Here’s a story about the Suns that I don’t think I’ll be able to shake off.
A year or so back, Suns owner Robert Sarver got some goats. In an attempt to send an uplifting message with a weird sense of humor, he requested to place those goats in the office of former general manager Ryan McDonough.
The message was probably somewhere along the lines of “Here are some live goats, now go get me a G.O.A.T to put on the court and win games”.
The goats being goats cared not about that particular message and proceeded to bomb McDonough’s office with poop, which hilariously turned out to be a foreshadowing message of its own.
The lesson here is obviously to not mess with goats.
The Suns have been “poop”, to say the least, over the past half decade. They have been setting down at the deepest end of the rankings and standings while being the butt of all jokes possible. We were accustomed to laughing at the Suns and how bad they were.
Operative word: “were”.
Seven games into this season and the Suns currently have one of the best records in the league (5-2). Instead of cracking jokes about who they should pick first next year, we find ourselves asking the question: Are the Phoenix Suns legit?
It’s still pretty early in the season, but it’s still quite an achievement nonetheless that the Suns are among the league’s top five in Net Rating and top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating. They are top three in effective field goal percentage and…
…wait, are we really talking about the Phoenix Suns here?
As cliché as it sounds, the turnaround has started with the defense.
With a weird mix of the deceptive Ricky Rubio, the hounding Jevon Carter, and the surprisingly active Devin Booker, the Suns have been cranking up the pressure on defense effectively. Mikal Bridges and Kelly Oubre are young and lengthy wings who help in annoying the offense even more in trying to move the ball around.
It isn’t pretty and the Suns pay for it with the league’s second highest foul rate, but the ploy does help burn down a lot of clock for opposing teams to get their rhythm going.
The offense has drastically changed as well, with the Suns ranking first among all teams in assists per 100 possessions.
Rubio is reminding the league that he is still one of the best pure point guards around. As the floor general, he’s clearly enjoying the floor spacing created by Aron Baynes suddenly improved ability to knock down threes (48.4% on 4.4 attempts per game!) and Dario Saric slipping around in the paint.
Booker no longer needs to carry an entire offense by scoring 70 points per game, which is how it has felt like over his past few years. He’s been able to get his moments more in the flow of the game and it’s resulted in his most efficient scoring year yet at 53.5% shooting from the field.
The Suns already have two huge wins against top-tier title contenders in the Clippers and the Sixers. Their only two losses have come at the hands of two strong playoff contending teams in the Denver Nuggets and the Utah Jazz — by a combined point differential of two points.
All of this with prized No.1 pick DeAndre Ayton currently on a lengthy suspension.
Going through the names of the players mentioned above, it’s remarkable how the Suns have turned it around.
Sure, Booker can flat out score, Rubio is the reigning World Cup MVP, and Baynes has one of the best cult followings ever in NBA history, but none of the Suns players are currently considered as big time “stars” that you would expect from a team performing at this level.
In one summer, the Suns made a series of mildly rated moves that brought quietly productive and proven players on board. Instead of being a team that was being a year away from being two years away from potentially being a really, really good team, they were now a team had guys who had played (and started) in NBA playoff games contributing into their roles successfully.
It comes to no surprise that these moves were orchestrated by one of the greater role players in the recent years, new GM James Jones.
“We need to add guys in their prime. We need to raise the floor of our team and you only do that with NBA players. Not prospects, but NBA players,” Jones said in a preseason press conference.
Jones didn’t need any “goats” in his office, at least not yet. He didn’t rush out to find one for his team, instead getting more practical and proven pieces to the puzzle. He didn’t get bombarded with goat poop and the Suns are actually winning.
Are the Phoenix Suns legit?
It’s still early and there’s more than 90% of the season still left to play, but it’s no joke in saying that right now, it seems like the Phoenix Suns sure are legit.