The Phoenix Suns are a winning team, my friends, despite having spent almost no time this season as a healthy complete unit. That’s a great sign, even if it is very frustrating that the trio of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal haven’t had the opportunity to really showcase what they’re capable of together.
But arguably what really matters isn’t how good the Suns are in a vacuum, it’s how well they stack up against the other teams standing in their ways of the NBA Finals, the winning of which is squarely the goal for this franchise after a well-chronicled series of trades designed to maximize the Suns’ win-now chances.
So far, here is where the Suns rank in the Western Conference in a variety of important categories:
- Points per 100 possessions: 3rd.
- Points allowed per 100 possessions: 10th.
- True shooting percentage: 2nd.
- Free throw attempts per 100: 1st
- Free throws surrendered per 100(fewest ranking higher) : 10th
By the good old-fashioned standings, as I write this Nov. 30, the Suns are in 5th place in the West...which is pretty much where one might expect a team with the #3 offense and the #10 defense in the conference. Bang on their Pythagorean expectation.
This has been the objective section of the analysis. The remainder will be largely subjective because that’s more fun.
The Suns are probably the best team in the conference when they are healthy. That might seem like a hot take to any non-Suns fans, especially fans of the conference-leading Minnesota Timberwolves (how weird is that to say?) and defending NBA Champion Denver Nuggets.
The Suns with the closest thing to their full power-lineup that they’ve been able to muster this season (Durant, Booker, Eric Gordon, Jusuf Nurkic, and Grayson Allen) is blowing everyone away, a +25 in their roughly 70 minutes together on the floor this season. That’s a small sample size, but it’s also not even the true power of the Suns if they could ever get all their cylinders firing at once.
The Nuggets are a formidable opponent, to be sure. Nikola Jokic remains, on any given night, the best player in the NBA.
The Wolves are an interesting case. The guy getting all the press is Anthony Edwards, who is indeed having a big season and beginning to insert himself into the conversation of top shooting guards in the NBA. But their offense is in fact worse than NBA average on a possession-adjusted basis...it’s their #1 defense carrying the water.
I hope any Wolves fans reading this will forgive me, but it’s difficult for me to believe in the durability of that defense in the postseason when both Rudy Gobert and Karl Anthony Towns have proven so vulnerable to teams capable of playing small ball effectively.
The Oklahoma City Thunder do frighten me a little. They’re young, they’re top 10 on both ends of the court, and Shai Gilgeous Alexander is going to be a dark horse MVP candidate this season if he doesn’t miss a lot of time. Chet Holmgren, despite his twig-like build, is quite a player for a 21 year old rookie.
I’m not too impressed with any other West teams, to be perfectly honest. The Lakers and Wolves are both teams that can be good but rely extremely heavily on players who have never been healthy. The Mavericks are the Mavericks...they have two all-world scorers and ball handlers and they can’t play defense. It’s awfully hard to win an NBA championship playing bottom 10 in the NBA defense, and that’s where the Mavs will live all season long barring a landmark trade for a DPOY quality defender.
The Sacramento Kings are scrappers. You kinda want to root for them, with how long they’ve been mismanaged...but they just aren’t good enough to go all that far. I don’t even need analytics to make that case. Just look at the roster...that’s not an NBA finals team.
So where do you think the Suns stack up in this conference, in their best iteration? Are they the favorites in your mind, or do you favor the defending champs or upstart Wolves? Are there any under-the-radar teams I should have discussed? Are you still a believer in the power of the ancient Warriors, or the snakebit Clippers?
This is a topic I hope to revisit when the playoff picture becomes more clear. And I expect the Suns to be very near the top of that discussion.