Welcome to ‘Inside the Suns’, your weekly deep down analysis of the current Phoenix Suns team.
Each week the Fantable — a round table of Bright Siders — give their takes on the Suns’ latest issues and news. But first, the following graphic shows the current Western Conference standings plus the probabilities for teams winning each playoff spot.
Graphic courtesy of PlayoffStatus.com.
Fantable Questions of the Week
Q1 - What sort of impact do you think KD’s injury will have on the Suns’ final playoff seed position?
GuarGuar: I think it’s extremely unlikely now that we move up to above the 4 seed. Our schedule is pretty tough and we are already a few games back to begin with. Basically to me the question is can we keep this 4 seed position so we have home court in the first round. I think we hang on to the 4 spot if I had to predict.
Philip: While it doesn’t look great coming off two losses to good teams and staring at Milwaukee, the Suns should remain in the 4-6 range, supposing Book, DA, and CP stay healthy. Dropping a full 2.5 games into the play-in would surprise me, especially when the likes of the Timberwolves, Mavericks, or Lakers would have to play well consistently to jump the Suns.
Rod: With a little over 3 weeks to go and the Suns having one of the tougher remaining schedules to play, right now I think that holding on to 4th is the best we can hope for. That could certainly change as we get nearer to the end of the season as other team may also suffer injuries to key players and/or rest certain key players if they’re locked into a certain playoff seed (we have 2 games with Denver in which I could see them possibly coasting by that time).
The big problem with moving up is that both Memphis and Sacramento have much easier schedules than the Suns and I just don’t think that Phoenix can make up the leads they have on us without KD. With a few bad breaks, I could also see the Suns slipping down to 5th or even 6th if one or more of the teams bunched up behind us in the standings have a sudden win streak before the season ends. I can’t imagine us falling further than that though as long as we can avoid any other major injuries before the playoffs begin.
Q2 - Book has averaged 29.2 pts and 6.4 assists while shooting 52.2% from the field and 36.9% from 3 since returning from his groin injury (10 games). His post-AS break stats are 33.5 pts, 7.2 asts, 55.0% from the field and 52.9% from 3 (6 games). Do you think this level of production is sustainable?
GuarGuar: Book has always been on a different level post all-star break for his entire career. I definitely think his current level of play is pretty sustainable. He saw the most spacing he’s ever had when KD joined him for those 3 games. I’ve never seen Book shoot so many wide open 3s. He’s not going to continue to shoot 50%+ from 3 but the rest of what he’s doing is definitely sustainable. We’re gonna need his best to keep pace in the standings.
Philip: Is he going to continue scoring 33.2 on insane shooting splits while dishing out 7.2 assists? Probably not.
Is he going to continue to be hyper-productive while making his teammates better? Probably.
The small stuff stood out to me last week: his physicality against the Mavs, his decisive attacks against the Thunder. Those should carry over, even without another elite scorer on the floor. If they do carry over, he should remain playing like a Top-10 player in the league, much like we saw in stretches earlier this year.
Rod: I think the points production could be sustainable but I’m afraid that his percentages will drop as defenses can key in on trying to stop him more as long as KD is sidelined. Hopefully, DA will consistently have more 20+ pts, 10+ reb games to help split the scoring load and Ross will be a more reliable microwave scorer off the bench. Book could average 40-45 ppg and the Suns would still have trouble winning if the rest of the team doesn’t step up and put more points on the board too.
Q3 - The Suns presently have the 6th best defensive rating in the NBA. Do you think the team can manage to maintain or even improve their D?
GuarGuar: I think without KD our defense will slip a bit the next couple weeks. But overall this team is a solid defensive team when healthy. Our biggest issue defensively is our pick and roll scheme when we play elite guards/wings. We love to play drop vs them and that’s why all the big names go off against us. Monty needs to change up the coverages and throw more double teams. KD adds a much needed rim protection aspect to our team. We can still be a very very good defensive team even though we lost Mikal and Cam.
Philip: They need to. They’re over 5 points worse per 100 possessions their last 5 games than they are on the season. They outscored the Mavs, but that didn’t work against the Kings or Dubs. While the Suns will hope to overwhelm playoff opponents when KD returns, you have to imagine that title hopes will, at least in part, hinge on their ability to gel defensively.
Relatedly, that’s my biggest concern about KD being out. The offense was elite as soon as he entered the lineup. The defense, well, not so much. Suns fans might should hope for an easier-than-expected first round matchup for the Suns to get right on the defensive end.
Rod: I think they should be able to maintain their D and might even improve a bit once KD returns. A lot of team defense is based on effort and I still see that from the Suns. It’s the offense that I worry about while Durant is absent. The way the game is played (and officiated) these days, defense is put at a bit of a disadvantage and it’s become a scorer’s game, especially a three-point scorer’s game and the Suns aren’t always that good from the 3-point line.
Let’s face facts. The NBA wants higher scoring games because they’re more exciting to watch for the average fan. The season the points per game average for all teams is 114.5, the highest average since the 1969-70 season when it was 116.7. Ten years ago it was 98.1, twenty years ago it was 95.1 and it’s continued to creep higher almost every year since then. The NBA making it more difficult to defend (without fouling) has played a big part of increasing the number of points per game scored.
As always, many thanks to our Fantable members for all their extra effort this week!
Last Week’s poll results
Last week’s question was, “Should the Suns rest KD and/or CP3 when playing back-to-back games?”
14% - Yes on both.
41% - Yes for CP3, no for KD.
01% - Yes for KD, no for CP3.
40% - No on both but try to limit their minutes.
04% - No on both.
A total of 542 votes were cast.
This week’s poll is...
If the Suns fail to get home court advantage for the 1st round of the playoffs...
They will be eliminated in the 1st round.
They won’t make it past the 2nd round.
I don’t care about HCA, they can still make it all the way to the Finals!