The Phoenix Suns were supposed to be consistent contenders in the Western Conference. After reaching the 2021 NBA Finals, they became heavy favorites that basketball experts on OKBet believe will be heavy favorites to make the Finals.
While their record through the first quarter of the season has been solid, some of their spottier performances this season were questionable at best. Their five-game skid during December’s first and second weeks also painted a less-than-flattering picture for Monty Williams’ squad.
The Suns should still be able to compete as long as they have Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and Deandre Ayton. However, do they still have what it takes to finally make it over the hump? We’ll address these questions here.
“Defense wins championships” is still a famous mantra for a reason. It doesn’t matter if the Suns have a potent scorer like Booker, who scores 27 points a night. If the team can’t stop their opponents from scoring goals, they’ll lose more games than they’d like.
The numbers showed how they’ve lagged on the defensive side of the ball. Their opponents have taken more three-point attempts over the 28 games they’ve played. While we can point this increase to the current NBA three-point meta, the fact that teams shot better against them is a worrying sign.
Another sign of concern is the dip in their defensive rebounding. They’re currently the fourth-worst team in the association with 31.2 defensive rebounds. Their rebounding numbers are a far cry from last season, where they finished fifth.
The Phoenix Suns’ stagnation in defense also showed in their lack of disruption in the passing lanes and poor discipline. Their steal numbers decreased from 8.6 to 7.1. They are the eighth in fouls committed per game at 21.7, which allows more free-throw opportunities.
They do have some positives to look at. Their block numbers are eighth-best in the NBA at 5.4. Their offense is also doing more than enough to make up for their faults. However, their subpar performance in other areas shows how pedestrian they are on defense.
Chris Paul was the perfect injection of playmaking and leadership the Suns needed. He was a positive impact through his first two years in the Valley, where he averaged 15.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 9.8 assists, and 1.6 steals in his 138 starts.
However, fans immediately noticed the Point God’s struggles to start the 2022-23 campaign. He’s only played around 14 games this season, but his scoring (9.9) and steals (1.5) took a dip compared to his play last year.
The seasoned floor general has been a crucial component of the Sun’s successes over the past two seasons. He’s still a tremendous point guard at 37, but his dwindling athleticism is directly connected to the Suns’ narrowing championship window.
How he responds to his poor start later in the season will show whether
Another thing that makes neutral fans wonder whether the Suns can win it all is their inability to perform against contenders consistently.
In November, the Suns stumbled in the fourth quarter while losing to the Philadelphia 76ers. While they managed to squeak past the Dallas Mavericks in their season opener, they were utterly dominated by Luka Doncic when they played at the American Airlines Arena on December 5.
They couldn’t stop the Boston Celtics when they visited the Footprint Center. The New Orleans Pelicans held them off in their two games at the Smoothie King Center.
More interestingly, the Suns struggled against the lowly Houston Rockets. They’re nowhere near the playoff hunt, but Jalen Green-led cohort managed to get two over Phoenix after being blown out of the building during their first meeting in October.
It’s been a strange month for Suns fans which is only compounded by the uncertainty of Robert Sarver selling the team. Their favorite team may experience more bitter defeats as they face the Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets, and Cleveland Cavaliers before the year ends.
The entire team’s performance is crucial in winning games, so the Suns’ bench failing to match the starters’ production is troubling.
Cameron Johnson is the only player outside the starting unit averaging in double digits, and he’s been out since November due to a knee injury. Torrey Craig, Landry Shamet, and Damion Lee have shared his scoring load and defensive responsibilities, but their efforts need to improve to help the Suns out of the slump.
Johnson’s injury revealed how vulnerable the Suns’ bench is, and a foray into the trade market for quality role players is in the ballclub’s future. They can target players who can alleviate their defense or bench scoring.
Two heavily connected players to the Suns belong to a team that recently beat them twice. The Houston Rockets are open to shopping some of their veteran core to better their chances of landing Victor Wembanyama. Meanwhile, the Suns are linked to landing Eric Gordon and Kenyon Martin Jr.
Gordon is an effective scorer who can play as a starter or the sixth man. Martin Jr. is a solid young wing who can provide scoring and energy off the bench.
While this trade benefits both teams, whether GM James Jones greenlights this deal remains to be seen. Other linked players to Phoenix can help the team in various ways, and it’s up to the team which issues they want to fix via trade.
There’s still enough NBA basketball left to play, so Phoenix teams shouldn’t hit the panic button yet. However, their most recent losing streak may become an unsavory preview to the end of the current Suns iteration.
Monty Williams and the Suns coaching staff need to find answers to their problems, or they’ll soon find the window to bringing the Larry O’Brien trophy home sealed shut.