Welcome to ‘Inside the Suns’, your weekly deep down analysis of the current Suns team as well as a peek at Suns teams throughout history in this week.
In this weekly article, we focus on you the community to tease out the good and bad of the Suns who are now 26-12 and in 2nd place in the Western Conference with the 3rd best record in the NBA.
First up... the Fantable — a round table of Bright Siders who give their takes on the Suns latest issues and news.
Fantable Question of the Week
Just one question this week but it has three parts. First, I’d like you to grade (A, B, C, etc.) three of what I consider to be very important bench/rotation players for the Suns AS SECOND UNIT PLAYERS (ie - compared to other bench players, NOT starters, around the league) and give me your opinions on what’s good and what’s not so good/bad about each of them.
1. Dario Saric
GuarGuar: Saric - A+. I believe Dario has been the best backup in the league this year. He’s playing by far the best basketball of his career right now. He gives us a small ball option late in games too if Ayton gets run off the floor. The only negative I can think of with Dario is his inconsistent shooting.
Sun-Arc: Saric is playing extremely well. Enough that he’s finished a couple of important and pretty close games. I was glad he was an offseason priority and he’s making that look like a damn good decision. Right now since he’s leading the league in on/off +/- he’s got to be an “A” grade.
- Shooting 36.5% from 3 with a decent 3Par of .414
- Third on the team in TRB% with 12.4
- Good & willing passer with an AST% of 11.1
- Good productivity- fourth on the team PER with 18.8
- Better than average defense league-wide
- Strong base and strong overall, works hard all the time
- Pretty good at getting to the line with 39 FTA
- 2nd on the team in STL% with 2.1 (higher than Paul, Crowder, & Moore)
- Not athletic, not a good leaper, not a shot blocker
- Gets beat by smaller quick players (cannot guard ballhandlers in a switch situation)
- After a good start, he’s been passing less and only has 24 total assists, needs to find that vision and mindset again
SDKyle: Preface: I’m admittedly a hard grader. Don’t think I’m slighting these guys by not giving out As.
Saric - B+. Dario Saric is a fairly high level bench player. I’m not giving him an A just because he doesn’t bring that defensive versatility of some backup 4/5s, but he’s a very efficient bench scorer with his accurate shooting and provides another good passer on the court too. He’s having an appreciably better 2021 than he did a 2020.
SouthernSun: Dario Saric - A
The good: Dario is doing a fantastic job in his role as the primary big man off the bench for the Suns. He’s more effective than you would expect defending the post against more athletic fours and fives, and he even isn’t completely lost when he has to switch and guard the perimeter. Not only that, he can pass better than some of the Suns guards, and knows when to do it. He is very good at drawing defenders in and then zipping a pass out to an open shooter, and when playing next to another big, he’s proficient at getting them the ball in position to score as well. Dario has some nifty moves around the rim to compensate for his lack of athleticism as well, and positions himself perfectly to be the recipient of plenty of passes inside. Dario also sports the best Net rating in the NBA. When he comes on the court, the suns seem to usually increase their lead, or quickly close the gap when they’re behind.
The bad: Dario will occasionally find himself overwhelmed when he has to battle too long with someone bigger and more athletic than himself, even if he does an adorable job for awhile. Also he can’t win a jump ball to save his life.
Alex S: Dario Saric: A
Dario is a matchup nightmare for opposing benches and has yet to be truly exposed from a dominant big that wants to overpower him. For example, when Philly was in town and Joel Embiid went one-on-one against Saric, he held his own about as well as you can all things considered.
His playmaking and scoring has been a catalyst for one of, if not the best bench in the NBA so far this season. He is going to be an incredibly important piece in the playoffs if teams try to run DA off the court with small ball but I’ve been quite impressed with his work this year.
One of the best contracts in the league at the moment.
2. Cameron Payne
GuarGuar: Payne - A-. Cam’s been very solid for us the majority of the season. He had a tough little stretch when he first came back from that ankle injury, but he’s definitely back in his groove right now. His biggest weaknesses are defense and inconsistent play making.
