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Center of the Sun: Suns big week gets them league’s 4th best record

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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.

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

Phoenix Suns vs Brooklyn Nets L (128-124) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs New Orleans Pelicans W (132-114) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Memphis Grizzlies W (128-97) Full Recap

Once bitten, twice shy is a pretty good way to describe Suns fans this season. Although the Suns are off to their best start since 2007-08 when they were 20-9 after 29 games, even many optimistic fans like me feel that little bit of dread in the pit of our stomachs whenever the Suns get behind or a lead starts to melt away. ’Here we go again’ flashes through my mind often during Suns games because the last decade of Suns basketball has drummed one thing into virtually all of us... until the game is actually over the outcome is still in doubt.

It’s going to take a long time to get over that (especially when losses like the one to the Nets occasionally pop up) but this Suns team has started the healing process.

Expecting the worst has become a bad habit among Suns fans but for a long time it was one of the few ways to avoid frequent disappointments. It’s hard to be disappointed when you’re expecting a loss. ”Moral victories” and games where Devin Booker scored 40+ - even in a loss - were what we convinced ourselves were the things we could reasonably look forward to.

Last season that started to change and the change has not only continued but accelerated with the addition of Chris Paul and other seasoned veterans plus the growth of the younger players. Perhaps the biggest change though is the “identity” this team has developed, a defensive identity. No one expected a top 10 defense this year (the Suns are presently 6th in D) and it’s the first time the Suns have been in that particular top 10 since the days when Scott Skiles roamed the sidelines as the Suns’ head coach back in 2000-01.

With both a top 10 defense and offense (8th), the Suns are a real contender? That question mark is not a typo. It’s just the only way that the little voice in the back of my mind will vocalize those words although I do consider them to be a contender, albeit a dark horse in a Western Conference race loaded with very talented teams.

I still have my doubts but the growing evidence is pointing more and more to contender rather than pretender. The fact that the Suns currently have the 4th best record in the NBA after playing 40% of the season seems like pretty strong evidence to me though. I and many others just have to let go of the past (which would be great for my nerves), embrace the present and be optimistic about what looks to be a very promising future for our team.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - The Suns are dead last in getting to the free throw line (18.4 FTA per game). What’s your opinion on why they don’t get to the line more often?

GuarGuar: There’s multiple factors that contribute to us being dead last in FTA I believe. One is we are 2nd to last in the league in pace. Less opportunities per game for us to get to the line. I also think we have had a pretty tough whistle some nights too, specifically when it comes to DBook. I look around the league and see the calls Luka and Trae get and can only imagine how many FTA Book would get with that type of whistle. Third our offense is way more 3 point centric this year. Less attacking as a whole and more perimeter swinging ball movement. We really only have 2 players on our entire team who look for contact on offense and that’s CP and Book.

Sun-Arc: The lack of aggression on getting to the rim is a major reason for the lack of free throws. They really need to push that more. And, while we are at it, getting the ball into Ayton more would help with scoring, spacing, and getting to the line.

SDKyle: The Suns rely on jump shots a lot, especially triples. We’ve talked about that a lot on Brightside. They don’t attack the paint nearly as aggressively as many other teams do, so they don’t draw enough contact to earn a ton of foul shots.

SouthernSun: Without getting too conspiracy theory guy about this, I’ll say that for a long time it sure seemed like the referees favored other teams on foul calls when the Suns were playing them, in one shape or another. It seems to maybe have lessened since the acquisition of Chris Paul, but it’s still there. I mean, Monty has even mentioned it. If your head coach mentions it, you’ve got an issue.

Aside from that, this team takes a lot more jumpers than they attack the rim. Which means less contact, which means less fouls.

Alex S: That’s a tough question to fully break down. There’s a multitude of reasons in my opinion but there’s a few main reasons that stand out to me personally.

  1. Deandre Ayton’s physique and play style are an awful combination for getting the benefit of the whistle. He’s so strong and plays with such finesse that refs aren’t accustom to him getting fouled so the times he does are a lot harder to call. If he took from Shaq’s mentality and purposefully got an offensive foul at the beginning of each game to establish his presence early, that could help. Problem is DA needs to stay out of foul trouble so that’s a tough ask.
  2. Refs generally don’t seem to like Devin Booker’s on-court attitude. Devin is very abrasive and talks a lot of mess to opponents which can lead to refs looking at him a bit more negatively than your average star player. Book did a great job forcing the refs hand into calling fouls last season but he hasn’t been successful in doing so this year. I prefer Book playing his game and not allowing the refs to get into his head personally.
  3. Our play style leads to a bunch of uncontested layups and jump shots. Guys like Paul/Payne/Book all do a great job of attacking the rim and making great kickout passes to teammates instead of forcing the issue at the rim.

