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Center of the Sun: Suns finish Week 7 as West’s 4th best team

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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.

Boston Celtics 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 @ Dallas Mavericks W (109-108) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns @ New Orleans Pelicans L (123-101) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Detroit Pistons W (109-92) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Boston Celtics W (100-91) Full Recap

At 13-9 the Suns are off to their best season start in Devin Booker’s career. They are presently 4th in the Western Conference standings and have the 6th best record in the entire NBA. The last time the Suns were off to this good of a start was in the 2013-14 season when they were also 13-9 after 22 games and the last time they had a better start was way back in 2009-10 when they were 15-7 in their first 22. In 2013-14 they finished the season at 48-34 and just barely missed the playoffs. In 2009-10, that Suns team finished 54-28 and went all the way to the Western Conference Finals before finally losing their finals series with the Lakers 4-2.

Unfortunately, their 4th place position in the West is far from safe as only 3 games separate the 4th and 12th place teams in the West. As things stand, the Suns are a half game up on the 5th place Spurs, a full game up over the Nuggets and Trail Blazers who are tied for 6th, 1.5 games above the 8th place Warriors and 2 games ahead of the Rockets, Kings and Grizzlies who are in a three-way tie for 9th.

With just under 70% of the season left to play, no one’s position in the standings is safe so the Suns can’t afford to sit back and relax yet. They have 13 games left to play before the break and are facing the 9th toughest schedule between now and then according to Tankathon.

Obviously, things could change quite a bit between now and the break but the Suns actually haven’t done too badly considering the string of injuries and illness that have frequently sidelined many of their key rotation players this season. Their deep bench players have stepped up to fill in quite admirably which has been something previous Suns teams have lacked.

If they can get to a point where they are fully healthy and stay that way for a good stretch of games, I think they stand a good chance of putting some distance between them and much of the rest of the 4th to 12th Western Conference pack. Holding your own is good but putting some extra separation between you and those in pursuit is infinitely better. Even if that doesn’t happen, I think it’s a good bet that the Suns finally end their playoff drought this year and Devin Booker finally gets his opportunity to play on the NBA’s big stage.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - As recently noted in Dave King’s article about the Suns’ three point shooting, the Suns live or die by how well they are shooting threes. As three point shooting seems to have been designed as the main part of their offense, do they have the personnel to switch to an effective inside game when the 3s aren’t falling?

GuarGuar: CP and Devin are excellent mid range artists when the 3s aren’t falling. But when teams trap them and don’t let them go to the midrange, we really rely on 3s a lot more. That’s what happened the other day against New Orleans. We have the personnel to attack the rim when 3s aren’t falling. Book, Mikal, Cam, Payne have all shown the ability to drive and finish. Ayton posting up is another big option when 3s aren’t falling.

Sun-Arc: Some might disagree with me here, but I do think they have the personnel to adjust their game within the perimeter. My reasoning:

  1. Book and Paul are deadly from mid-range as we all know. But there are also eight (8!) other players that are above 50% from 2pt range on the roster. Ayton, Cam, Bridges, Saric, Payne, and Galloway are all capable there (plus Jones & Carter).
  2. They have players that are shifty and/or strong enough to get to the rim through contact. Ayton, Cam, Nader, Bridges, Payne, Booker, and Crowder are all capable of it. I loved the “Play Like Nader” article by John Voita on BSoTS on January 28th, which pointed out the team needs to be more aggressive going to the rim. I obviously agree.
  3. The Bubble Suns played a different brand of ball than much of what we’ve seen this season. And I’m not happy about it. The glorious ball movement we saw against GSW on January 28th (same date as Voita’s article- coincidence, I don’t think so) where we had 34 assists shows that it is possible. We still took 32 threes but we moved the ball and cut without the ball to befuddle the defense. And we blew out a team with a similar record. This, plus more Paul/Ayton PnR & Booker-ball, is what I believe their identity should be.

