Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.
Current Record: 24-24
Offensive Rating: 113.4 (14th)
Defensive Rating: 112.6 (11th)
Net Rating: +0.9 (13th)
Morale has been low. Wins have been scarce. It feels as if the Suns have been surrounded on all sides, battling more that just the external opponent.
I am reminded of what Easy Company, 506th Paratroopers faced in Bastogne, Belgium during WWII. Yeah, I’m dropping a Band of Brothers reference in a Suns column. I spent the past week re-watching the iconic HBO mini-series based on the Stephen E. Ambrose book. While I hold Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, and Mad Men in high regard, Band of Brothers is my favorite snippet of television ever made.
In episode six of Band of Brothers, Easy Company finds themselves surrounded by German forces in the woods outside of Bastogne, Belgium. They’re cut off, low on supplies and ammunition, and undermanned.
That’s how it’s felt for the Phoenix Suns for the past month and a half. No Booker or Johnson, sporadic play from Chris Paul, Cameron Payne, Landry Shamet, and Deandre Ayton. Add to that a slew of minor injuries along the way, and the team is battered and bruised. As a result, the fan base is extremely demoralized.
Bastogne was the low point in World War II for Easy Company. After last Monday night‘s loss by 30 points to the Memphis Grizzlies, it feels like we hit the low point of the season. While the Suns’ effort is there, the talent simply isn’t. That’s what happens when you’ve lost as many games to injury as the Suns have.
Per @ManGamesLostNBA, the impact has been the greatest on the Phoenix Suns relative to value over replacement players (VROP).
NBA top 5, impact on teams by players lost to injury (Lost-vorp metric, lost value over replacement player)— Man Games Lost NBA (@ManGamesLostNBA) January 20, 2023
The fan base needs a win as much as the Suns do, for faith is wavering. But like Bastogne, reinforcements are on the way. Yes, it feels like the tide is beginning to turn.
Cameron Johnson returned this past week and played in two games. It was simply nice to see his face again. His return provided a shot in the arm and it helped propel the Suns to victory over the Nets. Phoenix followed it up, albeit without Cameron Johnson, DA and all the others, with a victory over the Pacers. And then a win against the Grizzlies occurred on Sunday.
I believe that is called a “winning streak”. A three-game winning streak, in fact. It feels as if the worst part of the season may be behind us.
Make no mistake about it, the schedule since January 1 has been challenging. The winning percentage of the opposition this month is .588. Of the teams they’ve played this month, only one – the Pacers – sits below .500.
Per Tankathon, the Suns have the 11th hardest schedule remaining. But Devin Booker is on the way. Cameron Johnson is back. Chris Paul’s days away from playing again. For the first time since November 4, the starting five will be complete.
Like the Battered Bastards of Bastogne, the team has navigated their version of the Ardennes Forest and survived. The team finds themselves as the seventh seed in the Western Conference, a far cry from the number one seed they were when they answered this rough stretch.
But soon they will be complete, working themselves back into shape, and peeking at the right time of the season. Week 14 was the turning point, as the team went 3-1. The are back to .500. They are within a half-game of sixth.
Player of the Week
23.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists
45.3 FG%, 39.1 3PT%, 90 FT%
I have been very transparent in my feedback from Mikal Bridges with Devin Booker out. During the first seven games of January, Bridges was not holding his own offensively. While he led the team in scoring with 15.3 points, he was only attempting 12.6 shot attempts. With Devin Booker and Chris Paul out, this simply just wasn’t enough.
The team was 1-6 in those games.
Fast forward to this past week. Bridges averaged 23.8 points on 18.8 shot attempts. That’s nearly six more than what he averaged for the first half of the month. He led the team in scoring, he gained confidence offensively, and the Suns went 3-1.
Mikal Bridges since this Tweet:— John Voita (@DarthVoita) January 23, 2023
23.8 PPG, 18.8 FGA, 45.3 FG% https://t.co/B2ilzjxcPB
Is there a direct correlation between Bridges’ offensive engagement and wins? Perhaps. But we know that his engagement will pay dividends for this team moving forward as vital pieces begin to return.
