Recap

Since my quarter-mark post, the Suns have wins over the likes of Boston, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Portland twice, and the Lakers. They’ve gone 15-4 and are winners of 18 their last 22, catapulting themselves from 5th in the West to now 2nd with the 2nd best record in the league at 26-12 🔥🔥🔥.

They were well-represented during All-Star Weekend, with Chris Paul (11th selection ⭐️) and Devin Booker (2nd selection ⭐️) earning honors.

Booker also became the first Suns player since 2010 to win Player of the Month Honors in the month of February 👀.

Also won Western Conference Player of the Week two times in February.

As their two best players now have worked through the trial phase of their partnership, and have now established a foundation to build off of, the ancillary players have continued to play at or near the peak of their abilities. Which, in turn, has resulted in the Suns as a team having ascended 📈.

As it stands, here are some of their statsitical rankings, giving you more of an idea of just how dominant of a run of sustained success they have enjoyed:

  • 3rd in point differential (+6.9)
  • 3rd in net rating (+6.6)
  • 5th in effective FG% (56.9)
  • 7th in 3P% (38.7%)
  • 1st in mid-range FG% (48.9%)
  • 4th defending the 3-point line, teams shoot (35.2%)
  • 4th in points allowed (107.6 PPG)
  • 7th in FT% (83.4%)
  • 116.1 ORTG (8th)
  • 109.5 DRTG (6th)

As you see here, they sport a top 10 offense and defense, only other team to claim the same is Utah.

They have six players averaging double-digits in scoring. 10 players shooting north of 36% from deep. Five of their top eight players averaging 2+ assists.

The offense has operated at an elite level, but dominance through stifling defensive efforts is where the Suns have been most attentive.

At the time of my last Suns post, there was question regarding the Suns and their identity as they fluttered without one through the first 20 games or so. To which CP3 mentioned that the less glamorous end would be where they want to hang their hats at.

It’s now evident not only via coach Monty Williams, but also via the words and attention to detail of his players. They take pride and accountability for their efforts on that end, and the results have been in direction correlation of this investment.

Amidst this aforementioned 22-game stretch of dominance they have held teams to just 45.8% from the field and 33.5% from three.

Five of their nine top minute-getters, their deemed main rotation, are a positive defensively. Dario Saric is neutral, while Booker, Ayton, and Johnson serve as the only negatives there.

With that in mind, let’s dive into the player grades for some of their main rotation pieces.

Grades

Monty Williams

After a spell where Booker, Saric, and Payne all missed extended time, Monty was forced to get creative with his lineups.

In that, he developed what is now one of ttheir most effective lineups in Paul, Bridges, Johnson, Crowder, Ayton.

Said lineup has only 155 possessions together, but is ridiculously effective defensively. Teams have an eFG% of 45.6% (96th percentile) vs them, and only shoot 32.8% from three (78th percentile). Even more, teams only convert at the rim at 48.6%, which is 95th percentile.

That’s 1 of many wrinkles, including the reintegration of Saric and pairing him with Paul which are ridiculously effective.

In all, he’s done a very solid job in finagling his rotations and lineups. Tailoring his gameplan to be as advantageous as possible based on the opponent.

He’ll have some decisions to make once Cam Johnson returns from his injury as Frank Kaminsky and Abdel Nader saw minute increases, but he’s been coach of the year material nonetheless.

Grade: A-

Chris Paul

15.9 PPG, 8.8 APG, 4.6 RPG on 48.7/39.0/94.7 shooting. eFG% of 54.7.

The Point God has been, quite frankly, himself. Continuing to orchestrate this offense and staying true to his brand. He’s clearly developed a synergy with Devin Booker, where he’s hitting Booker in his spots and unveiling new wrinkles within the flow of their offense and allowing Book to work a lot more easily for his buckets.

Along with their synergy, Paul has began to develop some with Dario Saric now that he’s been in the lineup for a sustained period of time. I’ve said this a few times since Dario reintegrated himself, but he is the most intelligent pick and roll partner CP has played with in his career. The secondary playmaking Saric possesses absolutely dices a defense up. They play extremely complimentary basketball offensively, a savvy basketball match.

Chris has also developed a feel for Mikal Bridges and how elite of an off ball cutter he is. Chris has began to hit both Booker and Bridges on quick hit-ahead passes in transition, allowing for both to attack the rim where both are converting at a higher than league average clip (Booker – 62%, Bridges – 76%).

Chris himself has continued to operate the midrange as effectively as anyone. He’s shooting 52% there which has him slated in the 92nd percentile 🔥. He’s also finishing at the rim at 62%, proving he can still use his change of pace and wicked handle to get by guys and convert.

He’s remained so effective that Charles Barkley went as far as to say he should receive legitimate attention as an MVP candidate.

Hard to gripe with Barkley’s comments when looking at CP3s impact and value to the Suns and their successes. He leads the team in boxscore +/- as well as VORP.

He’s yet again flirting with the 50/40/90 mark of efficiency in shooting, and continues to come up clutch on both ends of the floor as he has for his entire career. He’s also cleaned up the miniscule turnover issue he was having and fully in his Point God bag.

