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 finished the 2021 regular season with a 51-21 record to earn the 2nd seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Their record is also the second best in the NBA which will give them home court advantage over every team except the Utah Jazz during their playoff run.
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
Q1 - Who do you want - Lakers or Warriors - as the Suns’ 1st round opponent... and why?
GuarGuar: I much rather would play the Warriors in the first round. The Lakers can cause major issues for us size wise. They also have this guy named Lebron who’s a top 2 all time player. We match up lightyears better with the Warriors.
Sun-Arc: The easy answer is clearly anyone other than the Lakers. As well as GSW have been playing lately, the size and athleticism the Lakers have is intimidating.
At the same time, I want to push through the best the West has to offer, whomever that is. As much as Lebron and Davis are horrible match ups for every team, we have Ayton, Crowder, Craig, Johnson, and Bridges to throw at them. It isn’t like we do not have size or athleticism on the team. Plus, we are so much deeper than they are. For instance:
Devontae Cacok and Damian Jones are #5 & 6 for PER on their team. They only have four players (with over 260 total min played) over a PER of 14. They only have four players with a VORP of at least 1.0. They also only have three players shooting above average from the perimeter (over 260 total min played).
The Suns have EIGHT players with a PER of over 14 and six players with a VORP over 1.0. We have SEVEN players shooting above average from the perimeter.
And you can go on that way. The key to beating the Lakers is to overshadow their effort and match their defense. If we do that, our offense will win the games.
SDKyle: The Warriors are a much better matchup for the Suns, so I’d prefer to face them. The Warriors have Steph, and Wiggins can be a scoring force of nature on a given night... but the Lakers scare me. The size they have is a huge edge in the playoffs, they play great perimeter defense when they want to, and they have arguably two of the five best players in basketball. The Suns can beat either team, but there is more margin for error with the Warriors. We have the personnel to guard Curry (as much as anyone can) and Wiggins between CP3 and Bridges. I feel much more confident about that.
SouthernSun: Oh God. I have no idea.
I guess it depends on which one you want more, a better shot at a championship, or an easier route to going deeper into the playoffs, but a slightly worse shot at a championship.
Warriors in round 1 is a win for the Suns, I have no question about that. They at least make it to the second round.
That being said, the Lakers will probably be at their worst of the playoffs right at the beginning, especially with Bron’s nagging injuries.
I guess I’d probably just take Lakers in the first round so the Suns have the best chance at beating them early before they power up and reach their final form.
Alex S: I’ve gone back and forth on this one since each secured their spot in the play-in…
I’m going to pick the Lakers. It’s intimidating to a level but my reasoning is layered. For one, the Lakers haven’t had any resemblance of continuity over the past month and it’s damn near impossible to ask an entire basketball team to patch up chemistry within a game or two. There’s also no telling the severity of the injuries that LeBron and AD are dealing with so if there were ever an opportunity to capitalize on dethroning the champs, it’s going to be early in the playoffs. Secondly, if the Suns were to manage to beat LAL it’d give the team a massive confidence boost for the rest of the postseason and would presumably help them for any matchup they face. Lastly, if you match up with the Lakers people would be assuming they would “upset” the Suns so if the Suns were to lose the series, it’d be a bit easier of a pill to swallow. If Steph Curry goes nuclear for 4 games and almost single-handedly upsets you? That’s tough.
Q2 - ESPN says that the Suns lack of playoff experience is the biggest obstacle for them to overcome. Do you agree or have something else you think is a bigger concern?
GuarGuar: I think the two LA teams are the biggest obstacle to overcome. We have Chris Paul and Jae Crowder and Saric who have played meaningful minutes on very good teams in the past. The nucleus is young but it’s not like anyone is a rookie. They’ve been starving for the playoffs for a while. I think a big key is that they calm down early because they are so hyped up and excited to finally be here.
Sun-Arc: Our lack of experience will be an issue, I believe. At least in the first series. I believe Paul and Crowder will be able to calm the troops to some degree. But we’ve seen the team take games too lightly at times in the regular season. They can’t do that here. The question is: is this their biggest issue?
Against the Lakers, inexperience could be the biggest problem. Or it could be the lack of depth behind Ayton as our only athletic big. Ayton has been good at avoiding fouls his entire career (3.4 fouls per game, especially compared to JJJ’s 5.9). But you know the Lakers will try to exploit this weakness. We’ll have to see which appears as the biggest weakness in that first series.
SDKyle: I think our lack of reliable frontcourt scoring is a bigger obstacle than our supposed experience problem. I don’t fault people for saying that about a team whose leading scorer has never played a minute of playoff basketball, but CP3 and Crowder have logged plenty of playoff minutes, and I think Paul in particular will be capable of helping his younger less experienced teammates handle the big stage without losing composure.
SouthernSun: Yep, definitely playoff experience.
I’d say a lack of big interior defenders to throw at opposing big men, but that's mostly only an issue against the Lakers and maybe the Nuggets.
Chris Paul makes up for a lot of that lack of playoff experience, though. And Jae Crowder helps some as well. I’m sure those guys will be helping out the youngins.
Alex S: I would actually disagree although it was my main concern as well for a while. My biggest concern now is quality play from the 5. I trust Deandre to be an impactful player in the postseason but what if he gets in foul trouble? Dario has been a much worse version of himself the last month so it’s fair to say the play from the center position is my biggest concern… especially if the Lakers are your 1st round matchup.