Sun-Arc: Payne has been a bit up and down, but overall he’s been a solid-to-good backup point guard. If he didn’t miss all that time and have that string of poor games he’d get an “A” grade from me, though as it is right now I will say “B”.
- Speedy and able to get into the paint pretty much at will
- Great around the rim, shooting .635% with a bunch of crafty quick moves
- Shooting a great 45% from three with pretty good frequency, .455% 3Par
- Works hard and plays solid-to-very good defense, including sometimes guarding bigs
- 4th on the team in STL% at 1.9
- Really good passer; second on the team for AST% with 30.8 (Booker is at 22.0), and overall third in total assists with 92
- Sixth on the team with a 16.4 PER
- Inconsistent, doesn’t always bring the D; would like to see a return to his pesky defense from the bubble
- Has only made 27 threes this season, and only 16 FTA
- Could be more assertive on offense & getting to the rim, which would open up more passing lanes to shooters
SDKyle: Payne: B+. Payne has had a great season as a limited use bench guard. I think he’d be far less than ideal in heavy minutes, but he’s a very good player in this role as an 8th man type. He can score the ball a bit and has some playmaking ability.
SouthernSun: Cameron Payne - B
The good: If Cameron Payne hadn’t missed a lot of games so far, I’d probably have him in the same tier as Dario, but unfortunately, he has. But ill still give him a B because he has performed really well when he’s been available. Payne has been shooting lights out, on a low number of attempts, but still. He moves the ball well, and he has a knack for attacking the basket with some herky jerky acrobatic finishes.
The bad: Sometimes he just goes cold and doesn’t seem to be able to generate any offense. His limitations become apparent and he can’t find his way into the paint.
Alex S: Cameron Payne: A-
I was tempted to go with a B+ due to some inconsistent play but if you look at his numbers for the season, it wouldn’t be fair to knock him too much. With the exception of small spurts here and there, Cameron plays under control, doesn’t turn the ball over, and provides yet another scoring/playmaking punch off the bench. He’s vital for saving CP3s legs during the second half of the season and he’s only getting started. Payne might have a huge second half.
3. Abdel Nader
GuarGuar: Nader - C+. Abdel’s defense is by far my favorite thing about him. He’s really athletic and makes a big impact on that end of the floor. I also admire how he is such a willing slasher. That’s a key element for a team that shoots so many 3s. The biggest negative about Abdul is his offense is pretty inconsistent.
Sun-Arc: Nader has been a sneaky-important player at moments. I had been hoping he’d become an important player in the rotation, and that seems to be happening. Williams even said he’d be an “important” player for the team in the second half of the season. Right now I’d give him a “B-“ because overall his numbers are not great. He’s 11th on the team in minutes, but that seems to be changing with 22.5 mpg in March.
- Absolutely fearless on both ends, and still rarely makes mistakes
- Loves to attack the rim, where he is .688%
- 3rd on the team in FTA% with .269
- Shooting well from three at .412%
- 7th on the team in TRB% at 8.8
- He’s strong, long, and decently athletic
- A decent-to-good defender, pretty quick
- Will make the right pass when one presents itself
- So far he’s only made 14 three pointers, needs to put himself in good position to make more of these
- So far he’s only had 25 FTA, and needs to stay aggressive on that end to help the team more
- This is nitpicking for a 9th player on the team with the 11th most minutes, but sometimes he’s a non-factor on either end when he seems to have a lot of skill and BBIQ
SDKyle: Nader: B. I’d say much the same I said about Payne. Nader is somewhat less dynamic, but good compared to the 9th man on many teams. He’s efficient in low volume as he is a classic advanced stats darling taking over 70% of his shots either at the rim or from three. He brings an aggressiveness that is a real asset to that second unit.
SouthernSun: Abdel Nader: C+
The good: Abdel has played a whole lot better than I originally expected him to. I don’t expect him to stay with the team past this season, but if the Suns keep him around, it wouldn’t be the craziest thing they could do. He attacks the basket with a ferocity really no other Sun matches. To pair with that, he’s shooting over 40% from deep this season.