SDKyle: The idea that the Suns can only function as a perimeter shooting team because “the roster was built for it” doesn’t convince me a bit. We have Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and Deandre Ayton. CP3 can do anything, Booker is a better scorer than he is a shooter, and Ayton still doesn’t really shoot threes.

Plus, we’ve seen that Bridges and Johnson can be effective slashers. Nothing says they HAVE to just run to a spot and put up a three when they catch the ball.

The Suns need to work on the basics. Running the pick and roll/pop, finding the defensive mismatches, attacking the painted area.

This issue isn’t Ayton’s fault, but he is the biggest X factor here. We all celebrated his apparent offensive awakening a couple of weeks ago, only to have him break the 15 point barrier only once in the past 6 games. He has the ability to overpower or outmaneuver 9 out of 10 of his defensive matchups, which would be a game changer and is why the Suns drafted him. He needs to go make that happen. He needs to be that go-to guy.

Alex S: I think the assessment is fair but aren’t the majority of NBA teams do or die by the three? For the most part, the Suns are equipped with DA, Booker, and CP3 all having their variation of inside game. I would tend to continue to have the two star guys be the main focal point as Ayton has been doing a tremendous job rebounding and finding his touches when need be.

Q2 - CP3 is closer to 36 than 35 now but has so far played in every game and averaged almost 33 minutes per game. Did you expect this from him and do you think he can keep it up throughout the rest of the season?

GuarGuar: I can see us lowering CP’s minutes as the season goes on. I think this is just such an important part of the season in terms of finding a rhythm with the team that we kind of have to play him normal starters minutes. He seems like he’s in great shape so I assume he should be fine for the remainder of the season.

Sun-Arc: I didn’t expect him to play quite this much. I figured closer to thirty minutes per game. He hasn’t played this much per game for five seasons. Kinda scary. I hope he can hold up. I was skeptical of him staying healthy all season before it even started, and these minutes do little to fill me with confidence we won’t see a major CP3 injury.

SDKyle: At some point CP3 is likely to have some injury, but hopefully just minor. He has kept himself in great shape, so there’s no reason he can’t keep playing at this level or better for this season.

Alex S: I did expect him to get significant run but we’ll see if the Suns will have the luxury of designating load management games for him down the stretch. It’s really going to depend on the health/productive of the other guards as well as if the Suns are in a comfortable place in the standings down the stretch. If he were forced to play over 90% of the games, I think he can do it but it’d be ideal if that isn’t the case.

Q3 - The NBA is now planning to have an All-Star game on March 7 in Atlanta. I do not think it’s a good idea but what are your thoughts on it?

GuarGuar: I think the NBA should just announce the All-Stars but have no game played. Everybody gathering up in Atlanta from all different markets seems quite risky. I think everybody can see how this potentially backfires for the league.

Sun-Arc: I agree with Rod that it isn’t a good idea. Why?

  1. COVID-19 and its new strains. Can we really expect there to be no transmissions with so many teams represented? (unless they just select all Lakers and Nets players, lol)
  2. With a shortened season and postponed games to make up, do we really need to cram yet another game into the schedule and risk more injuries? Oh, wait - there’s money involved? Screw safety, let’s do it! (sarcasm alert)

SDKyle: I don’t think it’s a good idea. Nobody cares that much about the All-Star game, they care about the all-star SELECTIONS. The selections are all we need. Why take extra risk of games being postponed due to positive tests for the sake of this mostly meaningless spectacle?

Alex S: Dumb. The game is for the fans first and foremost so that element being completely eliminated or limited makes for a rough time. Adding on, the players deserve a true break to decompress so forcing the All-Stars to continue their protocol isn’t ideal. Also, it’s Atlanta. There’s no way you escape this All-Star period without some form of controversy or issues.

As always, many thanks to our Fantable members - GuarGuar, Sun-Arc, SDKyle and Alex S. - for all their extra effort every week! (SouthernSun did not participate this week.)


