If you were to tell me before the season that the Phoenix Suns would be sitting in second place in the Western Conference with wins coming against the championship-favorite Los Angeles Clippers and the Philadelphia 76ers, I would have registered you for an insane asylum. But here we are two weeks into the year, and after finishing dead last in the West for the past three seasons, the Suns seem to have found new life under head coach Monty Williams.
Phoenix has opened the season at 5-2, and after their most recent win against the then-unbeaten 76ers, are starting to garner some attention in the league. Seven games in, the Suns rank in the top five of the league averages in field goal percentage (47.1%), assists (27.7) and plus minus (+8.6) while also placing No. 7 in points per game with 115. Compared to last season when they ranked in the bottom half of the league in all those categories, people are questioning how it is even possible for the Suns to have made such a drastic turnaround, especially without the help of former No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton. The answer to that question is simple, their newfound depth.
Although they did not make the biggest splash in free agency, the players they added like Ricky Rubio, Aaron Baynes and even Frank Kaminsky have been crucial to the team. These secondary players have been taking pressure off star shooting guard Devin Booker, while also putting up some impressive stats of their own, leading to their shocking start to this season.
Rubio joined the Suns after playing his last two seasons as the starting point guard of the Utah Jazz where he played with another big-name youngster by the name of Donovan Mitchell. With eight seasons of the NBA under his belt and a few trips to the playoffs, Rubio has brought a sense of leadership at the point guard position that the team has lacked since Eric Bledsoe was on the team back in 2016.
Rubio is an excellent passer, coming in at No. 5 in assists per game with 8.5 to start the season, as well as providing solid defensive stats, racking up 1.8 steals per game thus far. His ability to control the tempo has also allowed Booker to play off the ball much more than he has in his career, leading to the 23-year-old shooting an insane 53.5% from the field while putting up just over 26 points a game. To put that into perspective, Booker is one of only two players to rank in the top 10 in scoring while shooting over 50% this season, the other being MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. He has put up these numbers largely in part due to the presence Rubio brings as a ball handler and playmaker, but Rubio is not the only player the Suns added that is making an impact.
In Baynes’ six seasons where he played over 50 games, the big man averaged 5.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 0.7 assists per game. Since Ayton has been forced to sit out due to violating the league’s drug policy, Baynes has put up over 16 points, six rebounds and four assists per game en route to career-high averages across the board. Even more noticeable is the improved shooting of Baynes, as he has made 15 3-pointers on the season after hitting just 25 through his first seven years in the league. In Ayton’s absence, Baynes along with Frank Kaminsky and Dario Saric have provided key minutes for the Suns and will hopefully continue to do so even when the former first overall pick returns from his suspension.
In all honesty, with the contributions Phoenix has gotten thus far, they could be 7-0 if not for a couple plays going the opponent’s way. In their wins, the Suns have come out on top by over 12 points a game, a showing of their top-10 ranked team defensive rating in the league. In their losses, however, Phoenix has lost by just one point in each, the first coming in an overtime loss to the Nuggets, before dropping their second to the Jazz after some last-second free throws from Mitchell.
If they were in the East, the Suns would certainly snag a playoff spot, but since they are in the insanely competitive Western Conference and are bound to cool off a bit, I expect they will fall just short of their first playoff berth in the last 10 years. Despite that, this team has one of the brighter futures in the league with Booker and Ayton at the helm, and Rubio just now entering his prime in terms of age, so while this year may (and will most likely) putter out, the Suns have become a team to keep an eye on for years to come.
Conner Gilson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @connergilson03.