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Center of the Sun: Suns’ season record falls to second best after Christmas Day Loss

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

Golden State Warriors 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 @ LA Lakers W (108-90) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Oklahoma City Thunder W (113-101) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Golden State Warriors L (116-107) Full Recap

The Suns losing their first Christmas Day game in over 10 years was disappointing but not the end of the world (or the season). In short, Book and a few other players had off-nights while Golden State had several players step up their games to meet the challenge. It happens. Even with those problems, the Suns had the opportunity to get the win near the end but ultimately fell flat.

That disappointment we can move on from but unfortunately another, COVID, has finally reared its head within the Suns ranks.

So far - and that’s the key phrase here - only Jae Crowder and Elfrid Payton have been placed on health and safety protocols but it’s very likely that others will soon follow. According to CBS Sports’ NBA injury report site, they are both listed as “Expected to be out until at least Jan. 2” which is less than the normal 10 day quarantine period. It’s been in the news lately that the NBA and NBPA were discussing shortening that period from 10 to 6 days but I’ve heard nothing about the rules actually changing yet so this may be a mistake on their part. Hopefully not as a return in 6 rather than 10 days would be great for every team.

Hopefully the Suns can avoid being hit hard by the COVID bug and keep the rest of their roster healthy in the coming weeks but they are now down six players - Saric, Kaminsky, Nader, Crowder, Payton and Ish Wainright (with lower back soreness) - and will need to bring in short-term reinforcements. Prepare to see a lot of new faces on the squad soon as they work their way through replacement players on 10-day contracts to avoid game postponements.


Game Highlights

SUNS at LAKERS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | December 21, 2021

Devin Booker (24 PTS, 6 3PM) Matches a Regular Season Career-High in 3s vs. LA Lakers

THUNDER at SUNS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | December 23, 2021

Devin Booker (30 PTS) Took Over vs. OKC Thunder

Cam Johnson (21 PTS, 7-7 FG, 5-5 3 PM) Had Himself a Night

WARRIORS at SUNS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | December 25, 2021


Key Stats

10.3 PPG, 9.7 FGA, 38.3% FG, 30.9% 3-PT, 43.9% eFG%

These are Cameron Payne’s numbers for the season. I don’t need to tell you that they aren’t very good but they’re especially bad for the backup PG that you’re counting on to help hold a 36 year old Chris Paul’s regular season minutes down to an acceptable level while still winning games. Payne is 9th in minutes per game for the Suns this season but 4th in field goal attempts per game. Only Booker, DA and CP3 are averaging more FGAs than Payne this season. His points per game average is also 8th on the team, not at all in line with someone taking the 4th highest number of shots.

While his shooting percentages aren’t the worst of his 7 year NBA career, they’re close to it. His FG, 3-PT and eFG percentages this season are all the 6th worst in his 7 years in the league. His offensive rating of 95 is the lowest of any Suns player getting regular rotation minutes (only Payton, Nader, Hutchison and Wainright have lower ORtgs this season).

His 2.1 turnovers per game is also his worst ever and his 56 total turnovers this season is already the 2nd highest total number per year of his career. Last season was Payne’s highest with just 60 total turnovers in 60 games played and he’s just 4 TOs short of equaling that after playing in only 27 games this season.

7.8 PPG, 6.8 FGA, 37.7% FG, 37.1% 3-PT, 50.2% eFG%

Coupled with Landry Shamet’s shooting woes (above - which don’t look quite as bad when compared to Payne’s), the Suns’ backup backcourt is falling well short of expectations this year. So far, Shamet is having the worst shooting year of his 4-year NBA career but at least his three point percentage is still above average and the majority of his shots (67.5%) are three point attempts.

15.9 PPG (23rd), 38.4% FG (22nd), 33.2% 3-PT (18th)

These are the stats for the Suns’ bench guards this season. This includes not only Payne and Shamet but every other Suns player that logged minutes off the bench at either of the two guard positions.

Random stats: The Suns’ starting backcourt is averaging only 3.3 turnovers per game, 3rd best in the NBA this season*. It is also 3rd best in 3-Pt percentage (38.7%) but is dead last in 3-Pt attempts per game at 8.9.

* Author’s note: This low TO figure for the Suns starting backcourt is partially due to the 7 games in which Shamet started for Booker. Shamet is averaging only 0.5 TOs in 20.5 minutes per game.


Quotes of the Week

“I’m still in progress. Some good accomplishments but still a long way to go.” - Devin Booker

“We’re stacked offensively, but where our team really comes together is on the defensive end.” - James Jones

“I do want to make a certain spot my home, and this (Phoenix) does feel like home – I’m not gonna lie to you.” - Jae Crowder


Injury Status Report

Abdel Nader (Knee) Expected to be out until at least December 29.

Ish Wainright (Lower back soreness) Expected to be out until at least December 29.

Jae Crowder (Covid-19) Expected to be out until at least January 2.

Elfrid Payton (Covid-19) Expected to be out until at least January 2.

Frank Kaminsky (Knee) Expected to be out until at least January 10.

Dario Saric (Knee) Expected to be out until at least April 1.