Game Highlights

SUNS at MAVERICKS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | February 1, 2021

CP3 GOES OFF for 34 PTS In Road W!

SUNS at PELICANS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | February 3, 2021

PISTONS at SUNS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | February 5, 2021

Chris Paul Highlights vs. Pistons - 20 Points, 7 Rebounds, 9 Assists

CELTICS at SUNS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | February 7, 2021

Mikal Bridges Highlights vs. Celtics - 19 points, 9 rebounds, TATUM VICTIMIZED


Key Stats

10.3 vs 8.6 offensive rebounds per game

For the season the Suns’ offensive rebounding percentage is 24.2 (24th) but went up to 29.5% last week (7th). This led to an increase in their 2nd chance points to 15.3 (9th) over their season average of 12.9 (18th).

Their overall rebounding percentage also increased slightly to 50.7% (12th) over their full season percentage of 50.0% (14th). Their per game average of 44.6 rpg (13th) increased to 46.0 rpg (6th) over their last 4 games.

Random stats: Deandre Ayton ranks 4th in the NBA with 12.7 rebounds per game and Ayton’s current average is the highest by any qualified player in Suns history (Paul Silas averaged 12.5 in 1970-71). In their first 6 games the Suns were 5-1, in their middle 10 games they were 3-7 and in their last 6 games they were 5-1.

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


Quotes of the Week

“Our best offense is a stop.” - Monty Williams

“I wish Chris (Paul) would take more of those shots (open threes). He’s trying to make plays for other guys but he’s such a good shooter I wish he would take more of those.” - Monty Williams

“Sometimes during the game is one of the first times one of these lineups have ever been (used) so you really are just trying to figure it out. You assume that a guys knows ‘set it this way’... ‘Oh, you want the ball right there.’ We’re really just trying to figure it out as we go.” - Chris Paul


Rookie Report

Jalen Smith - 6.9 mpg, 2.0 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.1 TO, 0.4 PF, 28.6 3PT%

  • This week - 4.6 mpg, 0.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.0 TO, 2.0 PF, 0.0 3PT%, 2 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

Abdel Nader - Ankle/Game Time Decision.

Jae Crowder - Foot/Game Time Decision.

Cameron Payne - Foot/Game Time Decision.

Dario Saric - Ankle/Game Time Decision.


News & Notes

Suns planning on starting Frank Kaminsky next to Deandre Ayton? Gerald Bourguet/The Step Back

How High Can Devin Booker Climb on the Suns Leaderboards? Zona Hoops

Devin Booker on relationship with Chris Paul: ‘Iron sharpens iron’. SLAM Online

How Mikal Bridges Became the Suns’ Ultimate Weapon. SI.com

Phoenix Suns already tapping deep into bench depth. Arizona Sports


This Week in Suns History

On February 9, 1986, the NBA All-Star game was played with no Phoenix Suns players on the roster for the West. It was the first time in team history that no Suns players were selected for the All-Star game and none participated in the Slam Dunk or 3-Point shooting contests. The Suns struggled through the 1985-86 season to a 32-50 final record.


Suns Trivia

Members of the Phoenix Suns have been selected to play in the All-Star game a total of 73 times over the years, with 2 players selected 19 times and 3 players selected 3 times. The longest period of time between All-Star appearances for Suns players was eight years between Steve Nash’s selection in 2012 and Devin Booker’s selection in 2020. The longest period of time the Suns previously went without an All-Star selection that was a single year which happened a total of 7 times.

In their very first season the Suns were represented by two players, Gail Goodrich and Dick Van Arsdale.

The first time three Suns were selected to play in the All-Star game was in 1981. The players selected were Walter Davis, Dennis Johnson and Truck Robinson. The other two times were in 2005 and 2007 with Steve Nash, Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire being the 3 players selected on both of those occasions.


