Welcome to ‘Inside the Suns’, your weekly deep down analysis of the current Phoenix Suns team.
Each week the Fantable - a round table of Bright Siders - give their takes on the Suns’ latest issues and news. This week, I hope you’ll join me in welcoming Ethan Shutt and Philip Russell from the “Into The Valley” podcast to the Fantable!
Fantable Questions of the Week
Q1 - I still see other teams doubling Booker when he has the ball but I believe he’s gotten better at beating them/passing out to teammates. What are your thoughts on this?
GuarGuar: He definitely has improved significantly over the years. He gets so many hockey assists when he gets double teamed. He tries to draw the defense out as far as possible to create more space for the 4 on 3. The narratives surrounding him and doubles however haven’t changed unfortunately.
OldAz: I do see improvement here, but it still fits in the category of “opportunity for growth” instead of “strength”. To me, the key to beating double teams consistently for Book requires 2 things, one of which he has been working on and getting better at and the other is one that requires some help from his teammates.
First, he has gotten better at making the on time pass early, when the double team is coming. A couple of his passes to DA against Utah (not lobs but actual passes to the open man in the lane) were picture perfect. He needs to keep developing this and it will slow that double team, giving him time to beat it when he needs to.
The second thing is passing out of the double team during clutch time. He also did this in the Utah game, but the team shied away from the moment and the ball found its way back to Book with a few seconds left. If this is by design, then Monty needs to do better about using the regular season to develop secondary options. This is about trust and building confidence in his teammates. Doing it now and building some level of success (whether it is to DA or Mikal) will pay dividends when the opponent is not 100% assured that Book is simply going to keep the ball once the game gets close in the end.
Cliff30: I think Booker has gotten better at playing through double teams. I think this stint without Chris Paul will pay dividends in that department going forward. But mostly I think it’s incumbent on the rest of the roster to punish teams for doubling Booker. Ayton and Bridges need to be moving to exploit the defense whenever a team is doubling Booker.
Philip: With under a minute to go against the Pistons, Kevin Knox and Killian Hayes ran a double at Book. Instead of getting rid of the ball before the double arrived, Book waited to see how the defense would take shape. He found Cam Payne on the opposite wing (the correct read since Detroit took away the middle of the court) who passed to Torrey Craig for the odd-man advantage.
Even though Torrey had the ball stripped away, that’s the kind of decision the Suns need from Book. Be patient enough to let the defense take shape, trust your teammates, and put them in positions to attack.
Ethan: I tend to agree. Seems like he’s handling the pressure a bit better, and I think the team’s looking a little more prepared for where to be when it happens! Just this week you saw it happen a few times, and Booker passed it across the court and then it was a quick pass to the nail. They’re just trying to get the defense scrambling and punish the overcommit.
Rod: I think a lot of it is that Booker’s no longer seems to wait until he’s already in trouble before trying to pass out of a double-team. In the past, I’ve seen him hang on to the ball until he had no choice but to attempt a pass and would often make a risky/bad one or get stripped. I think it helps a lot that he now has multiple teammates that he can trust and doesn’t feel as though he needs to do it all by himself.
Q2 - I like what I’ve seen so far from all of our backup guards this season. How would you rank them from top to bottom as to their importance to the team?
GuarGuar: 1. Payne - we need him to lead the second unit at an elite level and be an efficient scorer and shot creator.
2. Washington - He’s the 2nd best isolation shot creator on the team behind Booker in my opinion. He can get his shot off whenever he wants. That has extreme value in this team and I hope Monty finds time for him moving forward.
3. Shamet - I like his hustle and his attitude but man he just hasn’t been good for us and I’m not confident that’s going to change.
4. Okogie - he’s a great defender and energy guy but he should have no role on this team come playoff time.
OldAz: Payne is the obvious leader here. He takes a lot of grief on the BSotS boards, but he has played well and is developing a good chemistry with the starters, leading to increased assist totals. We need to see more of this, where he sets others up instead of looking for his own shot. Regardless, he is obviously the most important backup guard on the roster.
