Welcome to ‘Inside the Suns’, your weekly deep down analysis of the current Phoenix Suns team.
First up, 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 - Every player can continue to improve but at some point they peak and those yearly improvements (if any) become minimal. Has Devin Booker reached this point yet?
OldAz: I think there is still room for Booker to improve, but he is so good already that it may difficult to notice if one is not looking for it. Last year Book took a step forward in his defensive intensity, improved his passing and cut down on turnovers. He posted career bests in Defensive rating, Defensive rebounding, and Assist to Turnover ratio. These are all keys to the Suns success and I believe there are still improvements that can be made in each area. Defense and rebounding are about effort and cementing good habits. Continued focus here will produce more improvement, but he likely will never be recognized for his defense outside the team. Likewise, taking better care of the ball, making more accurate passes, and especially improving his passing to DA will improve the Suns as a team, but Devin is already so great offensively that few will recognize these next steps of improvement.
Cliff30: I think Devin Booker is about as good as he’s ever going to be skillswise. I expect him to continue to improve because he has steadily improved over his career. But I think it’ll be very minor tweaks at the margins at this point. That said, I think he has the chance to have better statistical seasons in the post Chris Paul era. He’ll carry more of the playmaking load at that point. He averaged 28/7 when CP3 was out last year and I think that is something he could sustain for a season in a post CP3 era.
Jim C: Here are the MVP winners from the last decade. Here are their ages during their best two seasons in terms of VORP (this is just one measure and is in no way authoritative).
Curry’s best two seasons were ages 27 and 28. Durant 24 and 25. LeBron 24 and 25. Westbrook 27 and 28. Harden 25 and 29. That averages to 26.2 years of age. Half of the ages are 26 and up.
Then these two just had their best season last season. Giannis 24 and 27. Jokic 25 and 26. They could always have another better season coming up.
I think this at least paints a picture illustrating that Booker has a very real chance of exceeding his first team all-NBA performance from last season. Booker continues to work hard and improve his weaknesses. He made HUGE strides as a defender last season and I expect that to improve even more. He is a high IQ player with a great feel for the game. He’s the type of player that can win an MVP like the guys listed above.
Rod: I think has reached this point. He will continue to get better as he’s just the kind of player that never stops working on his game but there is no ‘leap’ left that I believe he can make. And that’s not a bad thing! Book is already such a good player that even small improvements to different areas of his game will have a highly positive impact on team performance.
Q2 - The Suns were 26th in 3-point attempts per game last season and 15th (out of 16 teams) in the playoffs but were tied for 7th in 3-point percentage in the regular season and 8th in the playoffs. Do you think they should shoot more threes this season?
OldAz: Nope. Or better yet, NOPE!!! The Suns efficiency in 3-pt makes last year was a product of taking quality shots within the offence and not “hunting” for the three when a higher percentage shot was readily available. (Warning - Math incoming) Last year the Suns shot 36.4% from 3 on 31.9 shots per game. If they upped those shots to a league average of 35.4 per night (3.5 extra shots) their success rate would also likely drop as the added shots would probably would not be as open or in rhythm. If their % also dropped to league average of 35.5% then those “extra” 3 point shots would be at a 27.3% rate! That’s less than one extra make for the 3.5 extra attempts. Even if their overall % only dropped to 36% the incremental 3.5 shots would be at a league worst 32.3% and only net them 1.2 extra 3’s made per game. IMO, It is not reasonable to simply equate taking more 3’s with maintaining their current percentages.
Their current strategy with 3’s is sound, winning basketball strategy and the Suns should stick with it. In fact, I think the SUNS should take LESS 3’s, specifically when they have a large 2nd half lead and those 3’s are just not falling. These should be opportunities to work on getting the ball inside to DA, or for Mikal to work on his penetration abilities. Too often in the last two years we watched leads evaporate when the Suns fell in love with jacking up 3’s and ignoring better shots. If you are going to have that many consecutive empty possessions in the 2nd half then the team might as well get the benefit of using those possessions to develop something needed for the playoffs. Otherwise, they should continue to take quality / open 3’s when they are available within the offense.
Cliff30: I think it’s easy to argue that being selective on taking threes is why we shot such a good percentage. That being said, I think upping the attempts makes sense even if it comes with a dip in our percentage. But honestly other than Booker and Cam Johnson most of the squad had a pretty down year from 3. Jae was right around his career average but CP3, Bridges, Cam Payne and Landry Shamet all had significant dips in their percentages. If even some of them bounce back then we’ll definitely make enough to justify shooting more. Dario playing at the backup 5 will also give us a five out look where we take more threes (And they should run some five out sets with Ayton on the floor too).
