The Phoenix Suns have won an absolutely ridiculous 18 games in a row at this point, which is a franchise record for the team. They have great players leading the charge, a great coach in Monty Williams, and a not-so-great front office run by Robert Sarver. However, despite the scandal revolving around the Suns’ front office, the players have been able to focus on playing basketball, and even with many bumps in the road, they’ve retained their core from last year and proved their run to the Finals was not a fluke simply because other teams had injuries.
On the court, the team is led by point-general Chris Paul, whose basketball IQ and prime has been stretched out longer than most other NBA players. He’s never won a championship or an MVP, but Paul has consistently been one of the most valuable players in the NBA. In fact, he helps his team win so much that he has a career 192.82 win shares, a statistic that attempts to divide credit for team success to individual players. Win shares are difficult to come by, and Paul’s 192.82 win shares ranks him 9th among all NBA and ABA players ever. Paul is sandwiched between Dirk Nowitzki (#8) and Kevin Garnett (#10) while being one of two players to be in the top ten and still playing… the other, as you can probably guess, is LeBron James.
When Paul was in Oklahoma City for a year, the franchise was given a 0.2% chance of making the playoffs, and as we saw last year, they are a team worthy of a 14th or 15th seed. However, with Paul, the Thunder snuck into the playoffs as a #7 seed with Paul being the only All-Star, showing his value. Phoenix went from a perennial loser year after year to making the NBA Finals in Paul’s first year with the franchise, something Paul and the organization haven’t done since 1993, when Charles Barkley was MVP of the NBA. There was a lot of speculation that Paul would leave the Suns in the offseason, and they must be especially grateful that he didn’t, because we know how valuable Paul is to any team. If the Lakers had Paul instead of Russell Westbrook, I would have them as favorites to win the title, despite the fact that Paul is 36 and Westbrook is 33. Paul led the NBA in assists last year, and while I expect his scoring to go down, I fully expect to see his assist count skyrocket, especially with the great teammates he has.
Before he was injured in the Golden State Warriors game, Devin Booker was the scoring juggernaut for the Suns. Booker is averaging 23.2 points on 45.8% shooting from the field and 40.3% from three, which is par for the course. However, his reputation as a Kobe Bryant-esque killer who can score from anywhere is helping the Suns tremendously. It’s speculated that one of the reasons the Suns were able to beat the Stephen Curry-led Warriors on National TV was because the Warriors were so focused on stopping Booker, the major scoring threat. As soon as he was injured and out of the game, the Warriors had to shift their focus to stopping other threats, like Paul, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton, and Cameron Johnson; which they didn’t (the Suns also played a stifling defense, forcing many avoidable turnovers). The Warriors play a very successful, fast-paced, small ball lineup, but despite being the number one defense in the league, the Warriors had no response for the 6’11” Ayton, who dropped 24 points and 11 rebounds to go along with two blocked shots. Paul was once again a menace, with 15 points, 11 assists, and a ridiculous five steals.
Oh, did I forget to mention that when it comes to Paul being an all-time great point guard, he is also currently fifth in all-time steals? FIFTH! And among players in the top 10, he’s the only one that’s still active, meaning it’s likely he’ll pass Gary Payton at #4, who has accumulated 2,445. Paul has 2,376 steals to his name, and while I don’t think he’ll surpass John Stockton as the NBA’s all-time steals leader, I do think he has a chance to finish in the top three.
When it comes to players in the Suns’ primary rotation, there aren’t too many acquisitions from this offseason. Landry Shamet was by far the most notable, coming from the Brooklyn Nets. JaVale McGee, a center who is more meme than basketball player at this point, was also acquired, and although he had many Shaqtin’ A Fool appearances, he’s still an incredibly solid big man who occasionally will do things that make you wonder what you just saw. Chandler Hutchison was also added to the roster, although he’s barely played this season. The core of players that made it to the Finals have all returned, with the same Head Coach. But frankly, I think we should have seen this start to the season coming for a long time.
If there’s one thing that many NBA players and coaches agree with, it’s that it takes two years for a team to truly understand a coach’s system. When Head Coach Steve Kerr went to the Warriors, the team went 67-15 in their first season, and won an NBA championship. This was super impressive, but once they had that second season to gel and understand the system, they won an NBA record 73 games. The Suns finished 51-21 last year in a shortened season, but in their second year under Coach Williams, I will be surprised if they finish under 60 wins. The team has a great core, but they’re going to need to win soon; Paul won’t be in the NBA for over five more years in all likelihood, and then the team is back to where they were in 2020; with hope, talent, and potential, but not the keys to get there.
I haven’t mentioned Ayton’s impact nearly as much as I should have; maybe that’s in part because I’m still miffed about the illegal substances he used early on in his career. Whatever the case, it does seem as though Ayton is just one of many reemerging seven-foot big men, the players that we thought were dead, but are reviving themselves into today’s game. It’s interesting how we went from a game dominated by efficiency, three pointers, and Darryl Morrey to integrating big men back into rotations. However, that’s a subject for another time, and when I do write about that, I’ll make sure to touch more on Ayton. In the meantime, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!