It's been more than 10 years since the San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns were contenders in the same season. While this season is most likely not going to break that streak, we should be in for a good game tomorrow when the Spurs visit the Suns at 10:00 AM, live on NBA TV Philippines via Smart GigaPlay app or Cignal TV.
San Antonio is still quite far from the form that helped them establish a near-two decade dynasty. Still, their youth movement has been intriguing. This season started rough, but they’ve turned it around lately and have improved their record to 8-13 with a four-game win streak heading into tomorrow.
Their most consistent piece among their collection of young talent has been Dejounte Murray. The lanky point guard has made incremental improvements throughout his first five seasons and has finally made a career-defining leap in his sixth. The 25-year old is averaging career-highs in points (19.1), rebounds (8.6), assists (8.2), and steals (2.0). Murray always had potential as a two-way playmaker, but his development into a legitimate scoring threat is a surprise that the Spurs surely welcome.
Derrick White has had an up-and-down season, but has been shooting better lately. White is probably the Spurs’ second best player, but that’s not as impactful of a position to be in considering this Spurs team is full of other solid secondary or tertiary options. Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker, and Devin Vassell are all pretty good, but none of them are great.
The Spurs seem to be missing one true superstar. If this current roster had a Tim Duncan or Kawhi Leonard on it, they would probably be title contenders. This just goes to show that despite the Spurs’ continued solid scouting, drafting a superstar is the toughest task for a small-market front office.
Still, this team is fresh off a road win against the Golden State Warriors. It was the type of win that could propel the Spurs into the playoff picture. Even without a superstar, San Antonio has everything else a playoff team would need.
The Suns, on the other hand, will be without a superstar for the next few weeks. Devin Booker suffered a hamstring injury last week against the Warriors that will likely keep him out until Christmas.
But the Suns still have Chris Paul. The 36-going-on-37-year old is still playing like an All-Star, leading the league in assists per game (10.1) while still scoring an efficient 14.1 points per game on 47.9 percent shooting. Phoenix’s redemption arc from a Finals loss last season already includes a franchise-best 18-game win streak, and they’ve mostly achieved that because of Paul’s consistent playmaking.
Paul accounts for a lot of Phoenix’s ninth-best offensive rating, but it’s the other Suns players that buoy them to a second-best defensive rating. Deandre Ayton has continued to improve as a rim protector with enough foot speed to stay in front of guards. Mikal Bridges might be the best perimeter defender in the league and his steals numbers are climbing as the season goes along. Add a superb supporting cast of Jae Crowder, JaVale McGee, Cameron Johnson, and Cameron Payne and you get a team that puts on 48 minutes of consistently solid play.
Without Booker, the Spurs have one less option to worry about, freeing their switchable scheme to cause more mayhem on defense. But tomorrow’s game could very well come down to how the Suns execute their pick-and-roll offense as the Spurs don't have too many answers to a rolling Ayton, especially with the big Haitian's improvement as a passer.
This could be the best matchup between both squads this season. If the Spurs can keep their win streak going, they might have a chance of breaking their playoff drought early.