Phoenix Suns adjusting to life without Devin Booker

Dec 11, 2017, 6:08 PM

Phoenix Suns forward Marquese Chriss (0) is congratulated by teammate Tyson Chandler (4) after a ba...

Phoenix Suns forward Marquese Chriss (0) is congratulated by teammate Tyson Chandler (4) after a basket against the San Antonio Spurs during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017, in Phoenix. The Spurs defeated the Suns 104-101. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

(AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

PHOENIX – Without guard Devin Booker, the Phoenix Suns are going to struggle. That’s a given. The trick is to limit the struggles.

In the two games Booker has missed so far, the Suns have been a mixed bag. They competed for three quarters against a very good Washington team and then they fell short to San Antonio, needing to rally from a poor first half.

“It’s going to take some adjusting. Book does so much out there,” center Tyson Chandler said. “He scores so much for us, he draws defense and the other team is keying on him which allows other guys to free up. So it has to be replaced, not by a guy scoring but by a team effort of cutting and screening and trying to make all the little plays.”

Booker is the Suns’ leading scorer. His 24.3 points per game ranks 11th in the NBA.

Booker is also the Suns’ best playmaker. When the ball is in his hands, as it is often when he’s on the floor, Booker can create shooting opportunities for himself or for his teammates.

The Suns don’t have another play like that, according to Chandler.

“He can go out and get a bucket by himself but we can’t make it individual ball. We have to play together as a unit,” Chandler said, referring to the starters.

After the loss to the Spurs on Saturday, when the Suns were outscored 28-17 in the first quarter and managed only 39 first-half points, head coach Jay Triano talked candidly about the Suns’ inability to put the ball in the basket.

“We struggled to score, which I think is an actual thing with that lineup a little bit,” he said.

Triano’s comments suggested a possible lineup change.

At the time of Booker’s injury, the Suns chose to move rookie forward Josh Jackson into the starting lineup. And that likely will remain the case, at least in the short-term.

The Suns play three games this week, beginning with a visit to Sacramento on Tuesday, which will be followed the next night with a home game against Toronto.

“I was frustrated with the way we started the other night,” Triano said Monday. “When I go back and look, the same lineup had a great start the night before. The ball moved and excellent scoring. We had 16 points in the first, like, three minutes, so I think a larger sample size is probably the safer thing to do.”

Odd man out

In the last three games, forward Dragan Bender has played 13, seven and six minutes; and in the two most recent games, he didn’t see the floor at all in the second half.

The reason is simple: Bender isn’t playing well. He’s also been playing with a mask, which he’s worn since breaking his nose Nov. 19 against Chicago. The mask has affected both his shooting and rebounding.

“It’s uncomfortable. Definitely,” he said. “It’s not the way I’m used to play. It’s definitely blocking some of the vision but you got to be able to play with that.”

And Bender has, though lately, the mask has become more of an issue, thus cutting into his playing time.

Triano has turned to forward Jared Dudley. And with forward Marquese Chriss playing better of late, Bender has become the odd man out, according to Triano.

“I don’t think competition is bad, especially when you’re a young player,” he said. “You’re not guaranteed minutes. He’s got to play better and I know the mask does bother him…you got to figure it out. I want it to be competition and that’s part of our growth, so how do you fight through.”

Bender understands this.

And the good news is Bender only has to wear the mask for a few more games.

“As long as we keep winning the games, I don’t really care if I play five minutes or if I play 35 minutes,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about winning. That’s all that matters.”

Family first

When Chandler missed last Thursday’s game, the Suns explained his absence was due to personal reasons. Turns out Chandler’s wife lost her grandmother.

For Chandler, family is the most important thing. It was one of the main reasons why he signed with the Suns — and still remains with the Suns — so he could be close to his family in L.A.

It’s been a rough past year-and-a-half for Chandler, who has had to deal with the death of his mom, grandfather and two cousins.

“It definitely has but, again, I still, we feel blessed and fortunate. It’s apart of life. That’s the only thing you’re guaranteed, not to make that—but that’s the only thing you’re guaranteed,” he said.

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