Grade: A-

Devin Booker

25.1 PPG, 4.6 APG, 4.2 RPG on 49.8/36.3/84.6 shooting. eFG% of 55.3.

The February player of the month has upped his pace in scoring and efforts overall since returning from his left hamstring strain.

In the 22-game streak of success they’ve ascended within, Bookers played in 20 games. He’s averaging 26.7 PPG on 51.3/38.0/86.1 shooting in this run, all up from his season averages.

He has six scoring performances of 30+, as well as a 43 point performance in Minnesota.

One of the entities within the Paul-Booker dynamic that I was eager to see develop was their tandem midrange play, and how well this will bode in meaningful games and the playoffs. Chris, as mentioned earlier, is in the 92nd percentile from the mid-range, one of the best to ever do it. Booker is in the 97th percentile for “wings” from there, shooting 52% just like CP3.

They are a murders row from the in-between game, and with them both being so effective shooting from there in isolation or via the pick and roll, their gravity opens up the floor for their ancillary players to get advantageous looks. Whether that be their shooters being open from deep, Bridges and Crowder being able to sneak behind their defender as they rotate in help, or for Ayton to roll to the cup for high percentage looks, that dynamic unlocks their offense.

Also, shooting so well from the midrange with not the pace they play at, 28th, and how the game slows down come playoffs, this bodes extremely well. They’ll essentially have spent an entire season playing at playoff pace, which, for a team with a majority of guys lacking experience, this is extremely important.

Books scoring has continued to climb closer to that high 20’s rank and I don’t see him slowing down anytime soon. He’s also corrected his turnover issues of early, and has been plenty passable on the defensive end. Also an issue of the past is his converting at the cup, as he’s up to 62% from there now. Even more impressive, he’s converting 30.2% of his And 1 attempts.

His aggression is crafty as he’s using his speed and agility to draw fouls. He’s also in the 98th percentile for frequency that he’s fouled on the floor, as he is catching guys off guard or out of position quite often.

Grade: A+

Mikal Bridges

13.6 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.2 APG on 53.0/41.6/83.9 shooting. eFG% of 62.9.

The glue to the team, pushing the extents of how dynamic they are, resides in Mikal Bridges.

The third year Villanova product is adept at scoring in transition, secondary transition, and with timely cuts within the offense. He’s an opportunist in that sense, but he creates those opportunities so frequently that you can almost book him for 6-8 points a game from off-script offense.

He’s often tagged as a 3&D player, but to put him in that box would be such a disservice and quite frankly is incorrect. His skills and potential far exceed those of the names that coincide with 3&D.

A legit three-level scorer, let’s look at his numbers at the rim. His aforementioned knack for timing on cuts and the gravity that comes with it helps the offense flow, so he often times finds himself at or near the cup. Amidst that, he takes full advantage of the opportunities at the cup where he does have or receive the ball, as he’s finishing at 76% on 110 attempts. That places him in the 91st percentile! He finishes well with either hand through contact, has a soft touch to boot, and has the floater game as well

He is also grasping a feel for the in-between game.

Regarding his mid-range game, he prefers to get to the nail as his spot of choice and preference, and has enough of a handle to navigate there when he is flowing.

Not unlike Paul and Booker who are much more natural scorers, Bridges certainly has the feel for the game that comes with the most successful midrange shooters. In watching, you can see how naturally the shot comes to him, as he has a high release point and has great lift when motioning into his pull-up. It’s a fluid for him, and he’s shooting 48% from 4-14 feet which has him in the 85th percentile. Even more, from midrange as a whole he’s in the 76th percentile, shooting 44%.

He has become a legitimate weapon from deep as well, after some bouts with consistency last season. He’s converting his 3PAs at a 42% clip, which is in the 86th percentile for wings. Specifically from the corners, he’s shooting 45%, which is in the 69th percentile.

Defensively he’s the teams MVP. Aside from the paint-dwelling types, he’s matched up with the opposotions best offensive player on a nightly basis. From Luka, to Dame, to Kawhi, to Donovan Mitchell, to LeBron, these are his matchups. He is extremely adept at gameplan discipline and remaining cognizant of his matchups tendencies. He plays with active hands and has a condor-like wingspan of 7’1″.

With that in mind, it allows him to alter the releases of his opponents, even allows for him to play effectively from behind as he’s in the 92nd percentile for blocks from wings. He’s slippery in pick and roll defense, and can often slip through screen nearly undeterred thanks to his frame. He draws fouls frequently on screensetters moving off their base to make contact with him.

He blows up dribble handoffs quite often, to the point where teams will refuse to involve him in said action as well.

He’s able to do all of this while almost never getting caught up in foul trouble. He just gets the job done, and genuinely enjoys the game as a whole.

Grade: A+

Deandre Ayton

14.4 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 1.1 BPG on 57.6% from the field and 72.9% from the stripe. eFG% of 60.4.

The player with the highest variable in effectiveness from game to game, production, and overall potential, Ayton has faired well.

