Suns GM James Jones likes where roster is at ahead of trade deadline

Jan 26, 2022, 4:44 PM | Updated: Jan 27, 2022, 9:03 am
Phoenix Suns interim GM James Jones sits during an interview with The Doug & Wolf Show on 98.7 ...
Phoenix Suns interim GM James Jones sits during an interview with The Doug & Wolf Show on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station on Feb. 11, 2019. (Arizona Sports/Matt Layman)
(Arizona Sports/Matt Layman)

The Phoenix Suns are in some fairly uncharted waters across franchise history.

They have entered the second half of the season as one of the favorites for an NBA championship and owners of the best record in the league at 38-9.

With the NBA’s trade deadline two weeks from Thursday, the thinking becomes that the Suns need to be aggressive.

General manager James Jones addressed that specific type of thought when he joined Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo on Wednesday.

“I always love that question,” he said. “People are always like, ‘How aggressive will you be at the trade deadline?’ And I’m always the same. I like my team. I like what we have.

“If opportunities come to improve my team, I’ll look at ’em. But every team is trying to do the same thing at the trade deadline, so unless you catching somebody who absolutely does not want to compete, you’re really talking about lateral moves. I trust our continuity and our flow. I’m focused on our guys and how we can improve internally.

“But I’ll always say, the team I assemble in the summer is the team I believe in, and the longer we play together the better we are. I guess that’s a long way of saying I like where we are.”

With Jones’ comment on internal improvement specifically, that’s where the Suns can look at their reserve backcourt.

Backup point guard Cam Payne had a nice resurgence in the last couple of weeks prior to spraining his right wrist on Saturday. In his last dozen games before the injury, Payne shot 44.7% from the field and 40.7% at three-point range. That has helped grow his season percentages on those two marks at 40.4% and 33.6%, respectively.

Now, those are still big drop-offs from his terrific numbers last season, so there’s still more work to be done in getting those percentages up more.

As for guard Landry Shamet, he hasn’t yet reached a point this year where things have clicked into place.

In Shamet’s last 10 games, his three-point percentage sits at 29.3%. His overall number on the season is 35.1%. That’s a troubling dip for a player who established himself as a great shooter in his first three NBA seasons, clocking in at a career average near 40% coming into Phoenix.

There has been a clear lack of efficiency from those two in the first half of the season, which is why fans have thrown names out such as Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon as potential targets at the trade deadline.

It does need to be said that Payne and Shamet have done their part defensively, and to Jones’ point on continuity, the endless shuffling of the rotation through injuries and COVID-19 has impacted the rhythm for the second unit the most.

Lastly, there have been a handful of shouts from the fanbase for another wing, the place in the rotation Abdel Nader (right knee injury management) hasn’t been able to hold since mid-November.

That is the spot where former Sun Torrey Craig came in last year and did wonderfully. Players like Oklahoma City’s Kenrich Williams, Indiana’s Justin Holiday and Craig himself with the Pacers have been suggested as players to seek out on the trade market.

The team has not provided a timeline on Nader’s return but he has been seen on the court pregame getting shots up in the last week, a positive indicator that he could return within a month or two.

While Nader has his strengths of slashing and defending ball-handlers, Craig showed the extra boost Phoenix can get from a “fourth wing” in the depth chart and it could help Phoenix again this year. If not, the assumption would be Nader’s going to be back for the regular season, and it would be imperative for him to find his footing before playoff time.

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