Every season, there’s at least one surprise team in the regular season. It’s a group that will suddenly gel and quietly progress, and before anyone realizes it, there’s suddenly an outlier in the standings.
This year’s batch of overachievers are headlined by the Phoenix Suns, a franchise that has put its fanbase through a decade of losing and terrible front-office decisions.
The Suns have not made the playoffs since 2010, thus owning second-longest active drought in the NBA behind the Sacramento Kings. They have also produced just one winning season and one All-NBA team member in that woeful span.
Remember this viral clip from longtime Suns super fan Greta Rogers? Catch her now classic quote about team owner Robert Sarver.
“He’s so tight, he squeaks when he walks!”
Hopefully, Ms. Greta is now pleased with how her beloved team is playing. The Suns are second in the competitive Western Conference ladder at 34-14, and they also own the best road record in the league at 16-6. It’s a fun time.
But, of course, that’s not what the fanbase and organization really wants. They’re all hungry for playoff glory so they know they haven’t proven anything yet. In fact, since the Suns are a new face among the high-seeded crowd, they’re probably the least-respected squad in the bunch.
We’re here to make an argument for both sides. We’ll be listing two reasons why they may be ‘contenders’ or ‘pretenders.’
WHY THE SUNS ARE CONTENDERS
- They field a complete team
The Suns have grown to become a well-equipped and well-rounded group, thanks in good part to head coach Monty Williams and the addition of the ultimate floor general, Chris Paul, whose collaboration quickly unlocked the core’s potential. Williams has given us a preview during their perfect, 8-0 run in the bubble, and Paul ran with it through his off-the-charts basketball IQ and leadership.
Along with a solid coach and a future Hall-of-Fame point guard, the team is also packed at other key areas. They have a go-to scorer and deadly shooter in Devin Booker, a double-double machine and rim protector in DeAndre Ayton, and a high-potential perimeter defender in Mikal Bridges. Then, there’s a collection of valuable utility men – Jae Crowder, Cameron Johnson, and Dario Saric, among others.
2. They share the ball
One of the usual ingredients inside a winning team is unselfishness and the ability to feed everyone. You want everyone to do their job, but you also have to make sure that they are getting a nice piece of the pie in the offense.
Paul’s arrival has maintained the Suns’ passing efficiency from last season and translated it into more victories. Though they are right around the league average in passes per game, they are a close second in assists per game.
Six different players in the team are averaging double-digit points, which can easily be seven since sophomore Cameron Johnson, is currently at 9.8 points per game. It’s very reminiscent of how team-oriented the Miami Heat were last season, and those guys made a memorable run to the NBA finals.
WHY THE SUNS ARE PRETENDERS
- They lack playoff experience
While they have a few players who have seen the postseason, Paul and Crowder are the only true playoff veterans in the team. It’s tough to say that it can be enough to carry them deep in the postseason.
Keep in mind that Paul has had his share of playoff shortcomings too, which happened in every single stop he’s had – New Orleans, LA, Houston, and Oklahoma. His teams have blown one 3-1 and multiple 3-2 series leads.
The Suns’ three main young pieces – Booker, Ayton, and Bridges – are yet to play in a playoff game. Coach Williams, meanwhile, only has two playoff appearances and zero series wins.
2. They lose a lot of close games
In an era where everyone plays fast and the number of possessions is at an all-time high, teams always have to get hot at the right time. Having hot spurts hasn’t been this meaningless because almost all teams can jack up threes and suddenly rally back in no time.
The Suns have the weapons to get timely baskets from anywhere and are also equipped enough to pull defensive stops when necessary.
Even with all that, it seems that they tend to get rattled when games are close, which is likely due to the number of young players in the rotation.
As great as they have been, the Suns are only 6-10 in games that are decided by five points or less – what’s worse is six of those 10 losses came from teams with a losing record.
That’s not a good sign for any playoff team, regardless if you’re a higher or lower seed. You can’t expect to be in a comfortable position every time. The postseason stage is a different animal and the bad decision-making will be poked and exposed by anyone. Suns fans better hope this area gets straightened out soon.
The Suns will return to action on April 5 against the Houston Rockets. They’ll meet at 8:00 AM, Manila time.