Opponent: Phoenix Suns
Starting Lineup: Ricky Rubio – Devin Booker – Kelly Oubre – Dario Saric – DeAndre Ayton
Second Unit: Jevon Carter – Ellie Okobo – Mikal Bridges – Cam Johnson (Questionable) – Cheick Diallo
Leading Scorer: Booker (26.8 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Ayton (12.2 RPG)
Leading Assists: Rubio (9.4 APG)
Biggest Strength: Multiple scoring threats in starting lineup
The Suns’ offense revolves around Booker. He’s their primary scorer who can score at all three levels (although, he’s been falling in love with the midrange too much lately) and he can serve as a secondary playmaker alongside Rubio and a primary playmaker if Rubio is not in the game. However, Oubre and Ayton both average over 18 PPG, and Rubio and Saric can score when needed as well. Teams still key on Booker, as they should, but balanced scoring in the starting lineup like this has the ability to still keep them in the game if Booker has an off night.
Biggest Weakness: Frontcourt Depth
Frontcourt depth was one of the Suns’ strengths to start the year, but with Aron Baynes and Frank Kaminsky hurt, they are slim. Outside of Ayton and Diallo, their only other true big that gets consistent minutes is Diallo, who has major limitations on offense. When Domantas Sabonis runs with the second unit and Ayton is on the bench, he should be able to feast on Diallo. With the Pacers’ strength being two great centers, it’s good to match up with a team who doesn’t have many capable big men.
The X-Factor: Oubre
In the past month, Oubre has scored as many points as 29 in a game (twice), but as low as six points in another. He’s shot as inefficient as 30% from the field, and as efficient as 68.8% in another. Serving as their second most prolific scorer, the Suns rely on him to provide scoring, especially against strong defensive teams like the Indiana Pacers. If he has an off night and scores in the single-digits or shoots inefficiently, then it might be tough for the Suns to keep up.
Despite a poor record, the Suns are better than they’ve been in recent years. Their NET rating is 15th in the league and good enough for 8th in the Eastern Conference. The biggest difference in this team than years past is that they have role players that are more natural fits. Rubio and Saric aren’t game changers, but they are so much better than trying to play wings like Booker and DeAnthony Melton at point guard or small-ball forwards as full-time power forwards like T.J. Warren. If they had better health in their frontcourt, they would probably be closer to the eight seed than they are now. With this game being on the road, it could end up being a dog fight for the Pacers. The biggest gap is with the teams’ benches. Can the Pacers take advantage of a weak Suns’ bench?