Phoenix Suns @ Memphis Grizzlies (L, 136-106) FULL RECAP
Phoenix Suns vs. Brooklyn Nets (W, 117-112) FULL RECAP
Phoenix Suns vs. Indiana Pacers (W, 112-107) FULL RECAP
Phoenix Suns vs. Memphis Grizzlies (W, 112-110) FULL RECAP
Highlights/Post Game Podcasts
SUNS at GRIZZLIES | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | January 16, 2023:
NETS at SUNS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | January 19, 2023:
410. Suns (22-24) vs. Nets Game Post Game Pod with Fallen Founder:
PACERS at SUNS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | January 21, 2023:
411. Suns (23-24) vs. Pacers Game Post Game Pod:
GRIZZLIES at SUNS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | January 22, 2023:
412. Suns (24-24) vs. Grizzlies Post Game Pod with Suns Geek:
News & Notes
Arizona Sports: Should Phoenix Suns ‘blow it up’? Charles Barkley thinks so
Real GM: Suns Have Informed Teams They’ll Take On Salary In Trades
Clutch Points: Suns’ draft pick strategy at trade deadline, revealed
Burn City Sports: WATCH: Suns Insider Franklin Miller Sees New Life For This Suns’ Season After Huge Win vs. Nets
Fan Nation: Josh Okogie Continues to Earn Respect, Playing Time
Arizona Sports: 30-year reunion: Phoenix Suns honor 1992-93 NBA Finals team
Quotes of the Week
“Keep playing. Can’t get out of it. You’ve got to get through it.” — Josh Okogie
“I don’t have a problem about tonight. I thought the guys played hard. Although it was by 30, we’re working on us and we know the pieces that are missing, but we played hard. We started off the game pretty well, just got to finish.” — Deandre Ayton
“It was amazing. I think the fans and the community know who that guy is.” — Monty Williams on the ovation Cam Johnson received
“My boy twin. Looked like he hadn’t missed a step.” — Mikal Bridges
“Glad to see everybody gets their Chick-Fil-A with those two missed free throws. Game on the line and Chick-Fil-A? Crowd goes crazy.” — Cam Johnson as Nic Claxton missed two free throws with 6.6 seconds left
“He had more blocks than me? They’re all learning how to block from me. I’m a great teacher.” — Bismack Biyombo
“I just go out there and try to be aggressive.” — Mikal Bridges
Phoenix Suns free throw attempts per game in Week 14, 3rd best in the NBA
Injury Status Report
Cameron Payne (right foot sprain) is DAY TO DAY
Landry Shamet (hip) is DAY TO DAY
Devin Booker (groin soreness) is OUT
Jae Crowder (texting Chris Haynes) is NOT WITH TEAM
That’s the shortest injury list in weeks!
This Week in Suns History
January 23, 1976
Guys were built differently back in the day.
We’ve seen what occurs when players have had facial injuries. The Detroit Pistons’ Richard Hamilton, after sustaining multiple nose injuries in the 2003-04 season, wore a clear face mask for the remainder of his career. He did so as a medical accessory, much akin to the goggles Amare Stoudemire rocked after an eye injury.
In the mid-70s, things were different. Plastics weren’t as reliable and durable as they are today. Or even ten years ago. Looking back to 1976, Suns’ big man Curtis Perry sustained a facial fracture that cost him nine games. Perry, in an effort to return, opted to wear a face mask on January 23, 1976 so he could play, and hopefully avoid further injury to his face.
The mask? It looked like something straight out of Friday the 13th.
Now I know, I know. The character of Jason Voorhees wouldn’t be introduced to the public until May of 1980. Settle down you Crystal Lake nerds.
In Perry’s return, playing against the Houston Rockets, Perry went 6-of-8 from the field, scoring 17 points and snagging 13 boards. He was the starting forward in a lineup that included Dick Van Arsdale, Paul Westphal, Pat Riley, and Alvan Adams.
The masked wonder helped the Suns defeat the Rockets 124-115, pushing the Suns’ record to 18-24. The team would go 24-16 the remainder of the season before making a magical run to the NBA Finals.
Tuesday, January 24 — Phoenix Suns vs. Charlotte Hornets
Thursday, January 26 — Phoenix Suns vs. Dallas Mavericks
Saturday, January 28 — Phoenix Suns @ San Antonio Spurs
The Suns start their week by taking on the 13-34 Charlotte Hornets, a team that isn’t only involved in the Wembanyama sweepstakes, they’re watching the mail every day hoping for a letter from Ed McMahon. They have talent, there’s no question about that, but they will be a lottery team hoping for Wemby to join the roster and bring relevance to the franchise.
