The Phoenix Suns are second behind the Golden State Warriors in the west, but last year’s finalist does not really get noticed. Still, the Suns have now won twelve games in a row. We look at a few reasons for the current winning streak.
At the beginning of a season, the focus is usually on the newly formed teams. Everyone wants to see how Russell Westbrook works at the Los Angeles Lakers, how Kyle Lowry takes the Miami Heat to another level, how the new Bulls spark a euphoria in Chicago. On the other hand, it was very quiet about the two finalists from the previous year. Neither Milwaukee nor Phoenix changed much in the roster, so they are rarely talked about at the moment.
True to the motto: “We know who you are and what you can do”. This is understandable, especially with a long 82-game season. So no one was seriously worried that the Wisconsin champion was now 4-6 and 6-8.
At the Suns, too, the start went a little in the pants, three of the first four games went bad. And since then? The Suns competed in twelve games, emerged victorious twelve times and once again made themselves comfortable behind the Golden State Warriors in the top group of the West.
What is it all worth? First of all, it shows that the Suns are doing their homework. Otherwise there was only a comparison with a team that was loud Cleaning the Glass is in the top 10 in the net rating. The Suns are loners in this regard. Nevertheless, we would like to take a look at some trends at this point and discuss why the Suns function like a perfectly oiled machine, as they did last year.
1. The Suns win even without Deandre Ayton
The contract situation around Deandre Ayton was considered a possible problem before 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 always small dents to be found, but all in all 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 deputy also knew how to shine during this phase. JaVale McGee is a backup that the Suns didn’t have last year and that was missing in the finals. A classic reserve fiver and not an embarrassing solution like first Dario Saric and later Frank Kaminsky.
You have to reckon with a few dropouts from time to time, but McGee is also a good ring protector at 33 years old, who can also move his legs reasonably well. According to Cleaning the Glass the Suns allow almost 9 points less per 100 possession of the ball with McGee than without him. With Ayton, however, the tables are turned.
By the way, that’s not surprising, even in the preseason the lineups were better without Ayton than with him. In principle, that doesn’t mean anything, the center of the Bahamas proved its worth for the team in the playoffs.
With McGee, however, the Suns have made another useful addition that not only pays off in defense. The three-time champion continues to be one of the best alley-oop face-off partners, which is valuable when you have a Chris Paul in your own ranks.
2. Suns remain the masters of crunchtime
Speaking of Chris Paul. Point God has slacked off a bit in terms of scoring, but CP3 is once again leading the league in terms of assists (and steals too). At the same time, Paul knows better than anyone how to pull the reins again in the final quarter – regardless of how he performed in the 36 minutes before.
The duels with Dallas were object lesson in that regard. It was Paul who initiated runs with the reservists and so decided the games in the Suns’ favor. According to stats.nba.com The Suns were involved in seven games in which the difference in the last five minutes was a maximum of five points, Phoenix won six of them.
Noticeable: In the total of 22 minutes, the Suns only lost 2 balls, which is mainly due to players like Paul or Devin Booker. It often works the same way. CP3 gives the team the momentum, later it’s Booker, who, like against Dallas, sinks important throws.
“We pay attention to the details,” said Booker after beating Dallas on Wednesday. “We always tell ourselves that we are not playing against our opponents, but against ourselves in order to remain serious. It paid off.” Tricks like this may 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 little bored with the regular season.
Phoenix Suns: Chris Paul and Devin Booker’s stats in the fourth quarter
3. The defense is even better
Another sign of seriousness is defense and here the Suns have even made another leap. According to Cleaning the Glass So far only Golden State and the Clippers are better, in the past two weeks the Suns have been by far the Association’s best defense.
Mikal Bridges remains a bench on the wing and Jae Crowder is again playing a rock solid season. The processes in the team are right, the Suns understand when to switch, how they can resolve an unfavorable match-up within 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 in this, so it is hardly surprising that they produce one of the best throwing pictures in the NBA. Only three teams allow fewer closings on the ring, instead Monty Williams’ team allows rather inefficient long twos and floaters. This is a good remedy when Ayton or McGee are almost always on the field.
Luck doesn’t matter either, loudly Cleaning the Glass hit the opponents even one percent better than expected, so one can assume that Phoenix will have at least one top 10 defense this season as well.
4. Mehr Speed
And there is another aspect that is quite interesting. The Suns play much faster than last year, the pace has increased by 4 ball possession per 48 minutes. This is initially surprising, after all, teams from CP3 were not known for this in the past.
Playing fast doesn’t always mean transition. The Suns are masters at creating mismatches with quick outlet passes and making a profit from them. It is not necessarily the first degree that is sought. Instead, the ball is moved quickly across the field and you see the 0.5 second rule, which requires players to make quick decisions such as passing, throwing or pulling to the basket. Many coaches preach this approach, but the teams rarely implement it.
The Suns take almost half of their throws in the first ten seconds of the shot clock, even though they are not even a top 10 team in terms of frequency in transition. Paul is a factor in this, but backup 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 play with a top 5 pace, without him it would even be the top value in the league.
Phoenix Suns: Can the finals run be repeated?
So the Suns are picking up exactly where they left off last year. In addition to Utah, Golden State, Miami and Chicago, the boys from the desert are one of five teams that are among the top ten in both 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 finals for the moment. The team is homogeneous and deep, can play different styles and hardly makes mistakes. Even if many saw the final suns as a product of the many injuries suffered by their opponents, the entry was deserved, especially if you look at the entire season.
At that time, the Suns only had one national TV game in the regular season, this time there are significantly more. Still, hardly anyone speaks of Phoenix for sporting reasons, just because of the allegations against owner Robert Sarver. That could turn out to be a mistake again – and in the end everyone is wondering why exactly the Suns are doing another deep playoff run. In Phoenix you wouldn’t mind.