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Center of the Sun: Torrey Craig and Cameron Payne taking advantage of their opportunity

Your weekly roundup of Suns news, rumors, notes and videos from the prior week plus a preview of the week to come.

New York Knicks v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Current Record: 10-6

Offensive Rating: 116.7 (3rd)

Defensive Rating: 109.7 (7th)

Net Rating: +7.0 (2nd)

Power Ranking:

  • NBA: 6th (↓3)
  • ESPN: 6th (↓3)
  • CBS: 12th (↓2)
  • NBC: 4th (↓1)

The Suns went 2-2 this past week, and considering that they are down two of their five starters, it was somewhat expected. Well, three starters if you count, Jae Crowder. Do we anymore? Crowder rumors continue to hit our Twitter feeds and text threads with every mention of a team looking to shop anyone.

Settle down. We’re not getting John Collins. Nor should we want to.

Could Phoenix have gone 3-1 this week? 4-0? Their two losses this week came by a combined 2 points. So...um...yeah.

The absence of Chris Paul and Cameron Johnson from the starting lineup has created opportunity. What is impressive is that opportunity has intersected with production, which isn’t always the case. Think back to the 2017 Suns. That roster was full of opportunity. Production? Not so much.

Prior to the start of this season the two biggest questions I had surrounded the productivity and ability of both Cameron Payne and Torrey Craig. Not in a starting role, mind you, but how effective they would be as bench players.

Last season wasn’t good for either player.

Payne looked to be somebody who had peaked in the 2021 playoff run. Granted, he was hampered by injuries last season. Lower extremity injuries. Injuries that negate his greatest ability: his speed. He played in 58 games, and while he averaged a career high 10.1 shot attempts, he made only 40.9% of them.

Torrey Craig rejoined the Suns after James Jones traded away Jalen Smith. Perhaps Champ was covering up his mistake: he should’ve at least extended the 10th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft for another season. Torrey was a familiar face, however, assisting Phoenix in the 2021 playoff run. He was damn effective when he did, too.

But that wasn’t the Torrey Craig that we received last season. 32.3% from deep. A 107.8 defensive rating. He looked discombobulated at times, and other times you forgot he was there. It wasn’t pretty.

I had my doubts about both of their ability to bounce back this season and provide the Suns’ second unit with consistent and sustainable offense. Their “prime” was behind them.

Now look at them.

Both are thriving as members of the first team unit. While the Suns went 2-2 this past week, it wasn’t due to the efforts provided by both Payne and Craig. As a starter, Payne is averaging 20.2 points and 6.3 assists while shooting 45.5% from three. Craig is shooting 43.8% from deep while starting, grabbing 5.5 rebounds, and scoring 9.5 points.

What makes their contributions so valuable is it buys Phoenix more time, as well as negates any panic transactions to fix the Phoenix roster situation. The Suns don’t need to flip Crowder at this point because of how the team is playing. There is no pressure. There is no urgency.

We’ll continue to monitor their contributions this season, knowing that Cam Johnson won’t suit up for a while and CP3 is “wait and see” status. In true Thanksgiving fashion, be thankful for what these two are doing.


Player of the Week

Torrey Craig

13.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 blocks, 1.0 steals

54.1 FG%, 50.0 3PT%, 80.0 FT%

When you look at the starting five for the Suns, Torrey “The Juice” Craig was last in scoring this week. Why do we call him “Juice” on the Suns JAM Session Podcast? When he first came to Phoenix, he brought some juice to the lineup whenever he came in. And he kind of looks like Tupac’s character Bishop from the 1992 Ernest R. Dickenson film Juice.

I know. It’s a stretch. So is everything we do on that podcast.

When you’re fifth scoring option on your starting five is getting 13 and 7, you’re not doing too shabby.

I continue to be impressed with Juice’s impact on the game. He plays with a level of ferocity and intensity that I wish we could downloaded in some of our other players. He attacks the glass on both ends of the floor, creating second-chance shot opportunities for his team and negating extended possessions for the opposition.

He’s finding his way with the starters, learning the spaces in which he’ll be successful. The Suns have numerous offensive weapons for defenses to cover. So when they start throwing doubles, Craig benefits.

Julius Randle learned that on Sunday.


