Though endlessly predictable to the loyal readers of this site, your Phoenix Suns have turned the heads of less evolved basketball viewers since the start of the abbreviated NBA season.
And they haven’t stopped winning.
As we close in on Sunday’s NBA All-Star game in Atlanta, Georgia, one thing is certain. When the 2021 NBA postseason gets underway in May, the Suns will be a tough out for any foe unfortunate enough to draw their card. Here’s what’s being said as we flip the calendar to March.
The Suns are 14-3 since Jan. 28, with the three losses coming when their fourth-ranked defense didn’t hold up. On Wednesday, they allowed the Hornets to register 79 points in the paint or at the free throw line and score 41 points on 23 possessions with Chris Paul off the floor. In general (kind of like the Rockets with Paul and James Harden a few years ago), they’ve been much better with only one of Paul or Devin Booker on the floor (+13.4 points per 100 possessions in 697 total minutes) than they’ve been with both on the floor together (+3.8 in 663 minutes), perhaps because they have an All-Star playing against opposing second units in those minutes.
The Suns had the league’s second-ranked offense in February, with six players shooting 39% or better on at least 2.5 3-point attempts per game over the course of the month. Booker has increased his production over time and was doing work in the post against every Blazer guard that tried defending him – Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Gary Trent Jr. – as the Suns blew out the Blazers on Monday. According to Synergy tracking, Booker’s 1.18 points per possession on post-ups ranks sixth among 59 players with at least 25 post-up possessions.
The Suns have played the fewest games (they’re 4-3) within the top eight in the West, but they’ll close their pre-break schedule with their first meeting with the champs and their second of three against the Warriors.
There was some outcry around the league when Devin Booker wasn’t announced as an All-Star with the reserves named on Tuesday, but the NBA fixed that as Booker was selected as Anthony Davis’ replacement the next day. With Booker and point guard Chris Paul, this marks the first time Phoenix will have multiple All-Star selections since 2010 (Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire).
A home loss to the Hornets was the only blemish on the Suns’ record this week, with wins over the Blazers, Bulls and Wolves. Devin Booker dropped a season-high 43 points in Sunday’s win over Minnesota, while Chris Paul averaged 11.8 points and 12.3 assists for the week. Phoenix continues to show its defensive toughness, putting up a stingy 105 defensive rating for the week.
Johnson is one of six players on the Phoenix Suns averaging double-digit scoring (10.5), but playing the way he has in just his second season is highly impressive. We know Johnson can shoot. That was his biggest asset coming out of North Carolina. But he was considered a reach at 11th in the 2019 draft because of his injury history and concerns he wouldn’t do much more than shoot the ball. He’s been healthy so far in the NBA, and his defense as a second-year player is pretty impressive. He doesn’t have to be Mikal Bridges for them, as Bridges has become arguably their third most important player. Johnson just has to keep defending well in space, being active in the team concept and knocking down 3-pointers.
Why are they ranked here? They had a 3-1 week, and while the loss to Charlotte wasn’t great, they had good wins over Portland and Chicago. Everything is so jumbled near the top that a winning week versus a .500 week will move you up.
Phoenix is clicking on several cylinders right now.
Over the last 15 games, the Suns have found their groove, going 12-3. During that stretch, they are averaging 116.9 points, shooting 39.6 percent from three and holding opponents to 107.4 points per game. It has them sitting just a game from the second seed in the West.
Chris Paul and Devin Booker have also found their footing playing together. Before this 15-game stretch, the Suns had a net rating of minus-5.2 when the pair shared the court. But in this stretch of games, Phoenix’s net rating has risen to plus-12.9 with the tandem on the court together.
Devin Booker will replace Anthony Davis on the All-Star team so everyone can stop needlessly complaining about him being snubbed for a meaningless exhibition. As for the games that matter, the Suns hit a minor speed bump with a loss to the Hornets but bounced back with wins over the Bulls and Timberwolves to end the week.
The Score #7
The Suns have the best record in the NBA since the end of the January—a scintillating 14-3—while sporting league’s second-best net rating over its last 15 games (9.8 compared to the Jazz’s 11.2). And for first time in 11 seasons, Phoenix has two All-Stars in Devin Booker and Chris Paul. Life is good in the Valley of the Sun.