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NBA PM: The Phoenix Suns Are Legit Contenders

Are the Phoenix Suns truly a contender in a stacked Western Conference? Basketball Insiders examines the bold claim.

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The 5-2 Phoenix Suns are off to their best start since the 2009-10 season, currently in second place in the Western Conference and looking like legitimate contenders so far. Their undefeated run in the bubble was one of the best stories last season, and the momentum seems to have carried over into this season. 

The offseason addition of future Hall of Famer Chris Paul immediately raises both the Suns’ ceiling and floor. Paul lends a steady hand at point guard and one of the highest-IQ players the NBA has ever seen – while also easing some of the ball-handling responsibilities Devin Booker has handled up until this point. 

Paring Paul with Booker gives the Suns two of the most elite shot makers in the league right now, plus two options that have proven they can close out games. The scary part is that Paul has got off to a slow shooting start at just 33.3 percent from three-point range, and 44.1 from mid-range. 

Considering the team’s success thus far, it’s surprising that the duo hasn’t played all that well together. However, lineups that include one and not the other are doing well and are a huge reason the Suns are off to such a good start. Both Booker and Paul are both shooting and scoring at rates lower than we’ve seen from them in recent years, but expect those numbers to tick back up at some point. 

But what truly makes them a dangerous team is that Paul and Booker are surrounded by knock-down shooters and an elite defense. They have a plethora of 3-and-D guys. Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson and Jae Crowder can all guard multiple positions and provide ample spacing for Paul to operate in the pick-and-roll or for Booker in isolation or post-ups. 

Mikal Bridges, especially, has taken a leap this season by averaging 14.1 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game. He is shooting 46.3 percent from three-point range and owns only one turnover over seven games. Bridges is also one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA right now, so his growth as a player on both ends has been fun to watch. He can completely wreck the opposing team’s offensive sets single-handily and is one of the hardest guys to score on in isolation. 

Deandre Ayton’s defense is also much improved, a seamless fit offensively with Paul and Booker. There’s still a lot of untapped potential when it comes to Ayton, but he seems to be headed in the right direction. The former No. 1 overall pick’s ability to shoot gives the Suns even more spacing. Ayton’s growth throughout the season will be something to monitor as it could very well be a determining factor in just how good this Suns team can really be. 

Beyond that, Phoenix rocks a squad of playable guys that were either overlooked or didn’t work out in other places. Langston Galloway is an elite shooter who was picked up for cheap. Jevon Carter has struggled offensively, but his defense has been as good as ever.

Cameron Payne has continued his resurgence, continuing to drain threes at a high clip while also running the offense when Paul sits. Dario Saric has been fun, providing added playmaking to an already great passing team. 

The Suns are forming an identity, namely a defensive one. They currently have a 104.4 defensive rating, which ranks third-best in the league, per NBA.com. They are also currently fourth in net rating – so they really dig-in on defense and play athletes that are not afraid to get physical. 

The Suns’ offense, which currently ranks 12th-best with a 110.7 offensive rating, still has room for improvement. In lineups with Paul and Booker, Pheonix has struggled to this point. Regardless, they seem to understand how they want to play, coming in with the second-slowest pace. 

While the season is still young, the Suns are showing signs that they are a legitimate contender. With talent and proper roster construction to finish top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating by the season’s end – so as familiarity and continuity grow amongst them, expect them to improve. 

There’s a lot to be excited about in Phoenix – but who or what might push them over the top? Between Paul, Booker, Ayton, Bridges and more, it’ll be fun to find out. 

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