Devin Booker, Cam Payne, Dario Saric still out for Suns vs. Mavs

Jan 29, 2021, 6:31 PM | Updated: 7:30 pm
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker watches from the bench during the first half of an NBA basketball g...
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker watches from the bench during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
(AP Photo/Matt York)

The Phoenix Suns will remain shorthanded on Saturday against the Dallas Mavericks.

Devin Booker (left hamstring strain) and Cam Payne (right foot sprain) are out, while Dario Saric and Damian Jones continue to work their way back to 100% after coming off the health and safety protocols list.

Booker has now missed three straight games after injuring his hamstring in a loss to the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 22.

The outlook for Booker’s eventual return did not sound optimistic for the coming days when head coach Monty Williams elaborated on his 2-guard’s status before Thursday’s win over the Golden State Warriors.

“Not moving around in a dynamic fashion just yet,” Williams said. “I think that’s gonna be something we see in the next couple days to see how he responds.”

Before the Suns’ last two home games, Booker had been participating in the normal individual pregame work, albeit slightly tweaked to avoid those movements Williams spoke on.

Booker leads the team in scoring at 22.9 points per game. Williams has started Jae Crowder in Booker’s place, going with three wings in the starting lineup.

As for Payne, Williams provided more context on his status Thursday.

“It just hasn’t healed the way we’ve wanted it to,” he said. “He’s tried to play through some pain. We just feel like giving him more time off is gonna be the best thing so he can get over this hump. Certainly hurts us but I think it’s gonna give me a chance to look at a couple of things I’ve wanted to look at.”

Payne played in four games after missing two due to a right ankle sprain. That two-game absence preceded the Suns’ three postponed games, so it kept him out a while, and Payne was questionable on the injury report for two of the four games he played in.

In those four games, Payne was not the same guy. After playing through it, Payne was a late scratch for Wednesday’s loss to Oklahoma City and was also out on Thursday, with the injury listing now a right foot sprain.

The 26-year-old is posting 6.6 points per game and has a terrific 3.19 assist-to-turnover ratio.

One of the things Williams got to look at in those two games was veteran guard E’Twaun Moore as the backup point guard. Moore was a heralded offseason acquisition because of his ability to create off the dribble and be reliable in catch-and-shoot situations. But because of Payne and Jevon Carter as holdovers from last season keeping the reserve guard minutes, Moore has been unable to find playing time.

While he shot 2-of-11 in those two games, Moore brought a refreshing set of skills to the second unit.

“He got us into stuff tonight,” Williams said after Thursday’s victory. “I thought there was a level of know-how and IQ out there that was a little bit different.”

Williams elected to sit Carter on Thursday and roll with Moore and Langston Galloway, emphasizing offense over defense. Carter has struggled on offense too, though, shooting only 30% from three-point range and attempting only one shot at the rim outside of garbage time, per Cleaning the Glass.

Saric and Jones were both taken off the protocols list on Wednesday, allowing them to be back around the team and participate. Both, however, have obvious conditioning to get back after being away for over a week.

Saric’s absence, along with Jones, has led to Frank Kaminsky playing the backup 5. Kaminsky has clear defensive limitations but has been aggressive offensively and is coming off his best game in quite some time, amounting to 12 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists on Thursday. In 11 games and 12.7 minutes per game, Kaminsky’s net rating sits at 4.8, meaning the Suns outscore teams by an average of 4.8 points per 100 possessions when Kaminsky plays.

That has been a pleasant surprise, as Saric is a needed and valuable piece in the Suns’ early-season success. In seven games, Saric is averaging 10.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game. He and Payne led a second unit that helped Phoenix get off to a strong start this season.

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Devin Booker, Cam Payne, Dario Saric still out for Suns vs. Mavs