Q2 - Four Suns (Booker, Bridges, Paul & Ayton) are averaging playing 30+ minutes per game. Crowder and Johnson average 25-28 mins. Everyone else averages less than 20. Who among the 20-or-less minutes group would you most like to see getting more minutes on the court?

GuarGuar: I’d like to see Dario play a little more. I really wish we went small ball with him to close the Brooklyn game. He’s been a phenomenal bench piece for us. Galloway is such an elite shooter I’m always down for him to be a consistent part of our rotation but I know we are very deep. For the most part though I am pretty ok with everyone’s minutes.

Sun-Arc: Saric is the obvious choice. Payne is up there too, though hasn’t been as strong in his play since returning from injury and virus. But I’ll add in Nader, who continues to do good things on the court when he plays. He hits threes (40%, 2nd best), plays D (3rd best DBPM), gets to the rim (4th best FTr).

SDKyle: Saric, now that he’s back. Dario brings some size and scoring touch and passing skills without being a complete liability on the defensive end. I think him playing well will be a key part of the Suns’ success being durable.

SouthernSun: Saric deserves more time on the court. He just makes good things happen. But they want to use him primarily as the backup 5, and Ayton needs his 30+ per game obviously. I’d just stop playing Kaminsky as much and play Saric more. I like Kaminsky but he’s just not as good as Saric, and I think we’ll remember that as the season goes along and Saric solidifies his place in the rotation.

Alex S: This might be a dull answer but I like the rotation as is right now. I love the concept of flopping Kaminsky and Nader minutes based off the size matchups. I enjoy the amount of play Payne/Saric/Moore/Galloway all get and Carter has struggled this year with his offense so I can’t say he’s deserving of more minutes ATM. If I had to pick one, I’d say Dario since he’s a pleasure to watch and his impact has been huge since his return from injury.

Q3 - Before the 1974-75 season, NBA All-Star selections were made by a panel of sportswriters & broadcasters with coaches selecting the reserves. What’s your opinion on the NBA possibly doing away with fan voting and going back to something similar to that previous process of selecting All-Stars?

GuarGuar: I think fan voting isn’t going anywhere with how much the NBA values popular opinion. It’s silly every year seeing Boban or DRose get 100k+ votes and make a push. I’m glad it’s not solely fan vote and it can be balanced by media and players vote. It’s essentially a popularity contest though and not really much to do with who has had the best season. If it were up to me I’d do away with the fan vote but from a business perspective it probably isn’t smart at all.

Sun-Arc: As much as I know fans like to be involved in voting, I dislike the bias that comes with it. For instance, the hundreds of millions of Chinese voting for their choices, or the throngs of zombie Lakers fans producing way too many votes for Caruso (am I right that he had more than Booker last season?). And injured players like Kobe or Westbrook. I am totally sick of it, honestly. So I’d be happy if more reasonable headed people prevailed and sent the best players. The Suns likely get screwed either way, so I’d rather see better players at the game.

SDKyle: The fans get it pretty wrong sometimes, but in my opinion the player vote is marginally better at best. But that said, is it really the best solution to go back to an elitist media system? I’m not so sure I like those optics.

My proposal would be a stricter eligibility standard... that players wouldn’t be on the ballot for fans to vote for unless they had averaged 25 minutes per game in at least 15 games (or whatever number makes sense) by the time the voting opens. This would at least prevent fans from voting for Klay Thompson when he’s been hurt all year, or giving send-off All-Star selections to 37 year olds averaging 18 minutes off the bench or whatever.

There’s always going to be some controversy, but I don’t think cutting fans out of the equation altogether is the best answer.

SouthernSun: My opinion is that fan voting is stupid and makes zero sense if you want the all star awards to actually mean anything when comparing players because fans are by and large pretty stupid. That said, they will probably continue letting fans vote and control the starters because that way the people the fans want to see get in the game, and they’ll be more likely to watch, which means better ratings, which means more money.

Alex S: I think the NBA just needs to tweak the vote weight to be even split across the board where the fan/player/media vote all account for a third of the total vote. If there’s a tie between two players, the player with two higher totals of the three would earn the tiebreaker. For this year as an example, Luka and Dame’s tiebreaker was determined by the fan vote which Luka won. However, Damian Lillard won the player and media vote over Doncic and in my proposed update Dame would’ve earned the starting spot over Luka.

The All-Star game is for the fans, absolutely. But too often are ‘legacy’ players and ‘popular’ players rewarded based off their name recognition rather than there actual performance. Damian Lillard 100% should have been an All-Star starter this season but the fans ruined that reality. This still allows the fan vote to matter but their power is too much for my liking personally.

