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Center of the Sun: Minus Booker, Suns still bounce back with two solid wins in Week 6

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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.

Oklahoma City Thunder 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 vs Oklahoma City Thunder L (102-97) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Golden State Warriors W (114-93) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns @ Dallas Mavericks W (111-105) Full Recap

After a three game losing streak, the Suns bounced back with a couple of wins last week against Western opponents, Golden State and Dallas... without three of the Suns’ key rotation players.

Dario Saric is listed as being out until at least Feb. 5 which would cause him to miss two more games this week, Cameron Payne is listed as out until at least Feb. 3 and Devin Booker is listed as day-to-day. Booker might be back in time for tonight’s rematch with Dallas but I doubt it because hamstring injuries can be tricky to recover from. Although it didn’t seem severe at the time it happened, I believe the Suns will likely err on the side of caution with Booker’s return as that type of injury can linger and/or get worse if the player tries to return to the court too soon.

With Dario out for the past 7 games due to health and safety protocols, the Suns have gone 3-4 with Frank Kaminsky subbing for him off the bench. While Frank is mostly a defensive liability, he has his moments on offense and usually the key is to keep his minutes down so hopefully Deandre stays healthy and out of foul trouble until Dario returns. With Book and Payne out, Langston Galloway, E’Twaun Moore and Abdel Nader have all seen increased minutes while Jevon Carter’s minutes have dropped.

While Carter is a top-notch defender for his size, his offense has always been streaky and dependent on his three-point shooting which has dropped to 27.7% this season while his overall FG% is just 35.3%. I don’t doubt that Carter will eventually get more court time but for now Monty seems content with the more experienced Galloway/Moore combo off the bench.

Abdel Nader’s increased minutes have likely come due to the Suns need for someone willing to aggressively attack the basket instead of settling for three-pointers. While not a great finisher at the basket, he’s still a good one coming off the bench and it’s a role that the Suns needed to fill. As he can also knock down threes (43.8% over the last 7 games), defend and is a more than fair rebounder for a SF (3.6 per game in 18.5 mins), he’s proven to be a useful role player for the Suns.

Unlike recent in years, the Suns seem to have the depth to at least partially compensate for players lost to injuries as well as having one of the best benches they’ve had in a very long time. As the odds are against any team remaining at full strength for any length of time this year, this should prove to be a big strength for Phoenix in their push to return to the playoffs.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - What (or who) do you believe is most to blame for the the Suns recent string of losses?

GuarGuar: Booker being out certainly is a huge hit to our team. There’s an argument to be made we win all 3 of those losses if he doesn’t get hurt. (Especially the Thunder game). Regardless, we had a great opportunity to win all 3 games. We simply didn’t execute in crunch time. That has been a them all season. We also don’t attack the rim at all once we get a big lead.

Sun-Arc: It’s a list for me, provided in descending order:

  1. The chaos caused by C-19, with missing players, a shortened off season and training camp, and the Washington Wizards.
  2. A coach that appears to be short of top-level. At times the coaching seems sharp, but as we say last season too- sometimes (often?) the players do not seem prepared on how to handle adversity from opposing teams.
  3. A GM that didn’t quite get the roster right. We are missing a third PG and big man. Frank had a great game against GSW, but we know that isn’t the norm. With either Ayton or Saric out this team will struggle. Smith & Jones (sounds like a farm equipment manufacturer) just are not fully NBA players at the moment.
  4. Sarver, who’s incompetence created a culture of losing for most of a decade. Sure, I know there are only three players left from two years ago, but doesn’t it feel like that culture is proving difficult to shake?

SDKyle: I don’t think there’s enough evidence to suggest that there’s some kind of serious systemic problem with the Suns. They’re about where I expected them to be.

That said, I think they’ve cost themselves a couple of winnable games lately by not attacking the paint aggressively enough. I’m all for shooters shooting when they’re open, but I also believe in riding whats working until it isn’t anymore. And we’ve seen a couple of losses lately where the Suns fed Ayton inside early but then began settling for outside jumpers and lost leads.

SouthernSun: Nobody in particular was to blame, in my opinion. The Suns haven’t looked that good ever since that week they missed for Covid protocol. And they’ve been without their best big off the bench and their primary backup point guard for much of this stretch. One thing they could really use is just one more guard who can reliably create offense for himself. But in lieu of that, CP3 playing like he did last season will help a lot. Luckily, that appears to be the case (given his recent performances, and taking into account last season where he gradually improved his performance month after month of the season, starting slow and finishing very strong).

