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.
Fantable Questions of the Week
Q1 - What’s your opinion of CP3’s career low usage rate this season (16.1%) and whether it will/should continue?
GuarGuar: He definitely looks the slowest he’s been in years. His jumpshot hasn’t been there for most of the season and it looks like Father Time is finally starting to impact Chris. I expect his low usage to be the same for most of the year. We need to learn how to win with Chris not running every play.
OldAz: Love it and hope it continues. CP3 was always a master facilitator, but he also looked for his own scoring a ton. However, the Suns offense runs significantly better when the ball is moving and lots of hands are touching the rock (see question #3). My hope is that this continues all year long and it gives rise to those secondary scoring options we all want to see. My fear is that the Suns will hit a rough stretch and CP3 goes back to his old self and takes over games. To me, this is bad and I would rather lose a few games in the regular season to allow those other players to struggle and grow as primary scoring options.
Cliff30: The offense needs to run through him less. So I’m glad to see him playing a smaller role. But if he’s going to play off the ball he needs to take and make the open threes that he will have. He’s been taking them slightly more. But he hasn’t made them at career rates. Hopefully this is just an early season slump and he starts hitting them at league average or better.
Jim C: I think it should and will continue.
It is interesting that Paul is still third on the team in minutes per game at 32. That’s fairly representative of his average over the past six seasons. I would actually like to see that closer to 30, but if the minutes don’t go down at least the usage would presumably save wear and tear. In Nash’s 37 year old season, where CP3 is now, his usage fell below 20% for the first time in his seven seasons as a Phoenix Sun. 37 is pretty old for a basketball player and the body doesn’t react the same way as at age 27... or even 32.
It looks like Paul might still lead the league in assists per game even with decreased usage since he is leading the league right now. His assist percentage (5th in the NBA) has only decreased by about 6-7% with a 20%+ drop in usage.
I want Paul as fresh as he can be in the fourth quarters of games and when the playoffs start. The Suns need to try everything they can to make that a reality.
Rod: I like it and it definitely should continue. The other players already know that they can rely on him when needed but it’s time for others to take bigger roles and learn that they can also depend on themselves. I’m certain that there will occasionally be games where CP3 will need to step back into a bigger role in the offense but taking a smaller role now will help preserve him for those nights over the rest of the season and for the postseason.
Q2 - Bismack Biyombo barely played until Deandre Ayton’s ankle injury sidelined him but Monty Williams stuck him into the starting lineup following that. It’s worked but do you think it might have worked better to give the starting spot to Jock Landale instead?
GuarGuar: I think Monty wanted to keep continuity with the bench. We had a similar situation years ago when Ayton got hurt and Monty elevated 3rd string center Frank Kaminsky into the starting lineup. I understand the reasoning behind it. Who closes games is more important.
OldAz: Not really. Jock seemed comfortable in the offensive flow of the reserves. Biz plays more defensive backstop and cleans up the glass. Reversing those roles is ok for Jock and the starters, but greatly diminishes the bench. I do this Monty should continue to use Biz more even with DA back. It appears that the intent for now is to let DA play free and worry less about foul trouble because there are competent backups.
Cliff30: I think it was the right decision. Biyombo is the better defender, which helps solidify the starting unit. Landale has shown to be the better offensive player, which has been very useful on a bench unit that we wondered how they were going to generate offense. The argument for Jock starting I think is development. He’s the younger, less experienced player. Getting him more minutes would have been helpful. But Monty has always prioritized winning over development.
Jim C: I’m fine with what they did, especially with the injury to Ayton being minor. No reason to upset any of the other rotations. Plug in Biyombo for Ayton and the reserves just sub in as usual.
I think this situation is interesting, because while Landale is playing more than Biyombo (17.1 minutes per game to 14.3), Biyombo started and finished the games when Ayton was out. I think Monty is still trying to navigate this issue and identify which one of these reserves is going to be the primary backup. Nine games hasn’t been enough for me to know for certain. Both have played pretty well. Having three players at center that can give the team quality minutes is a nice plot twist after JaVale McGee’s departure left some of us wondering if the Suns backup center situation would be a hindrance this season.
