is a drop but not a huge one. In line with that, the team as a whole is attempting slightly fewer FGAs per game so far compared to last year; 86.3 vs 88.1. Also Paul, Bridges, and Crowder are taking about the same amount of shots (~30) as Rubio, Bridges, and Oubre last season. (Ayton is taking about 4.5 shots less per game so far, just to round out the starters.) Booker is also playing only half a minute less than last season.

I think the bigger reason is the team figuring out their offense with CP3 at the helm. We’ve seen some confounding plays between Paul and Book where they don’t seem to know where to play off each other. That should come in time. In the meantime, Booker is shooting .468 on FG% this season compared to .489 last season, and .342 compared to .354 on threes. If it is not the missing chemistry issues, the only scientific explanation we have with proof is the Kardashian effect (lol).

SDKyle: I don’t really buy into the idea that playing faster would solve anything for the Suns. Booker is struggling slightly (he’s still averaging 23 efficient points, let’s remember) with a down year. It’s possible last year was his peak and he may not exceed that. Sometimes guys have somewhat down years. I think it’s premature to say that Booker averaging 3 fewer points per game indicates a systemic problem.

SouthernSun: That’s certainly a possibility. He also has tons of new teammates, a co-star in Paul who requires a good amount of on ball time, and the progression of Cam Johnson and Mikal Bridges is taking away some of the necessity for Devin to take some of the shots he used to have to take. But I do believe that once things settle down, everybody gets into a rhythm and the chemistry gets better, Booker will start looking like his old self.

Alex S: I think it’s a legitimate observation in regards to Devin’s regression early in the season, but he’s starting to show signs of coming out of the slump too. However, with the hamstring injury there might another set back looming for Book.

The biggest issue is the turnovers but that can be somewhat expected with the addition of a new backcourt mate in Chris Paul. It’s still too early to get overly concerned with his struggles.

Q2 - The Suns defense has improved this year (up to 10th from 17th in 2019-20) but steals per game are down by 24.7% compared to last season (29th at 5.8 spg in 2020-21, 14th at 7.7 spg in 2019-20). On the surface, those two stats seem to be contradictory. How can the Suns be better defensively this year while simultaneously being worse in getting steals?

GuarGuar: Basically we are just forcing a lot more misses this year. We are contesting shots a lot better. Steals have some variance to them so I expect us to improve as the season goes on. We don’t really haven’t many negative defensive players in our rotation this season.

Sun-Arc: Having better rotations and better consistency with effort allows for a better overall defense as a team with fewer steals. I’m not sure if that is by design, a product of the slower pace, exchanging Oubre for Crowder, or all three. As much as I miss the steals and fast breaks, I am really enjoying the defense better game-to-game. There are still lapses, but mostly the rotations are crisp and Jae is a much smarter defender overall.

SDKyle: Steals are just one part of defense. I think compared to years previous the Suns are doing a better job denying easy looks by contesting better and denying easy penetrations and entry passes.

FWIW, steals don’t necessarily correlate very closely to overall defense in any case. They are an indicator of a team’s willingness to work hard on that end, perhaps, but it’s not very conclusive. The Lakers are the league’s best defense, and are 21st in steals per game.

SouthernSun: Maybe it means they are simply playing better team defense, gambling less for steals, sticking in front of their man, etc. Kelly Oubre got steals, but he wasn’t exactly a high level defender. That’s probably a fairly good analogy for the team itself this year. The defense isn’t as “flashy”, but it’s more effective.

Alex S: Team defense has gotten significantly better with the updated roster and Deandre Ayton is consistently being a force on the defensive end. Steals can be a bad way to judge defense considering there’s risk involved to get a steal.

Q3 - The NBA did not want to go against the Olympics on TV this summer which is why they tried to squeeze a 72 game schedule into such a short period of time. If the Olympics are cancelled (which it seems like they will be), should the NBA lengthen the season add more space between games when they come out with the 2nd half of the 2020-21 schedule?

GuarGuar: If the Olympics are cancelled then the NBA should definitely consider lengthening the season. It’s been a very rocky first month with all the postponements due to contact tracing. No reason to have a ton of back to backs in the second half of the season if there is no Olympics. I wouldn’t extend too long though because the 2021-2022 season should be starting around Halloween.

Sun-Arc: I definitely think the NBA should/will stretch out the season if the Olympics get cancelled. Looks like they’ll need to rotate back in the suspended games all the teams have missed and extending some time prior to playoffs would ensure a safter (less injuries and C-19 infections) end to the season.