Inconsistency is the word of the day for the rest of the backup guards. Only Lee, Shamet and Washington are listed as guards, but I would include Okogie in this group as he has had to play some guard with all the injuries. In order of importance, I think it is close between Lee and Washington. Lee has been exactly what I expected and is a great fit with this team. Likewise, the run Washington has gotten this last week has been impressive. The Suns have always missed that “microwave” type scorer that heats up fast and can carry the offense for the bench unit. He needs to also work on his passing when the Suns do put another starter on the floor with him. Shamet has been hurt but continues to underperform expectations since he was rewarded with that contract extension. I think he is what he is, which is basically a (regular season) rotation bench player that can get the team by for 10-15 minutes a game. Okogie should be limited to garbage time or specialized minutes for his defense, because he has zero offensive game from what I have seen.
Cliff30: Cameron Payne is obviously our most important reserve guard. He’s the best playmaker by a long shot, and he’s the most dynamic scorer too. Hopefully he can maintain this production going forward.
I’m very torn on ranking the other three guys. Damion Lee has shot lights out from three and made big winning contributions. But he’s a 30 year old on a minimum deal. I think a lot of it is SSS, and if he really shoots this well he’ll price himself out of our future plans anyways. But for this season I’d put him at number 2 in importance.
Shamet has again underwhelmed me. But he’s still owed significant money next year so in that sense he’s more “important” than the other guys. He’s going to be here, he’s been better in the past, we need him to be better going forward.
Duane Washington Jr. is the wildcard. He’s shown flashes. He has more upside as a scorer than Lee or Shamet, he also shows more ability as a playmaker. As the youngest guy on the roster he has the most room to grow. But he’s going to need to start showing it if Monty is going to trust him. I want to rank him higher based on the flashes. But it hasn’t been enough to really expect him to have a role once we get guys back and healthy.
Okogie has had some jaw dropping highlights on defense. But this is an offense driven league. We’re basically playing 4 on 5 anytime he’s on the court. He’s only 24, but it’s his fifth season. His jump shot has been the glaring weakness from day one and he’s given zero reason for optimism that it will improve.
Philip: While I’m not sure all of these guys can be considered “guards,” here’s my ranking:
1. Cam Payne: As Cam goes, so goes the second unit, at least whenever Chris Paul comes back. Cam’s ability to attack the rim, especially against lesser defenders like we saw in Jordan Clarkson, can keep the second unit’s offense from stagnating.
2. Damion Lee: Lee has proven himself able to fill just about every role the Suns might need. He’s the utility player and, as if we could ask for more, a knockdown shooter.
3. Landry Shamet: I love Landry’s defensive effort and growth, but until his offense becomes more consistent, I can’t see him playing major minutes over Damion Lee during a playoff run.
4. Josh Okogie/Duane Washington: If the Suns need an offensive spark, play Duane. If the Suns need defensive help, play Josh.
Ethan: 1. Cam Payne - I think Cam is the only backup guard capable of keeping the offense afloat in Paul or Booker’s absence, and that’s what makes him so valuable. At the end of the day, he’s got some flaws, but he’s perfect as that spark plug/relentless attacker that you want as your first guard off the bench.
2. Damion Lee - Lee’s dependability has been the biggest asset. The guy has stayed healthy, has been consistent in hitting shots, and defensively is where you need him to be. He also has shown that the Warriors style of basketball carries over well to the .5 system Monty is running. I don’t want my backup guard pounding the ball for 20 seconds of the shot (especially when one of your starting guards does that already), so I love Lee’s ability to work within the system and hit the shots that come to him.
3. Landry Shamet - I’m hoping that #2 and #3 switch as Shamet gets back to full strength. I think he’s an above average defender and has the ability to run the offense and facilitate WITHOUT putting himself in precarious situations (a skill Payne doesn’t always have). Shamet looked good leading into the injury, and I’m hoping we see that same guy shortly.
