Welcome to ‘Inside the Suns’, your weekly deep down analysis of the current Phoenix Suns team.
We’ll start off this week’s edition with a look at the current Western Conference standings and playoff probabilities.
Graphic courtesy of PlayoffStatus.com.
And now, on to 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 - How can the Suns possibly adjust to Cam Payne’s absence without CP3 playing excessive minutes?
GuarGuar: I think Monty just needs to bite the bullet and play Elf all of CP’s minutes. We can also go more Point Booker. That has proven to be effective in the few times we’ve used it this season. It’s not worth playing Chris a ton of minutes. We want a championship.
Sun-Arc: I think the most likely scenario to fill in for Payne will be by committee. Payton does not have Cam’s speed or shooting, but he can be a more helpful player than we’ve seen so far. I hope he starts to shine a bit more with the minutes. Still, it will take a little bit more CP3 minutes, Point-Book, and maybe even a shot-creating Shamet. In the end, the added minutes for Payton right now could come in handy in the playoffs.
SouthernSun: By trading for Eric Gordon.
I’m not joking... but I know I need to put something else here so let’s just give Shamet lots of burn and hope he turns this thing around. Maybe more Payton (oof)? I felt way better about the Suns bench guards going into the season than I do about them now, unfortunately.
Alex S: I think they key is simply having Book or CP3 on the court at all times but utilize Elfrid and Landry minutes. I like what Monty did during the Utah game where he paired Book with Payton and Shamet and split the ball handling responsibility amongst all three, then proceeded to do something similar with Chris starting the 2nd. Payton can play 15 mpg if he’s not asked to be a primary shot creator on offense…his defense has been really good of late. Landry has to prove his worth so giving him an opportunity to playmake a bit isn’t a bad concept. He’s shown flashes of being good at it recently.
Rod: I’m not really sure there is a way to keep CP3s minutes down in Payne’s absence and still win. If Elf had even a reliable mid-range shot I think it could be done with him alone taking up Payne’s minutes but he doesn’t and Shamet hasn’t proven that he can pick up the slack on offense either. With Crowder also out and Cam Johnson now in the starting lineup, the bench alone can’t usually score enough to keep pace with their opponents so mixing some of the starters in with them or just keeping most of their collective minutes low are the only good options. God help us if CP3 gets even a minor injury and has to miss a few games before Payne is ready to return though.
Q2 - The Suns have great depth this year but it’s also a shallow pool in numbers with Dario and Frank out most if not all of the remainder of the season and Nader continually nursing a sore knee. What do you expect the Suns to do with each of them as the trade deadline draws near?
GuarGuar: I think Saric might be packaged in a deal to get us a backup guard for the playoffs. I don’t expect anything to happen to Frank or Nader. If anything we would release them for the roster space.
Sun-Arc: If a solid trade is out there that would improve the team in the playoffs, I think JJ will try to swing it. Any of Dario, Frank, Nader, Smith, and Payton could be involved. While those five players’ salaries amount to around $20m, which would be enough for Jerami Grant ($20m/2yr), Thad Young ($14m/1yr), or Robert Covington ($13m/1yr), it is not a great return for any trade partner. Plus there are trade clauses for Frank and Nader as I understand it.
The other scenario I could see happening is simply waiving Nader to open up a buy-out player slot. This feels more likely than a trade to me. Maybe we end up with Thad that way, for instance.
I think the team will opt to keep Frank for this season, as well as he’s played (when available) relatively to his salary makes sense.
The team might also take the disabled player exception on Dario for the season and hold onto him. Though I could imagine a trade scenario involving he and Smith for Thad or another player on an expiring deal. That would enable the team to keep Bismack and McGee, perhaps.
Lots of scenarios possible, and JJ is somewhat unpredictable.
SouthernSun: Hopefully convince another team to take Dario as salary filler in a deal with a pick attached for someone playable.
Expect? I don’t know. I have no idea what to expect. Under McDonough I knew what to expect. Nothing. Or bad things. Under James Jones I have no idea. He didn’t make a move for more size at last years deadline like he should have, so history tells us he’ll do nothing. But that’s one time. So who knows.
Alex S: I see Dario as the only name to keep an eye on in terms of a move simply due to his salary. The other two wouldn’t get anything noteworthy on the market but Dario paired with draft capital and/or Jalen Smith could be interesting for a team that has a need at center like Toronto or Boston. However, I think Jalen and even Landry are the two main names to watch at the deadline.
Rod: Jones will either find a trade for Dario, probably along with another player of players, or do nothing with him this season. Frank and Nader have veto power over trades but I wouldn’t expect either one to use that power under most circumstances if they’re not likely to play again this season. Some other team might actually want to trade for a player on an expiring deal that they could waive in order to open up a roster spot. That’s also what the Suns could do with either one of them if a player they wanted became available through a buyout.
It all depends on what opportunities present themselves though. If James Jones sees an opportunity to improve the team by moving players that are presently just taking up roster space, I expect him to do it. But if there’s no clear benefit to the team, he may wind up doing nothing with any of them.
Q3 - If the four teams that currently are in the play-in slots (Minnesota, LAL, LAC & Portland) were the same at the end of the regular season, which team would you least want the Suns to face in the first round of the playoffs?
GuarGuar: I’d least want to play a healthy Clippers team. They were who I was afraid of most last season. They are a very bad matchup for us if they have Kawhi and PG. If the Clippers aren’t healthy then I don’t want to face the Lakers. Playoff LeBron is a problem id prefer another team to deal with.
Sun-Arc: My least favorite team to face of the four would be in this order:
- LAC with PG13 + Kawhi
- LAL fully healthy
- LAC with one of PG13 or Kawhi
- LAL not fully healthy
- POR fully healthy or not
- MIN because they have minimal playoff experience & likely to choke
So much of it would come down to health of the teams we face and our own. But the LA teams are still more scary than a limping and dysfunctional Portland team and inexperienced MIN. I do think MIN might make some noise in the first round, but I’ll take my chances with them any and all days of the week.
SouthernSun: Probably still the Lakers because of Lebron and AD. Lillard doesn’t scare me anymore. The Timberwolves definitely don’t scare me. Clippers meh yeah maybe. But Lebron is Lebron. Until we make it past him I don’t count him out.
Alex S: I know we handled them before but I’d prefer not to deal with the Lakers again. In an optimal world, they match up at the 2/7 with Golden State and AD puts a bunch of pressure on the small Warriors to push that series 6 or 7. I’d most want to play Minnesota as they’re still building that continuity and identity that has yet to have any real experience in a playoff environment.
Rod: A healthy Clippers team would be my least favorite first round matchup. With a healthy PG13 and Kawhi, they’re a very strong team with few weaknesses. The Lakers have some great players but even at full strength they aren’t a great team. Too many mismatched parts that don’t always work well together. Minnesota and Portland are a tossup for third & fourth.
As always, many thanks to our Fantable members - GuarGuar, Sun-Arc, SouthernSun and Alex S. - for all their extra effort every week!
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Last Week’s Poll Results
Last week’s poll was “If the Suns can only keep one of McGee or Biyombo next season, which would you keep?”
56% - JaVale McGee.
44% - Bismack Biyombo.
A total of 532 votes were cast.
This week’s poll is...
Which team would you least want the Suns playing in the 1st round of the playoffs?
This poll is closed
Portland Trail Blazers.