3 Negatives for the Suns to address following the Clippers series
Phoenix won the series and advanced in just 5 games, the same as Denver. Thus no one got an advantage. Likewise, Booker was awesome, and Durant is just getting started, so things are looking up. However, holes in the Suns’ proverbial armor were obvious in the series against an under-manned Clippers team, which better teams could further exploit.
Negative 1: The Suns are very top heavy
With Durant and Booker, the Suns have two legitimate superstars, and no other team can boast that in the playoffs right now. However, if a team wants to play, let the stars shine, and see what happens, the approach could work.
While Craig made a splash with his scoring in three games, he was able to make a splash because the Suns have lacked a consistent third scorer for most of the season. Coming into the season, Chris Paul would have been expected to pick up some of this role, but he seems to be struggling for consistency.
Likewise, Deandre Ayton is on a max contract, and while he did average a double-double in the first round and was the third-leading scorer at 16 points, it was just 16 points. Despite getting more than 13 shots per night, Ayton was inconsistent in his production, scoring over 20 only in game five with 21. There were signs from Ayton at times, but like Paul, there was no consistency.
Without a consistent or reliable third scorer, teams could use junk defenses to force other players to make plays, leading to negative number two.
Negative 2: The bench was a flop for Phoenix
Maybe the bench was set up to fail when Craig was thrust into the starting line-up, and Landry Shamet suddenly was getting double-digit minutes. Then again, when you look at the Suns’ bench, it is a little thin in the kitchen.
Besides Craig, the two bench players that made the most appearances during the regular season were Damion Lee and Jock Landale. However, in round one, the two only played in five games combined after making the second and fourth most appearances for the team in the regular season.
A reliance on players who have been injured most of the season, like Shamet and Cameron Payne, while ignoring others who have been productive – Lee and Landale – and icing out new acquisitions brought in for this moment in Terrence Ross and TJ Warren, one has to wonder what Williams is thinking.
This team can be deep if the roster is used effectively on reliable players. If Williams can’t figure that out, we must hope Book’s legs hold up.
Negative 3: The first-quarter flops are back for the Suns
You hate to use the word, yips, so we will stick with flopping, but the fact of the matter is that Phoenix has a first-quarter problem. Being outscored by a team led by Kawhi Leonard is one thing; a team led by Norman Powell – the third or fourth-best player on the squad – is entirely different.
Perhaps Williams can fix the first-quarter conundrum by simply re-inserting Josh Okogie into the starting line-up, which would increase both the energy and movement early in the game; however, that alone may not be enough.
The first-quarter issues have been a problem all season for the Suns and can be traced back to last season’s playoffs when the team capitulated to Dallas with one of the worst first-quarters we have ever seen in 55 years of basketball in the valley. If Phoenix is truly going to fix their first-quarter quandary, they need to get over that beating and start giving them out in the first 12 minutes.
The Suns seem to own the third quarter, but to win an NBA championship, you need to own all four, and it starts with better starts. If Phoenix can fix their starts, improve the bench production by putting Craigh back on it, and find someone – Ayton, we are all looking at you – to step up and help carry the burden on the backs of Booker and Durant, then the team can advance. If not, it will be another summer of what-ifs.