4. Duane Washington Jr. - Certified bucket getter. Certified liability on defense.
Rod: Cam Payne is the obvious choice for #1 here. Playing as he has lately he could be considered a starting level player. After Cam, ranking the rest becomes a little more difficult.
Damion Lee gets my vote for #2 right now. He’s a fairly solid defender, fearless on offense and is hitting 49.3% of his threes on good volume (5th highest on 3-pt attempts while being 8th in minutes per game).
I’ve got Landry Shamet and Duane Washington Jr ranked about even here at 3rd/4th. Shamet is the better 3-pt shooter but Washington has more variety to his shot selection, has a pretty fair mid-range game and can drive to the basket.
Josh Okogie is 5th simply because the guy can’t shoot which makes him a liability on offense. Defensively, he’s my #1 guy of all the backup guards. To whoever he’s guarding, he’s like a bad rash that just won’t go away no matter what they try.
They’re all versatile and play hard. No wasted roster spots among this bunch.
Q3 - Which team(s) that are currently at or near the top of the rankings in the West do you think are most likely to slip downward as the season goes on?
GuarGuar: I do think the Jazz will fall back to earth eventually and they probably will trade some key guys. The rest of the West however looks pretty much normal to me except the Warriors being so low early on. That will change.
OldAz: This is pretty easy - Utah and Sacramento have already started to tail off. As tight as the Western conference is, it does not take much to drop from the top to the bottom. Utah and Sacramento don’t have the talent to compete at this level all season, especially if they have an injury. I do think one of the two will make the play in tournament, it just depends on which team stays most healthy over the course of the season. Dallas will certainly move into the top 10 by the end of the season, but I have no faith that the Lakers can stay healthy enough to crack the top 10, leaving a spot for one of these 2 teams.
Another possibility to fall out of the top 10 is Minnesota. I never liked the move to add Goebert to the mix and move KAT to PF. I am not sure that combination ever really clicks and I could easily see them staying on the periphery of the play in all season long.
Cliff30: Not at the top, but in playoff positions. I don’t believe in the Jazz or the Kangz at all. They both have identical 114.6 Drtg’s, tied for 23rd in the league. That’s not a winning formula. Defense is consistent, offense comes and goes as your shots drop. So I see two young teams that are hot on offense to start the season, but haven’t developed sustainable winning habits. In the case of the Jazz I’m wondering if they even want to be where they are. I’d bet Danny is hoping they lose enough that he can still shop guys like Clarkson, Olynyk and Conley at the deadline.
Philip: The Jazz might have begun their (largely anticipated) tailspin. They’re 3-7 in their last 10 games with a net rating of -3.8. The Jazz were noticeably more uncomfortable the second time around against the Suns this year, with their best players struggling from the field. While they’re playing a great brand of basketball and have solid players, their lack of truly elite players might be catching up to them, which could be exciting news for other teams in the NBA looking to improve their rosters.
Ethan: Tough question to answer when teams 1-13 are only separated by 5.5 games (as of Sunday evening). The offense from the Grizzlies, Nuggets and Kings has been unreal, but can they keep winning games with such terrible defenses? I’d guess one of them will fall down to earth in the next few weeks.
Rod: I was thinking of Dallas as one of the teams that might slide downward when I wrote this question and - before we could gather all the FT member answers and get this published - they’ve already dropped out of the top 10 in the West. The Jazz - one of my other choices - have also fallen to 9th after being 1st not too long ago. At the moment, the only other team that is relatively high in the Western standings that I see maybe taking a tumble as the season goes on is the Kings. They’re playing great offense but they’re pretty bad defensively and... well, they’re the Kings.
As always, many thanks to our Fantable members for all their extra effort this week!
Last Week’s poll results
Last week’s question was, “Which you you prefer the Suns to acquire?”
14% - John Collins.
15% - Harrison Barnes.
67% - Kyle Kuzma.
04% - KJ Martin.
A total of 503 votes were cast.
This week’s poll is...
Following Cam Payne, who is the Suns’ 2nd best bench guard?
This poll is closed
Duane Washington Jr.