Previewing the week ahead

Monday, February 8 - Phoenix Suns vs Cleveland Cavaliers 7:00 pm AZT

Wednesday, February 10 - Phoenix Suns vs Milwaukee Bucks 8:00 pm AZT (ESPN)

Saturday, February 13 - Phoenix Suns vs Philadelphia 76ers 1:00 pm AZT (NBATV)

Sunday, February 14 - Phoenix Suns vs Orlando Magic 6:00 pm AZT

The Suns have another busy week with another four games scheduled but they are all at home. Even their weekend back-to-back has a little extra rest time built into it as the Saturday game is at 1 pm and the Sunday game isn’t until 6.

As crowded together as games have often been this season, an extra 5 hours of rest between games is nothing to sneeze at. They’re going to need every little edge they can find this week as the Suns will be facing an all-Eastern Conference slate of opponents featuring the top-2 teams in the East.

First up are the 10-14 Cleveland Cavaliers featuring leading scorer Collin Sexton (23.6 ppg) and perennial double-double machine Andre Drummond on the inside. Sexton’s backcourt mate, Darius Garland can’t be taken lightly either although they make up one of the smallest backcourts in the NBA with both players listed at 6’1”. Since getting back-to-back impressive wins over the Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 20 & 22, the Cavs have struggled going 2-7 with their only wins coming against the league’s worst teams, the 5-18 Pistons and the 6-17 Timberwolves. Even though this is the second night of a B2B for the Suns, they should have enough gas left in the tank to start off this week with a win over the Cavs.

On Wednesday the new-ish look 15-8 Milwaukee Bucks come to town. Giannis Antetokounmpo is still their main man but the supporting cast has changed (for the better) a bit with the offseason addition of Jrue Holiday. The Bucks are presently on a 4-game win streak in which they’ve destroying those opponents by outscoring them by an average of 22.8 points. For the season they average scoring 121.2 ppg while giving up 111.3 for a league leading plus 9-9 point differential. I think the Suns are overmatched in this one and will wind up with another loss.

After a welcomed 2 days off, the Suns will host the number one team in the East, the Philadelphia 76ers, for an early afternoon game on Saturday. Philly is 17-7 and 8-2 in their last ten games behind Joel Embiid’s 29.3 ppg and 10.7 rpg averages in 31.8 minutes. Tobias Harris is also averaging 20.2 ppg with 7.4 rebounds and 6’11” Ben Simmons (13.5 points, 8.0 assists) in the backcourt always provides defensive matchup problems for opponents. They have the NBA’s 3rd best defense which does not bode well for a matchup with the Suns’ 19th ranked offense. Philly likes to play fast (6th in pace) and the Suns like to play slow (28th in pace) so the Suns’ best chance for a win would be in controlling the tempo of the game. Even though Devin Booker usually plays very well against the Sixers (29.1 ppg career scoring average vs Philly), I’m calling this one as a loss for the Suns.

On Sunday night the Suns will face off against the 9-15 Orlando Magic. Orlando has been the posterchild for a snakebit season due to injuries this year with key players Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz out for the season and Aaron Gordon out until at least the AS break. Several other players have also missed time with various injuries and they have gone 3-7 in their last 10 with their wins coming against the Bulls, Hornets and Timberwolves, all sub-.500 teams. The Suns shouldn’t have a problem with this team but that doesn’t mean that they won’t as they’ve lost to teams that they should have beaten before. I’m still calling this one a win for the Suns though.

I believe the Suns will go 2-2 this week.

What’s your prediction?


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

41% - Worse than I expected.

56% - About what I expected.

03% - Better than I expected.

A total of 147 votes were cast.

This week’s poll is...

Poll

The Suns are on pace to win 42.5 games (out of 72) this season. Are you betting on them going over or under that?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Far over.
    (11 votes)
  • 79%
    Slightly over.
    (171 votes)
  • 14%
    Slightly under.
    (32 votes)
  • 0%
    Far under.
    (2 votes)
216 votes total Vote Now