The Phoenix Suns have lost eight of its last nine games and previously lost five straight before a three-game winning streak.
It has not necessarily been Phoenix’s fault since All-Star guard Devin Booker is out for January due to a groin injury (usual starting power forward Cam Johnson, backup guard Cam Payne and backup guard Landry Shamet have also been out) but it needs to address things quickly to turn its losing ways around.
Ahead of Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, here are five things the Suns need to shore up in the interim.
Who steps up offensively?
Booker is one of the best scorers in the NBA, and Suns starting point guard Chris Paul is not getting any younger and left Friday’s game against the Miami Heat due to hip soreness. He has already battled heel soreness this season and is at the lowest usage rate of his career, so it is conceivable to think he is not going to be relied upon as a primary scoring option for great lengths of time.
Our John Voita wrote previously how Suns starting center Deandre Ayton should be getting more opportunities, but that has not been consistent enough or indicative of the team’s belief in Ayton previously as the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. He had 31 points in the Suns’ loss to the Washington Wizards Dec. 28, though the team lost by 25. Friday, he had 23 points on 20 field-goal attempts and 14 rebounds, which is a solid clip though he could be producing at a higher clip if he was given the keys to unleash himself.
Starting forward Mikal Bridges also has a chance to step up but has struggled mightily from the field over the last three games (9-of-36 combined, or 25 percent).
Backup guard Duane Washington Jr. has been a positive player off the bench and the Suns can get savviness and hard play from backup guards Josh Okogie and Damion Lee. But the Suns will need to find creative ways to share the basketball and get all five of their starters at or near double figures, which happened on the road in their 125-108 win over the Memphis Grizzlies Dec. 27, when they assisted 26 of 43 shots.
What can Monty Williams do schematically?
The Suns have been one of the best team-oriented organizations in basketball over the last three seasons, which propelled them to the best regular-season record in the NBA from the 2020 NBA bubble through last season.
Phoenix has Paul — who would rank fourth in the league in assists per game (8.3), though he has not reached the minimum amount of games to qualify among the current league leaders — and Williams’ scheme to set up others.
They still have a lob threat with Ayton and a catch-and-shoot option with Bridges, though he will have to take more shots off the dribble to benefit his team. However, he has an effective field-goal percentage of 35.3 percent on pull-up shots, including just 29.0 percent from 2-point range.
Bridges is currently second among healthy Suns in assists per game (3.2) since Booker and Payne are out. Phoenix could benefit if he brings the basketball up the floor more and Paul is able to play off it to start offensive sets. Whatever Phoenix does, it will have to manufacture success in its system to get more players involved. There is not one player who can make up for Booker, so it will have to get creative with its passing concepts to enable more opportunities.
The NBA’s trade deadline is fast-approaching. Teams will no longer be able to trade after 3 p.m. ET on Feb. 9, which could create some interesting options for the Suns if they maximize them.
Phoenix has been linked to Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma, and he would be a huge addition for a Suns team that is seeking depth at the four and will benefit once Cam Johnson. Kuzma also has one more year after this season on his three-year, $39 million contract he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers before he becomes an unrestricted free agent, which gives the Suns the ability to maximize a championship window.
Whether it’s with the Wizards or another team, the Suns also have the ability to trade previous starting forward Jae Crowder, which should give them assets in return.
And we know Suns fans will ask about this: Yes, the team can trade Deandre Ayton after Jan. 15 — which fans have tried to connect the dots to a potential trade for Kevin Durant — but it is very, very unlikely to happen since the Brooklyn Nets are No. 2 in the Eastern Conference and have a chance to pursue a championship.
Kuzma would be a solid option for the Suns but they need to make moves to benefit their roster as a whole. They have continuity and a solid corps to still build around but they are still missing some pieces to win a championship, including a shot creator outside Paul and Booker and center depth.
Can they fix this season? Weigh in what you think below.