SDKyle: I’m not a fan of making up the schedule as you go along... but sure. More normalcy would be a good thing.

SouthernSun: This is a great question. The NBA actually knowingly (or maybe unknowingly) gave themselves this option by not coming out with the second half schedule yet. It would make a ton of sense for them to stretch things out a little bit if the Olympics are indeed postponed. The Suns themselves were scheduled to have I think four different sets of back to back games in January alone until they ended up missing some of those games due to Covid protocol. That’s too many. It would probably help keep more players healthy if they stretched out the season.

Alex S: I think that would be a great idea actually. Teams have been forced to postpone multiple games already so it makes plenty of sense to add more time towards the calendar in order to ensure each team has as equal of chances to make the playoffs. The Suns in particular have been screwed with a mini run of games postponed that would be very beneficial for the team to have down the stretch of the season to maximize their seeding potential.

I would love to see the Olympics but this would be a good alternative if it were to happen.

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

Phoenix Suns vs. Memphis Grizzlies [FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS]

Deandre Ayton 18 Pts 16 Rebs 3 Asts Highlights vs Memphis Grizzlies

Phoenix Suns vs. Houston Rockets [FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS]

Deandre Ayton 26 Points, 17 Rebounds, 5 Blocks vs Rockets

Denver Nuggets vs Phoenix Suns - Full Game Highlights | January 22, 2021

Deandre Ayton 27 Pts 13 Rebs 1 Ast Highlights vs Denver Nuggets

Devin Booker 31 Pts 5 Rebs 5 Asts Highlights vs Denver Nuggets

Mikal Bridges 24 Pts 6 Threes 4 Asts 10 Rebs Highlights vs Denver Nuggets

NUGGETS at SUNS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | January 23, 2021

Deandre Ayton 17 Pts 13 Rebs 2 Stls Highlights vs Denver Nuggets


Key Stats

23.7 4th quarter points per game, 99.2 OffRtg

The Suns have lost leads - and games - due to poor scoring late in the game. Their 23.7 ppg average in 4th quarters is dead last in the NBA, down 6.3 ppg from their 3rd quarter average (29.0, 8th in the NBA) and the 4th is their worst scoring quarter overall (26.7 in the 1st and 29.2 in the 2nd). Their ppg average in the 4th virtually does not change in wins (23.8) or losses (23.6) so it’s consistent. Their 99.2 Offensive Rating in 4th quarters ranks 29th and is far below their full-game 110.5 OffRtg (11th).

On defense, they’ve been good in the 4th allowing opposing teams to average only 25.2 ppg in the final quarter (tied for 4th best in the NBA). Their overall Defensive Ranking is 10th (108.7 DefRtg) and they are actually slightly better on D in 4th quarters with a 107.4 DefRtg. Their overall plus-1.8 NetRtg (11th) drops to a dismal minus-8.2 NetRtg (25th) in the 4th quarter though because of the offense.

All this points to an offensive problem as to the reason why they ultimately lost several games in which they had early leads. As this problem tends to only show up late in games, it’s very likely an offensive adjustment problem which is ultimately the responsibility of the coach.

Random stats: The Suns are also making 35.8% of their threes per game (14th) this season but in the 4th quarter they are hitting on only 26.2% of their 3pt attempts (29th). Their overall field goal percentage drops from 46.5% (15th) per game to just 42.3% (25th) in the 4th.

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


Quotes of the Week

“It’s just a matter of taking what [the defense] gives. Just learning how to pick and choose spots, and where to take advantage of them is something I’ve been doing along with working on executing drives and pull-ups.” - Cameron Johnson

“He (Chris Paul) really defines a vocal leader. He’s always talking. It does’t matter if he’s in the game, if it’s a dead ball, he’s on the bench. He’s always talking, you’ve always gotta listen.” - Langston Galloway

“Chris (Paul) has gone through everything we’re trying to get to in this league. Big games, playoffs. We want to get to that point, and with Chris, we’re headed in the right direction.” - Devin Booker


Rookie Report

Jalen Smith - 9.7 mpg, 3.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.7 bpg, 0.3 TO, 1.0 PF, 33.3 3PT%

  • This week - 8.8 mpg, 5.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.0 apg, 0.0 spg, 1.0 bpg, 0.0 TO, 2.0 PF, 50.0 3PT%, 3 DNP (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

Devin Booker - Hamstring/Game Time Decision.

Dario Saric - Health and safety protocols/Game Time Decision.

Damian Jones - Health and safety protocols/Game Time Decision.


