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Suns have dealt with heavy injuries, use ‘next man up’ to lead NBA

How the Phoenix Suns are better than ever despite their injury issues

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Last season the Phoenix Suns had an absurdly healthy year and it resulted in one of the best runs in their franchise history. Winning 51 of 72 games (good for their fifth-best win percentage ever at the time) and coming two wins away from their first-ever NBA championship.

This season through 68 games the Suns not only have the best record in the league at 54-14 but they are currently on pace for a franchise-record, 65 wins.

They have achieved these heights despite dealing with more impactful injuries than most.

Last season, Phoenix’s top seven rotation players (the usual starters + the Cams) missed a combined 46 games.

This year they have already missed 81 and there is still the Chris Paul injury, the Cameron Johnson injury and a whole month left before the playoffs.

In fact, according to the Suns have been one of the most impacted teams in the entire league in terms of injuries or COVID to quality rotation players.

And yes, this graphic DOES include Jamal Murray’s and Kawhi Leonard’s season-long absences (but not Kyrie’s missed time because his was choice not injury/COVID).

Six of the top seven Suns players — Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder, Cameron Payne and Cameron Johnson — have all missed at least 8 games this season, topped Ayton’s 21 missed games. Even next-up players like JaVale McGee and Landry Shamet have missed at least a handful of games. Another factor, although smaller, is Frank Kaminsky and Dario Saric’s injuries. They were each major rotation players right before being injured.

See how the Suns bubble is bigger than all but one other bubble?

Don’t let anyone tell you the Suns have been healthier than most teams all season.

This statistic feels impossible. How do the Suns bring back the same roster, have their best players play in fewer games but somehow win more? What??

And yet it’s the reality.

Mark Twain once said that “truth is stranger than fiction” and little did he know that quote would apply to a desert-based basketball team over 100 years later.

So how are the Suns able to still be so elite while going through injury after injury? It all starts with their approach to the game.

Monty Williams, being one of the best coaches in the league (and the frontrunner for coach of the year), has helped Phoenix identify with a “next man up” mentality.

When Deandre Ayton was battling ankle issues, JaVale McGee stepped up and Bismack Biyombo came off the street to more than held their own. The Suns have managed to go an unfathomable 18-3 without Ayton this season, in large part due to McGee and Biyombo.

When Devin Booker went out at two different times this year, his loss was buoyed by Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson and Landry Shamet running the plays in his place to allow the team to keep winning (8-3 without Booker).

When Payne went out in late January, CP3 stepped up to carry his load and increased his averages up to 18 points and 12.5 assists during that stretch.

So it was only fair that now Cameron Payne steps in for Chris Paul and is putting up impressive numbers in his own right. Payne’s last 6 games: 17 points, 10 assists, 2.5 turnovers. Chris Paul-esque if you ask me, and the Suns are 6-4 without Paul so far (plus that comeback win over Houston after he went down with injury).

Phoenix is a team that knows each other’s roles so well that they can replicate each other at times when key players become unavailable. That’s what makes the Suns elite. Not their durability, but their teamwork.

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