Welcome to ‘Inside the Suns’, your weekly deep down analysis of the current Suns team as well as a peak 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 43-18 and in 2nd place in the Western Conference with the 2nd best record in the NBA. They are currently 1 game behind the 1st place Utah Jazz, 1 game ahead of the 3rd place LA Clippers, 3 games ahead of the 4th place Denver Nuggets and 7 games ahead of the 5th place LA Lakers.
Notes: ^ means the team will finish better than this spot. X means the team cannot win this spot. Numeric indicates the number of consecutive upcoming games that must be won to guarantee winning this spot. “DNCD” indicates the team Does Not Control its Destiny for this spot and thus, even after winning all remaining games, needs help from other teams to win. * denotes first round home field advantage in the playoffs. ** denotes Play-in Tournament Participate.
Graphic courtesy of PlayoffStatus.com.
This week’s home games against the Clippers (Wednesday) and Jazz (Friday) are HUGE.
First up... the Fantable — a round table of Bright Siders who give their takes on the Suns latest issues and news.
Fantable Questions of the Week
Note: These questions were sent out to the Fantable members following the games played on Thursday, April 23.
Q1 - The Suns are presently 2 games behind the Jazz, 1 game ahead of the Clippers and 3.5 games ahead of the Nuggets. All have between 11-14 games left to play. The Suns have the 4th toughest schedule left, the Jazz the 29th, the Clips the 25th and the Nugs the 15th. Which seeds do you believe all four teams will have at the end of the season?
GuarGuar: I think the schedule difference is gonna make it really tough for us to stay neck and neck with Utah before our final meeting. It’s certainly possible we overtake the 1 spot though. The Clippers could chase us down and the Lakers could get that 4 spot over Denver but for the most part I think everything stays the way it is right now.
I do think the Lakers may overtake the Nuggets. Right now they are pretty far behind, and Denver has continued to win at a high rate, so I left them at 4.
I think the Nuggets will hold on ahead of the Lakers, who will not push particularly hard as long as they’re solidly in the playoff race. I really think it’s 50/50 as to whether the Suns finish 2nd or 3rd, because I don’t think the Clippers will be playing full bore in the last couple of games either.
I believe the Jazz giving some guys the night off at the end of the season will lose them a couple games, but they have a little cushion, so they stay ahead.
The Suns will continue to play hard every night, maybe with their starters playing a little fewer minutes, and I believe they will come back strong at the end of this road trip and down the stretch. CP3 doesn’t tend rest many games.
The Clippers will also likely rest Kawhi and PG a good bit, and even Rondo, so they should fall off a bit as well.
Despite their continued good play, and MPJ stepping up, im just not a believer in the Murray-less Nuggets, and I think the Suns will continue to stay ahead of them.
Alex S: My guess for seeding goes something along the lines of this:
Phoenix has some nagging injuries to deal with and the Clippers are playing the best basketball out of anyone currently. I want to be a homer and believe the Suns will stay in 2nd but it’s tough to given their schedule.
Q2 - Over the last 9 games (6-3) Booker has averaged just 20.3 PPG (40.9% FG, 22.3% 3Pt). In the previous 6 games (6-0), he averaged 34.0 PPG (50.0% FG, 40.5% 3Pt). What do you think could be responsible for his drop-off in production?
GuarGuar: I think it’s just a normal slump. It happens. Fatigue of a season with so many back to backs and games in such a short period of time. I’m not worried one bit. I’m sure he will find his rhythm again soon and be ready to go come playoff time.
Sun-Arc: Booker’s funk might only be explained by Bootsy Collins. All joking aside, he has faced some of the most difficult defenders in the league lately. Smart always defends him well, Thybulle was insanely good, and the law firm of Jrue, Middleton, and Giannis were no picnic. It probably is a combination of items, including the defense, fatigue (hasn’t had an injury rest this season for his legs), and – oh I dunno - maybe some Kardashian Kurse.
SDKyle: I think it’s probably just weariness. He was balling out of his mind for a few games, now he’s struggling a bit. I’m not too worried... Booker will figure it out. As long as he’s himself come playoff time, it’s all good.
SouthernSun: Could be something. Could be nothing. He might just be exhausted from giving his all every night during a compressed schedule. Or maybe he’s actively not wearing his body down as much by doing too much. Or maybe he’s just in a slump. Either way I fully expect to have Book back to normal by playoff time.
Alex S: I think the grind of the season as hindered Devin lately but he had a great bounce back performance Sunday against the Nets. He just needs to be near 100% healthy heading into the playoffs and I’ll have nothing to worry about when it comes to his play personally.
Q3 - Who do you think is the front-runner for this year’s Dan Majerle Hustle Award?
GuarGuar: This year’s award could go to multiple guys (Mikal, Carter, Craig, Crowder). I think Mikal is the front runner for the award because he’s had consistent minutes over Carter/Craig and been more impactful than Crowder. Mikal is a true joy to watch and a huge piece for this team.
