With the NBA’s regular season coming to an end soon, there have been few teams in the league more interesting to watch than the Phoenix Suns. An organization that for years had been stuck in some sort of purgatory, with only the scoring prowess of Devin Booker and the fact they took DeAndre Ayton over Luka Doncic worth talking about by casual fans.
Surely the introduction of 35-year-old (soon to be 36) point guard Chris Paul wasn’t going to be able to move the needle too much? The Western Conference was just too talented at the top for him to make that much of a difference. Right? Right? Not only was that prediction wrong, so too were this writer’s beliefs on who they could be as a team, and for that, they deserve a public apology.
Really the warning signs on why not to bet against this group were put in place in the NBA’s bubble, back when Paul was a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Booker was routinely creating social media highlights with his play. The Phoenix Suns went 8-0 and were the only team to do this, but still failed to make the playoffs. The seeds were already there, Paul just watered them.
No offseason addition has turned out to be as important to an organization than that of Chris Paul to the Phoenix Suns
What a magnificent addition he has been to this franchise. I had always assumed that undersized players, once their production began to dip, fell off a cliff and ended up getting washed in a very public and non-dignified way. Only Paul’s production never dipped because it has been the same throughout his entire career and now is no different. Not believing in him was on me.
He won’t win the MVP this year, but the fact he should certainly be among the top seven candidates to win the award is incredible. He was already a first-ballot Hall of Fame player, and yet he was able to take it to another level. This isn’t all of Paul’s doing though, and Booker has played the part of the young and eager student so well.
At this point, the Phoenix Suns rank sixth in both offensive (113.8) and defensive (107.9) efficiency. At 43-18, they sit second in the West but have a real chance to catch the Utah Jazz (44-17). They make 37.4 percent of their 3-point shots, the ninth-best mark in the league, but play at one of the slowest paces among all teams. They are methodical, figuring out the best way to beat teams.
Perhaps Deandre Ayton could do more, and come the postseason he may be the x-factor here. He is only 22, and the 15 points and 10.7 rebounds he is averaging may not be career highs, but they show a kind of production the points to more consistency. Mikal Bridges has had a breakout campaign, while Torrey Craig is among the most underrated players in the league today.
But it still shouldn’t be this good, should it? Not in a conference featuring the Los Angeles Lakers, L.A. Clippers, Denver Nuggets (before the Jamal Murray injury) and Jazz. We’re not giving enough credit to head coach Monty Williams either, who crucially has worked with Paul in the past when both were in New Orleans.
From the outside looking in, it feels like the respect between player and coach is high, while Williams knows how to get the best out of Paul at this stage in his career. Chris Paul’s numbers are consistent, and while it is ironic that, despite doing so much of his good work in and around the paint with shots that get over taller opponents, he is also shooting 38.1 percent from deep.
The kind of number that would have looked great next to James Harden, while a member of the Houston Rockets. It is a stretch to say Paul has changed his game all that much though. Rather, the Suns operate around him in a way that is beneficial to all. This extends to players like Dario Saric, who despite showing some early promise in the league faded into obscurity.
He has never played with a guy like Paul, and he never will again either. The offense is so balanced in how it is constructed, never in a rush to get anywhere. Again we can point and laugh at this writer, who just didn’t see that approach translating into high-level offensive play on a consistent enough basis to be a top-four seed in the West.
Which is really where the apology is most necessary. I didn’t think they were quite play-in tournament bad, but a top-four finish also seemed a big ask. The Western Conference Finals? Forget about it. Yet even when the Nuggets were fully healthy and posed more of a threat, the Suns got rolling early and never looked back.
Do I think they will win a championship? I still don’t even think they’ll make the conference finals. But I’ve never been more open to being wrong about a team in my life. Who knows how long this can last, but we should all be done betting against Chris Paul. Like his good friend LeBron James, he continues finding ways to get it done. So do the Phoenix Suns.