2021. This hasn’t just been a good year for the Phoenix Suns. It’s been a historic one.
When the clock struck midnight and the ball dropped in Times Square to welcome 2021, we did not know what the year would hold in store for the Suns. They were 4-1 at the time and we felt good about the direction of the team, sure. But did we expect the most franchise wins ever in a calendar year with a chance to have the best franchise record relative to winning percentage in that year?
Calendar years in the NBA are an oddity to observe and track. We’re normal people, so we monitor the regular season, which (normally) begins in October and goes until April. To track a calendar year, you are actually looking at two separate seasons with a draft, free agency, and trade break in the middle.
For those not tracking NBA seasons (or fiscal budgets), January 1 is the line of demarcation; the date chosen to begin anew and segment a period of life. 2021 has been quite the ride for civilization, as was 2020. The events that have occurred for each of us during this unique time in history has morphed our thoughts and opinions, actions and words, lives and the lives of those around us.
Despite what has occurred to us personally these past two years, one thing that has been a welcomed distraction has been sport. In our world here at Bright Side, the Phoenix Suns have helped us by being a beacon of positivity through a troubling period. They’ve been good. Real good.
How do the 2021 Suns stack up in the annals of Phoenix basketball history? Here are the top winning percentages of calendar for the Suns, playoff records included:
These Suns are a far cry from the team we witnessed just a few short years ago.
It was just three short years ago in which the franchise posted it’s worst calendar year. 2018 saw the Suns go 16-66 and have a .195 winning percentage. Even with the #1 pick being selected in June, as the Suns drafted Deandre Ayton from the University of Arizona, the team appeared to be lost during games. Phoenix couldn’t buy a win.
2019 saw improvement, although it was hardly enough to move the scale of faith in the franchise. The Suns went 23-54 during that calendar year and their .299 winning percentage was fifth worst since the team’s inception in 1968. There was hope, however, as the team started the year 10-34 to begin the 2018-19 season but ended 13-20 following the acquisition of Ricky Rubio.
2020 turned the tide for the Suns. The team was 18-19 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the world stopped. It’s as if the long break that occurred from March to July was a baptism of sorts, cleansing the Phoenix Suns of their losing ways. When they returned to play in the Orlando Bubble, they ripped off 8 consecutive victories.
Their play in the Bubble caught the eye of a Hall of Fame point guard, and by November the team had acquired Chris Paul and veteran Jae Crowder, both who were inserted into the starting lineup to begin the 2020-21 season. Phoenix finished 2020 4-1 and had put together a 30-20 record. That winning percentage of .600 put them just behind the 52-34 2008 Suns (.605).
The first 27 days of 2021 weren’t the prettiest. The team was still adjusting to new additions to their roster and Devin Booker was trying to find his way on a team that, for the first time in his career, was winning and had expectations. The team went 3-7 to begin the calendar year of 2021.
And then the team put it together.
From January 28th on, the team posted a 43-13 record as they navigated the standings, ultimately finding themselves with the second seed in the Western Conference. They went 4-2 against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. They swept the Denver Nuggets in the Conference Semifinals, and they downed the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference Finals, 4-2.
We all know what happened next. And as painful as it is to relive, the run to get there was impressive. With their 2-4 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals, the Suns finished the 2020-21 season going 61-28 in 2021.
If the year ended in July when the Suns lost the Finals, their winning percentage of .685 would be good enough to be 6th in Suns history, just ahead of the 1988 year (55-27, .671) and just behind 1992 (59-27, .686).
But there was still plenty of basketball yet to be played in 2021.
The 2021-22 tipped off with a loss to the Denver Nuggets, followed by two more in the next three games. You can’t make history without doing something extraordinary, and what happened next for the Phoenix Suns was something the team had never seen.
From October 30 to December 2, the team didn’t lose a single game. They ripped off 18 consecutive wins en route to surpassing all franchise records for winning streaks.
And the year still isn’t over.
While the 2021 Suns hold the franchise record for most wins ever in a single calendar year, there is still a chance they finish on top in winning percentage as well. The team needs to go 8-3 in their final 11 games to do so.
If the Suns end 2021 with an 8-3 record in their next 11 games to end the calendar year, 2021 will be the best year in @Suns history from a winning percentage standpoint (playoff record included).— Suns JAM Session Podcast (@SunsJAM) December 7, 2021
The team has won 71.7% of all games played in 2021, better than 2007's 71.6%.
The calendar year of 2021 has seen the Suns win more games than we’ve ever seen before. That’s right. More than the Barkley Era’s 1993 (75 wins) and Nash’s 2007 (68 wins). We are amidst the most dominant stretch in the history of the franchise.
Stop for a minute. Appreciate what you are witnessing. Absorb this moment in our team’s history. The year the Suns have put together has come as a time when some of us need it most. Outside the world of sport, 2021 has been a chaotic cluster.
Thank you Suns for not only providing a distraction, but doing so in historical fashion.