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Scouting the Suns: Was more on the line in Phoenix than the Thunder’s Game 50 victory?

Scouting the Suns: Was more on the line in Phoenix than the Thunder’s Game 50 victory?

The Phoenix Suns possess a lot of talent, and they’ve taken a step forward this season under new head coach Monty Williams (who made a stop in his impressive career as an assistant on Billy Donovan’s Thunder staff). For a team that has struggled for so long, Williams is doing a wonderful job. The Suns weren’t expected to become contenders overnight. But they have three really solid young players in Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Kelly Oubre Jr.

Thunder targets?

Both Booker and Oubre have been OKC fan favorites in trade scenarios. But there is another name that intrigues me, and his name isn’t a hot commodity: Cheick Diallo. He hasn’t gotten much of an opportunity in his career, but when he’s been on the floor he’s been productive.

I attended the Thunder’s road game in Phoenix on Friday night, with an eye on Ayton, Diallo, Booker and Oubre Jr. The Suns seem like a good trade partner and if they decide to part with some talent, OKC should be ready with their plethora of picks.

Sam Presti and James Jones went to the back to talk for more than half an hour pre-game. This is something that is routine between GMs, but watch how Presti rubs his beard and smirks.


Kelly Oubre Jr.

Acquired by the Suns last season, Oubre is a versatile wing who can defend multiple positions. He has really thrived in his change of scenery, going from Washington to Phoenix. He had a fantastic game against OKC, showing off his range multiple times. He finished the game with 27 points and 11 rebounds on 8-15 shooting (4-8 from 3-point range).

A young player with a bright future, but will that be in Phoenix? The Suns need to start winning and they need to start very soon. Booker looks frustrated at times and needs help from players who have won in this league.

I believe the Thunder and Suns could be partners and swing a deal. Oubre is a wing that would fit into OKC well. He shoots 45% from the floor and 34.7% from 3-point range.

Gallinari isn’t under contract long term, which would make that deal tough for Phoenix. But Dennis Schröder and Oubre’s contracts match up almost identically the next two years. Could more pieces involved make that deal work to help both teams with their plans?

I’m keeping an eye on this. OKC can be patient, as they’re in the rebuild. The Suns don’t have as much patience, and they know they have the clock ticking with Booker. .

Cheick Diallo

Most fans probably didn’t know who Cheick Diallo was until he checked into the game. He isn’t a big name, nor is he someone you’d expect to see on this list. But he is an active player who plays very well in his limited role.

He only played 7:24 tonight. But in that time he had two offensive rebounds and kept a third possession alive off of a miss. He was 1-1 from the field, using a a nice move early in the game to get the bucket. He was also a perfect 2-2 from the free throw line.

Diallo is a career 60% shooter. He’s very good at the line for his career and position at 76%. He doesn’t have standard center size at 6’8 but he is active on the offensive glass and shows good hustle. And he does possess an 88 inch wingspan. That has Presti written all over it.

He is making $1.6 million this year with a $1.8 million team-option next season. If there is a trade to materialize between OKC and Phoenix, he’s worth the flier.

Deandre Ayton

Ayton is the real deal. There isn’t much more to say about that. I believe he is off limits in a trade unless the Suns were blown away with an offer, but he was fun to scout.

From catching lobs to shooting jump shots, his game is wide open. Ayton can do a lot of things on offense and is well on his way to becoming one of the more dominate centers in basketball.

On the night he was 8-15 for 16 points, below his season average of 17.8 points per game. OKC did a very good job of boxing him out as he only had six rebounds on the night (he averages 11.7 per game on the year). He’s only had one other game this season with less than nine rebounds.

Nerlens Noel and Steven Adams both looked hobbled in this game but did well on Ayton. They didn’t allow him anything easy for a majority of the game. They forced him into some tough shots that he hit early, but that tapered off towards the end.

