The Phoenix Suns are a complete dumpster fire at the moment. Star point guard Eric Bledsoe is out for the season. Bledsoe accounted for 20 points and 6 assists per game. The Suns other star point guard, Brandon Knight, has been out since January 21st. Knight accounted for 19 points and 5 assists per game. Sophomore sensation T.J. Warren rounds out the list of injuries, having gone out with a fractured foot on January 28th. Warren was good for 11 points per game on 50% shooting. If that weren't enough, the Suns former coach, Jeff Hornacek, was fired on February 2nd.
When it's all said and done, the Suns have boasted a record of two wins and 22 losses since December 20th. No one on the active roster is averaging more than 11 points per game on the season. Yeah, it's pretty bad.
The Morris Dilemma
But let's take a look at what the Suns do have. The arguable leader of the team at this point is Markieff Morris, who has averaged 16 points per game on 40% shooting since Warren's injury. But Morris is auditioning for another team at this point. According to John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports, the Suns will trade Morris before the February 18th trade deadline. Morris publicly stated that he didn't want to be a Sun this Summer, after the Suns traded his twin brother Marcus to Detroit. But Markieff reneged on his statement at media day, and the Suns attempted to move forward this season with Markieff. However, with the Suns at the bottom of the West and Markieff entering the prime of his career, the two parties don't have a lot of common interest anymore.
Anyway, on the floor, Markieff Morris is your prototypical stretch four. Morris can pick and pop as most stretch fours do, and that's his main source of offense. Also like other stretch fours, Morris can rebound fairly well for his size, and his defense is below average. But what makes Morris a good player is his ability to handle the ball as a big man. Morris is effective in post ups, as well as when he can get face up his defender in space. Morris' flaw is that he will rush into a lot of bad shots sometimes, and posts low shooting percentages overall. I'd keep an eye out for Morris' production tonight, as he posted three 24+ point games against the Thunder last season. And two of those games were against Serge Ibaka.
Do the Suns have any future?
Of course they do. Right now, Devin Booker and Archie Goodwin are getting featured roles next to Morris. Booker is a 19 year old rookie out of Kentucky, and can shoot the lights out around screens. Booker's unnaturally long wingspan give his shot a high release. The wingspan gives Booker a defensive advantage, as well. The league has been impressed enough with Booker to add him to this weekend's All-Star festivities. At just 19 years old, Booker will be the youngest participant in the three point contest ever. Strangely, Booker will be left out of the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday. The new USA vs. World format definitely worked against Booker. Booker would have easily beaten out some of the players on the World side were it the old Rookie-Sophomore format. Regardless, Booker is exactly the type of catch and shoot player that will destroy teams like Oklahoma City.
Goodwin is a third year player, but never got much time on the floor during his first two seasons in Phoenix. Now, given a starting role, Goodwin appears to be coming into his own as a player. Over the last nine games, Goodwin is averaging 16 points per game on 40% shooting. Furthermore, Goodwin hit a game winner against Atlanta back on January 23rd. However, Goodwin is currently playing out of position at point guard. As a result, Goodwin's assist to turnover ratio is horrible, hovering around 1. That doesn't mean Goodwin can't score with the ball in his hands, though. Goodwin can navigate around screens well, and can effectively shoot off the bounce. But Goodwin's best attribute is his ability to drive to the rim, given his natural athleticism. I wouldn't expect Goodwin to give the Thunder too much trouble unless he gets with Kanter in the pick and roll.
OKC bounces back
The Thunder will be rebounding from their biggest game of the year thus far, having lost to the Warriors 116-108 on Sunday. Durant and Westbrook had powerful performances, as they and Enes Kanter fueled a late comeback to tie the game in the fourth quarter. But the Warriors ultimately proved to be too tricky, getting superior shots on offense in the clutch. Many blamed a poor performance from the bench for the loss. I, on the other hand, prefer to go with the theory that Donovan used too many big lineups.
Durant was at the Super Bowl yesterday, taking pictures with a press credential. With the extremely busy All-Star weekend coming up, it's nice that KD got some time away from basketball. Durant will certainly need to be in top shape tonight, as the Suns don't really have a defender that can deal with him. As such, Durant should be the Thunder's main shot taker against Phoenix, and he needs to do well. When Durant scored 32 and shot 63%, the Thunder beat the Suns by 21. When Durant scored 24 and shot 42%, the Thunder beat the Suns by just 4. There's definitely some correlation there.
Either way, the Thunder need to be an offensive juggernaut if they want to win tonight's game. The Suns are going to be able to score against the Thunder, simply because Phoenix thrives in fast paced games. OKC has allowed Phoenix to shoot at least 38% from three in both matchups this season. Roberson played in both of those games, so the Suns might do even better tonight.
So who should the Thunder go to on offense, other than Durant? Kanter. With Kanter coming off of such a hot night in Golden State, it only makes sense to try and keep the momentum going. Furthermore, Kanter contributed 21 points to the Thunder blowout of the Suns early in the season, but only 7 points to the close game the Thunder played with the Suns later in the season. I'll definitely be hoping that Payne can get a bit more run with Kanter, as I haven't seen the two gel in quite a while.
I know, you're probably thinking to yourself, "2-22, there's no way this team challenges us". But consider that the Suns got a new coach, Earl Watson, just a week ago. Since then, the Suns have played competitive games with the Raptors and Rockets. Sure, you throw a stinker against the Jazz in there. But it's obvious that the players are motivated by their new coach. Also, this might be anecdotal evidence at this point, but Watson is a former teammate of Durant, Westbrook, and Collison. Watson was the starting point guard for the 08-09 Thunder, before being supplanted by rookie Westbrook. It's been an eternity since Watson has seen the Thunder locker room, so anything he might know might not be relevant. But the only other former Thunder player to become a head coach, Derek Fisher, has given the Thunder serious problems as an opponent.
When it's all said and done, tonight will be fun and competitive. But Phoenix is simply too young to seriously compete with the Thunder in the closing moments. And if, somehow, the Thunder end up winning this game by blowout, then we'll know that Donovan has figured out some serious defensive solutions.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 107, Phoenix Suns 100.
What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!
|2015-16 NBA Season Game 53|
|February 8th, 2016|
|Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, Arizona|
|8:00 PM Central Standard Time|
|TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network Arizona|
|Injury Report: Andre Roberson (Out), Eric Bledsoe (Out), Brandon Knight (Out), T.J. Warren (Out)|
|This Season's Matchups: Nov 8 (W 124-103), Dec 31 (W 110-106)|
|Archie Goodwin||PG||Russell Westbrook|
|Devin Booker||SG||Dion Waiters|
|P.J. Tucker||SF||Kevin Durant|
|Markieff Morris||PF||Serge Ibaka|
|Tyson Chandler||C||Steven Adams|