The Phoenix Suns begin an eight-game seeding finale to the 2019-20 season on Friday with minimal chances to make a run at a playoff spot.
However, the Suns have maintained the value of being included in the bubble: They want to build around Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton while continuing to establish a culture around first-year head coach Monty Williams.
The coronavirus pandemic stopped their season short but put them in a Disney World bubble where that process can continue. So, we asked a panel of Arizona Sports hosts, producers and editors one question prior to Phoenix’s game against the Washington Wizards Friday:
The odds are stacked against the Suns to make the playoffs, but what are you curious to learn about them in these eight games?
Doug Franz, co-host of Doug & Wolf: Two questions: Will Kelly Oubre Jr. (meniscus surgery recovery) play and will Deandre Ayton dunk the basketball through another human being?
If Devin Booker can dunk on Pascal Siakam, it’s not asking too much for Ayton to make a move in the post that finishes with a slam.
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: I’m curious to learn more about this new and improved version of Mikal Bridges. He’s been so aggressive on the offensive end and the hitch in his shot appears to be ironed out.
Mostly though, I’m curious about this team’s fight when they have nothing to play for. It will likely happen, potentially after just a few games. Does the culture change produce a team that fights all the way through to the end, even when there’s nothing to fight for?
Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: I know the odds are minuscule for the Suns to make up ground and force an 8-9 showdown for the last Western Conference playoff spot, but there is comfort in the fact that they’ve got eight games left in Orlando. I feel for the fans of the “Delete Eight,” the teams not invited. There was nothing natural about how the season ended for those teams in mid-March. At least the Suns have that.
On the court, I’m really looking at three players: Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson. Ayton, despite missing major time due to suspension and injuries, made big strides this year. I want to see that continue in Orlando. Apparently Bridges worked hard during the layoff. His confidence has jumped off the screen in the Suns’ three exhibition games. His defense has always been stellar, but if he can continue to contribute on the offensive end the way he has so far this July, look out. Johnson has also impressed and has looked more aggressive offensively, which is big because Kelly Oubre Jr. continues to lead the NBA in one category: being mysterious about his status.
As a team, I’ll be pleased if the Suns can go .500 in their eight games and I think that mark is reachable.
Jon Bloom, play-by-play and postgame host for the Suns: I find myself as curious and excited, if not moreso, than when the 2019-20 season began back in October. I can’t wait to see what this young group can do led by their coach, who has surprisingly exceeded my lofty expectations with his uncanny display of leadership and command despite the team’s record falling a bit short.
Quick refresher, my preseason prediction was 41-41, I had them 34-31 thru 65 games and believe that number would be accurate were it not for Deandre Ayton’s unforeseen 25-game hiatus.
Speaking of the big fella, he heads my list of guys with something to prove over the next couple weeks. His fellow sophomore Mikal Bridges has deservingly stolen the spotlight thanks to his stellar play on both sides during the scrimmages, while Cam Johnson has developed a new shape and confidence to his game, which will hopefully continue when the games start to count. The Suns offense looked strong in those three scrimmage games, and I know I’m not alone in expecting Devin Booker to have at least a couple of his typical scoring onslaughts, which we’ve yet to see in the bubble.
No matter what the results are at Disney, we can all realistically expect our fairytale ending isn’t in the screenplay quite yet in Phoenix. I honestly believe these few weeks in the bubble can go a long way to getting that plot-line further established than it’s been in quite a few years.
Kellan Olson, ArizonaSports.com reporter and editor:: If they can talk the talk and walk the talk, or however that saying goes.
Devin Booker has said leading up to these games that the one thing he wants out of this process is for his team to compete together and at a high level consistently. Achieving that has been one of the biggest problems for the Suns this season and what had them fall out of the playoff race, and it’s just a tough thing for a young team to do.
If you’re wondering what this looks like, the way we saw the team play in the first and third scrimmages is it. Booker and Deandre Ayton were both not all that great in both of those games, yet the Suns won comfortably because of the way they played as a unit. Doing so against the best competition they face all season would be a big step toward the team taking a jump next year.
Kevin Zimmerman, ArizonaSports.com reporter and editor: I’m buying into the value of the bubble visit for Monty Williams’ culture-building process, and I think I know what to expect out of Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.
But looking toward next year and beyond, it will be compelling to see a healthy roster roll out there with Kelly Oubre Jr. to determine how a much-improved Mikal Bridges really fits into the fabric of this team if it largely runs it back next year. Can the ball movement really make the Suns a top-10 offense when the roster is at full force?
We don’t know the financial impact the pandemic will have on next year, but by the looks of everything going on with the Suns, these next eight games might telegraph how the franchise approaches players with upcoming free agencies: Dario Saric, Frank Kaminsky, Aron Baynes and even Oubre (2021 free agent).