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Suns Rank, revisited: Oh, the devastation

The Phoenix Suns lead the league in impactful injuries, as measured by

Miami Heat v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

You know the deal. The vaunted Phoenix Suns are a measly 21-24 and sit in 12th place in the Western Conference with less than half the schedule left to play.

Considering they started the season 16-7 and were awarded Player of the Month, Player of the Week and Coach of the Month through November — that was just six weeks ago! — how did everything fall so awfully apart?

Basically, because almost all the best players stopped showing up to work, leaving just Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges to lead a ragtag team of deep bench players into every contest for the past few weeks.

You can blame DA and Mikal for being unable to carry this bunch to more wins, but I’ve got two facts to share about that:

  • Per my colleague John Schumann of, the Suns have played the league’s 2nd toughest schedule since December 5th
  • Two players we ranked 14th and 15th best on this roster have played the 3rd and 4th most minutes this season

To wit,

Before the season began, our writing and podcasting staff ranked the 2022-23 Phoenix Suns roster from top to bottom. As of October 15, 2022, here’s how our staff ranked the Suns players:

  1. Devin Booker — All-Star, All-NBA
  2. Chris Paul — All-Star, All-NBA
  3. Deandre Ayton
  4. Mikal Bridges
  5. Cameron Johnson
  6. Jae Crowder
  7. Dario Saric
  8. Cameron Payne
  9. Landry Shamet
  10. Jock Landale
  11. Bismack Biyombo
  12. Duane Washington
  13. Josh Okogie
  14. Damion Lee
  15. Torrey Craig
  16. Ish Wainright
  17. Saben Lee

We got the top pretty much right, though no one predicted the wide chasm that would separate Devin Booker from the rest of the field. We’re talking Grand Canyon width this season.

As recently as last season, Chris Paul was an All-NBA guard who led the Suns to the franchise’s best-ever regular season record and willed the Suns to victory over the surging Pelicans in round one. But this year, he’s barely 2019 Ricky Rubio. We also thought Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges were close to All-Star status and could really shine ‘if only they had a chance’.

As you can see, we didn’t think much of Damion Lee and Torrey Craig, who we ranked as the 14th and 15th best players on the team.

We expected the Lee experience to be like Langston Galloway or E’Twaun Moore in that he would barely play except for major injuries. While he has benefited from major injury issues, he was a great find before all that. Lee was arguably the Suns second-best player on Opening Night, teaming up with Devin Booker to stage a massive comeback against the Dallas Mavericks and capped it off with the game-winner on the baseline.

Lee has been excellent this year, draining a career-high 48.5% of his threes, leading the league among players who have taken at least 100 threes. As a bench guy playing 22 minutes per game, he’s nowhere near the league lead in attempts, but its money when he launches.

Lee is now arguably the most reliable bench player on the team, and has years of postseason experience to earn our trust come playoff time. During this injury-riddled season, would you believe Lee ranks 4th in total minutes played for the Suns so far? Sometimes the best ability is availability.

We also didn’t think much of Torrey Craig, who had a bad run after being re-acquired last spring at the trade deadline. The only good minutes he had last year were in place of an injured Cam Johnson for a month after the trade deadline. But by playoffs, he’d lost his role and effectiveness.

This year, he’s stepped in — again in the wake of a Cam Johnson injury — and played some of the best basketball of his career. He’s THIRD on the team in total minutes played this season because he’s been able to stay healthy, and second on the team in three-point percentage with a career-high 39.7%. He’s also posting career highs in points (8.5 per game), rebounds (5.6, second on team), assists (1.5) and blocks (0.6).

Craig and Lee — I repeat, 3rd and 4th on the team in total minutes played — have been godsends in a season where everyone around them seems to be injured constantly.

We’re frustrated when our favorite contender drops to 21-24 on the season, but what can we expect when the team’s 14th and 15th best players get the 3rd and 4th most minutes, mainly due to injuries among the players above them?

So let’s adjust the RANKING at the midway point of the season, in terms of value if everyone is healthy and suited up (including Crowder).

