The Suns have been one of the surprises of the NBA season thus far. They have completely rebuilt the culture of this team and it is showing. The Suns are 3-2 with wins against the Kings, Warriors, and Clippers. The losses were against the Nuggets and Jazz and each game was decided by 1 point. In this article, I will highlight the reasons how the Suns have dug themselves out of the hole of dysfunction.
The Suns first hired Monty Williams. Monty was the coach of the New Orleans Pelicans for 5 seasons and had a career win % of 43.9. He was then fired and became an assistant coach with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Philadelphia 76ers for a year each. Monty was then the coach that everyone seemed to want, and he chose to join the Suns. Williams is known for being a great person and shows a lot of class. It then became evident the Suns were going to attempt to re-establish their culture. The Suns traded back from 6 to 11 and received Dario Saric and took Cam Johnson at 11. It is still hard to defend this pick, but I know why they did it. Johnson wasn’t the most talented player on the board, but he is a high character player who shot well from 3 in his last season of college. Later in the first round, the Suns took Ty Jerome. This pick is much easier to defend and Jerome is also known for his leadership as he was the emotional leader for Virginia as they won the national championship. The Suns then in free agency stayed on course in this approach getting players like Ricky Rubio, Aaron Baynes, and Frank Kaminsky. The Suns also traded Josh Jackson after there were rumors that he got his 4 month year old “high” and resigned Kelly Oubre.
Getting Booker and Ayton Help:
Many didn’t like the Rubio signing, but it was a smart move. The Suns did not have a real point guard last year, so Booker stepped in to play that role. This led to Booker shooting a career-low 32.6% most likely because his legs were more tired because he was so heavily relied on and the Suns had no one to set him up. Also, according to ESPN’s “NBA The Jump,” He was doubled 11.9% of pick and roll plays which was highest among all players in the NBA. Rubio will allow Booker to have a score-first mentality, which is what he is best. Rubio will then have the responsibility of making sure everyone is involved and getting their shots. This is an underrated part of rebuilding teams. If young players aren’t involved on the offensive end on a consistent basis, then they aren’t going to be as engaged on the defensive end. In Aron Baynes, you get a center who is a little undersized at 6’10 but has broad shoulders and is 260 lbs. He gives them toughness, rebounding, and a veteran presence. Baynes can even space the floor from 3 and is one of the best screeners in the game. Then to help Ayton the Suns surrounded him with shooters with the rookies Ty Jerome and Cam Johnson, stretch 4s in Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky, and then they have Devin Booker and Tyler Johnson to allow Ayton to operate in the post with plenty of room to work.
This season, the Suns have been solid on the offensive end of the floor. Even without Ayton, the Suns are still playing solid basketball. With all the shooters the Suns have, they can play a 5-out style of basketball at times. The bigs deserve a lot of credit. As noted before, Baynes can stretch the defense and set strong screens to free up teammates. Saric is having a slow start scoring but still poses the threat of a shooter and Frank Kaminsky has been a great surprise. He looks very comfortable on the court whether it is on the perimeter or in the post. Then obviously Booker is going to get his points, but the improving Kelly Oubre is 2nd on the team averaging 18.6 PPG. He is improving as a player and a strong piece for this franchise. Monty Williams’s strategy is attacking matchups, whether it is punishing a team for switching or attacking the opponent’s weakest defender. This was very evident in the game against the Clippers as the Sun’s players took turns attacking Landry Shamet or Lou Williams. This strategy will be especially effective when Ayton returns because Ayton should be getting the ball every time the opponents switch and the Suns have shown consistency in their game plan. They also do this in a way where it is not just isolation basketball. The Suns are averaging 28.8 APG. They swing the ball side to side and there’s a lot of player movement. A good majority of a coach’s job in the NBA is just getting the players to buy into what you are doing and Monty is exceeding in that area.
The Suns have built a defensive first mentality and play great team defense. Even with Ayton out, the Suns have done a great job of defending the post without a lot of size. One of the keys for them is to push the opposition’s player to post up 16ft away from the rim. That way, he is not an immediate threat to score and when he puts his head down and starts dribbling towards the rim, the Suns will send a second defender at him. They also aren’t following the trend of switching so they have the matchups they want and they have a lot of very solid perimeter defenders in Rubio, Jevon Carter, Kelly Oubre, and Mikal Bridges. The Suns are 9th in opponent PPG, 6th in opponent 3-point %, and 9th in opponent turnover percentage. The 2 most impressive defenders are Carter and Oubre. Carter is the “PG-13” version of Patrick Beverly as he is a scrappy defender without the trash talk and flopping. In Oubre, you get a player that is so long with a 7-3 wingspan and can just make plays on the ball defensively as well as picking off passes in the passing lane. The Suns rotate when they have to but are always aware of the scouting report. They will not rotate if they are leaving a player who is a better shooter. Many teams make this mistake and give the offense exactly what they want.
A similar theme that I have consistently repeated is that this team is filled with players that have a team-first mentality and will play whatever role the team needs them to play to give them the best chance of winning. The Suns have the 4th best net rating. I can’t credit Monty Williams and General Manager James Jones enough for the team they have put together and how different the atmosphere is from previous seasons. This hot start is not a fluke. I’m not saying the Suns are going to make the playoffs in the West, but they are going to be much more competitive and have that underdog mentality similar to the Clippers last season.
Article Written by Bradley Patten
All Player stats found on NBA.com (https://www.nba.com/suns/stats?season=2019-20&season_type=regular%20season)
All NBA team stats found on NBA.com (https://stats.nba.com/team/1610612756/) and Basketball-Reference (https://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_2020.html)
Monty Williams Coaching experience found on Basketball-Reference (https://www.basketball-reference.com/coaches/willimo01c.html)
Photo by Barry Gossage NBAE via Getty Images (https://www.brightsideofthesun.com/2019/10/16/20913813/phoenix-suns-rotation-booker-ayton-rubio-williams-aiming-for-core-four)