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Mid-week musings, vol. 2: Winding down a historic regular season

Cams and Sham spotlights are good, disinterest is bad

Phoenix Suns v Houston Rockets Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images

For the uninitiated, this is part of a weekly column on the Phoenix Suns I’m doing now to point out some little things that I like — and don’t like. Here’s vol. 1 if you missed it.

Likes

63.

I mean, what a journey from 19 wins three years ago to a franchise record 63 wins and counting now.

Cam Johnson getting right

After going 2-14 from three over his first two games back, he shot 3-7 against the Lakers, although he followed that up with 1-9 against the Clippers.

Even just having him back on the court changes the gravity and spacing of everything for the Suns offense, and that’s evidenced by Johnson being tied for the best offensive rating on the team among the rotation at 124.

I’ll have more on him later this week, so keep an eye out for that as well.

Cam Payne volume assists

Payne had 11 assists during the Lakers game on Tuesday. That’s the most he’s had in a game since Chris Paul returned; previous high was 5.

This is noteworthy because it came on a bad shooting night for Payne (2-5 2P, 0-3 3P), but he still found ways to create buckets for others. Also noteworthy: out of 7 games this season with 9+ assists, this was the lowest minute total, so he was efficient about it.

This was the third game in 2021-22 where two Suns teammates had double-digit assists (Payne, 11 and Paul, 12). The other games were Mar. 13 vs the Lakers (Booker, 10 and Payne, 11) and Mar. 24 vs the Nuggets (Booker, 10 and Paul, 13); all three coming within four weeks of each other.

Shamet playing Moreyball

Last week, I talked about what I called the Shamet renaissance, but there’s even more to it now. Since the All-Star Break (22 games), he’s shooting 39.2% on 5.5 attempts per game.

He’s also made 6 of his 12 dunks on the season over that span. That’s about one dunk every 3.5 games, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you consider that the other 6 came in his first 45 games, or one dunk every 7.5 games, you can see that the aggression is up.

Two-way (contract) stars

It was a big night for Suns two-way slot players, Ish Wainright and Iffe Lundberg.

Wainright totaled 20 points (4-7 2P, 4-8 3P), 8 rebounds, and 4 assists in his 25 minutes, all of which were career highs. He’s made a pretty massive case to earn a playoff roster spot; two-way contract players aren’t available in the playoffs.

As for the Suns’ newer two-way player, Iffe Lundberg, he also had a career night, getting his first NBA bucket as well as dishing out 5 assists and really making an impact throughout the fourth quarter as the team made a push to try and win the game.

Dislikes

Two big duds

The Suns’ apparent disinterest in the games against the Grizzlies and Thunder did not bode well for the team’s legendary net ratings and things of that nature. Even after the game against the Lakers, the net rating over the past week was -6.0, which ranks 20th in the NBA over that stretch.

Is it a concern going forward? No, but I don’t like it anyway. Suns are still first over the entire season, but it’s getting dicey at +7.8 with the Celtics at 7.0. They’re also still the only team to rank top 3 in both offense (3rd) and defense (2nd).

Disinterest in lessening loads

I’ve just seen this go poorly too many times. I will be deeply upset if I see any starter with 30-plus minutes in these last three games, and I will be deeply upset if I see any rotation player in when a game is out of hand late, and I will be deeply upset if that ends in an injury to someone critical to the Suns’ chances at their first championship title.