They too have been injured. LaMelo Ball, an elite distributor, has missed 25 games this season. Kelly Oubre, Jr., a potential trade target for contenders (no, he doesn’t need to come back to Phoenix. Let’s get that out of the way), is out with a torn ligament in his hand.
Charlotte is 29th in the NBA in offensive rating (110.4) and 27th in defensive rating (116.5). They’re last in the league in giving up defensive rebounds. Terry Rozier, who scored 34 points against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night, is their primary scorer.
Phoenix then hosts the Dallas Mavericks, and we know what that means. Reminiscing on the events of last summer. Like Frozen, let it go.
Dallas continues to be a schizophrenic team at 25-22, not truly knowing their identity. Okay, that’s a lie. Their identity is 100% Luka Dončić. It’s the assets around him that they’re trying to figure out. Luka averages 33.7 points. Only three other players – Christian Wood (18.4), Spencer Dinwiddie (16.7), and Tim Hardaway, Jr. (13.9) – average double figures.
They are 4-6 in their last 10 games and currently lack depth on the interior as both Christian Wood and Maxi Kelber are dealing with injuries. If Phoenix guards the perimeter against this team, good things can happen. Dallas chucks and makes the third most three-pointers in the league, although doing so at a 36.2%, 15th in the NBA.
For some reason whenever Dallas plays the Suns, they become a team full of Steph Curry’s, and Reggie Miller’s. Against Phoenix this year, the team is shooting 34-of-76 from deep. 44.7%.
Week 15 ends on Saturday against the San Antonio Spurs, another ‘Tanking for Wemby’ team. Devin Vassell has been the developmental bright spot on their roster, but he is out indefinitely as he recovers from left knee surgery. Things are grim in San Antonio.
The 14-32 Spurs distribute the ball well, averaging 27.1 assists (3rd in the NBA) and they don’t turn the ball over much. Fundamentals. Spurs basketball. Never underestimate Gregg Popovich and the hustle, energy, and grit his teams to play with. Always respect quality coaching.
Weekly Prediction: 3-0
I’m feeling good about this week.
Again, I feel like the Suns have turned the corner. The dark days of winter are behind us and the schedule is softening a little bit. The winning percentage of the opposition this week? .371. About time they got a scheduling break!
This will be an undefeated week for the Suns. Charlotte, although they have the ability to put some points on the board, lack the chemistry needed to beat the Suns. They too have injuries, but their depth is worse than Phoenix. They have a guy named JT Thor?
As for Dallas? We’re due to shut that fan base up. We’re due to beat them, and still be reminded that we lost in the playoffs to them last summer. Because that’s gonna always happen. That’s just the thing we live with now as Suns’ fans. like Robert Horry chucking Steve Nash into the boards or John Paxson’s three. It’s just part of our culture now.
The Spurs, although fundamentally a challenge, should be a victory as well for Phoenix. This might be the surprise game of the week, one in which we’re puzzled as to why Phoenix isn’t dominating. It will be a win nonetheless.
Yes, a 3-0 week. I can dig it.
What will the Suns Week 15 record be?
This poll is closed
This past week I did what I do at least once a year. I watched Band of Brothers. I will watch The Pacific, a mini-series dedicated to the US Marine’s theater of war during World War II, again soon. This is all in preparation for Masters of the Air, another Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks produced mini-series, focusing on the efforts put forth by the greatest generation during World War II.
What can I say? I’m a 10-year Army veteran who has nothing but respect for those who have volunteered to sacrifice their time, efforts, and in some cases their lives for our country. I’m not one to bang the patriotic drum much, but my respect for my fellow servicemen and women runs deep. We all raised our right hand in the name of service.
Please excuse my previous comparisons to the Suns’ season and what soldiers faced during WWII. Outside of the kinship that battle brings, I understand that there is no comparison. That’s what happens when you binge-watch a show for a week: it seeps into other aspects of your life.
You know what it’s like, standing around the water cooler, sharing news notes from a television program you just watched. For the majority of us, that television program is typically the Phoenix Suns and Bright Side is that water cooler. Don’t worry, I’ll watch a new show this next week, and I’ll use that as my ammunition for next week’s Center of the Sun.
I hope you guys read it.
The comments seem to be less and less as of late on this weekly piece. Perhaps it’s my writing style, perhaps it’s because I’m not Rod Argent, or perhaps because the Phoenix Suns have been playing poorly, and nobody wants to read 2000 words as to why.