Game Recaps

Phoenix Suns @ Miami Heat (L, 113-112) FULL RECAP

Phoenix Suns vs. Golden State Warriors (W, 129-117) FULL RECAP

Phoenix Suns @ Utah Jazz (L, 134-133) FULL RECAP

Phoenix Suns vs. New York Knicks (W, 116-95) FULL RECAP


Highlights/Post Game Podcasts

SUNS at HEAT | NBA FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | November 14, 2022:

378. Suns (8-5) @ Heat Post Game Pod:

WARRIORS at SUNS | NBA FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | November 16, 2022:

379. Suns (9-5) vs. Warriors Post Game Pod:

SUNS at JAZZ | NBA FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | November 18, 2022:

380. Suns (9-6) @ Jazz Post Game Pod:

KNICKS at SUNS | NBA FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | November 20, 2022:

381. Suns (10-6) vs. Knicks Post Game Pod:


News & Notes

Bleacher Report: The Best NBA Shooters Who Need More Attention

Fan Nation: Suns Understand Significance of City Edition Jersey

Andscape: Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton and his mom are bringing a family recipe to Phoenix restaurants

Burn City Sports: Devin Booker is on Fire

CBS Sports: John Collins trade rumors: Hawks opening up talks with other teams, Suns among those interested, per report

SacTown Royalty: Phoenix Suns have shown interest in Harrison Barnes, but Kings don’t want to trade him


Quotes of the Week

“I’m not going to teach guys flopping.” — Monty Williams

“That’s my Superman. That was Superman. I don’t care about Superman Clark Kent. That’s Clark Kent. Calvin Wainright was my Superman.” — Ish Wainright

“You tell me.” — Devin Booker when asked about free throw disparity against the Heat

“Finish it the right way.” — Monty Williams

“We never want to lose two games in a row.” — Devin Booker

“I didn’t watch film as much as I do now.” — Cameron Payne


Key Stat

2-5

The Suns record on the road this season. That is a .286 winning percentage, a far cry from last year’s .780 winning percentage away from home.


Injury Status Report

Chris Paul (heel) is OUT, will be reevaluated this week

Landry Shamet (concussion protocol) is OUT

Cameron Johnson (right meniscus) is NO TIME TABLE FOR RETURN

Jae Crowder (posting videos about work while not showing up to work) is NOT WITH TEAM


This Week in Suns History

November 25, 1992

We are flashing back to 30 years ago this week, remembering the season that put the Suns on the map.

In an early battle of Western Conference heavyweights, the Suns hosted the Portland Trail Blazers in downtown Phoenix. Portland was a team that was coming off of an NBA Finals appearance, losing in six games to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the 1992 Finals. They arrived at America West Arena with a perfect 8-0 record and it was their first opportunity to see the new look Suns.

Phoenix were sporting their new uniform set, the same uniforms the team is paying homage to this season, and All Star Charles Barkley was now a part of the potent Suns offense. To that point in the season, however, it had been a rocky beginning for Barkley. While averaging 25.9 points and 13.5 rebounds, his team was 5-3 and not quite dominating the league as we may remember.

1995 Western Conference Quarterfinals, Game 3: Phoenix Suns vs. Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Phoenix played well in the first half, taking a 66-57 lead into the half. The Blazers stormed back in the third, however, and narrowed the lead to 1 as the teams entered the fourth quarter.

Portland was an offensive machine in the early 90’s, and this game was no different. Clyde ‘The Glide’ Drexler dropped 36 points, Jerome Kersey had 17, and both Clifford Robinson and Rod Strickland combined for 35 off the bench.

The Suns outscored the Blazers 29-26 in the final period, winning the game 121-117 behind a 33 point performance by Barkley. He snagged 18 rebounds as well, adding 6 assists to the box score.

Tom Chambers, who was adjusting to his role as a bench player with the Suns, was 7-of-14 from the field, and had 23 points, six rebounds, and was a force off of the bench.

It was a win that would begin to catapult the Phoenix Suns to the top of the Western Conference standings. Three games later, they began an epic 14 game win streak, and the team never looked back.


Upcoming Games

Tuesday, November 22 — Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Friday, November 25 — Phoenix Suns vs. Detroit Pistons

Saturday, November 26— Phoenix Suns vs. Utah Jazz

The week begins with the Suns first look at the Lakers. The old, discombobulated, we’ve-been-crap-for-a-decade-minus-the-Bubble-run Lakers. A team that has painted itself into a corner, Los Angeles has come out of the gate sputtering to say the very least. They carry with them a 4-10 record, having won their last two games (Brooklyn Nets/Detroit Pistons).