Alex S: Lapses in individual quarters, lack of continuity down the stretch during the 4th quarter, and the Covid hiatus post Wizards game. Ironically, Devin Booker and Chris Paul were statistically two of the best closers in the NBA last season but they are having a very difficult time finding the proper balance at the moment. In my opinion, I want to see Devin take full control of the ball handling down the stretch unless the opposition were to pick him up full court and/or double him at half court.

Devin is ultimately the most important piece for this franchise and Chris has the experience playing off-ball with a guy like James Harden where he would be more adapt to playing this way. I’m not saying Devin needs the ball 100% of the time but I do want him to be the primary guy.

In terms of the lapses the Suns have had, I think those will go away once the entire rotation is back into place and settled. Missing Saric has been a huge issue other than against Golden State on Thursday. I am encouraged with the passing Frank showed that night and hopefully that’s something he’ll continue to do if he’s depended on for minutes. But it’s still too early to freak out too much with the recent struggles.

Q2 - We still haven’t seen a lot of Jalen “Stix” Smith this season. Do you think he could become a positive contributor by the end of the season and in what way(s) could he most likely contribute on the court?

GuarGuar: He looks like a rookie out there for sure. Not going to lie it hurts seeing Halliburton and Vassell succeed already. The potential is certainly there with Jalen so hopefully he becomes more NBA acclimated soon and can carve out a bench role as the season progresses.

Sun-Arc: I haven’t seen enough of Stix to know how he’s going to turn out. Last season I complained we should have taken Brandon Clarke over Cam J, which is now at worst a wash- but looking more and more like we made the right call. So, as much as I really want to say we totally should have taken Haliburton over Smith I’m going to hold my tongue. Which is hard because (as rookie’s go) he’s #1 in assists, scoring, PER, #3 in 3pt% and Sportingnews.com’s top rookie thus far.

SDKyle: I do expect/ hope he will contribute. I thought he looked good in the early glimpses we got, with a promising stroke and decent looking athleticism. I think he could eventually be a replacement for Kaminsky in providing a big with a shooting touch but who isn’t a defensive liability.

SouthernSun: I have very little to say about Jalen. Mainly because we haven’t seen very much of him yet. What we have seen was fairly promising I suppose, in part, but nothing to write home about. I’m glad he can shoot the three. He doesn’t look like he’ll be a complete turnstile on defense. I have no idea whether he will be on the team next season or not, though. I could definitely see them shopping him at the deadline as trade bait to improve. Ayton is back to looking pretty good and Saric, when able, has played very well. So I’m not sure Jalen is essential to their long-term plans or not.

Alex S: I don’t see him getting consistent minutes unless there’s injuries involved. Ayton/Saric are the clear 1-2 punch at the 5 moving forward and Kaminsky can be depended on to play spot minutes if there’s injuries. The Suns have three quality wings in Johnson/Crowder/Bridges that all will eat minutes at the 3 and 4. Heck, even Abdel Nadar is playing quality minutes at the 3 off the bench.

The only way I see Jalen finding a way in is if he can play next to Dario and be an impactful rebounder/floor spacer but I’m not sure that’s going to be the case this season. It’d be great to be wrong but that’s the feeling I have at the moment.

Q3 - If you were the Suns’ GM, what “type” of player would you most be thinking of trading for before the trade deadline?

GuarGuar: I would look at getting a better backup center/rim protector. Yes Dario has been fantastic and he should be a our primary backup center. But if one of Saric/Ayton are out it’s very clear we have a big problem. Jones and Kaminsky are huge liabilities defensively. I’d like to see us help the quality of our big man depth.

Sun-Arc: I feel pretty comfortable with the wing situation, particularly with how Nader has come on lately. Plus Galloway and Moore are solid. We really could use one more ballhandler behind Payne- who is looking sort of injury prone this season. Though I think the biggest need is replace Jones with a competent big that can rebound and protect the rim. I do not think the big needs to be a scorer, but should be able to defend in space and block shots at least better than Kaminsky. Frank is a really good 4th Big, but I’d rather have another guy outside of Ayton and Saric better than he is.

SDKyle: If I could choose one I would take a high level bench rebounder. The Suns seem just by my eye to get abused in the paint when Ayton sits, though his on/off numbers don’t show that. But the Suns also need a bench scorer who can create points on his own. Especially with Booker out, they are short on dynamic scorers.

