While almost every NBA team has been ravaged by the COVID-19 outbreaks, the Phoenix Suns were fortunate to get back one of their marquee players right before the year ends.
After being out since November 30 due to a left hamstring injury he suffered against the Golden State Warriors, Devin Booker scored 16 points in his return, helping the Suns blow by the Charlotte Hornets.
In a 137-106 win that seemed more lopsided than what the final score turned out to be, Phoenix led for the entire game and scored at least 29 points in all four quarters on 56.8 percent field goal shooting. The Suns also knocked down a season-high 20 3-pointers and got contributions from almost all of their players as nine players finished in double-figures.
Apart from Booker, Mikal Bridges also scored 16 points and helped force the Hornets’ backcourt to miss 18 of their 22 shot attempts. Deandre Ayton, who almost had a double-double in the first half with nine points and nine rebounds, finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds, while Chris Paul had a quiet yet efficient night with his 14 points, nine assists, and a steal.
Phoenix’s success this season can be largely attributed to how they were able to keep the core of their roster intact, with the offseason additions of Landry Shamet, JaVale McGee, and two-way players Ish Wainright and Chandler Hutchinson helping add depth to the roster. Shamet and McGee have been able to fill in for whenever the likes of Booker and Ayton have had to miss time, although both have shown over the course of the season that they can do damage even in limited minutes.
With the continuity, offense was never the problem for a team led by a scorer in Booker, an offensive wizard in Paul, and impact players in Ayton and Bridges. Paul’s ability to create for those around him has brought the Suns to fourth-best team in the NBA in assists at 26.3 per game. It’s then no surprise that as a team, Phoenix is in the top-four of both field goal percentage and three-point percentage.
However, it’s on the defensive end where the defending Western Conference Champions have so far stamped their class. The Suns allow their opponents to convert on 43.6 percent of their field goals, good enough for third in the league. Moreover, opponents score 104.6 points per game (fourth in the NBA) and commit 15.6 turnovers per game (sixth in the NBA) when playing against Phoenix. Having a rim protector in Ayton and solid perimeter defenders in Bridges and Jae Crowder made this possible, but what others may not see is the buy-in of the rest of the team in committing to that side of the ball. The results, which include a shutdown of MVP frontrunner Stephen Curry, speak for themselves.
As with all the other teams, health and injury management will be paramount. Booker just returned from arguably one of the more tricky injuries in sports, while Paul, who turned 36 last May 6, is not getting any younger. An injury to Ayton would change the complexion of the Suns’ offense and defense and even if McGee can fill in, the lack of depth at the center position could be exposed given that Frank Kamisky is out indefinitely with a stress reaction in his right knee. More than 50 games still remain for Phoenix, possibly more if the playoffs are included, so they must remember that it’s a marathon and not a sprint.
The Suns’ upcoming schedule to close out the year should help them build on their league-best 24-5 record as they will face the Los Angeles Lakers and the Memphis Grizzlies, teams ravaged by COVID-19 and injuries, and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Their Christmas Day matchup against the Warriors will also be must-see TV, especially given that both seem to be on a collision course for the Western Conference Finals.
It can’t be said for certain if the Phoenix Suns will come out of this recent COVID-19 outbreak within the NBA unscathed, but they are currently making the most out of their good fortune and rightly so.