The Suns epic collapse against James Harden and pals ripped open some old wounds for Suns fans. The trust tree right now has a few broken limbs after the 2021 Suns looked more like the 2019 Suns.
Could this single game, second half collapse trigger a season collapse for the previously plucky Suns?
Before we answer that, let’s take a look at some of the problems this game exposed.
First, Devin Booker did not play like a superstar when the Suns needed it most. James Harden did. You can bottom line this game on that fact alone. The final two times Devin Booker touched the ball with his team desperately needing a bucket, Booker struggled. First, after ignoring Chris Paul wanting the ball back, Booker put the blinders on and got caught in no man’s land where he turned the ball over. The next time down the floor, Booker got cute and went into the low post where he took a tough, contested shot and missed. Those aren’t winning plays.
Devin Booker has struggled a bunch of times this season with the game on the line. I’d compare him to a closer in Major League Baseball. Some proven closers occasionally need a mental break from the ninth inning to get them out of a rut. That’s Booker right now. He’s not in danger of being demoted but the next closing opportunity might behoove Booker and the team if Chris Paul takes it.
Some teams have their Mariano Rivera. The Nets have three. Lebron is Mariano now but wasn’t earlier in his career. Steph is a Mariano. Damian Lillard is Mariano. Luka is a Mariano. Devin Booker is not, yet. The balance between Booker and Chris Paul in the final minutes needs to be found.
Next, its time to have an uncomfortable talk with Jae Crowder. Jae, you aren’t Dan Majerle. Crowder is a career 34% three point shooter currently jacking up seven (!) three point shots a game. Crowder is taking more threes per game on average than Kevin Durant, Jamal Murray, Trae Young, Kristaps Porzingis and Joe Harris. All of them are better shooters than Crowder.
Last night, Crowder took nine three point attempts. He’s way too comfortable pulling the trigger from deep, especially when there are usually three or four better offensive players on the floor with him. Crowder is a role player; a tough, defensive minded player that enhances your physicality on the floor and your culture off the floor. Sounds great on paper but right now he’s convinced he’s Reggie Miller. Here’s a stat that will blow your mind: Reggie Miller never averaged seven three pointers a game that Crowder currently is. If he’s going to help lead this team, he needs to start by leading by example and accepting his role as a complimentary player.
Speaking of complimentary players, if you view Deandre Ayton through that lens it makes it easier to accept his role on this team. Ayton busts his ass setting screens. He eagerly rebounds. And he occasionally makes an impact defensively. But it is not his job to finish. It’s not his job to swallow up the opposing team’s best player. Can he be better anchoring the post? Absolutely. Tuesday night, Ayton was consistently caught drifting into the high post where James Harden would gleefully speed past him for a bucket. Ayton has to learn that he is the last line of defense between a would be scorer and the bucket. He needs to accept that physicality is an integral part of playing defense as a big man. He avoids contact now like my kids avoid eating anything that isn’t frozen meat. That has to change for him to excel as a role player. Oh, and he HAS to win jump balls in critical moments against smaller players.
Lastly, Monty Williams needs to find a lineup and stick with it. To me, Jae Crowder is a bench player. Frank Kaminsky isn’t sustainable in the starting lineup. I think I’d flip the roles of Kaminsky and Dario “Beef” Saric and ride with that unit. It’s not an easy solution, a bought out Blake Griffin might be the best option but he might also be closer to the Kia he dunked over than the All Star version of Blake Griffin.=
There are lots of issues right now for the Suns but relevance isn’t one of them. Talent isn’t one of them. Chemistry isn’t one of them.
And because of that, the collapse against the Nets won’t be the collapse of the Suns season.
This team is good and I expect they’ll continue to prove that.