Sun-Arc: This is a good question. Right now there is no player on the team that is a clear front runner. Torrey Craig would be the front runner for me right now - the guy just always works hard to get the 50/50 balls, rebounds, and defend. And he’s getting way more minutes than Carter since acquiring him. An argument can be made for Payne as well - but I just do not quite see it as clearly as Craig. Carter won it last season and he deserved it, in my opinion. But he’s averaging less MPG than just about everyone else. Hard to say he should get the repeat nod this season. On minutes, dependability, and defensive player - Mikal Bridges has a good claim to the trophy.
Dark horse candidates might include Crowder, Johnson, and Galloway. Nader might be a dark horse guy if he played more, simply for boldly getting the rim more than anyone else. Then there is the amazingly dependable Chris Paul, but he doesn’t exude the term “hustle.”
Overall, I still say Craig. He throws himself into crowds of people to get rebounds, dives on the floor for loose balls, and seems to give 100% every minute - more than anyone else to me. Though I’d be happy giving it to Bridges, I feel the award was really meant for the gritty bench guy. Sure Thunder Dan was a starter, but PJ Tucker epitomizes the award to me, and Craig fits that bulldog role, like Carter last season.
SDKyle: I honestly think Jevon Carter would be a worthy winner again, but for the sake of not repeating I’ll toss out the name of Jae Crowder. He’s frustrating at times when his shot isn’t falling, but he plays hard whether he’s hot or cold and I think he has a positive impact on the effort and discipline of his teammates.
SouthernSun: Probably Jevon Carter? If not him then one of Cam Payne or Jae Crowder, I’d say.
Jae or Payne might get it just by virtue of getting more minutes but I believe it’ll be one of those three guys.
Jevon exemplifies everything that award is about. He’s an absolute dog and always leaves every thing he has on the floor. He full court presses, up 20 with 30 seconds left. He is hustle incarnate.
However, the other two work their butts off as well and they play more.
Alex S: I’ll go with Mikal Bridges but Torrey Craig would be a huge candidate for the award had he been here all season. Honorable mention to Jevon Carter as well!
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
What Deandre Ayton’s improvement means for the Suns’ title hopes. The Step Back
Deandre Ayton: Why the Phoenix Suns’ playoff hopes rest with the former No. 1 pick. NBA.com
Chris Paul: Putting the all-time greatness of the Phoenix Suns’ MVP candidate into perspective. Sporting News
Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns serve notice that they’re legit NBA playoff contenders. ESPN
This Week in Suns History
On April 27, 1976 the Suns got their first ever playoff series win (4-2) when they defeated the Seattle SuperSonics 123-112 in game 6 of their 1st round playoff series. Keith Erickson came off the bench to lead the Suns in scoring with 20 pts. Paul Westphal, Gar Heard and Ricky Sobers added 18 pts each and Alvan Adams finished one rebound short of a triple-double with 10 pts, 10 assists and 9 rebounds while also getting 3 steals and 2 blocks.
On April 27, 1997, the Suns suffered their worst ever playoff loss (by 44 points) at the hands of the Seattle Supersonics (122-78) in Game 2 of their 1st round series. Phoenix made just 26.9% of it’s field goal attempts during the game. Suns rookie point guard Steve Nash played 9 minutes of “garbage time” in his first ever NBA playoff game with a stat line of 0 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block (!), 2 turnovers and 4 personal fouls.
Interesting Suns Stuff
The Phoenix Suns Are On The Horizon. PLAYOFFS ARE BACK for the First Time in 11 Years.
The Selflessness of Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns Film Study)
During his rookie season, future 2-time MVP, 8-time NBA All-Star, 7-time All-NBA selection and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member Steve Nash’s per game averages were only 3.3 points, 2.1 assists, 1.0 rebounds and 0.3 steals with a 42.3% field goal percentage.
Chris Paul is averaging 16.0 points on 48.7 FG% and 8.7 assists at age 35 this season. Paul is just the third player to average 15+ points on at least 48% shooting plus 8+ assists at age 35 or older. The other two players to do so were LeBron James in guiding the Lakers to a title last season and Nets Head Coach Steve Nash in 2009-10 while running the point for the last Suns playoff team.
Over the 8 games before playing Brooklyn, Chris Paul recorded 75 assists while committing just 7 turnovers. He almost equaled his total turnovers in those previous 8 games with 6 turnovers against the Nets.
Deandre Ayton needs 7 more blocks to reach 200 for his career.
Important Future Dates
May 16 - Regular season ends.
May 18 to 21 - Play-in tournament for 7-to-10 seeds.
May 22 - First-round playoffs begin.
June 7 - Conference semifinals begin.
June 21-27 - NBA Draft Combine.
June 22 - NBA Draft Lottery. Conference Finals begin.
July 8-22 - NBA Finals.
July 29 - NBA Draft.
August 2 - 2021-22 season Free Agency period begins (6 pm ET).
August 6 - Moratorium ends. Free agents can officially be signed.
Last Week’s Poll Results
Last week’s poll was “Was drafting Jalen Smith a mistake?”
38% - Yes.
05% - No.
57% - It’s still too early to judge.
A total of 378 votes were cast.
This week’s poll is...
Who do think will win the Dan Majerle Hustle Award this year?
This poll is closed