SouthernSun: They fairly clearly need another scorer. Not shooter. They have plenty of those. Galloway can shoot. Carter is supposed to be able to. Moore historically can. Cam Johnson. Kaminsky. Even Bridges now. But one thing they really need is another guy, preferably a ball handler, who can create his own shot consistently. Kendrick Nunn, Lou Williams, Alec Burks, somebody like that. There are probably trades out there available. They’ve been featuring Nader a fair amount recently which im hoping will lead to the ability to package him and a pick or two (or maybe Jalen) for somebody who would give the Suns more what they need. They can’t do much until late February when guys like Moore and Jones become eligible to be traded though. Then several of these guys making 2 mil (Moore/Nader/Jones) can be packaged with a pick for somebody.

The easiest and least costly move would probably be those exact 3 guys plus a 2nd for Alec Burks from the Knicks, who is balling out for NY, but is definitely not in their long term plans. Nader and the 2nd would be the “value” of that deal for them, and Moore would be a veteran who can take the minutes the Knicks were giving Burks (which would probably please Moore quite a bit, given his recent comments about this being a bit of struggle as someone who has been a starter in the past, not getting minutes).

Alex S: Honestly, if I were James Jones I would be eying to one of two things this trade deadline:

  1. Move multiple bench pieces and/or draft capital to get a stud guard to come off the bench OR
  2. Move one of the bench pieces I don’t anticipate using down the stretch for future draft capital.

I think #2 ends up being more realistic but who’s the odd man out? In my opinion, it comes down to Moore, Galloway, Nader, and Carter (Frank and Damian won’t have any trade value).

I could see Moore get moved to an East team for example. I also won’t be surprised if the Suns want to prioritize continuity over everything either.

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

THUNDER at SUNS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | January 27, 2021

WARRIORS at SUNS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | January 28, 2021

Frank Kaminsky Highlights vs. Warriors - 12 Points, 13 Rebounds, 8 Assists off bench!

SUNS at MAVERICKS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | January 30, 2021

Chris Paul Highlights vs. Mavs - 29 points, 12 assists, 4 steals, CLUTCH!

Deandre Ayton 18 Pts 17 Rebs 4 Asts Highlights vs Dallas Mavericks


Key Stats

111.4 vs 99.2 OffRtg

As noted last week, the Suns had a dismal 99.2 offensive rating in 4th quarters. In their two recent wins against Golden State and Dallas their 4th quarter offensive rating improved immensely to 111.4 and their 4th quarter net rating substantially improved to a plus 12.9, an amazing 21.1 point improvement over their previous minus 8.2 NetRtg.

100.75 vs 98.17 in Pace

The Suns have also picked up the pace in their last two games. In those games they ranked 10th in pace as opposed to their ranking of 27th for the entire season.

Random stats: Chris Paul has 3 games this season with 10+ assists and 1 or fewer turnovers. He ranks 1st in the NBA with his 3 such games. In 18 games, Deandre Ayton has 11 double-doubles, Chris Paul has 6 and Mikal Bridges and Frank Kaminsky have one each. Ayton’s 11 ties him with James Harden and Clint Capela for the 9th most DDs in the NBA.

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


Quotes of the Week

“All labeling is just putting somebody in a box, really, so I’m always trying to expand the box and try to do everything.” - Mikal Bridges on being labeled a 3&D player

“At some point, you just have to finish out games and understand what it takes to be a really good team is consistency. Period. That’s the deal.” - Monty Williams

“I don’t think it’s intentional when someone doesn’t implement it (new instruction) into their game. Coach will tell me some things that I will go back and watch in film and be like, ‘What was I doing? Coach just told me about this.’ It’s just being fully focused, being locked in and just figuring it out.” - Devin Booker


Rookie Report

Jalen Smith - 7.8 mpg, 2.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.2 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.4 bpg, 0.2 TO, 0.6 PF, 40.0 3PT%

  • This week - 5.1 mpg, 2.5 ppg, 0.5 rpg, 0.0 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.0 TO, 0.0 PF, 50.0 3PT%, 1 DNP CD

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 - Assigned to NBA G League (Canton Charge)

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.


Injury Status Report

Devin Booker - Hamstring/Game Time Decision.

Cameron Payne - Ankle/Expected to be out until at least Feb 3.

Dario Saric - Health and safety protocols/Expected to be out until at least Feb 5.


News & Notes

Suns GM James Jones says Deandre Ayton is starting to put it together. Arizona Sports

Phoenix Suns continue to struggle with inconsistent play, ‘Chris Paul effect’ may propel team. Northeast Valley News

Accountability. Suns.com

Phoenix Suns Chart Party 1.0. Dom Tesoriero/Zona Hoops

Want To Contain The Phoenix Suns’ Offense? Try Switching. Brendon Kleen/Forbes

Report: This Phoenix Suns forward (Jae Crowder) is receiving daily death threats — but why? Silive.com


Interesting Suns Stuff

How Mikal Bridges Makes the Phoenix Suns’ Defense Great | The Void With Kevin O’Connor | The Ringer


This Week in Suns History

On February 1, 2016, after getting off to a 14-35 start, the Suns fired head coach Jeff Hornacek and appointed Earl Watson as interim head coach. The Suns would continue to struggle throughout the rest of the season going 9-24 under Watson to finish with a 23-59 record which at that time was the 2nd worst season record in Suns history.

