Even worse is HOW the Suns have lost, coughing up double-digit leads and looking utterly hapless defending the three point line. Suns big man Deandre Ayton, fresh off not getting the max extension he sought, has not been a factor in the later parts of games, and both Devin Booker and Chris Paul are playing below the standards fans expect from them.
So this is bad, right? Well, sure. Losing is never good. Losing to the Kings always feels a bit like getting gut-punched while rolling your eyes. But Suns fans can’t panic yet, and there are some good reasons why.
First, the team knows it is underachieving and the players and coaches aren’t trying to justify it. During the Suns’ long playoff drought, it was not unusual to hear Suns players or coaches downplay the seriousness of an ugly loss, sometimes even attempting to spin blowout losses as moral victories because the team “didn’t quit” down 18.
“For us, it’s never been about winning and losing games,” then-Suns coach Earl Watson once famously told Brightside. In those days, all the Suns did was lose, so at some point it began to stop mattering very much.
Those days are done. The culture has changed. Credit CP3, credit Monty Williams, credit whoever you want...these Suns know they need to better. Ayton went so far as to call the team’s performance in the loss to the Kings “unprofessional.” Some might view this as a sign of some dysfunction, but I think it’s more properly viewed as a heartening sign that even the younger players on the team understand that playing poorly and losing to bad teams is not acceptable.
Second, it’s just a fact that Devin Booker and Chris Paul are going to play better than this over the long run. Booker has been over 58% true shooting for three consecutive seasons, and he’s sitting at under 50% right now. He will come around. Anyone who thinks Chris Paul, who narrowly missed a 50/40/90 season just a few months ago is going to shoot under 40% this season is beyond a pessimist. These guys are going to start clicking eventually, and probably pretty soon.
So, when SHOULD Suns fans panic, if not now? That’s a fair question. I’d circle the Nov. 27 game in Brooklyn against the Nets. That will be the Suns’ 20th game of the season, and the end of a four game road trip with stops in San Antonio and Cleveland before taking on both New York teams.
It’s not an easy stretch, but I’d say that if that road trip ends and the Suns aren’t above .500, it will be a fair time to sound the alarm that SOMETHING isn’t right. The Suns being 10-10 through their first 20 won’t be the end of their playoff and even championship hopes by any means, but if the team isn’t more like 13-7 or 14-6 (and is nominally healthy), then clearly it will indicate something needs fixing beyond “staying focused” or some other easily-digestible sports platitude.
I don’t think it’s very likely we end up needing to press that red button. This team has the talent and veteran leadership to navigate a rocky start. If they fail to do that, then they really will have been, in Ayton’s words “unprofessional.”