Contributing Writer: Cody Hunt (@Co_DHunt)
The Suns are now 7 games into this 72-game season. With about 10% of the year under their belt, I decided to look at 7 interesting statistics with this team and ask: “Real or not real?”. While some of these are outliers that can be chalked up to small sample size, I think others are indicative of how the team will play all season long.
The Suns are a top defense in the NBA
The Suns starters have 4 legitimately good defenders surrounding a defensively-improved Devin Booker. It starts with Mikal Bridges as the perfect counter to whoever the best wing player on the other team is. This year he’s guarded Luka Doncic, Donovan Mitchell, and Kawhi Leonard and done a great job on all. Crowder and Ayton are versatile in that they can guard bigger, stronger guys in the post but are also comfortable on the perimeter. Chris Paul is feisty, crafty, and a coach on the floor, constantly telling teammates where to go and what to do. Then off the bench they have Jevon Carter harassing people for 94 feet and solid buy-in and effort from everyone else. The Suns may not be the number 3 defense in the league at the end of the year like they currently are, but I’m confident they will finish in the top-8.
This is real.
Devin Booker can’t shoot Free Throws
Last year Devin Booker had one of the greatest Free-Throw shooting seasons in NBA history. He shot just under 92% on 7.3 FTA/G. This was the highest single-season FT% of any player to average over 6 FTA/G in NBA History. This year, he has only made 25 of his 34 FTAs, a mere 73.5%. This is nearly 10% lower than his worst FT% ever and 13% below his career average, so I’m not going to read too much into it.
Definitely not real.
The Suns are one of the slowest teams in the NBA
The Suns currently rank 29th in Pace, averaging 97.36 possessions per game, just barely ahead of the last place Clippers who the Suns lost to on Sunday. This is not necessarily indicative of how good a team is; every year there are both good and bad teams on both ends of the Pace rankings. Chris Paul’s teams have traditionally been slow. He likes to walk the ball up the floor and methodically pick apart the defense in the half-court.
Unless CP3 misses an extended period of time, this is real, but not necessarily bad.
Mikal Bridges is a great 3-Point Shooter
In college, Bridges was a phenomenal shooter. He shot 40% from behind the arc in his 3 years at Villanova while helping lead them to 2 NCAA Championships. In his first two NBA seasons, however, his 3-Point shooting was very rocky. A quarter into last season, he was shooting 19% from 3 and was trying to work an ugly hitch out of his shot. He really turned it around towards the end of 2019-20, and has now taken that momentum into this year. He is shooting 46.3% from 3, which is third in the NBA among players with at least 40 attempts. I don’t think I buy that he will be one of the top-tier elite shooters in the NBA like he is right now, but he can absolutely continue to shoot around 40%.
I think this is real, and I sincerely hope I’m right.
The Suns are much worse when Deandre Ayton is on the court
I was alarmed when I saw this stat: Per the play-by-play stats on basketball-reference, the Suns are 26.9 points per possessions worse when Deandre Ayton is on the court compared to when he is off. This can be a noisy stat and so far has been highly influenced by the overall great play by the Suns bench. I, like many, have been frustrated at times by Ayton’s play this year, but I never expected this. I think his play on the offensive side of the ball in the first 4 games was awful. It wasn’t so much his lack of production as much as his shot selection and just being in the right place at the right time. I wanted to see him fighting for position down low or setting solid screens and then rolling hard.
Instead, he too often seemed to just meander about in the mid-range area and get in the way. The last three games he has seemed to get into a much better rhythm and his aggression is noticeably better. Defensively, I actually think he has been pretty solid in every game, aside from a few quarters of foul trouble. He has seemingly mastered Roy Hibbert’s patented “verticality” to contest drives to the rim without getting called for fouls, and his ability to switch onto smaller defenders and guard them on the perimeter makes him invaluable.
If he keeps playing like he has the past 3 games on both ends, his on/off numbers will start to look much better. Not real.
The Suns are the worst team in the NBA at scoring in the paint
So far, Phoenix has averaged 37.4 PPG in the paint, which is dead last in the NBA. Part of this can be explained by the fact that Deandre Ayton, the team’s best inside threat, has been scoring well below his career average this year. Another factor is the acquisition of Chris Paul, who is the most prolific mid-range scorer in the NBA. He and Devin Booker are some of the only players in the NBA who are good enough in the mid-range to make those shots worth taking. Ayton’s scoring already seems to be trending in the right direction after the last few games, but I don’t think the team’s overall shot profile will change drastically.
The Suns may not end up last in points in the paint, but I think they will stay below-average all year. Real.
The Suns will have home court advantage in the 1st round of the playoffs
Phoenix has been consistently good all year long. Despite having the toughest strength of schedule in the NBA according to ESPN, they have been competitive in every game and even blown a few teams out. The defense looks legit, and I think there is reason to believe the offense will improve so that the Suns are top-10 on both sides of the ball. Before the season started, I predicted that the Suns would be the 4-seed in the West, and they haven’t done anything through 7 games to make me believe otherwise. In fact, I think they could possibly grab the 2 or 3 spot if everything clicks.
The Suns aren’t just going to end their playoff drought, they will have a puncher’s chance at making the Western Conference Finals. Real.
Editor’s Note: Welcome Cody to the team, be sure to follow him on twitter (@Co_DHunt) he’s one of the best there is on Suns twitter.