On February 4, 1969, the expansion Suns defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 125-116 to post their 13th win of the season. It also was the third win in their first ever 3-game win streak and the last time they would have successive wins that season.


Suns Trivia

In Thursday’s game against Golden State, Frank Kaminsky had 12 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists in 24.5 minutes. He is the only NBA player to ever achieve this number of points, rebounds and assists in under 25 minutes.

The Suns are presently 7th in Defensive Rating (107.1). The last time they finished in the top 10 in Defensive Rating in a season was in 2000-01 when they ranked 2nd.


Previewing the week ahead

Monday, February 1 - Phoenix Suns @ Dallas Mavericks 6:30 pm AZT (NBATV)

Wednesday, February 3 - Phoenix Suns @ New Orleans Pelicans 7:30 pm AZT (ESPN)

Friday, February 5 - Phoenix Suns vs Detroit Pistons 7 pm AZT

Sunday, February 7 - Phoenix Suns vs Boston Celtics 12 noon AZT (NBATV)

The Suns have four games scheduled this week with - surprise! - no back-to-backs. Don’t think the NBA is doing them much of a favor though as Sunday’s game is the 1st game of a B2B that will be concluded next Monday... but that’s not part of this week so we’ll deal with that later.

Tonight, the Suns face the Mavericks again. Can they pull off another win in Dallas? The Suns will still be without Dario Saric and may still be without Devin Booker and Cameron Payne but the Mavs will have Kristaps Porzingis back from rest for this one. If Deandre Ayton can stay out of foul trouble, I think he will match up well against Porzingis and at least the two will equalize their respective effects on the game. But if KP gets to play significant minutes against Frank Kaminsky... well, let’s just hope that won’t happen. If DA has a game roughly equal to his last one against Dallas, I think the Suns will get another win even without Book, Payne and Dario.

On Wednesday the Suns will head over to the Big Easy for a rematch with the 7-11 New Orleans Pelicans. The Suns won big (111-86) in their first meeting back on Dec. 29 even though Devin Booker had his worst offensive game of this season (8 pts, 3 asts) in that one. Offensively the Suns (16th) and Pels (15th) are pretty evenly matched but NO is a woeful 25th in defense as opposed to the Suns who rank 7th. I think the Suns will get win number 2 of the week in this one.

Friday night the Suns will be back home to attempt to even up their season series against the 5-15 Detroit Pistons. In their first meeting, the Suns managed to blow a huge 23 point lead in the second quarter to lose 110-105 in OT. I just can’t see them doing that again against such an inferior team and expect them to redeem themselves with a win against the Pistons this time.

Finally, on Sunday the Suns have a mid-day game against the visiting 10-8 Boston Celtics. This will be the toughest game of the week for the Suns but the two teams are a fairly even match with net ratings of plus 2.7 each. Boston has the offensive edge (10th vs 16th) but the Suns have the defensive edge (7th vs 11th). The Celtics are 5-5 in their last 10 games but all 5 of those wins have come against sub-.500 teams and 4 of their 5 losses were against over .500 teams. I like the Suns’ chances in this one but even if Booker is back for it I think he could be a little rusty and out of sync so I’m calling this one a loss for the Suns.

There it is. I believe the Suns will likely go 3-1 this week.

What’s your prediction?

ALSO THIS WEEK - On Friday, February 5, most free agents that were signed this offseason are eligible to be traded. This includes Suns players Jae Crowder, Langston Galloway, E’Twaun Moore, Frank Kaminsky and Damian Jones. Dario Saric and Jevon Carter aren’t eligible to be traded until March 2.


Important Future Dates

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

February 27 - Leaguewide salary guarantee date.

March 2 - 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 “Who is most responsible for the Suns’ 4th quarter woes?

14.6% - The players.

18.9% - The coach.

66.5% - Both deserve some of the blame.

A total of 233 votes were cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

With 25% of the season done, the Suns’ 10-8 record is...

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    Worse than I expected.
    (60 votes)
  • 56%
    About what I expected.
    (83 votes)
  • 2%
    Better than I expected.
    (4 votes)
147 votes total Vote Now