Suns

Suns Are Winning, But Are They Working?

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“Winners work”.

A motto, that has (somehow, someway) been dubbed by Suns fans following the team’s bathetic social media post of a workout following a win, has soon become the question surrounding Phoenix as a whole. 

The Suns seem to be winning, sitting fourth in the Western Conference with a 16-11 record.

But is it really working?

It seems not so much recently after their first four-game regular-season skid since the ’19-’20 season. Blatant issues have risen even with Chris Paul making his return. Not to mention All-Star and best player Devin Booker hurting his hamstring again and being out for the foreseeable future.

There is no reason to hit the panic button yet, however, as solutions are aplenty. Whether they actually come to fruition, is a whole different story.

Internal Solutions

Cam Johnson’s Return

To see how the team really looks this year we must await the return of new starting forward Cameron Johnson. Johnson underwent knee surgery to fix a torn ACL back in November after just eight games played. This left behind a team-best 18.8 net rating, another team-best offensive rating of 122.8, and a team-top-three defensive rating of 104.0.

Clearly integral, his return will mean a lot to Phoenix. Rotations will be put back into place, promoting a sense of consistency. Something the Suns haven’t seen much of this year.

Are Bridges and Ayton continuing to improve?

Another key aspect of the Suns’ season so far has been the improvement of Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton. Suns fans have been keeping a keen eye on these two all year, and for good reason. They make up the most crucial pieces to the team behind the play of Devin Booker and Chris Paul.

But has it, and will it, be enough down the stretch to make a difference?

With what we’ve seen so far, think yes. The eye test is showing Bridges attacking closeouts more often, but having a quicker, happier trigger from deep— exactly what we’ve wanted all along. Ayton also has solidified himself as the Suns’ anchor on defense down low, which has been crucial since the team’s point-of-attack defense has been skeptical.

Not to mention his next-level physicality on offense that we’ve also been shown so far. Another element fans have been waiting for.

By The Numbers

To solidify the argument even more, the self-creation numbers are on their side as well. From last year to this year, Bridges has upped his unassisted baskets from 18.1% to 24.5% (23.6% to 34.5% on two’s!). This comes with him scoring an extra point per game while also shooting significantly better from deep on more attempts. Similarly, Ayton has upped those same numbers on unassisted makes from 18.8% to 24.6%. To complement his stats, in the former No. 1 overall pick’s last ten games, he’s averaging 21.8 points per game, second on the team to All-Star Devin Booker. 

There are still going to be growing pains with these two and the level of consistency might still not be where we want it. But I think they are going to be able to adjust accordingly come playoff time to meet the load demands this team will have for them. (Assuming one of them isn’t gone by then).

External Solutions

The other glaring situation yet to be handled is the Jae Crowder saga. The veteran wing has yet to be shipped out following his retreat from Phoenix this year. This has left a gaping $10 million hole in the Suns’ lineup. While it hasn’t seemed to stunt the Suns’ performance totally so far, something has to be done.

No better time than the December 15th deadline when more players are eligible to be traded. While many have gone to Twitter to get their trade suggestions out, let’s look here at some options that are on the table.

JORDAN CLARKSON

Jazz receive: Jae Crowder, 2023 first-round pick

Suns receive: Jordan Clarkson

Despite the hot start the Jazz were on, they have recently returned to Earth. This could spark what is needed for them to continue to be in rebuild mode. Throw in the first to sweeten up the offer, and we might have a deal. 

Hit or miss on some Suns fans’ lists, Clarkson would provide a much-needed boost of scoring from their sixth man.

Unfortunately, Landry Shamet just hasn’t shown he has what it takes. Potentially taking some of the scoring load away from him would help the second unit run better. With Cam Johnson’s return to the starting lineup, Torrey Craig will help bolster the defense down the line too.

BOGDAN BOGDANOVIC

Hawks receive: Jae Crowder, Landry Shamet, 2023 first-round pick

Suns receive: Bogdan Bogdanovic, AJ Griffin

Per Shams Charania of The Athletic, it was reported the Hawks have shown interest in acquiring Jae Crowder since the request.

This one will probably take a first-rounder. With the leverage Crowder has thrown out the window, everyone is going to be asking for a little more, so the Suns are going to have to do what they have to do to get the deal done. Since Bogdanovic has returned from injury, though, he has shown he still has those scoring capabilities. Hitting six and seven threes in his last two games, respectively, he can replace what Shamet brought and more.

Rookie AJ Griffin would be the ideal other player added and would be an absolute steal if the Suns can somehow get him. However, that first-round pick would likely need to be included, as he has upped his game in these recent weeks.

The package may seem hefty, but the Suns don’t have many options. Because at this point, it’s a wasted roster spot and a waste of money to have Crowder pouting on the sidelines.

The faster this gets done, the better.

Other key names

Other names to be on the lookout for are players like Bojan Bogdanovic of the Detroit Pistons who may be available following Cade Cunningham’s injury. Washington’s Kyle Kuzma is another 20+ point-per-game scorer that could be an instant plug-and-play into Phoenix’s system. Hell, even risk it and get a package going for Knicks’ Julius Randle to bolster the scoring. Maybe Phoenix could get Cam Reddish or Immanuel Quickley in the package also.

As you can see there are multiple opportunities for James Jones to get the ball rolling. Even if it means sending Cam J back to the bench, something needs to be done, and big.

In It For The End

It seems the Suns have a lot they are going to be paying attention to moving forward.

From figuring out rotations with the players they already have, to having to make a whole trade for someone who doesn’t wanna be here. James Jones and Monty Williams are gonna be juggling a few different things together.

In the end, though, it seems the progress and elevation of play are showing from the Suns’ young core. Noticeable differences can be made in the games of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges. So much so that we can not wait to see what their playoff experience will do for them when the time comes.

It’s hard to remember sometimes, but we’re in it for the long haul now. Not just regular-season games in December.

About Cameron Prichard

Twitter: @CameronPNBA

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