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

Brooklyn Nets vs Phoenix Suns - Full Game Highlights | February 16, 2021

SUNS at PELICANS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | February 19, 2021

VINTAGE Chris Paul 15 Points 19 Ast Full Highlights vs Pelicans

SUNS at GRIZZLIES | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | February 20, 2021

Cameron Payne 19 PTS 7 AST: All Possessions (2021-02-21)


Key Stats

50.8% 3-point shooting

The Suns first tied and then surpassed the old team record for the most threes made in a game last week and they did it by making a tad over half of their 40.7 attempts per game in their last three outings. In their last two games, the shot 54.1% from three on 42.4 attempts per game. These numbers are far above their 37.7 percentage for the season.

128 points per game

The Suns offense went into overdrive last week averaging a league best 128 ppg, a full 15.4 points increase over their 112.6 ppg season average. Over the last 2 weeks, they’ve averaged 122.4 while holding their opponents to an average of 111.0 ppg.

12.8 NetRtg (1st over the past 9 games)

Yes, I’m cherry picking a bit here by going back 9 games instead of 10 or more but even at 10 games back the the Suns are 2nd in NetRtg (9.4). Last week it was 17.4 and was 12.5 over the last two weeks (7 games). During that 9 game period their OffRtg has soared to 123.2 (2nd) from 113.8 (8th) for the season while their DefRtg (110.5 vs 109.0) has decreased slightly (8th vs 6th).

Random stats: Dario Saric is leading the Suns in +/- this season with a plus 7.1. 12 Suns players have a positive +/- this season. In 2019-20, only 7 players had a positive +/- (including Jonah Bolden who played in only 3 games) and in 2018-19 there were only three, all of whom (Quincy Acy, Emanuel Terry and Eric Moreland) played in 10 or less games.

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


Quotes of the Week

“There are times where I’m just like, ‘You go.’ I’ll just wave at him (Chris Paul) and just say, ‘You run it.’” - Monty Williams

“With him (Chris Paul), the game is never out of reach. The game is never over until the horn sounds.” - Devin Booker

“Not only is he (Devin Booker) a scorer; he’s an entertainer. He knows how to score that thing in a beautiful way.” - Deandre Ayton


Rookie Report

Jalen Smith - 6.2 mpg, 1.8 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.1 TO, 0.4 PF, 28.6 3PT%

  • Assigned to NBA G League (Agua Caliente Clippers - 3 games)
  • Clippers Stats - 14.1 mpg, 11.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.0 spg, 1.0 bpg, 1.0 TO, 1.3 PF, 60.0 3PT%

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%

  • Assigned to NBA G League (Canton Charge - 6 games)
  • Charge Stats - 25.5 mpg, 10.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.8 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.0 bpg, 1.7 TO, 1.3 PF, 44.4 3PT%

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.


Injury Status Report

No current injuries.


News & Notes

Chris Paul and Devin Booker are carrying the Suns into Playoff Contention. Fox Sports

Big Easy Bond. Suns.com

Deandre Ayton Is Stuck in the Middle. The Ringer

Suns’ Chris Paul makes NBA history in matchup against Grizzlies. Clutch Points

Suns’ Jae Crowder Becomes Only the Second Player After Shaquille O’Neal to Achieve a Rare NBA Stat. Essentially Sports

Book It. Suns.com

Phoenix Suns help replenish critically low blood supply amid COVID-19 pandemic. 12 News


This Week in Suns History

On February 22, 1977, Alvan Adams recorded a triple-double with 47 points, 18 rebounds and 12 assists against the Buffalo Braves. He is one of five players in NBA history (along with Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Russell Westbrook and Vince Carter) to have as many as 46 points and 16 rebounds in a triple-double performance.

On February 25, 2019, the Suns came back from a 63-52 halftime deficit to defeat the Heat in Miami 124-121 to break the longest losing streak in franchise history (17 games).

On February 26, 1987, the Suns fired head coach John MacLeod and appointed Dick Van Arsdale as Interim Head Coach.

On February 26, 1988, unhappy with the prospect of heading for a fourth consecutive losing season, the Suns traded All-Star forward Larry Nance and Mike Sanders to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Mark West, Tyrone Corbin and Kevin Johnson. In the exchange, Phoenix also sent the Cavaliers the 1988 first-round pick they got from Detroit for William Bedford and received the Cavaliers’ first-round choice in 1988 and their second-round choices in 1988 and 1989. In a second trade, the Suns also sent Jay Humphries to the Milwaukee Bucks for Craig Hodges and their 1988 second-round draft pick.


Interesting Suns Stuff

How Phoenix Suns guard Cam Payne got back in the NBA after stops in China and the G League


Suns Trivia

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Suns’ 18-point come from behind victory over New Orleans on Friday was the largest in the NBA in the shot-clock era (since 1954-55) for a team that entered the fourth quarter down by double digits.

