The Phoenix Suns are off to quite the start to begin the 2021-22 NBA season. They now have an 11-3 record and are slotted in the second seed in the Western Conference. Not too bad for a team that went to the NBA Finals last season, eh?
The team has won 10 consecutive games for the first time since 2010. That version of the Phoenix Suns put together their streak at the back end of the 2009-10 season, winning 10 straight beginning on March 14, 2010 against the New Orleans Hornets.
That is not the only similarity that the 2009-10 Suns and the 2021-22 Suns have in common. Allow me to pose you this question: where were you on November 22, 2009?
For those of you who remember, ‘twas a Sunday. Perhaps you were watching the Arizona Cardinals on the road in St. Louis, beating the Rams 21-13 behind touchdowns from both Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Did you go to the movies and see the number one box office flick that week, The Twilight Saga: New Moon? My bet is you saw The Blind Side instead.
Regardless of where you were or what you were doing, that was the date in which the Suns last started 11-3 to begin the season.
The Suns demolished the Detroit Pistons 117-91 that evening, and they did so shooting 57.5% from the field. Steve Nash went for 20 points and 9 assists, Amare Stoudemire added 21 points, and the team shot 11-of-18 from beyond the arc. For perspective, this year’s Suns are averaging 31.6 3PA.
We know the story of the 2009-10 Phoenix Suns. They were overlooked and outshined by the likes of super-team Celtics, the 55-win Mavericks, and of course Kobe’s Lakers. The national media gave little notice to a team that gelled into a winner. They finished with 54 wins and marched to the Western Conference Finals. I’ll finish the story there as the frustration of the result creeps up my spine and squeezes my soul.
What we are seeing this season mirrors that 2009 start in more ways than one. How? Well that is why you are reading, isn’t it?
A Balanced Offense Attack
The Seven Seconds or Less era of Phoenix Suns basketball planted their flag on outgunning the competition. You don’t get the 7SOL moniker for slowing things down and methodically lulling the defense to sleep.
Through the first 14 games of the 2009-10 NBA season, the Suns were at it again. Sure, the team looked different. There was no Shawn Marion or Raja Bell, but the additions of Jason Richardson and Grant Hill assisted the team with veteran ball players.
Phoenix led the league during their 11-3 start with a 113.8 offensive rating. They were tops in the Association with 110.4 points a night, 49.2% from the field, 44.4% from beyond the arc, and 10.4 made three’s nightly. They were third in the league with 23.5 three’s attempted (The Knicks were the watermark early in the 2009-10 season, hoisting 27.8 three’s. That would be last in the league this season).
What made that start to the 2009-10 season special was the type of basketball being played. This wasn’t a superstar-led offensive attack. Steve Nash was in his 14th NBA season. Amare was post-microfracture knee surgery and, although a dominant force in the middle, wasn’t expected to carry the team every single night.
Through the first 14 games, Phoenix had six players averaging double figures (Nash, Stoudemire, Richardson, Frye, Hill, and Barbosa). The team played team basketball.
Although a little more top heavy on the scoring with Devin Booker this season — he’s averaging 23.0 points — the team basketball aspect of play is present. The Suns can beat you in so many ways because they have the assets to do so. Want to clog the interior? The mid-range and perimeter is open for business. Collapsing on outside shooting, I’m sure Deandre Ayton, JaVale McGee, and Frank Kaminsky don’t mind.
Both 11-3 teams shared the ability to get it done in the clutch (game within 5 points in the last 5 minutes of a game). Veteran leadership, knowing your team’s identity when the pressure is on, and having multiple players who can execute in those moments is what fuels this.
How do the two teams stack up against each other in the clutch?
- 2009: 7-1, 52.5 FG%, 9.5 ppg, +3.5
- 2021: 6-1, 64.9 FG%, 10.1 ppg, +5.0
The 2021 Suns are unconscious when the game is on the line. In years past the team struggled during these moments as they were a one-trick pony. The offense became “Booker Ball”, and whether or not he started the possession with the ball, you knew he would end it.
This would allow defenses to key in on Booker and negate Phoenix offensive production. It wasn’t until secondary scorers and offensive sets designed to take pressure off of Booker were acquired that you began to see the Suns flourish late in games. Simply look at the Suns clutch time winning percentage during Booker’s career:
- 2015-16: .308 (29th)
- 2016-17: .340 (27th)
- 2017-18: .421 (23rd)
- 2018-19: .364 (29th)
- 2019-20: .432 (19th)
- 2020-21: .676 (2nd)
- 2021-22: .857 (2nd)
This season you can see the balance. Booker leads all Suns with 3.4 points on 75% shooting, but not far behind is Chris Paul with 3.0 points on 62.5% shooting and Deandre Ayton with 2.0 points. He’s shooting 100%.
Those 2009 Suns had the same ability to confuse the opposition in the clutch with different scoring threats. It was Steve Nash leading the way with 3.8 points, but a balanced attack of Richardson (1.7 points), Barbosa (1.5 points), Stoudemire (1.1 points), and Frye (1.1 points) left defenses with their heads spinning trying to figure out who to defend. It didn’t hurt that Phoenix ran one of the most killer pick-and-roll offenses this league has ever seen.
Role Players We Love
I’m leaving the statistical world behind and entering the emotionally subjective realm.
What made the 2009-10 Suns so much fun was the roster that was constructed with players who fans adored. The team played as such and was full of likeable personalities.
Channing Frye, the pride of St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix and the University of Arizona, was a welcomed addition and posted a career-high 12.7 points that season. Leandro Barbosa was accompanied by the Roadrunner’s ‘beep-beep’ after every play. Grant Hill proved he wasn’t over the hill and quickly became a reliable scorer and defender. His corner middy was like a layup.
Amare Stoudemire was a beast. Jason Richardon brought the flair and excitement with his athleticism and ability to hit the three-ball. Goran Dragic was the heir apparent to Steve Nash.
Sweet Lou Amundson, Jared Dudley — the thing on the menu at Majerle’s by the way —, Rockin’ Robin Lopez...even rookie Earl Clark was an intriguing addition (if only he had a motor). Every fan loved Nash and Amare, but we all had our favorite secondary players for differing reasons. I was a J Rich guy.
The 2021-22 Suns possess a roster with the star-power that gets you to show up and the depth that gets you to stay. Sure, it’s the All Star Booker and Paul backcourt that gives the team a national appeal. But it’s Ayton, Bridges, Crowder, Cam Johnson, Cam Payne, JaVale, Frank the Tank...the list goes on and on.
We all have our guy that isn’t on the cover of magazines that we cheer for. That is the sign of a great team. Because I’ll tell you that I wasn’t hooting and hollering for Ryan Anderson.
Time will tell how much the 2021-22 Suns mirror the 2009-10 team. A trip to the Western Conference Finals was a pleasant surprise for those Nash-led Suns. That team had our hearts as they played team-first basketball and rewarded us with a memorable run through the playoffs (that included a sweep of the San Antonio Spurs).
This year? Making the Western Conference Finals is an expectation. The brand of basketball this team plays, however, can equate to the success we desire.
Both started 11-3, both had 10-game win streaks. And both have our hearts.