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What Is Wrong With the NBA’s Biggest Offseason Gamblers?

Following last night’s near-dreaded loss to the Kings at home, the Suns now sit at 22-18, which is good for 8th place in the Western Conference.

Phoenix returned in the fourth quarter after being down as much as 22 with eight minutes left. This win was monumental for the Suns due to their fourth-quarter struggles all season, as well as the inability to beat good teams as of late.

The Suns won on the back of first-year Sun Grayson Allen, who had 29 points, six assists, and five rebounds on Tuesday night in Phoenix. Allen led the team with a +/- 21 on the night.

Superstar Kevin Durant, now in his second season in Phoenix, also poured in 27 points including a huge fourth-quarter and four straight clutch free throws to seal the game late.

Devin Booker had an inefficient shooting night at just over 35% from the field but had 11 assists to go along with his 16 points.

But, despite slightly trending upward recently, the Suns have had a really brutal start to their season. 

Coming off of last year’s Western Conference Semi-finals loss to the eventual champion Denver Nuggets, the Suns led by new owner Mat Ishbia, decided to go all in. 

In doing so, the Suns traded future hall-of-fame point guard Chris Paul, who led them to a finals appearance in 2021, Landry Shamet, four first-round pick swaps, and six second-round picks for all-star guard Bradley Beal.

This trade for Beal meant that the Suns would have a dominant offensive trio of Booker, Durant, and Beal, who are all all-star-level talent. It also meant that all three of these players would be locked up long-term and the Suns have the fourth-highest cap in the league, only behind the Warriors, Clippers, and Timberwolves.

The Suns then went and traded former 2018 first-overall pick DeAndre Ayton to Portland in a three-team trade with the Bucks to send Jusef Nurkic, Grayson Allen, and Nassir Little to Phoenix. 

Allen has been a crucial part of keeping the Suns afloat this season. He has played 33.4 minutes per game this season which is just under 10 more minutes per game than he has averaged his entire professional career. Allen currently leads the league in three-point percentage at 48%, just ahead of his teammate Kevin Durant, who is at 47.1%.

Allen is set to be an unrestricted free agent next season, and someone that the Suns could consider trading as we inch toward the trade deadline. But, Allen has been so good for the Suns all season that it would be really hard for the Suns to move off of him, although they most likely can not pay him this offseason. 

Jusef Nurkic has been the Suns starting center all season long. Although he has not been perfect, especially on the defensive end, he has had one of his best seasons as a professional. Nurkic is averaging 12.4 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 3.4 assists. All three of those surpass his career averages of 12.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.4 assists. 

Nurkic has been really active running some of the offense from the free throw line and has been a very effective passer this season. If the Suns can find a way to get him to improve defensively, this whole thing can be figured out. 

So if, for the most part, these trades all worked out, then why are the Suns only four games above .500, almost halfway through the season? Well, it is due to a few things, injuries, fourth-quarter struggles, and defense.

The Suns' injuries have been the biggest factor holding them back this season. Through 40 games, the Suns have been missing one of their big three (Booker, Durant, Beal) for 31 of those games. They are 5-4 in nine games with all three in the lineup and 17-14 in the 31 games without at least one of them.

Bradley Beal has missed the most time for the Suns, missing 24 of the 40 games so far this season. Beal had a lingering back injury early on in the season, in which he came back to play too early and was injured again. He then missed some time with an ankle injury but has now played 10 games in a row, averaging 19.8 points per game in that stretch, and the Suns have gone 7-3.

Devin Booker has missed nine of the Suns' 40 games so far this season. Booker had many different foot-related injuries early on in the season, causing the Suns to play with just Durant for many games. Booker is averaging 26.2 points per game this season, to go along with a career-high 7.8 assists. Since transitioning into the point guard role, Booker has thrived getting the ball to his teammates.

Kevin Durant has missed seven of the Suns' 40 games this season. Most of Durant’s rest was due to Booker and Beal coming back, giving him some time to rest up after what was a grueling start of the season for him, with Beal and Booker out often. Durant is currently fifth in scoring in the league this season averaging just under 29 points per night.

While the Suns have not been horrible defensively this season, they have been massively underwhelming. This offseason, after firing Monty Williams, the Suns brought in Frank Vogel who is a defensive-minded coach.

The Suns knew they had enough talent on offense that they would not need an offensive-minded coach, but they definitely expected to be better defensively so far this season. 

The Suns currently sit at 16th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, which is just in the bottom half of the league. Phoenix is also 20th in defensive rebound percentage but has done a solid job this season limiting second-chance points off of those rebounds.

The Suns are also in the bottom half of the league in opponent three-point percentage. The Suns have seemingly been giving teams many open looks from three and it has been coming back to bite them. For example, Harrison Barnes and the Kings had five wide-open three-point looks in the first couple of minutes of last night’s game. That can not happen.

The Suns' fourth-quarter struggles this year have been something that has the entire NBA world on notice. Entering last night’s fourth-quarter comeback against Sacramento, the Suns had been outscored by 137 points in the fourth this season and had an NBA-worst -16.1 net rating in the game's final quarter. The players are aware of these severe struggles.

“We won a fourth quarter,” said Suns guard Grayson Allen after last night’s comeback win. “Finally.”

This is against what Suns fans had been used to in the Chris Paul-Devin Booker Suns era.

‘Clutch Time’ is a stat referred to by the NBA as the final five minutes of a game where the score is within five points. 

In the 2021-2022 season, following the Suns’ finals appearance in 2021, the Suns were 33-9 in games that included clutch time, the fourth-best percentage all-time and had a net rating of 33.4 in clutch time which was the third-best all time. So, it is safe to say that Suns fans are a little restless going from one of the best clutch teams of all time two years ago to a team that is struggling badly in the fourth quarter.

Hopefully, for the Suns and their fans, last night’s 22-point comeback win vs Sacramento is a turning point in this season. With 42 games to go, the Suns are healthy and have every chance to right the ship and finish with a high seed in the playoffs. This team’s talent has never been a question. But can they stay healthy, play defense, and improve in the fourth quarter? That remains to be seen.

Image 1 Credit: Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports


Image 2 Credit: Getty Images


Image 3 Credit: Chris Coduto- Getty Images


Image 4 Credit: Rick Scuteri/USA TODAY Sports


Image 5 Credit: Joe Rondone/ The Republic

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