He’s setting solid screens and is becoming more assertive, though that is only in spurts.

He’s converting at the cup at 74% and is showing his touch when he gets the ball in the short or pinch post. He has a quick turnaround they he shoots, as well as decent touch in floaters, amassing a 50% clip from just outside of 4 feet.

He has learned the “rim running” dynamic and has taken advantage of it quite often, even on the rare occasions where he wins an opening tip where he’ll then sprint to the front of the cup for an easy and quick two points.

Defensively, he’s learning the NBA game still as a committed defensive anchor. Though it’s left some to be desired at times, his efforts and intent to learn are undeniable. In that, the Suns do have a borderline top five defense and he States a hefty percentage of the claim in as to why they can do so.

He’s versatile enough to guard against switches out in space, is becoming better with his hands in pick and roll defense, and is a consistent presence on the glass. He’s currently 8th in the league in rebounding.

In all, Ayton is playing this role to a T. The expectations were that he’d out produce the defensive anchor role with his scoring offensively especially as the only paint-dweller on the roster. Though he’s shown his true potential it in spurts, his most consistent form has sufficed through 38 games.

Grade: B

Dario Saric

11.5 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.4 APG on 49.4/38.6/90.2 shooting. eFG% of 57.5.

The most dynamic pick and roll partner that Chris Paul has ever played with, they have finally begun to tap into their synergy.

He is keen at screening from the proper angles to benefit the ball handler, he instantly increases the ball movement off his presence alone, is adept at using his pump fake wit solid footwork around the cup, and is effective defensively.

In fact, he’s been so solid of late that Williams has went with him in the closing line up a few times over the past two weeks. Defensively he’s been that good!

Saric is a +23.2 in differential, which is league tops 🤦🏾‍♂️. Frankly put, the Suns are A LOT better when he’s on the floor versus when he’s on the bench.

With him exclusively at center, there are four lineups with over 45 possessions that have astronomical ratings in efficiency. Over time as he claims more minutes in the rotation, these numbers will come down. However, that won’t necessarily mean that his effectiveness will have diminished.

Per 100 possessions, lineups featuring him are averaging 124.7 points and only allowing 101.5. Both netting him a 98th percentile placing.

He’s been as integral of a piece as any on the season, making the team so much more dynamic in the minutes where 2 of the 3 best players are off. He keeps to not just keep the team afloat, but increase leads or help to chip away at leads when they’re down.

If he hadn’t missed so many games, his advanced stats would provide one helluva resume for the Sixt Man of the Year.

As it stands, his value is immensely appreciated in Phoenix. The team will continue to depend on him and his IQ to continue producing at Sixth Man of the Year type potential as the playoffs near.

Final: A+

Their Valued “Others”

Cam Payne

been a GREAT development for the Suns this season. Really, his ascension dates back to last season when they acquired him.

Mikal Bridges mentioned that Payne showed the most improvement when coming into training camp, and boy was he right 🎯. Payne has been a revalation.

He’s league tops for guards in percentage from deep at 46%, including 50% from the corners. From the mid-range he’s converting at a 58% clip as well.

Grade: A

Jae Crowder

As scrappy as they come, Crowders been a steady vet presence. He’s served his exact purpose and though he’s left some to be desired, we all know his true worth will be proved come the playoffs. Til then, he’s essentially in cruise control.

Players are struggling versus him at the cup, and he’s remained active in passing lanes and help defense in general.

Grade: C+

Cam Johnson

Struggling with consistency from deep, Johnsons been hot and cold. He has enjoyed great success specifically front eh corners, where he’s shooting 45%. He’s also finishing well at 67%.

He’s clearly finding his footing on the NBA level still, as his threat as a shooter opens many opportunities for him to expand.

That is the dynamic of his game that he’s tapping into. Like Bridges, he’s much more that just a 3-point shooter. Bridges is further along in his true potential than Johnson, but Johnson has been passable nonetheless.

Grade: B-

Conclusion

The Suns are enjoying successes they haven’t seen in over a decade. With the correct hierarchy of leadership in place from James Jones to Monty and CP3, there is no sign of let up in sight.

The latest addition of Torrey Craig adds to the depth and viable bodies amassed on the wing for Phoenix. Craig was an integral piece in the Nuggets’ 3-1 comeback versus the Clippers in the 2nd round of the playoffs last season, and helped viably tandem guard LeBron last season in the Conference Finals.

In all, the Suns have exceeded even their most hopeful expectations with their current positioning and record. The second half of the season presents many new challenges that the first didn’t, they will be tested in new ways and we will get a better idea of exactly who they are in the coming weeks.

They’re currently ahead of my predicted pace 45 wins and a 62.5% win percentage.

Tonight they have the front end of a back to back at home versus the T-Wolves @ 9pm CST on NBA League Pass.

Will this torrid pace remain sustained? Will they regress? Will they continue to enjoy good health?

We will see, what’s known though is that they are legitimate. Just how legitimate remains to be seen.

*** All stats and information used come directly from basketball-reference or cleaningtheglass unless stated otherwise***

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