Despite losing three of four to start the season, the surging Phoenix Suns now sit at second in the Western Conference. Injuries to Cam Payne and Deandre Ayton have forced the squad to adjust, but the team has stepped up in their absences, and Friday’s dismantling of the Grizzlies brought the Suns to 8-3. Here are 10 stats that pop from the campaign’s first few weeks.
The Suns’ field-goal percentage, first in the NBA
While that figure is a drop from last year’s .490 number, it has coincided with a league-wide decrease in offensive efficiency. Despite adjustments in rules and officiating, the Suns are scorching. Chris Paul’s mastery of the mid-range and hot starts from Mikal, JaVale, and Frank have all helped. Given that some key contributors have yet to hit their strides, it is fair to wonder if this number will inch closer to (or even surpass) last season’s excellent mark.
Mikal Bridges’ scoring average, the highest of his career
Mikal is one of just eight players league-wide to maintain a .658 true-shooting percentage on at least 117 shots. While his development as the third on-ball option behind CP3 and Book is encouraging, his stellar work as a cutter and transition menace are invaluable to the team. It feels like Bridges is the tip of the spear for nearly all of the Suns’ transition opportunities.
The team’s pace
Although Chris Paul has earned a reputation for slowing the game down, the run-and-gun Suns are operating at the league’s fifth-quickest rate. The Suns’ speed is helping them leverage an effective but developing offense (8th in offensive rating), and they are third in the league in points per game (111.7).
Perhaps the system will slow as the season progresses, but in the meantime Phoenix is flying. For reference, the fastest pace of the 7SOL era was 96.7 in 2007-2008.
Chris Paul’s assists per game, first in the league
17 seasons in, Paul’s subtle, unstoppable dissections of NBA defenses are sights to behold. His ability to generate easy buckets for teammates provides the foundation for the Suns’ attack. Paul’s 18 dimes against the Pelicans helped him ascend to third in league history, ahead of Steve Nash and Mark Jackson.
It is fitting that he is singing his swan song in Phoenix, a franchise possessing one of the NBA’s premier point guard legacies.
Devin Booker’s assist-to-turnover ratio
While this number is not elite, it is a function of Devin’s improved decision-making. His ability to increase his assists without seeing a commensurate rise in turnovers is a positive sign for the Suns. Monitoring Book’s continued growth as a facilitator will be key to Phoenix’s title hopes.
Cam Johnson’s field-goal percentage
A couple of Suns have been uncharacteristically inefficient to start the season, but Cam’s figure stands out because it seems the most likely for positive regression. Johnson is attempting a career-high 2.9 two-pointers per game, but converting under 38% of those looks. Part of this might be due to an uptick in tough, off-the-bounce twos. While those shots are difficult, Cam is too good of a shooter to continue his current level of mid-range ineptitude. If you can get odds, bet on Cam to return to his usual sharpshooting self sooner rather than later. His 12 points and three treys against the Grizzlies both matched season-highs.
Suns’ steals per game, ranking seventh in the league
Phoenix has been ravaging passing lanes early. Not only are the steals preventing opponents from scoring, but they are keying transition opportunities as well.
Chris Paul is tied for fourth in the NBA at 2.4 steals per game, and the team’s litany of lengthy wings are wreaking all sorts of havoc. In total, five Suns (Paul, Ayton, Crowder, Booker, and Kaminsky) are averaging over a steal per game.
Current Suns’ winning streak, tied with the Warriors and Clippers for best in the NBA
79-3 is still within reach! After a rough start to the year, the Suns have been rolling as of late. Sure, some of the victories should have been blowouts, but fine-tuning in the film room is always more enjoyable after a win than a loss. With an upcoming slate against the Rockets and T-Wolves before a double-header versus the Mavs, it is fair to wonder if Phoenix can keep the good vibes going a bit longer.
Suns’ record without Deandre Ayton
Deandre suffered his injury against the Cavs, and after a brief return against the Rockets, he has missed the Suns’ past four contests. In his stead, JaVale McGee and Frank Kaminsky have been incredible. JaVale has stabilized the starting lineup with his length, rebounding, and rim protection. This speaks nothing of the fact that he is an immutable source of fun.
Frank has boosted the reserves (more on this in a minute), posting a +42 plus/minus across the five matchups.
With that being said, the Suns need DA back as soon as he is healthy. The five teams defeated in his absence boast a combined 23-43 record, and tougher competition lies ahead.
Total points scored by Frank Kaminsky in games without Ayton, including a career-high 31 on Wednesday.
It is official, Frank took the NBA 75 snub personally. Some may have predicted that the Tank could play a key role on this team, but even his most ardent supporters have been stunned by recent events. Dave summed it up nicely.
Frank is playing better than anyone has a right to expect. even his mom.— Dave King (@DaveKingNBA) November 3, 2021
Frank’s inside-outside scoring (he is finishing like never before!), playmaking, and high-effort defense have been revelatory over the past couple of weeks, and his impact may have earned him a permanent spot in the rotation, even when Deandre returns.