For the second time all season, the Phoenix Suns are fully healthy.
The team had three players listed as questionable for Saturday afternoon’s matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers: wing Abdel Nader (left ankle soreness), point guard Cam Payne (right ankle sprain) and center Dario Saric (left ankle sprain). Head coach Monty Williams said pregame all three of those players will play.
The Suns were without Saric for the first few games of the season because of a nagging right quad. They were also missing rookie Jalen Smith due to an ankle sprain and Nader because of a concussion. Smith being available on Jan. 6 marked the Suns’ only game this season they were fully healthy, a win over the Toronto Raptors. The next game, Smith was out due to having COVID-19.
After a Jan. 11 loss to the Washington Wizards, Saric and center Damian Jones spent time out due to health and safety protocols. From there, injuries for Payne, Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Jae Crowder have popped up as well. Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton and Cam Johnson are the only three Phoenix players who have played in all 24 games.
The return of Payne and Saric is a huge boost, as their play at the start of the season was a big part of the Suns’ 5-2 start.
Payne tried to play through a right ankle sprain in mid-January and wasn’t the same player, so the Suns decided to let him fully heal, and Payne went on to miss the team’s last nine games.
The 26-year-old backup point guard is averaging 6.6 points and 3.9 assists per game. Phoenix has outscored other teams by 12.7 points per 100 possessions in the 13 games Payne has played this year, the team’s second-best net rating behind Saric.
Speaking of Saric, it’s a testament to how well the Suns’ depth has stepped up given the Suns’ 15-9 record without the Croatian for 17 of those games. The backup center is posting 10.6 points and 4.6 rebounds a night in seven games. After having coronavirus, Saric sprained his left ankle in his ramp-up back, forcing him to miss 13 straight outings and two months of action.
The return of Payne and Saric gives Williams a good problem to have in still finding playing time for guard E’Twaun Moore and big man Frank Kaminsky. Both players have been positives in the Suns’ recent run of winning seven out of their last eight games.
Nader missed the Feb. 1 meeting against the Dallas Mavericks because of his ankle injury before playing in the Suns’ next two games. He went on to miss the last three.
Williams has spoken highly of what Nader brings to the rotation as another wing that attacks the basket off the dribble and defends with good speed and length. He’s averaging 8.3 points per game in 17.8 minutes per contest.
Nader playing would be telling for how important his role is, as it’s going to be a crowded rotation. With the team’s core eight of Paul, Booker, Bridges, Johnson, Crowder, Ayton, Payne and Saric, that leaves only 2-3 openings for Moore, Kaminsky, Nader, Langston Galloway and Jevon Carter.