At 12-26, the Phoenix Suns have not given fans much to get excited over as we near the halfway point of the season — throwing a scare into the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday notwithstanding. But for those desperate for something to cheer besides losses or minutes for the young pups, it can feel as difficult as searching for Nessie in the frigid depths of Loch Ness.
But fear not, for unlike our underwater ally, one can find positives with the Suns if they look hard enough. Below are five easy things Suns fans can root for regarding the Suns as the season enters the dog days and beyond. And best of all, each of the examples below are more or less tank friendly, which I believe is the basketball equivalent of gluten free.
The Suns rank third in the NBA for steals per game at 8.7, behind only the Golden State Warriors (9.4) and Toronto Raptors (9.2). That’s right, despite the improbability of it, the Suns are actually near the top of the NBA in a defensive category.
Actually, the Suns have routinely been a member of the league’s upper crust when it comes to steals. They rank sixth all time for steals per game at 8.5, led the league in three different seasons, and own the NBA record for highest steals average in a single season with 12.91 per game (1977-78).
Unfortunately, the Suns have not led the NBA in this category since the 1979-80 season when they averaged 11.1 steals per game. If Phoenix can put together more performances like they did against Cleveland (12 steals), they would have a great shot at leading the NBA in steals this season.
Here’s another area where the Suns have exceeded expectations. As a team, they average 45.1 rebounds per game, which is good enough for seventh in the NBA. More impressive, though, is that that total ranks 13th in team history and is the highest average since 1989-90.
But here’s where it gets fun (fun being relative here): If the Suns can get that number to 45.8, those seven-tenths of a rebound per game will boost the average to eighth in franchise history and will be the team’s highest average since 1974-75 — pre Sunderella Suns. That’s gotta count for something.
A little more surprising is Phoenix’s defensive rebound average, which sits at a humble 33.1 per game and 20th in the NBA. Despite it’s unimpressive standing league-wide in the fast paced world of today’s NBA, that average actually ranks third in team history and is just a smidge behind the franchise record of 33.3 defensive rebounds per game set — wait for it — last season!
This loss-plagued version of the Suns could actually set a positive team record. So that’s something, right?
Tyson Chandler clearing the glass
The rumor mill has been buzzing about Chandler lately and for good reason. He has been a significant factor in Phoenix’s prowess on the boards this season, gobbling up rebounds like Truckasaurus does jalopies.
He ranks eighth in the NBA at 11.7 rebounds per game, but that’s only the start of things. His 11.7 average is the best in NBA history for a player in their 16th season or higher, easily outpacing the number two on that list (Charles Barkley, 10.5).
He also has seven games this season with 18 or more rebounds, which is tied for the league lead with Andre Drummond, Dwight Howard, and DeAndre Jordan. Since 1983-84 and with the Suns specifically, only Barkley has more games with 18 or more rebounds in a single season, recording nine in 1992-93 and seven in 1993-94. In that same span, Chandler ranks eighth among players 34 years or older in the entire NBA with those seven 18-rebound games, but he has a ways to go to catch Dennis Rodman’s record of 25 games with 18 or more.
Then there is his total rebound percentage, which ranks third in the league at 23.4 and would rank 19th in NBA history among players qualified for the rebounds per game leaderboard should he maintain that percentage. And remember, this is coming from a player who is 34 years old. Among players 34 years or older, Chandler’s total rebound percentage is fourth-best all time, trailing only Rodman, whose 26.6 percent in 1995-96 sets the standard.
As that applies to the Suns, Chandler’s total rebound percentage ranks best overall among Suns qualified for the rebounds per game leaderboard, eclipsing the old mark of 22.5 owned by Earl Williams in 1974-75.
Whether Chandler lasts the entire season in purple and orange or not, it is important to bear in mind that what Chandler is doing on the glass this season is astounding and even more so for his age. It’s almost enough to make me forget his blocks per 36 minutes average of 0.6 ranks 391st out of 402 seasons in NBA history for a player 7’1 or taller (min. 10 minutes per game), mere hundredths of a point ahead of former Raptors first round pick Aleksandar Radojevic and former guy who used to play basketball Petur Gudmundsson.
Alex Len swatting shots
What Chandler leaves to be desired in the shot-blocking department, Len does a terrific job of making up for. He ranks 16th in the league for blocks at 1.5 per game, but that comes in just 21.5 minutes per game. Looking at his block percentage, his impact at the basket becomes even clearer.
Len ranks fourth in the league in block percentage at 5.7. That is a career high and behind only Myles Turner (6.9), Rudy Gobert (6.1), and John Henson (5.9) this season. That block percentage is the best by a Sun since Steven Hunter’s 6.4 in 2004-05 and is fifth-best in team history among Suns who qualified for the blocks leaderboard, behind only Hunter and three seasons from Andrew Lang from 1989-90 to 1991-92 that included the team record of 7.4.
Len just moved into a tie with Danny Manning for 14th place among the Suns all-time leaders for career blocks with 239 swats. If Len could stop doing his spot-on impression of a paddling machine during rush week and tone down his foul count, he could rank in the franchise’s top 10 by the end of the year.
Healthy Eric Bledsoe doing healthy Eric Bledsoe things
Bledsoe is starting to string good games together on a regular basis, hopefully leaving behind inconsistent Eric Bledsoe for good. He has six games with 30 or more points this season, which is double what he’s ever had in any prior season and just two shy of matching the career total of eight games he had entering this season.
Bledsoe is averaging 20.4 points, 5.8 assists, and 4.9 rebounds for the season. If he can up his rebound total to 5.0 by season’s end, he will join Gail Goodrich, Jeff Hornacek, and Charles Barkley as the only Suns to ever average 20-5-5 for an entire season. Just as encouraging, Bledsoe has dropped his turnovers to 3.1, which is a career low with Phoenix.
The big numbers are nice from Bledsoe, but watching to see if he can golf score his turnovers in the process might prove to be the biggest development of all to root for.