To the surprise of no one, the Phoenix Suns have some solid players and excellent long-term prospects. That won’t translate into many wins this season, but that talent manifested enough on Wednesday night to blow out the skidding San Antonio Spurs 116 to 96. TJ Warren led the Suns with 27 points, while DeMar DeRozan had 24 to lead the Spurs.
The Suns (3-11) rebuild is interesting to monitor knowing that their collection of young talent isn’t getting to learn to play with a long-term floor general (which just happens to be the BEST part of this young Kings rebuild). They’ll need to find that point guard eventually—someone who doesn’t mind co-sharing initiator responsibilities with Devin Booker, anyways—but until that day comes, Booker seems their primary playmaker. It worked on Wednesday, as his 12 assists helped lead the Suns to offensive success despite a poor shooting performance (5 of 14 from the field). But the Suns seem somewhat stuck on keeping Booker as the “shooting guard” in the starting unit despite giving him the usage of a primary initiator (31.6% usage rate on the year). Isaiah Canaan has started next to Booker in 12 games, and while he shot the ball well against the Spurs (19 on 7 of 8 shooting and 5 of 5 from deep), he seems to be more important as a floor spacer/dude-who-is-happy-to-dribble-into-a-three than as a playmaker. And that’s fine; the Suns need consistency from deep, considering the rest of the guard rotation outside of Booker either won’t force the issue on offense (Mikal Bridges), are past their prime (the ghost of Jamal Crawford, who became ethereal for 6 minutes in the 3rd quarter when he went 4 of 4 from deep), or not good shooters yet (Josh Jackson, Elie Okobo). But Canaan seems replaceable in the lineup if the Suns could figure out a starting five that has both shooting AND better, growing defenders... say, a Booker/Mikal/Trevor Ariza/TJ Warren/Deandre Ayton lineup.
Speaking of growing defenders; Mikal Bridges, the number 6th player on my 2018 Big Board, got his first career start (and should have played more than 25 minutes). While he didn’t get a ton of offensive touches (8 points on 4 of 6 shooting with ONE LOUD play), he was a terror on defense. With his enormous wingspan and constantly moving feet, Bridges did a great job guarding DeMar DeRozan, and DeRozan did much more damage when Josh Jackson was on him. Bridges is a great long-term fit with the Suns current stars.
Warren carved the Spurs up with some excellent drives to the basket, and continues to show that his deep shot is for real (3 of 8 against the Spurs, 46% from three on the year). There are certain Kings fans who hope Warren might be a long-term trade target to fill Sacramento’s hole in the wing—one even toed ungulate in particular—but the Suns don’t have a reason to trade Warren when Josh Jackson is falling out of the rotation. Plus, the Kings biggest need on the wing is a player who can shoot AND be a dedicated bulldog defender. That first part may describe Warren, but that second part much less so.
I’ve written 500 words without talking about Deandre Ayton, who was seemingly quiet for a guy who had 17 points and 10 rebounds. He had some solid moments of defense (including some on LaMarcus Aldridge), and took advantage of Dante Cunningham (the Spurs started small) on multiple switches.
The Spurs (7-6) have now lost 4 of their last 5, and losing to the Suns should probably put a bit of a damper on the Kings jubilation for beating them on Monday. San Antonio can’t win when one of their two stars struggles offensively (Aldridge was 3 of 12 for 6 points)—they’re just not deep enough, and no one stepped up to help DeRozan carry the load. With their injures in the guard rotation, I wonder if San Antonio really has enough fire power to get that 22nd straight playoff birth.