Suns Weekly: “Big Four” cores really matter, latest on Ayton and notes on former Suns

Welcome to your Phoenix Suns weekly news roundup. (Formerly called Center of the Sun)

I’ve always been confused by the term “dog days of summer”. I suspect it’s a dig at canines, which we think spend more time sleeping during the hottest days of the year. Except, it’s probably just that we’re around them more often in the summer and therefore more likely to notice their normal 18-hour-a-day sleeping habits.

The phrase “dog days of summer” on my own pet has a completely different meaning. You see, mine is not just a puppy, but a golden doodle puppy of all things. ‘Golden doodle puppy’ loosely translates to ‘crazy’. And being inside the house more often, thanks to 150-degree concrete and asphalt, makes him even crazier.

So I’m very excited for October to come. Not only because the Phoenix Suns are back in action at that time, but also because my dog ​​can get the energy out of the house to burn off his energy.

Enough about dogs. This is a Phoenix Suns story.

We’ve spent much of the last month obsessing over this team’s depth. Worried about the fifth starter. Concerned about the quality of the bench rotation. Worried about a lot of things that make very little difference in the outcome of a playoff game. Oh yeah, you can’t let your open weakside spot-up shooters make 20% of their shots. I understand it. But if your bench is at least as good as their bench, it doesn’t matter if your very best players can’t outplay their very best players.

The Suns will win or lose a championship based on how well their top players play. Fortunately for us fans, the Suns have one of the very best cores in the NBA.

Over the next few months, major sports outlets, in an effort to fill the content void, will update their rankings of the best players in the NBA. The more good players you have on your team, the more likely you can tip the scales in your favor during the playoffs.

Just look at the latest player rankings, courtesy of updated to end of June (ie post-playoffs).

Champions 2023

The world champion Denver Nuggets have four players among the 62 best on Ringeren’s board (Nikola Jokic #1, Jamal Murray #16, Aaron Gordon #45, Michael Porter Jr. #62). The only other teams to have more players among the top 62 on the list are Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors.

You could argue that the Nuggets are becoming outranked based on finals run – and Jamal Murray certainly jumped up the board to #16 – but the top four have been in the league’s Top 100 for years now. It’s the supporting cast that gets outranked after playoff runs. Their fifth and sixth best players, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown, come in at #91 and #96, respectively – definitely bumped up based on playoff performance.

The 2023 runner-up Miami Heat largely played off their top talent, with only two players (Jimmy Butler #9 and Bam Adebayo #21) on The Ringer’s roster best available for the Finals.

Another key here is that at least one of the team’s best players ranks among the best handful in the game. Jokic was certainly head and shoulders above anyone on the Heat.

Champions 2022

The 2022 World Champ Golden State Warriors have had four players in the Top 75 in the league for a long time with Curry (#2 on this list) surrounded by Draymond Green (#34), former No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins (#46) and Klay Thompson (#56). Like KCP and Brown of the Nuggets, Warriors second-best player Jordan Poole briefly cracked the top 100 before turning in an absolutely awful follow-up season and getting the salary dump.

Closer in 2022, the Boston Celtics, has been the epitome of “2 great players and a deep group of pretty good players isn’t enough to win a ring.” The Celtics, like the Suns a year before, made a deep run in the 2022 playoffs with that formula, but ultimately lost to a team that clamped down on their two stars. Jayson Tatum (#6 on the Ringer list) and Jaylen Brown (#22) are two of the league’s best one-on-one scorers, but the cadre of supporting cast (Al Horford #67, Derrick White #68, Robert Williams Jr. #70, Marcus Smart #71) fell short as the best playoff defenses slowed down the top two defenses.

Both Finals teams had a player among the top handful — Curry is a top-3 player and Tatum is a top-6-8 player — so here’s a look at the Warriors winning because of their Top 4.

Champions 2021

I sense a pattern here. The Milwaukee Bucks won the Finals in 2021 with one of the best top four in the league (Giannis #3, Jrue Holiday #38, Khris Middleton #49 and Brook Lopez #54) is a great core four that is good enough to get away with their 5th starter which is someone like Grayson Allen, Dontzo, PJ Patinzo or Doncna.

They beat a Suns team that, until February 2023, was a slightly smaller version of today’s Celtics — two top-25 players and a cadre of pretty good players who can’t carry the load when the two stars are bottled up, or at least held in check.

We all remember that the difference in 2021 was that Giannis was an unstoppable force, but Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez certainly outplayed their counterparts when they were needed most.

Now… until 2024

So I’ve argued that I need one of the league’s best Core Fours along with a Top-5 player to have any hope of surviving the playoffs.

The caller’s recent rankings give the Suns the exact profile. They rank four Suns players in the top 66 on their list (Kevin Durant #4, Devin Booker #10, Bradley Beal #42 and Deandre Ayton #66). Beal, who isn’t even 30 yet, was a top 30 player in the league as recently as a year ago before having a truly strange season in Washington. The Suns haven’t had three top-30 players on par with Durant, Booker and Beal at any point in this current era.

I know two years ago the Suns had a really good core four that made the finals in 2021, but at their best that year they profiled as a couple of Top-11-15 players and a couple of Top-35-45 players.

This new Suns team is better. All of Durant, today’s Booker and Bradley Beal are better players, and Ayton himself is a top-40 player when he’s in the right spot.

There isn’t really a better kernel out there. Only the Warriors (who added Chris Paul to give them 5 of the top 70), Bucks, Nuggets, Cavaliers (Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen and Even Mobley) and the Celtics boast just as many top players on the roster.

Those six teams, including the Suns, include five of the last six NBA Finals teams and the last three NBA title winners. That’s a pretty good formula for success.

Quotes of the week


The Suns did nothing this past week in terms of transactions, so the cap sheet remains unchanged.

And here’s the bottom line.

The Suns are now just a hair above the second apron if you only count the guaranteed money (ie only $300k of Goodwin and none of Ish Wainright).

Important future dates

Second week in August: NBA schedule released.

August 31: Last day for teams to waive players and apply the stretch provision to their 2023-24 salaries.

5th of September: Last day for teams to issue required bids for unsigned second-round picks; those players will become free agents on September 6 if not tendered.

At the end of September: (specific dates TBA) Training camps open.

October 24: The 2023-24 NBA season begins.

This week’s poll

Team governor Mat Ishbia mentioned an “open guard position,” hinting that Ish Wainright, whose contract is non-guaranteed, could be sacrificed if another player wants to join the contending Suns on a minimum-salary deal.

Interesting names still available include Christian Wood, who reportedly wants a guaranteed starting spot on a contender (which should send up a LOT of red flags, folks) and a veritable plethora of former Suns, including Kelly Oubre Jr., Terrence Ross, TJ Warren, Bismack Biyombo, Ish Smith and Goran Dragic.

I am saving you from yourselves and will not give you a chance to vote for Christian Wood.

In today’s poll, pick your favorite former Suns fan favorite to sign a minimum deal for the 2024-25 season.

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