Jim C: This was with Booker taking a career high number of threes. The problem is that Chris Paul doesn’t take many threes (and actually shot the second worst percentage of his career last season) and the Suns effectively got zero from the center position.
Ayton had 19 attempts all season. Jokic had 288 at 33.7%. Embiid 251 at 37.1%. Even Giannis took 242 at a paltry 29.3%. The difference there would have moved the Suns from 26th to 16th... but could also drop the Suns from 8th in percentage to middle of the pack. Taking more shots could mean more forced attempts... and if Ayton gets more of a green light can he hit at least a league average percentage?
I think they should shoot more threes. I think it opens up the court more when all five guys are a threat. I think it has to be natural though, not forced. To me it seems like Ayton is at the center of this issue.
Rod: I wouldn’t mind seeing them average a few more per game but that really depends on the personnel on the court and the game situation. Last season they won 64 without jacking up a ton of threes so I really see no need for them to force more attempts this year.
That being said, I would like to see a few more plays run to set up Cam Johnson for open threes when he’s on the court. And the overall number of attempts might go up naturally with Dario back and another big, Jock Landale, now on the team that can shoot from downtown. Plus we saw in Summer League that Ish Wainright had worked a lot on improving his three-point shooting so I doubt he will be as hesitant as he seemed at times last season to take those shots.
Q3 - Of the players presently on the Suns’ roster, who do you think is most likely to be a positive surprise this season?
OldAz: This is 100% a perspective question:
For anyone that is routinely down on DA, they have set themselves up to be “surprised” when it all comes together for him, and they are left with even less to complain about. This would NOT be a surprise for those that have been preaching patience with the big guy (and it means I am not allowed to use DA as my answer).
For those that have said Cam J or Mikal are close to their finished products, it is conceivable that they could make a significant leap and “surprise” us. I would say that is unlikely, but I guess that is what would make it a surprise.
Most everyone else on the team has been in this system for a few years so an unexpected showing from any of them is unlikely.
Lee is new, but I think we all know what we are getting so I don’t see any surprise here.
I don’t see Landale or Washington getting enough opportunity to break out. I think one or both could show just enough for a lot of fans to complain that Monty does not play them more (again, surprising no one).
I guess that leaves Ish as my final answer to this question. He showed enough last year to get minutes in both the regular season and even some run in the playoffs. He has the size and strength to hold up and play a variety of roles, and shoots the 3 well enough to stay on the floor. If he goes out and earns even more rotation minutes, I could see him becoming a player like P.J. Tucker that is an invaluable role player on this team and a huge fan favorite.
Cliff30: I don’t know that anybody would “surprise”. All of our key cogs are pretty known quantities. CP3 has been ageless in regular seasons so far, so him being good again wouldn’t really count as a surprise even if I’m nervous that his age finally starts showing. I expect all of Ayton, Bridges and Cam to show some steady improvement, so that wouldn’t be surprising. Jae is who he is. I guess I’ll go with Duane Washington Jr., he gave the Pacers serviceable minutes last year and he’s young enough where a huge leap is possible. And as a two way player the actual expectations for him are almost zero. If he gets on the floor and is a positive contributor I think that would be pretty surprising, and with Shamet and Payne’s struggles it’s certainly possible.
Jim C: Cameron Johnson.
I think the Suns will get back the version of Cam we saw right before he went down with the quad injury in March. He never looked quite right to me after that. I think that was another underrated aspect of the Suns’ collapse. The Suns didn’t get much from Cam at all.
Another narrow view of his performance... his highest game score (Hollinger formula) in 19 games after coming back from the injury was 11.8. The three games prior to the injury he was at 22.0, 20.4 and 32.0. He had just scored a career high 38 points with nine three pointers.
I’m predicting that Cam will set career highs in most statistical categories and lead the league in 3P%. I think the injury just delayed him coming into his own.
Rod: I going to say Dario Saric (if he’s still on the roster), not because I expect him to make any sort of a leap but because he’s been sidelined so long that many may have forgotten that he’s actually a pretty good player. Dario’s got a fairly crafty inside game and can hit from deep. Coming off the bench he’ll provide a different style of play than what the Suns had last season with DA, JaVale and Biz at the 5. Frank filled that role pretty well at times before going down with an injury but Dario is a better overall player than Frank.
As always, many thanks to our Fantable members for all their extra effort this week!
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Welcome to Inside the NBA Jr.: Phoenix Suns 2022-23 Schedule
Cam Johnson, Phoenix Suns, Catch & Shoot 3’s
Last Week’s Poll Results
Last week’s poll was “Should the Suns get themselves a new G League team?”
71% - Yes.
29% - No.
A total of 241 votes were cast.
This week’s poll is...
Should the Suns attempt more 3’s per game this season?
This poll is closed