  1. Devin Booker
  2. Deandre Ayton
  3. Mikal Bridges
  4. Chris Paul
  5. Cameron Johnson
  6. Jae Crowder
  7. Cameron Payne
  8. Landry Shamet
  9. Torrey Craig
  10. Damion Lee
  11. Josh Okogie
  12. Jock Landale
  13. Bismack Biyombo
  14. Duane Washington
  15. Dario Saric
  16. Ish Wainright
  17. Saben Lee

Chris Paul drops down to 4th, though none of Ayton, Bridges or Paul truly deserve a #2 status. With Paul’s dropoff even when he’s healthy, the Suns no longer have anyone else playing at All-Star level next to Devin Booker.

In a reshuffle, I’d still only move Craig and Lee up to 9th and 10th on a ranking of players if everyone is healthy. And even that’s a little iffy. I mean, shouldn’t Ayton’s primary backup — whether it’s Landale, Biyombo or Saric — be ranked ahead of Lee? In terms of pure value, though, Lee gets the nod for 10th place.

I know this feels unappreciative of Lee’s and Craig’s contributions this season, but if everyone shows up healthy to work tomorrow that’s how I’d rank them.

The only other big change is dropping Dario all the way down to 15th on the Ranking. He’s been good the past week when pressed into action, but overall this season he simply has not outplayed either Biyombo or Landale.

One final note: Jae Crowder would still rank as the 6th best player on the roster. Paging James Jones.

Now let’s have some ‘fun’.

We have to talk about the injuries. They should be able to withstand a few at a time — in fact, they were 16-7 through December 4 without three of their top six (Paul, Johnson, Crowder) for most of it. By the 23rd game, Paul had missed 13, Johnson missed 16 and Crowder missed all 23, yet they still had the best record in the Western Conference.

Then injuries mounted higher, most notably to Devin Booker, and the team toppled hard with a disastrous 5-17 stretch that has knocked them under .500 for the first time in three years.

Here’s a crazy comp:

  • Suns through 16-7 start (23 games): 2nd in offense (117.5), 5th in defense (109.1), 1st in net rating (+8.4), which tracks to the last two seasons and would still rank 6th, 2nd, 2nd this season if they could have upheld it
  • Suns through 5-17 since (22 games): 29th in offense (109.8), 24th in defense (117.3), 28th in net rating (-7.4)

According to, if you factor in injured players’ VORP (value above replacement player), the Suns lead the league in most impactful injuries this year by a good margin.

The Suns are the biggest bubble on the map, and that does not even include the loss of Jae Crowder for all 43 games because Jae’s not injured.

Let’s update the mid-season Suns Rank with current status and injury history this year.

  1. Devin Booker - OUT, missed last 15* games, 17 of last 19; out at least 2 more weeks
  2. Deandre Ayton
  3. Mikal Bridges
  4. Chris Paul - OUT, missed last 5 games, 19 overall; day-to-day
  5. Cameron Johnson - OUT, missed last 27 games; out 1-2 more weeks
  6. Jae Crowder - OUT, missed all 45 games; out forever
  7. Cameron Payne - OUT, missed last 5 games, 15 of last 17; out 1-2 more weeks
  8. Landry Shamet - missed 16 games overall; just returned Monday
  9. Torrey Craig
  10. Damion Lee
  11. Josh Okogie
  12. Jock Landale
  13. Bismack Biyombo
  14. Duane Washington
  15. Dario Saric
  16. Ish Wainright
  17. Saben Lee

*I’m counting that 4-minute stint in Denver as a missed game, because 4 minutes.

Six of the team’s top 8 players have missed at least 16 games this year (35% of the schedule). Seven of the top eight players missed at least two games on the last road trip, and five are still on the shelf.

Fun times, indeed!

The good news is that none of the injuries are season-long, and all are slated to be back by end of January. That would leave time for a 30-game run to the playoffs. If at least Devin Booker comes back strong and a couple other guys, the Suns will be dangerous to any team.

But to be a real Finals contender, they will have to come up with at least a top-6 player out of the Jae Crowder stalemate.

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