The Phoenix Suns are second behind the Golden State Warriors in the West, but last year’s runner-up didn’t really stand out. Yet the Suns have now won twelve games in a row. We take a look at a few reasons for the current winning streak.
At the start of a season, the focus is usually on newly formed teams. Everyone wants to see how Russell Westbrook works for the Los Angeles Lakers, how Kyle Lowry takes the Miami Heat to another level, how the new Bulls spark euphoria in Chicago. On the other hand, it was very calm for the two finalists from the previous year. Neither Milwaukee nor Phoenix have changed much in the roster, so it’s rarely talked about at the moment.
True to the motto: “We know who you are and what you can do”. It’s understandable, especially with a long season of 82 games. So no one was seriously worried that the Wisconsin champion was now 4-6, 6-8.
In the Suns too, the start was a bit sluggish, three of the first four games went badly. And since ? The Suns have played twelve games, emerged twelve winners and once again got comfortable behind the Golden State Warriors in the West’s top group.
What is all this worth? First of all, it shows that the Suns are doing their homework. Otherwise, there was only a comparison with a team that Cleaning the Glass said is in the top 10 of the net ranking. The Suns are lonely in this regard. Still, we’d like to take a look at some trends at this point and explain why the Suns work like a perfectly oiled machine, like they did last year.
1. The Suns win even without Deandre Ayton
The contract situation around Deandre Ayton was seen as a possible issue ahead of the season, so far nothing has been noticed. The center is a little more constant than last year, when it really exploded in the playoffs. Even in 2021/22 there are still small bumps to be found, but overall there are fewer games in which Ayton comes across as phlegmatic.
Nevertheless, the Big Man missed six games with a leg injury and his new assistant also shone in this phase. JaVale McGee is a save the Suns didn’t have last year that was missing in the final. A classic reserve five and not an embarrassing solution like first Dario Saric and later Frank Kaminsky.
You have to reckon with a few dropouts every now and then, but McGee is also a good ring protector at 33, who can move his legs quite well as well. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Suns allow almost 9 points less for 100 ball possessions with McGee than without him. With Ayton, however, the tables are turned.
By the way, it’s not surprising, even in the preseason the rosters were better without Ayton than with him. A priori, that does not mean anything, the center of the Bahamas has proven itself for the team in the playoffs.
With McGee, however, the Suns have made another useful addition that doesn’t just pay off in defense. The three-time champion continues to be one of the best matchmaking partners in alley-oop, which is invaluable when you have a Chris Paul in your own ranks.
2. The suns remain the masters of crunchtime
Speaking of Chris Paul. Point God has slackened a bit in terms of scoring, but CP3 is once again leading the league in assists (and steals, too). At the same time, Paul knows better than anyone how to take the reins back in the final quarter, regardless of how well he has performed in the previous 36 minutes.
The duels with Dallas were an object lesson in this regard. It was Paul who initiated the races with the reservists and thus decided the games in favor of the Suns. According to stats.nba.com, the Suns have been in seven games in which the difference in the last five minutes was up to five points, Phoenix won six.
Remarkable: Out of the total of 22 minutes, the Suns lost only 2 balls, which is mainly due to players like Paul or Devin Booker. It often works the same way. CP3 gave the team momentum, later it was Booker who, like against Dallas, made important throws.
“We pay attention to the details,” Booker said after beating Dallas on Wednesday. “We always tell ourselves that we are not playing against our opponents, but against ourselves to be serious. It paid off.” Tips like this can help keep the Suns from being distracted from the monotony of the season. In contrast, Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks had publicly admitted that he was a bit bored with the regular season.
Phoenix Suns: Chris Paul and Devin Booker’s fourth quarter stats
PlayerMINPTSFG% 3P% ASTSTLChris Paul9,36,154,233,33,00.9Devin Booker5 94 648 8500 70.3
3. The defense is even better
Another sign of seriousness, the defense and here the Suns even made a new leap. According to Cleaning the Glass, only Golden State and the Clippers are better so far, and over the past two weeks, the Suns have been by far the best defense in the Association.
Mikal Bridges remains a bench on the wing and Jae Crowder is playing a rock solid season again. The processes in the squad are good, the Suns understand when to change, how they can resolve an unfavorable game in seconds – good to see here in this scene against Dallas, when Booker suddenly had Kristaps Porzingis in front of him.
The Suns make few mistakes on this, so it’s no surprise that they produce one of the best throwing pictures in the NBA. Only three teams allow fewer closures in the ring, instead Monty Williams’ team allows two long and rather ineffective floats. It’s a good remedy when Ayton or McGee are almost always on the court.
Luck isn’t on the line either, according to Cleaning the Glass, opponents even hit one percent better than expected, so it’s safe to assume that Phoenix will have at least one top 10 defense this season as well.
4. More speed
And there is another aspect which is quite interesting. The Suns are playing much faster than last year, the pace increased by 4 ball possessions every 48 minutes. It’s surprising at first, after all, the CP3 teams weren’t known for this in the past.
Playing fast doesn’t always mean transition. The Suns are masters at creating and capitalizing on shifts with quick passes. It is not necessarily the first degree that is sought. Instead, the ball moves quickly across the court and you see the 0.5 second rule, which forces players to make quick decisions like passing, throwing, or shooting towards the basket. Many coaches advocate this approach, but teams rarely implement it.
The Suns throw almost half of their throws in the first ten seconds of the shot clock, even though they’re not even in the top 10 in terms of transition frequency. Paul is a factor in this, but replacement Cameron Payne is more of a factor. With CP3 the game is slower, without it the ball moves much faster. But even with CP3, the Suns are playing with pace in the top 5, without it it would even be the best value in the league.
Phoenix Suns: can the finals be repeated?
The Suns are therefore picking up exactly where they left off last year. In addition to Utah, Golden State, Miami and Chicago, the Desert Boys are one of five top ten teams in offense and defense.
Especially in the west, which seems completely open, Phoenix is next to Golden State the safest bet for a place in the final at the moment. The team is cohesive and deep, can play different styles and make few mistakes. Even though many viewed the Final Suns as the product of the many injuries suffered by their opponents, the entry was deserved, especially when looking at the entire season.
At that time, the Suns only had one national television game in the regular season, this time there are many more. Yet hardly anyone talks about Phoenix for athletic reasons, just because of the allegations against owner Robert Sarver. That could turn out to be a mistake again – and in the end, everyone wonders why exactly the Suns are having another deep playoff run. In Phoenix, you wouldn’t mind.