Previewing Phoenix Suns Orlando Return
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Phoenix Suns are one of 13 Western Conference teams preparing to resume the NBA season in Orlando. The Suns have the worst record of all Western Conference teams, and sitting six games back of the eight seeded Memphis Grizzlies have nearly impossible odds of earning a trip to the postseason.
With that in mind, Suns reporter Gina Mizell joined Ben Anderson on the Jazz Notes Podcast to discuss the Suns strategy as they head to Orlando, how former Utah Jazzman Ricky Rubio has played in Phoenix, and the future of the franchise.
Suns Season So Far
The Suns have a 26-39 record so far this year and are facing another lottery-bound season. Despite the lack of postseason hopes, Mizell said there is optimism to pull from the Suns year.
“It was very much a foundational season,” Mizell said. “This is [head coach] Monty Williams’ first season as head coach. They now believe they have their two foundational pieces in Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton. And they won 26 games when before the league shut down.”
Regardless of how the Suns finish, 26 wins has already eclipsed the franchises previous high with Booker in tow.
“Overall, I think it was a success,” Mizell said. “Even if you just watched this team play with the eye test. They were so much more competitive than they were in previous seasons. It’s still a ways away from being a playoff team in the West. But still, I think a nice first step as far as building the foundation of this organization moving forward.”
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) February 17, 2020
The Suns began the season looking like a dark horse playoff threat. The team was a surprising 11-12 through the first month and a half of the regular season before the wheels fell off. The Suns lost eight straight games, including a stunning loss to the shorthanded Golden State Warriors.
The Suns have one of the tougher schedules remaining upon their return to Orlando. Despite the long odds of making the postseason, Mizell expects the Suns to be motivated to return.
“I think they will have a chance to just keep gathering more information keep trying to gain some more chemistry,” Mizell said. “Williams has talked about trying to experiment with some other things. Whether it’s lineups, or whether it’s Devin Booker playing more point guard when Ricky Rubio gets a blow. I think they will be able to take something away,”
Ricky Rubio’s Fit
The Jazz moved on from Rubio when they traded for point guard Mike Conley. Rubio spent two seasons in Utah, helping lead the team to back to back postseason trips. The Suns signed Rubio in hopes the guard could bring that experience to Phoenix.
“He’s just such a nice person and very calm,” Mizell said of Rubio. “Just a good leader and somebody that his teammates really respect. I think he and Aron Baynes are the guys in the locker room that have postseason experience, that are the veterans, and that have been in the league for a long time.”
Rubio right down the lane! pic.twitter.com/LQ7nGvfWwt
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) October 29, 2019
Rubio got off to a hot start with the Suns. The Spanish guard shot 40 percent from the three-point line through the first 10 games of the season helping push the Suns to a surprising start.
Rubio is signed through 2022 when the guard will be 32 years old.
“He’s been a massive upgrade,” Mizell said of Rubio’s performance. “And so both on the floor and then off the floor just as far as that leadership is concerned, I think he’s been a really good addition.”
As the Suns season sets, the team can turn an eye towards the future to continue to build around Booker and Ayton. But who on this current Suns team is a long term solution? The Suns traded for forward Kelly Oubre to add defense and complimentary scoring to the line. After signing a two-year deal last summer, Oubre has one year left on his current deal.
“I think he could potentially be a trade chip,” Mizell said of Oubre. “If the Suns really wanted to take a big swing and make a big move that he could be, you know, number one, he’s still a really nice young player who can do a lot of things for you. But also, he is on an expiring deal. And, there’s the fact that they have both Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson who completed the three as well.”
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— Gina Mizell (@ginamizell) June 30, 2020
The Suns acquired center Aron Baynes in a trade on draft night. Baynes is a bruising big man with the ability to spread the floor and create space for Booker and Rubio.
“He does a lot of the dirty work,” Mizell said of Baynes. “So he’ll set great screens, he’ll rebound a little bit for you. He’s not the most athletic guy, but he’s not afraid to put his body on the line. He’s been a good addition.”
Baynes is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and will undoubtedly have several suitors.
Devin Booker Vs. Donovan Mitchell
Both Booker and Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell made their All-Star debuts this season. Both the Suns and Jazz fanbases have formed a rivalry over which high scoring young guard is the better player. Mitchell’s Jazz have had more success on the floor, while Booker has gaudier stats.
“His efficiency numbers were just off the charts this season,” Mizell said of Booker.
Most 35-point games before turning 24 since 2000:
87 — LeBron James
60 — Tracy McGrady
50 — Kevin Durant
42 — Devin Booker (including today) pic.twitter.com/2zeGSXQ2Nu
— StatMuse (@statmuse) March 9, 2020
The fourth-year guard is averaging 26.1 points per game with an effective field goal percentage of .541. Mizell credits Rubio’s addition to unlocking Booker’s potential.
“Rubio being able to be the primary ball-handler that just allowed Devin Booker to get the ball in the spots that he wants to operate,” Mizell said. “He didn’t have to shoulder the load of always having the ball in his hands and trying to make plays and also get his own points.”
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