They’re second to last in the Western Conference and if this trend continues, they’ll put themselves in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes. Oh. That’s right. The New Orleans Pelicans own their pick after they traded it to acquire Anthony Davis. Well, there is always the 2026 NBA Draft. That is when the Lakers truly own their own pick.

Say what you will about the Ryan McDonough era. At least he never mortgaged the future the way Rob Pelinka has in L.A..

The Lakers own the 29th best offensive rating in the league. Their third best scorer is Lonnie Walker IV. They are without LeBron James. This should be an easy win for the Suns.

Following Turkey Day, Phoenix plays the Detroit Pistons who live in the cellar of the Eastern Conference, as they currently have a 3-14 record. It isn’t getting better for the Pistons as they will be without former 1st overall pick Cade Cunningham for an extended period of time.

Cade has averaged 19.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 6.0 assists in 12 games for the Pistons. Their leading scorer is newly acquired Bojan Bogdanovic, who came over via trade from the Utah Jazz for Kelly Olynyk.

Be ready for plenty of interesting whistles in this one, as Detroit is the number one team in the league in free throw makes (22.6) and attempts (29.1). Sure, they’re 19th in FT% — 77.7% — but they force the issue and do their best to put the opposition in foul trouble.

5th overall pick Jaden Ivey has been a bright spot for the boys in blue, as he’s averaged 16.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 4.2 assists in 32.1 minutes played during his rookie campaign. His three-point shooting mirrors that of the Pistons. Not good. He’s shooting 29.5% from beyond the arc, as Detroit is 28th in the league with a 32.0% clip.

Just last week Ivey scored 26 points against the Boston Celtics.

The following evening the Suns will welcome Lauri Markkenan and the Utah Jazz to the Footprint Center. The wound is still fresh from the uphill battle the team faced while trying to knock of the Jazz in Utah, losing 134-133 this past Friday to the team.

Utah continues to surprise the NBA with how their island of misfit toys has meshed in such a cohesive fashion. Their lineup is filled with quality role players who can shoot and generate offense. While they have some opportunity on the defensive end, they still possess a +3.4 net rating and are currently first in the Western Conference with a 12-6 record.

Devin Booker went for 49 points against them on Friday. What does he have in store for us next Saturday?


Weekly Prediction: 3-0

Well done, Bright Siders. 57% of you got it right last week, predicting the Suns would go 2-2.

This week seems too easy, right? You’re playing two of the worst teams in the league, and the best team in the Western Conference...who you just lost to by 1 on the road. This has got to be 3-0, right? Am I missing anything?

What do you think?

Poll

What will the suns record be this week?

  • 68%
    3-0
    (133 votes)
  • 28%
    2-1
    (55 votes)
  • 2%
    1-2
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    0-3
    (1 vote)
193 votes total Vote Now


This upcoming week we celebrate Thanksgiving. We do so by taking a Thursday off of work, stuffing our beaks with a smorgasbord of baked meats and candied desserts, sitting our fat asses down on the couch, and watching football.

It’s an American tradition unlike any other.

In the same breath, is an opportunity to be with family and reflect on the things in your life you are thankful for. Too often we do not take the time to appreciate the things and people in our life that are positive. The fast-paced nature of our lives, coupled by the crippling negativity in the world, distracts us from doing so.

I ask that you focus on the good things this week. Happiness is a choice. Hug your kids. Kiss your wife. Be thankful for the peaks in your life, and understand that, just like the valleys, they are temporary. Perhaps it’s the Libra in me, but try to balance it all. And smash on some cheese cauliflower.

As a Phoenix Suns fan, we must be thankful. And stay humble. For the moment we aren’t, this team will do it for us. We should be thankful for this moment in Suns’ history. This era, if you will. That can all change in just a snap of a finger, just as it did prior to the pandemic. This team was dog shit for a decade.

Now look at them, perennial Western Conference power houses. Appreciate these moments. Cherish these games. Submerse yourself and everything that is Suns culture. Times like these – the peaks – are what makes being a Suns fan worth it.

And for that I’m thankful.

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