News & Notes

Suns’ Devin Booker sounds off on getting outplayed by Stephen Curry, Warriors. Clutch Points

5 takeaways from Phoenix Suns Christmas loss to Golden State Warriors. Yahoo! Sports

How Chris Paul has helped Suns navigate through the pandemic. NBA.com

Phoenix Suns’ Deandre Ayton Looking Ahead, Staying Positive. Fox Sports

Suns view JaVale McGee as missing piece to championship puzzle. NBA.com

Suns’ ‘recipe’ for revenge in playoffs, per GM James Jones. Clutch Points

Devin Booker 1-on-1: Vet status, Christmas plans and Finals/Olympics run. Arizona Sports

Chris Paul reacts to his dunk over Dwight Howard from 15 years ago, hilariously admits he asks kids to YouTube the video if they doubt his dunking ability. Sportskeeda

Holiday Assist Leaders. Suns.com


This Week in Suns History

On December 29, 2006, the Suns defeated the New York Knicks 108-86 to begin what would be a (then) franchise record win streak of 17 games. The previous franchise record of 15 games was accomplished by this same team earlier in the season and ended only 10 days before the new win streak began.

On December 30, 1992, the Suns defeated Houston 133-110 to finish December with a 14-0 record, tying for (then) the third-best month in NBA history and, at the time, the longest win streak in franchise history.

On January 2, 2001, Tony Delk, a 6’1” NBA journeyman PG/SG, scored a career high 53 points for the Suns in a 121-117 loss to the Sacramento Kings. This more than doubled Delk’s previous game high of 26 points in a loss for Golden State in 1998. Delk played 10 seasons in the NBA for 8 different teams with a career scoring average of 9.1 ppg. One year later, Delk was traded to the Boston Celtics as part of the Suns trade package that brought Joe Johnson to Phoenix.


Suns Trivia

Devin Booker needs 34 points to reach 10,000 career points scored.

At 9.9 assists per game, Chris Paul is leading the NBA in assists. If he finishes the season leading the league in assists, it will be the 9th time that a Suns player has done so. Steve Nash did it 5 times and Jason Kidd did it 3 times as Suns. The only other Suns player to lead the league in any statistical category was Ron Lee who led the league in steals (2.74 per game) in 1978.


Previewing the Week Ahead

Monday, Dec. 27 - Phoenix Suns vs Memphis Grizzlies 7:00 pm AZT

Wednesday, Dec. 29 - Phoenix Suns vs Oklahoma City Thunder 7:00 pm AZT

Friday, Dec. 31 - Phoenix Suns @ Boston Celtics 11:00 am AZT

Sunday, Jan. 2 - Phoenix Suns @ Charlotte Hornets 5:00 pm AZT

It’s back to the grind for Phoenix with four games this week. The first two are at home before they begin a three game road trip that extends into the following week.

First up the Grizzlies make their first trip of the season to Footprint to try and get even for the 25 point pasting the Suns handed them back on Nov. 12 in front of their home crowd. Memphis was looking very good for a while with a 5-game win streak without Ja Morant but then went on a 3-game losing streak including 2 losses after Ja returned. The Griz have a very good but mostly young team which could be behind their inconsistency. Playing at home, I think the Suns will win again against them but don’t count on another blowout win.

Next, OKC comes back to the Valley with hopes of evening their season series with the Suns who beat them 113-101 just a few days ago. That game shouldn’t have been that close but the Suns were foul-happy that night and sent the Thunder to the line 21 times where they hit 16 FTs as opposed to only 8 made FTs for Phoenix. The Suns committed 22 personal fouls to only 10 for OKC and, if they can keep that roughly equal this time, this should be another win for the Suns.

On Friday the Suns head East for their 2nd game of the season against the Boston Celtics and will be looking to make it 2-0 against the Celtics this season. The Celtics were playing without Jaylen Brown in that first game and he’s been on a tear since returning, averaging 25.2 ppg in his last 6 and 29.7 in his last 3. Boston has been hit hard by COVID recently with 9 players currently on H&S protocols but all of those currently out could be back by then. Even with a short 8-man rotation, the Celtics gave the nearly full strength Bucks a scare on Xmas Day and lost by only 4 points. If the Suns are going to lose a game this week, this is it. I don’t expect them to though but it will likely be a close one.

Finally the Suns fly to Charlotte for yet another rematch against a team they pummeled earlier. The Hornets’ defense is still terrible (30th) while their offense is still very good (2nd). The Suns happen to be very good at both (8th on offense, 2nd on defense). The final score in this one may wind up a little closer than the 31 point blowout the Suns handed them a week ago in Phoenix but there is no reason to think that this won’t be another Suns win.

I predict the Suns will go 4-0 this week but I won’t be surprised if they finish 3-1.

And, of course, COVID health and safety protocols could eventually make total hash out of these predictions.

What’s your prediction?


Important Future Dates

January 10 - All Standard NBA contracts are guaranteed for the remainder of the season.

January 15 - All players signed during offseason can be traded. Last day to apply for a disabled player exception.

January 20 - All Two-Way Contracts are guaranteed for the remainder of the season.

February 10 - NBA Trade Deadline (3 p.m. ET).

February 18-23 - NBA All-Star break.

February 20 - NBA All-Star Game.

March 1 - Last day a player can be waived by one team and remain eligible to appear in the postseason for another team.

March 10 - Last day to use a disabled player exception.

April 10 - Regular season ends. Last day players can sign contracts for 2021/22. Last day two-way contracts can be converted to standard NBA contracts.

April 11 - Playoff rosters set (3:00pm ET).

April 12-15 - Play-In Tournament.

April 16 - Playoffs begin.

May 17 - NBA Draft Lottery.

June 23 - NBA Draft.