News & Notes

The Whiteboard: Is Deandre Ayton finally ready for ‘DOMINAYTON’? Gerald Bourguet/The Step Back

Chris Paul’s Latest Chapter May Be the Most Fulfilling of His Career. SI.com

Phoenix Suns’ Langston Galloway Is NBA’s Biggest Sneakerhead. Forbes

Good Phoenix Suns need Devin Booker to be great. Hoops Habit

Always Ready. Suns.com


Interesting Suns Stuff

Is Chris Paul the Best Point Guard for Devin Booker? | The Mismatch | The Ringer


This Week in Suns History

On January 29, 1984, the NBA’s first All-Star Saturday took place in Denver at McNichols Arena. The first Nestle Crunch Slam-Dunk winner was Phoenix’s Larry Nance, who used a two-ball windmill dunk to beat favorites Julius Erving and Dominique Wilkins.


Suns Trivia

In Friday’s game against Denver, Devin Booker scored 31 points which put him over 8,000 career points (8,003). He is the 9th youngest to player to reach 8,000 points and he now only needs to score another 32 points to move past Dan Majerle into 10th place on the Suns All-Time leading scorers list.


Previewing the week ahead

Wednesday, January 27 - Phoenix Suns vs Oklahoma City Thunder 7 pm AZT

Thursday, January 28 - Phoenix Suns vs Golden State Warriors 8 pm AZT

Saturday, January 30 - Phoenix Suns @ Dallas Mavericks 6:30 pm AZT

The Suns have just three games scheduled this week with a three day rest following last week’s games. Those three days could be quite important as they improve the odds that Devin Booker (hamstring) and Dario Saric (health & safety protocols) could be available for their next game.

On Wednesday the Suns will host Chris Paul’s previous team, the OKC Thunder. OKC is at 6-9 after losing 5 of their last 6 games and they have only one win against a team currently with a winning record. Following the trade that brought CP3 to the Suns, the Thunder have largely become “The Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Show” as they work to build for the future but they can still be a dangerous team so the Suns can’t take them - or anyone else - lightly. With the right mindset, I think that the Suns shouldl still get a win even if Booker and Saric aren’t back for this one based on how well they played without them against Denver on Saturday.

There’s little time to rest for the team after the OKC game as on Thursday night the 8-8 Warriors come to Phoenix. These aren’t the Warriors of years past but they’re still a very good team with a still excellent Stephen Curry leading them. While former Sun Kelly Oubre Jr. hasn’t had a good season filling in for the injured Klay Thompson so far, former number 1 pick in the 2014 draft Andrew Wiggins has improved his game a bit and rookie center James Wiseman has been playing fairly well. 30 year old Draymond Green seems to have lost a little bit in some areas but is leading GS in assists with 6.8 in just 26.1 minutes per game. This will be a tough game, especially on the 2nd night of a B2B, BUT Golden State will also be playing on the 2nd night of a B2B on the road after playing Minnesota in Minny on Wednesday. I think that the Suns can pull out a win in this one, especially if Booker and/or Dario are back.

Finally, the Suns hit the road again for another Saturday night game in Dallas against the 8-8 Mavericks. Even though it’s on the road, the Suns will have a slight rest advantage as they have the day before off while tha Mavs will be playing on the 2nd night of a B2B of their own after facing off against the Jazz in Utah on Friday night. The Suns beat the Mavs 106-102 in both teams’ season opener in Phoenix on Dec. 23 but Dallas was then without Kristaps Porzingis who has since returned to their active roster. Recently though, COVID has taken it’s toll on the Mavs who have been playing without Dwight Powell, Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber and Josh Richardson. Some or all of them will likely be back for this game though. If the Suns are back to full strength, I’m picking them to get another win over a tired Mavs team... especially if they decide to sit Porzingis on the 2nd night of a B2B as they did a few days ago.

I believe that the Suns could win all three games this week but will likely go 2-1 because of their troubles in closing out games. Your guess is as good as mine as to just which game they’re most likely to lose.

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 “Instead of allowing teams to sign a 3rd two-way contract player, should the NBA allow teams to start signing players to 10-day contracts to fill out rosters when players are out with COVID-19?

28% - Yes.

03% - No.

69% - They should do both.

A total of 90 votes were cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

Who is most responsible for the Suns’ 4th quarter woes?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    The players.
    (34 votes)
  • 18%
    The coach.
    (44 votes)
  • 66%
    Both deserve some of the blame.
    (155 votes)
233 votes total Vote Now