Welcome to ‘Inside the Suns’, your weekly deep down analysis of the current Phoenix Suns team.
At 57-14 with just 22 days and 11 games left in the regular season, the Suns now (thanks to the Grizzlies’ loss to Atlanta last night) need only three more wins to clinch the number one seed in the Western Conference playoffs and home court advantage throughout. The best that either Memphis or Golden State can hope for now is a 59 win season if they win all of their remaining games. The Suns’ final record could wind up as high as 68-14.
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 - What do you think was the rationale behind the Suns signing Gabriel “Iffe” Lundberg to a two-way contract?
GuarGuar: I think it’s a pure upside play if he turns out into being anything serviceable. If Payne got hurt, Elf and Shamet have not shown they can step up. Hopefully he’s a diamond in the tough and James Jones hit another home run.
Sun-Arc: We all saw how difficult it was to win when CP3 and CP15 were out of commission. I think the team is taking a flyer on Iffe to bolster the guard position. I imagine they seem him as a third string shooting guard more than a fourth string point guard. But all in all I think it is about Paul’s hand more than anything else.
SouthernSun: Getting him in the door and becoming familiar with him in case they like what they see and want to try and get him signed to another deal this offseason.
Alex S: Just an emergency body for guard depth *if* a guard injury were to happen before the playoffs. Also feel it’s an opportunity to get him in the gym during practice and see if he’s worth taking a risk on next year!
Other than that I don’t expect to hear his name much beyond this point.
Rod: This is a really good low-risk gamble on the Suns’ part. Lundberg can play both PG and SG which would make him a deep bench backup for both CP3 and Book. The way the Suns’ injuries have piled up lately, it’s a smart move especially since Elf has just not worked out well in the Suns’ offensive system. It could be especially helpful near the end of the regular season if Monty wants to give Book some rest. Having Iffe play as Shamet’s backup if Book gets a night off would keep from having to play other players out of position and save some wear and tear on them too before the playoffs begin. You can never have too much depth.
Q2 - Since returning from his wrist injury, Cam Payne has averaged 15.1 points and 9.6 assists per game. How surprising is this to you?
GuarGuar: I knew he was a decent facilitator but he has basically changed his entire play style because Chris Paul is out. Extremely impressed and it’s truly remarkable what he’s doing. Gives me big hope for our offense in the playoffs when Chris and Book aren’t on the court.
Sun-Arc: Payne’s resurgence is not a surprise to me at all. He really made me a believer last season and I knew he’d figure out how to get around opposing team’s scouting report. Its so good to see him play like he has, once again.
SouthernSun: Not surprising. He had a pretty not great start to the season so this is him rounding into form. This probably is a little better than he actually is, but balancing things out a bit. He’s a decent player, just not quite what I’d hope for in a first guard off the bench type, unless this was him ALL the time.
Alex S: I’m not surprised. The noise surrounding Payne from fans was completely unwarranted in my opinion. He won you a WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS playoff game as a fill in starter. He TORCHED the Lakers in a playoff series.
The only thing that might be a little surprising? The volume of assists is CP3-like.
Rod: The points aren’t surprising but the assists are. Those 9.6 assists per game are higher than his per 36 assists stats have ever been. If they were for the entire season, he’d be third in the NBA in assists. He’s also had 3 double-doubles in that time which gives him a total of 5 for his entire career (270 games/38 starts). Perhaps having a good mentor like CP3 is what some players really need to get the best out of them. Some might remember that Payne’s NBA career began playing behind Russell Westbrook... not exactly the guy you want a young PG to try to emulate.
Q3 - If the Suns can clinch the #1 seed early, should they start resting their best players before the playoffs?
GuarGuar: I’d rest some guys for sure in the last couple games. Don’t want to get them out of rhythm either so don’t give them crazy minutes and let them sit the last game. I know we are shooting for the franchise wins record so after that I expect Monty to rest the starters more.
Sun-Arc: I think they should rest starters. We really want them fresh for the run. Particularly the vets, meaning Crowder, JaVale, and Paul- but also the heavy-use guys like Booker and Bridges. Mikal could REALLY use a break. He played 44 minutes last night against the lowly Rockets!
The good news is that after the win against Houston, the magic number for clinching the #1 seed is 5. That can be any combination of Suns wins and Grizzlies losses. GSW is almost guaranteed to lose more games with Curry out, so Memphis is the team to beat now. MEM will likely lose 3 more games, meaning we would only need two wins in the next twelve games.
I’m guessing the Grizz will lose two more games before that. If that happens and we win three of the next four games (CHI, SAC, MIN, DEN), that would clinch the top seed by March 27 and we would have seven more games to play in which we can rest starters.
SouthernSun: Yes but not too much resting. Some, but still keeping them in rhythm and in game shape. Rest is good but too much can derail them. Just cut minute load down a little and give guys like Book, Ayton, Mikal, Jae, and Cam occasional nights off.
Alex S: Yes, vets specifically but only for 1 game at a time. It’s certainly important to keep momentum heading into the playoffs but people gotta remember… they get a break with the play-in tourney too!
I trust Monty and co. to handle the minutes responsibly down the stretch, especially considering the overall 1 seed is a 99% lock at this point.
Rod: To me, it really depends on how you define “rest”. I’m almost completely against sitting completely healthy players for entire games but once the #1 seed is clinched, the starters should have minutes limits. They should play enough to stay sharp but that’s it. Extra minutes for many of the bench players could pay dividends during the playoffs if a situation arises in which they have to play more minutes than normal and in situations that also aren’t normal for them... such as being on the court during the final minutes of a close game. If they clinch early enough, I don’t have anything against the starters completely sitting out the last game or two though.
As always, many thanks to our Fantable members - GuarGuar, Sun-Arc, SouthernSun and Alex S. - for all their extra effort every week! (Alex S did not participate this week.)
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Last Week’s Poll Results
Last week’s poll was “CP3 was expected to be out 6-8 weeks with his thumb injury. When do you believe he’ll return?”
50% - 6-8 weeks as expected.
43% - Earlier than expected.
07% - Later than expected.
A total of 262 votes were cast.
This week’s poll is...
How long do you think it will take the Suns to clinch the #1 seed?
This poll is closed
They’ll do it within the next two weeks.
It won’t happen until the final week of the season.
It won’t happen. They’ll find a way to drop to the #2 seed.