Nearly one third of the way into the season, the Phoenix Suns are once again at the top of the West with a 16-8 record. So you’d think a lot has gone right for them this season.
Yet they’ve done it while being down an All-NBA point guard AND three wings — Cameron Johnson, Jae Crowder, Torrey Craig — who make up 75% of the normal forward rotation. Along with Chris Paul, that’s four rotation players who play 40% of the team’s minutes (100 of 240 possible) in a normal rotation.
So when the Suns open a game on a back-to-back like Monday vs. Dallas by assigning a two-way player, Ish Wainright, the job of stopping an MVP favorite one-on-one, maybe our expectations should be adjusted down a bit.
Oh, they still crapped the bed on Monday night. Devin Booker started the game 0-for-6. At one point, Deandre Ayton was 6-for-8 from the field while the other four starters were just 6-for-27. And defensively, like... what? You have to ask WHY the Suns insist on not only defending Luka Doncic one on one but ALSO leaving back side shooters open. I mean, if you’re going to put someone on Luka Island, at least hug up on the other four guys! Good thing the Suns don’t play the Mavs 82 times a year.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about this current 40%-discount Suns iteration. As the Suns take on their most difficult stretch of the season — Wednesday vs. Boston (20-5) then a pair in New Orleans (15-8) — there’s no real indication any of their missing rotation guys will be back for it. Chris Paul (heel) and Torrey Craig (groin) are day-to-day but the Suns are extremely cautious in these soft-tissue situations.
It would be nice to get Chris Paul back. Check out this tweet Suns TV producer Bob Adlhoch posted yesterday on how the Suns have by far the best regular season record against winning teams since the day Chris Paul put on a Suns jersey.
Impressive note from @OptaSTATS - since the start of the 2020-21 NBA season, the @Suns have (by far) the best record against teams .500 or better.— Bob Adlhoch (@badlhoch) December 5, 2022
Bucks 48-43 pic.twitter.com/kAJQXMzH9M
Yes, that dropped to 64-28 after Monday’s loss, but it’s still impressive.
The Suns went 11-4 without Paul last season but their record against .500 or better teams in that 15-game stretch was only 3-3. This season, they are 9-5 without Paul in 14 games and their record against teams .500 or better is, again, just 3-3. Hidden in that 3-3 is that all three were on the road and two were by a single point, but losses are losses.
What does that say about the Suns chances against the Celtics on Wednesday and the Pelicans over the weekend? Nothing you didn’t already know, I guess. It’s a toss-up whether the Suns can beat a good team without one of their All-Stars in the lineup.
Hurry back, Chris Paul.