Ayton would be amazing on the Thunder, but the fact is he’s not going anywhere. If the Thunder are without Steven Adams anytime soon, it would take a monumental offer to pry Ayton from Phoenix. I believe OKC is better off using their assets elsewhere and inserting Noel at center if Adams is traded.

Devin Booker

The biggest name of them all, Devin Booker. This kid is a flat out stud, with one of the smoothest jump shots the league has seen. Every time I watch him play I think of when Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant wanted him in 2015 and the Suns took him.

The Thunder were one pick away from getting Booker, and ended up with Cameron Payne. Payne didn’t last long in OKC and Booker became a star. Thunder fans still think about that to this day and will for a long time.

Booker is a special talent. He is a superstar in this league, well deserving of an All-Star appearance. But the West is stacked at guard. Chris Paul has been very good for the Thunder and Brandon Ingram got in at forward. Damian Lillard went through this same situation for awhile.

Booker had a chip on his shoulder tonight. He went out to prove he was snubbed for the All-Star game. He had a good game, but fizzled late. He finished the night 9-18 from the field but only 1-5 from 3-point range. The one 3-pointer he had was a 30 foot swish. He also was 8-8 from the line.

He had 27 points but the Thunder defense forced him into seven turnovers. Luguentz Dort was in foul trouble most of the game but played well on his assignment. He fought through screens and was always on the ball, making Booker work for his points.

I would love for OKC to trade for Booker. It would be a gigantic package and the Suns would have to be ready for a full rebuild. I just don’t see that happening for a few years.

The Suns have been trying to rebuild for so long, and if they traded Booker they might lose all their fans. They will be looking to make moves to help expedite their winning process. Monty Williams is a great coach that I believe will be better than others in Phoneix before him have been for that challenge.

We can all dream, though. OKC will be plenty ready in the future if Booker gets disgruntled in Phoenix. Presti has stockpiled picks and I would bet the house on him trading some of those for an established star down the line.

Getting a deal done

I saw a lot of similarities between the Thunder and Suns, which could make them good trade partners. I love watching Booker play and it was nice to see what Ayton could do. But as mentioned, those two aren’t going anywhere unless OKC puts a ransom on the table. The best bet would be Booker becoming available in two years if Phoenix is still spiraling downhill.

But Oubre Jr. and Diallo could both be an intriguing package. Schröder could give Phoenix another playmaker and the Thunder could add another asset that could help the Suns now. Could Terrance Ferguson be a name to watch out for with Dort securing that starting job of late?

Ferguson is an interesting name to watch in trade talks. He is battling some personal issues that remain unknown. But he may do better with a change. He has been very good defensively and the Suns are very bad on defense. Seems like a good match.

We can only hope for a very entertaining deadline. There are so many possibilities between these two teams. I have a hunch there was more to that Presti and Jones talk than just catching up.

Game notes

OKC won this game 111-107. They were very tired and at times looked ready for their four day break ahead. They could’ve easily packed it in down 99-92 with four minutes to go. They didn’t, however, and went on a 13-0 run to take a 105-99 lead, closing it out with free throws late.

Chris Paul continued to be clutch, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hit a few big fourth quarter shots and Dennis Schröder continued to build his Sixth Man of the Year case. The Thunder don’t win this game without Schröder, as he hit a big 3-pointer late to tie the game and was instant offense all night.

I asked Chris Paul postgame about the 13-0 run to help get them the win in clutch time. Oklahoma City now leads the NBA in clutch time wins with 21, offensive rating in the clutch at 123.5 and net rating in the clutch with a +26.3. Their defensive rating in those situations ranks sixth at 97.2. The team knows how to close.

Apart from what OKC did, the Suns played very well most of the game. They just faltered late and didn’t seem to do much besides look to Booker to make a play. That won’t work long term if you want to become a contender.

Thank you for everyone tuning in! It was a very entertaining game and OKC now gets a four day break to rest and recover. The team sits at 30-20 on the year, and only need to go 1-31 the rest of the year to beat the 30.5 win total Vegas set for them this preseason.

Spoiler: I think they get it.