Chris Paul’s 19 assists in the New Orleans game is the highest assist total in a single game in the entire NBA so far this season. The last time a Suns player got more assists in a single game was back on Feb. 8, 2009 when Steve Nash got 21 assists in a 107-97 Suns victory over the Detroit Pistons. Chris Paul’s personal best is also 21 assists which he got with New Orleans on Nov. 6, 2007 in a 118-104 road win over the LA Lakers. On the following night against Memphis, Paul added another 6 assists to his career total (now 9,891) to move past NBA legend Oscar Robertson into 6th place on the NBA’s list of all-time career assists leaders.

Devin Booker now has scored 8,290 points in his career. He needs only 141 more to pass Larry Nance to move into 9th on the Suns’ All-Time Points Leaders list. If he maintains his current 24.3 ppg average he would accomplish this before the All-Star break during the March 4 game at home against Golden State.


Previewing the week ahead

Monday, February 22 - Phoenix Suns vs Portland Trail Blazers 7:00 pm AZT

Wednesday, February 24 - Phoenix Suns vs Charlotte Hornets 7:00 pm AZT

Friday, February 26 - Phoenix Suns @ Chicago Bulls 6:00 pm AZT

Sunday, February 28 - Phoenix Suns @ Minnesota Timberwolves 7:00 pm AZT

It’s going to be another busy week for the Suns with four games on the schedule. They start off with two at home (Portland & Charlotte) and then finish the week on the road (Chicago & Minnesota). Thankfully, there are no back-to-backs on the schedule this week.

First up, the 18-11 Portland Trail Blazers. Portland presently sits one full game behind the Suns in 5th in the West and would move into a tie with Phoenix with a win. After losing a close one at home on Saturday to the Wizards (118-111), the Blazers are likely to be even more motivated than usual... which isn’t a good thing for the Suns. Even with all their injury problems this season, Portland is still a dangerous team as long as they have a healthy Damian Lillard... and he’s healthy and averaging 30 ppg. Offensively, the Blazers rank a little above the Suns (6th vs 8th) but defensively they fall short this season (28th vs the Suns at 6th). It looks as if the Suns should get a win here but I said the same thing last week against another team (the Nets) that were very good offensively but bad on the defensive side and we all know how that game turned out. Still though, I think that lesson may be fresh enough in the Suns’ memory to avoid a repeat and they get the win in a close one.

Wednesday night the 14-15 Charlotte Hornets are in town. Charlotte is 6-4 in their last 10 games but most of their wins this season have come against teams with records that were worse than or roughly equal to their own. The Hornets are a fairly solid team (19th in offense and 16th in both defense and net rankings). They rank in the middle-of-the-pack in a lot of stats but are a good 3-point shooting team (38.4%/6th). This won’t be an easy game for the Suns but as long as they stay focused and engaged they should com away with a win.

On Friday it’s back to the road and to the Windy City to face the 13-16 Chicago Bulls. In many ways, much of what I said about the Hornets also applies to the Bulls. Solid, mostly middle-of-the-pack stats (and a little lower than Charlotte’s for the most part), etc. Zach LaVine (28.9 ppg) will likely have a good outing but if the Suns can hold the rest of the Bulls in check they should get another win.

Finally, the Suns head the Land of 10,000 Lakes to take on the woeful 7-24 Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday. The T-wolves have the worst record in the NBA, are 28th in offense, 23rd in defense, 29th in net rankings and 2-8 in their last 10 games. They have improved a bit with the return of Karl-Anthony Towns who has missed most of the season but his return coincided with the loss of D’Angelo Russell who is expected to be out until late March which pretty much nullified the positive effects of Towns’ return. This should be a fairly easy win for the Suns unless they take Minnesota lightly. I don’t think they will do that though and will leave Minnesota with another W in their pocket.

I’m predicting the Suns will go 4-0 this week although something in the back of my my mind keeps whispering “3-1”. Will I ever learn my lesson and start listening to that little voice? Nah.

What’s your prediction?

ALSO THIS WEEK: Teams can begin signing players to 10-day contracts on Feb. 23. Damian Jones’ contract becomes guaranteed on Feb. 25 and Cameron Payne’s contract becomes guaranteed on Feb. 27.


Important Future Dates

March 3 - All free agents signed this offseason can be traded.

March 5-10 - Mid-season/All-Star break.

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 “Of the teams presently behind the Suns in the 5th-8th spots, which team would you LEAST want the Suns to face in a 1st round playoff series?”

08% - Portland.

08% - San Antonio.

78% - Denver.

06% - Golden State.

A total of 260 votes were cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

The process for selecting NBA All-Stars is...

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Fine the way it is.
    (29 votes)
  • 81%
    Too biased in favor of fan votes.
    (128 votes)
157 votes total Vote Now