Sunshine in the Desert

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Top-10 in Offensive and Defensive Rating, are the Phoenix Suns Legit?

Outside of the Golden State Warriors collapse, the biggest surprise in the NBA has undoubtedly been the Phoenix Suns, who for much of the past decade have been cellar dwellers in the Western Conference.

As of November 15, they occupy the fifth spot in the conference, sitting just two games behind first place at 7-4. They are top-10 in both offensive (3rd) and defensive (10th) rating, and are shooting the absolute lights out, leading the NBA in a multitude of shooting efficiency statistics. It’s safe to say at this point, that it seems like things are looking up in the desert – for now.

But here’s the most important questions that must be answered – are the Phoenix Suns legit?

Let’s not forget, this is the same Phoenix Suns team who boasted an 87-241 mark over their past four seasons. This is the same Suns team that over the past four years have been a revolving door for coaches, seeing one coach on average per year. Players very openly asked to be traded from the organization and be set free from the mediocrity that the organization permeated.

Now, things appear different.

Outside of Devin Booker there still remains very little star power on this Suns team. After ridding themselves of former lottery picks Josh Jackson, TJ Warren, and Dragan Bender, the team’s new general manager James Jones re-upped Kelly Oubre and brought in savvy veterans Ricky Rubio, Tyler Johnson, Dario Saric, Frank Kaminsky, and Aron Baynes.

“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,” said Jones during a preseason press conference.

It is a weird assortment of young and older players. This team is deceptive. They have the calming and flashy presence of Rubio running the point and Jevon Carter, a defensive stalwart in relief. They have a plethora of shooters, none of whom are very notable across league, but they also have length on the defensive side of the ball, which has shown the ability to throw opposing offences out of rhythm.

Devin Booker is still very much doing his thing and looks to be on track to make his first All-Star game appearance this season, but beyond that, the Suns are doing a little bit of everything and to this point, it has been working. Buying into new head coach’s Monty Williams’ philosophy, the Suns seem to have turned the corner and whether or not they are able to maintain this high level of play for the entirety of the season, they are definitely heading into the right direction.

To answer the question on whether or not this team is legit, let’s take a look at what they are doing on the offensive side of the ball. Despite a small sample size of 11 games, what they are doing is truly impressive nevertheless.

They rank second in field goal percentage, third in three-point field goal percentage, first in assists, first in true shooting percentage, and second in effective field goal percentage. The acquisition of Rubio has finally brought the Suns a guard who is able to run an entire offense. With his on-court leadership and the ability to push the tempo, the team has been able to smoothly buy into new head coach Monty Williams’ offensive philosophy

“When you look at what he [Rubio] did at Minnesota, what he did in Utah with young guys … he is a natural leader,” Williams said of the his new point guard. “Guys follow him.”

If there is one positive to take away from the first few weeks of the season, it’s that Booker is no longer required to carry an offense on his back. With Rubio running the show, Baynes seemingly playing out of his mind, and Oubre and Saric contributing on a consistent basis, the Suns now provide Coach Williams with options on the offensive end. On top of that, youngster Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson have provided the Suns with some length and shooting ability off the bench.

Last season, the Suns were ranked 29th in the league on the defensive side of the ball, and while it may be unrealistic to expect the Suns to maintain top-10 talent, they have provided enough evidence to show that they can definitely compete on defense and score in bunches on offense. With former first overall pick DeAndre Ayton set to return in a few short weeks from his PED suspension, the Suns will receive an additional boost and with a few Western Conference powerhouses slipping early, it is not out of the realm of possibility to suggest the Suns can sneak into their place.

It’s definitely still early, but for the first time in a long time, I must say, the Suns may be onto something.

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