The Phoenix Suns have blown out of the gates this year with a 5-3 record and national talk of potentially being a playoff team in the West.
Win predictions have gone from high20s/low30s to high30s/low40s in a span of two weeks.
You’d think that means everyone on the roster is exceeding expectations right? How else could a whole season outlook change in a matter of days?
Let’s take a closer look at every player in the rotation and see what they’ve given the Suns so far this year.
Here’s how I think they have performed compared to expectations:
The 5-3 Suns probably have every rotation player exceeding expectations, right?
Well actually, no.
Only three players in the Suns rotation are playing above their expectations coming into the season, and only one — Splash Volcano himself — is blowing those out of the water.
Dubbed “Splash Volcano” by Mike Prada in a recent article, it’s clear that Aron Baynes is furthest outplaying his career numbers.
He’s playing 70% more minutes (24.9 to 15.3) per game, while putting in more than 300% more points (16 vs 5.6) and assists along with 20% more rebounds (5.6 vs. 4.4) and 45% more blocks (0.9 vs. 0.5). His conversion rate on field goals is up but mostly his three-point attempt rate is through the roof, resulting in a much higher effective field goal % (eFG) and player efficiency rating.
Baynes had only made 25 threes in his entire 8-year NBA career before this one, and has already made 16 this year alone. In eight games. Putting him on a pace to make 164 of them this season.
Baynes’ role as the stretch center in this five-out offense is revolutionary for not only Baynes but also the Suns coaching staff, who’d collectively coached non-stretch centers like Tyson Chandler, Emeka Okafor, Steven Adams and Joel Embiid.
Will Baynes performance last? Yes, for the most part. His role in the offense should remain the same all year, just like it did for Channing Frye years ago.
But he will come to earth a bit. His three-point percentage will level off into the 30s by the end of the season, if not the calendar year. Only a handful of players in the entire league average better than 45% in any season and it’s foolish to expect Baynes to be one of those.
Still, I’d expect Baynes will continue to provide the hard-nosed defense, alabaster screen-setting and 1-2 threes per game for the rest of the year, often finishing games in Ayton’s place when Ayton isn’t “on”.
And that’s pretty incredible.
Kelly Oubre Jr.
The three-point percentage will likely settle back down to the 32-25% range, but everything else should remain the same. Since arriving in Phoenix, the 24-year old has been consistently the team’s third best scorer, so that will continue.
Jevon Carter, 24, started the year on fire, averaging 10 points (50% of 20 three-point attempts to lead the team in makes) and 3.3 assists in almost 24 minutes per game in four games where the Suns went 2-2. But then he crashed back to earth, scoring a grand total of 2 points in the last four games, missing all 7 of his threes and 8 of 9 shots overall, as the Suns went 3-1.
Some of these guys are simply providing what they were supposed to provide this season. Sure, their impact on the win-loss record might be better than expected, but an objective view of their seasons only shows that they are doing what we thought they would do.
After averaging 26.6 and 6.8 last year and 24.9 and 4.7 the year before that, Devin Booker’s scoring and assisting this year is quite simply to be expected. Where Booker has upped his game is on the defensive end in terms of effort. You could say he’s exceeding expectations defensively, but I’d just say he’s in a better situation and his effort on that end is a result.
Sure, Rubio is pulling down more rebounds than in previous years and that’s necessary for this team to compete on the boards. The Suns are staying afloat without big rebounders because they have five guys, including Rubio, averaging 6-7 per game. But the rest of Rubio’s numbers are in line with his career averages.
Tyler’s three-point percentage is slightly higher than his career average, but his role is otherwise slightly smaller than we might have expected coming into the season which explains the lower averages across the board. What makes Tyler Johnson so great is that you always know what you’re going to get with him.
These players have played extremely hard, but their production is below what we expect of them.
Frank started the year ON FIRE, but he’s gotten so bad lately on offense it’s painful to watch him. I’ve taken to grating out a “FRAAAAANNNNK” on press row every time he hesitates on a catch and shoot and ruins an offensive possession because of it. He’s Dragan-esque this past week.
You might look at those numbers and want to put Dario into the ‘Meets’ category, but I can’t do that. He is playing hard and playing smart within Monty’s system, but he’s not quite making the very most of his opportunities. Dario will get better — he always starts slow, then picks up as the year goes on.
Bridges, 23, seems afraid the ball, passing it off nearly every time he touches it. He’s only taken 11 threes all year (making 2 for 18%), making him the least-prolific on a team that’s three-happy. Bridges’ defense is excellent on the perimeter against like-sized or smaller guys, but he can’t effectively switch onto bigger players and hold his own quite yet.
Cameron Johnson, 23, is still getting his feel for the NBA. While he’s not afraid to take a shot when it touches his hands, he’s just missing or not taking the right ones. It’s only a few games into his NBA career, so we can only call him incomplete.
Those with incomplete grades are rookie Ty Jerome (22), out all year with an ankle sprain, and Deandre Ayton (21), out with suspension.
Back in 2013-14, the last time the Suns had a feel-good season, everyone on the roster was having career years.
But this year, at least so far, only Baynes and Oubre are consistently outpacing what people thought they would perform this year. Everyone else is playing within the system and matching or not quite meeting their career numbers.
That bodes well for the rest of the season, doesn’t it?