The bad: We’ve gotten so much more than I expected from him. If his play keeps up, he’s a solid bench player. But I'm not sure it will. Perhaps his stroke from deep starts falling back to earth. We’ll see. Also he is limited in what he can do. He doesn’t have much self creation ability. He’s been an active defender but not a standout.
Alex S: Abdel Nader - A-
Abdel has been one of my favorite Suns since the moment he got here. He’s a great guy and seems to be an ideal teammate to have, but his production over the past month has been needed. His defense is impactful due to making timely blocks, reading passing lanes, and once he’s in transition he’s a bucket.
The three point shooting is what surprises me about him. The only reason I gave him a - is he isn’t one of the best bench players in the league. However, for the role he has with Phoenix he’s been fantastic.
As always, many thanks to our Fantable members - GuarGuar, Sun-Arc, SDKyle, SouthernSun and Alex S. - for all their extra effort every week!
News & Notes
Analyzing the Dynamic Between Devin Booker and Chris Paul. SI.com
NBA Daily: Why These Suns Could Be Special. Basketball Insiders
3 under-the-radar trade targets for the Phoenix Suns. NBA Analysis Network
Suns staying focused, ready for grind ahead in 2nd half of season. Arizona Sports
2021 Midseason report: Phoenix Suns. NBA.com
Unprecedented Year. Suns.com
This Week in Suns History
On March 15, 2009, the Phoenix Suns scored the most fast-break points ever in a game (56) during a 154-130 win over the Golden State Warriors.
On March 19, 1969, NBA Commissioner Walter Kennedy flipped a coin to determine which of the NBA’s two newest expansion franchises, Phoenix and Milwaukee, would get the right to make the first selection in the 1969 NBA Draft. Phoenix called ‘heads’ but it turned up ‘tails’ and Milwaukee won the right to select select Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) with the number 1 pick. Phoenix used the number 2 pick to select Neal Walk.
On March 21, 1972, the Suns defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 160-128 in Phoenix. At the time it was the most points ever scored by the Suns in a single game and remained so until November 10, 1990 when the Suns defeated the Denver Nuggets 173-143. The Suns’ total of 173 points scored in that game is still the Suns’ franchise best. The 160 points scored by the Suns in the Phoenix/Portland game was also done in regulation (no OT) before the NBA adopted the three-point shot in 1979.
Interesting Suns Stuff
Phoenix Suns MIDSEASON PLAYER GRADES: FULL 2020-21 REPORT CARD
Are the Suns Actually Contenders?
Neal Walk was the first player ever picked by the Suns in the regular NBA draft and played five seasons for the Suns. He averaged a career best 20.2 points per game and 12.4 rebounds per game (2nd best single season average in team history) during the 1972–73 season. After being traded to the New Orleans Jazz in 1975, he played for three more seasons in the NBA in New Orleans and then in New York before playing four additional seasons overseas in Italy and Israel.
Walk returned to Phoenix after retiring from professional basketball and in 1988 it was discovered that he had a benign tumor enveloping his spine. Following surgery he was left in a wheelchair from which he played wheelchair basketball for the LA-Phoenix Samaritans in the Southern California league of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. In 1990 Walk was honored at the White House by U.S. President George H. W. Bush, as the “Wheelchair Athlete of The Year.” He later worked for the Phoenix Suns in the Community Affairs department.
In his later years, Walk commented on his perception as one of the league’s great draft day “booby prizes” by saying “I never paid attention to that bullshit. How many guys would love to be the second overall pick?”
Neal Walk is 5th on the Suns All-Time Leaders list in career rebounds with 3,637, 2nd in total rebounds in a single season (1006 in 1973) and 17th on the list of All-Time Points Leaders with 6,010.
Important Future Dates
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 “Between Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges, which player would you offer a DRSP Extension (25% of the cap) to this summer?”
20.5% - Deandre Ayton.
14.6% - Mikal Bridges.
59.5% - Extend them both but neither should get the DRSPE.
05.4% - Forget the extensions. Wait until they’re RFAs’ and deal with new contracts then.
A total of 259 votes were cast.
This week’s poll is...
The Suns have had 5 win streaks of at least 3 games this season with the longest being 6. Do you think they will eventually top their 8-0 bubble streak this season?
This poll is closed