Q3 - After seeing Jalen Smith on the court for extended minutes in the Spurs game, has your opinion of him and his future in the NBA changed?
GuarGuar: Jalen clearly has a lot of raw talent. He’s got tremendous athleticism for his size. If his jumper becomes consistent then he will be a real piece moving forward. Looking forward to seeing his development in the off-season.
Sun-Arc: My opinion of Smith is no different because of that last game. ZERO difference.
- Remember when Alec Peters went off on Dallas in the last game of the season?
- Dragan Bender had good games here and there too.
- Smith did not do well in the G-league, when he should have dominated against non-NBA competition.
- We’ve seen moments of Jalen dunking and rebounding before this season, he simply got more minutes to play.
- He still looked lost at moments, though he did seem to gain awareness as the game wore on.
Having said all that, I totally am open to him having a good (or even great) career. It is way too early to write the book on him. He seems like a smart guy and a hard worker. He’s also getting to develop slowly behind better players that can push him (something Chris, Len & Bender didn’t have here).
SDKyle: My opinion on him hasn’t changed, but I had a fairly neutral opinion of him. My last take on Jalen Smith was that it’s suggestive he doesn’t have much star quality that he couldn’t earn minutes over our often struggling bench bigs, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a decent NBA player. I think his play in the season finale was supportive of that conclusion. He didn’t look special but he didn’t look out of place. If next season at age 22 he’s still struggling to earn 10 minutes a game on the court, then that’s when we probably have to start wondering about his future. But until then, he’s alright.
SouthernSun: He definitely showed me more than I was expecting to see the other night, but my opinion hasn’t changed that much. Because I didn’t have too terribly much of an opinion to begin with. He’s still pretty much a question mark. He might be good next season. He might not. I certainly hope he is. We haven’t really seen enough of him to make a good guesstimate on that.
Maybe somebody else saw that last game and he gets included as a cherry on top of a trade to improve this summer before making another run at a title next season, and then we won’t have to wonder anymore.
Alex S: I never sold my Jalen stock but I’m also not going to rave about him quite yet. The fluidity and the player mold that Jalen can become is very exciting. I also believe a quality offseason could lead him to be your backup 5 as early as next year potentially. However, Smith is still a raw product and it’s fair to say his year has been disappointing. Luckily, it’s much more understandable as the Suns have legitimately 14 quality basketball players that he’s competing against for minutes.
I do have higher expectations for next season.
As always, many thanks to our Fantable members - GuarGuar, Sun-Arc, SDKyle, SouthernSun and Alex S. - for all their extra effort every week!
This Week in Suns History
On May 22, 2006, the Suns defeated the LA Clippers 127-107 in Game-7 of the WC Semi-Finals to take the series 4-3. The Suns played only seven players that night with two starters playing over 40 minutes each (Shawn Marion 45 mins, Tim Thomas 42 mins) with the rest of the starters playing between 35 and 39 minutes. The only two bench players utilized that night (Leandro Barbosa and current GM James Jones) played a combined 40 minutes. All seven scored in double figures with Marion leading the Suns with 30 points. The leading scorer for the Clippers was Elton Brand (36 points) who played all but 5 seconds of the game. The Suns were 15 of 27 from three that night (55.6%) while the Clippers missed all of their three-point attempts.
On May 23, 1976, the Suns played in their first ever NBA Finals game against the Celtics in Boston. The Suns put up 22 more field goal attempts than the Celtics (99-77) but an uncharacteristic poor shooting night for the Suns (.384 vs .472 season average) plus being outscored 20-11 at the free throw line led to a 98-87 loss to the Celtics. It was also the only game of the series in which Paul Westphal (8 points on 4 of 17 shooting) failed to score in double digits.
Interesting Suns Stuff
2021 PHOENIX SUNS PLAYOFF HYPE!! (A fun highlight vid set to music. - Rod)
Can Chris Paul Lead the Phoenix Suns to a Championship? | Real or Fake Contenders
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Suns are just the 5th team in NBA history to have at least a 15-game win increase in consecutive seasons. They join: Philadelphia in 2016-17 and 2017-18; Miami in 2003-04 and 2004-05, Houston in 1983-84 and 1984-85 and Baltimore in 1967-68 and 1968-69. What makes this even more impressive is that the Suns have accomplished this despite playing in two shortened seasons.
Devin Booker’s game-winning free throw against Portland with 2.4 seconds remaining was his 3rd time making a go-ahead, game-winning free throw in the final 3 seconds. On March 16, 2019, Booker broke a 136-136 tie by making a technical free throw with 1.1 seconds left in OT after New Orleans called a timeout they didn’t have and on April 19, 2021, Booker broke a 127-127 tie with 0.3 seconds left in OT to beat Milwaukee.
Chris Paul’s free throw percentage (93.4%) was the second highest for a single season in Suns history. Steve Nash holds the record with his 93.8% average during the 2009-10 season.
Last Week’s Poll Results
Last week’s poll was “If the Suns’ 1st round playoff series is against the Lakers, do you think the Suns will win it?”
21% - Yes.
25% - No.
54% - Only if the Lakers aren’t back to full strength.
A total of 153 votes were cast.
This week’s poll is...
What’s do you think is the Suns’ biggest obstacle in the playoffs?
This poll is closed
Lack of playoff experience.
Lack of big interior defenders other than Ayton.