Rod: After Ayton’s injury, I was thinking that it might be better to start Biz over Jock simply because it would keep the second unit intact and the starters had all played with Biz subbing for Ayton before. Biyombo’s game is also closer to Ayton’s (although more limited) which would mean fewer adjustments would have to be made. Jock has been good in his role off the bench and I think Monty did the right thing in giving Biz the starting slot.
Q3 - Mikal Bridges (15.9 ppg), Deandre Ayton (15.4 ppg) and Cam Johnson (14.9 ppg) are almost dead even for 2nd leading scorer on the Suns. Do you think that will continue or will someone eventually pull ahead and firmly become the Suns’ #2 scoring option?
Author’s note: This question was asked before Cam Johnson’s injury against Portland.
GuarGuar: I think eventually Ayton will take a firm lead on being our second scorer. He’s got the highest usage out of the bunch. It’s good to see all 3 contributing at a high level to start the season. We need all of them to take a leap.
OldAz: I find it interesting that this question is posed as a PPG question rather than overall scoring. With Cam now gone for a long stretch and DA already having missed a few games Mikal may run away with total points scored among these three. However, my answer to the question is “It Depends”.
The Suns offense works the best when the ball is moving and finding the active and open shooters. This motion plays right into Mikal’s hands as he is often the one who finds himself free for a shot or with space to get to the hoop as we have seen more of this year. However, ultimately, I believe this needs to be DA. He needs to be active and engaged early to get into rhythm, and then when the game bogs down or defenses stifle that ball movement, DA is still physically superior and can get off his shots. For the Suns to truly achieve their maximum output, DA needs to step up and become that clear 2nd scoring option. Unfortunately for now, this also means getting some respect from the officials so he can stay on the floor.
Cliff30: Foul trouble and the injury shortened game is the only reason that this is close. Per 36 Ayton is averaging 21.3 to Cam’s 19 and Mikal’s 16. Mikal is going to play more minutes per game, but not 10 more minutes per game. So I’m pretty certain DA is going to be second in scoring. But it’d be nice if Cam and Mikal can keep the gap small.
Jim C: I think they finish Ayton, Johnson, Bridges.
Ayton is averaging 22.1 points per 36 minutes, well ahead of Cam (18.5) and Mikal (15.3). DeAndre is scoring at the highest rate of his career, so if can stay out of foul trouble and log some full games there is no reason why he can’t pick up that scoring total in quick order. It has actually been interesting to see Ayton committing the volume of fouls he has so far this season. He is at 5.5 per 36 minutes compared to just 3 last season. I always wanted DA to use a few hard fouls to remind opponents he’s lurking in the paint, but now he needs to throttle that back just a bit.
I would have given Johnson slightly better odds because I think he could be a 20 point a game scorer... but I’m starting to worry that he’s just one of those jinxed players that can’t stay healthy. Really disappointing and frustrating for him to go down again. Hopefully the recovery is speedy and he returns to the form we just saw the two games prior to the meniscus tear.
Rod: Eventually, it will be DA... if he can avoid further foul trouble. He’s averaging 3.9 fouls per game so far but that includes the Pelicans game where he left after just 8 minutes with an ankle sprain and the last Portland game where he played just 16 minutes. In the other 5 games in which he’s played at least 25 minutes he’s averaged 4.8 fouls.
If DA doesn’t get those foul numbers down, I would have said that Cam Johnson had a good shot at becoming the 2nd leading scorer but his knee injury makes that extremely unlikely now. I say “unlikely” instead of impossible because we still don’t know how serious the meniscus tear is and how long it will take him to recover and rehab.
And I love Mikal but he’s already got his plate full on the defensive end and has been playing many more minutes than DA or Cam per game. We’ll see those occasional 25-30 point games from him from time to time but I think him averaging around 20 per night would be difficult. I’d love for him to prove me wrong though!
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, “Jae Crowder will be traded...”
08% - Before Dec. 15.
62% - After Dec. 15 but before the end of January.
30% - At or near the trade deadline (Feb. 9).
A total of 437 votes were cast.
This week’s poll is...
With Cam Johnson out indefinitely, do you want James Jones to do whatever is necessary to bring Jae Crowder back to the team?
This poll is closed