Since taking a 23-point loss at the hands of the Miami Heat to drop to 30-9 on January 8, the Phoenix Suns are 27-5, carrying a 57-14 record into the last 11 games of the season.
Indeed, the Suns are so far ahead of the rest of the NBA field that their magic number is just three to clinch home court throughout the Finals. Memphis, at 48-23, and Golden State, at 47-23, are the only ones who can catch them in the West, and Miami, at 47-24, is the only team mathematically alive in the East to get a Game 7 at home in the championship round.
Consider Phoenix would have to lose almost all of the rest of their games while one of those teams would have to win out and you see that the playoffs are all but decided; at some point during the playoffs, the road to the championship is going to have to go through Phoenix Suns Arena, possibly for a Game 7.
The Basic Stats
It’s not just that the Suns have been winning. That in itself is impressive, sure, but it’s how they’ve been winning that’s the real wild part.
Phoenix is third in Offensive Rating. They’re third in Defensive Rating. And with their powers combined, that’s good for a captain-of-the-planet 8.5 Net Rating, tops in the league.
The fundamentals are there as well. Phoenix is fourth in eFG% and second in opponents’ eFG%. When you hit your shots and your opponents don’t hit theirs, it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out what’s going to happen.
The Suns don’t turn the ball over—they’re sixth-best in the league in that metric—while their opponents tend to get butter fingers, giving away a crispety, crunchety, peanut buttery 13.0 percent of their possessions, eighth-best by a defense in the league.
The wildest part is that the Suns are the equal and opposite reaction to the criticism leveled at the Rockets and Blazers in this space last week. If those teams are “when 3s and layups go wrong”, the Suns are “3 is more than 2 but 2 is more than 0.”
Of course, you’d expect that from a team with Chris Paul on it. CP3 is hitting a bananas 57.7 percent on midrange jumpers between 10 and 16 feet out. He’s hitting 51.9 percent between 3 and 10 feet, normally the domain of late-in-the-shot-clock bad shots and aborted drives. And he’s canning 48.9 percent of his long twos, all while hitting just 33 percent from beyond the arc.
Any way you slice it, Chris Paul is more efficient from the midrange in a way we haven’t seen since the ’90s. This is genuine Michael Jordan stuff.
The Supporting Cast
Meanwhile, Devin Booker is hitting about 47 percent of his midrange tries, but in his case, he’s also hitting 37.9 percent beyond the arc. These guys can just plain flat-out shoot.
Oh, and by the way, the two guys taking the greatest percentage of their shots from in close, within 3 feet?
Deandre Ayton is finishing 78.2 percent of his attempts from in there. Mikal Bridges is knocking down 79.0 percent.
Those are good for 11th and seventh, respectively, among all players with at least 100 attempts from 3 feet and in. Daniel Gafford, a guy who has been an in-close specialist for his whole career and has the .688 career FG% to prove it, leads the league. Giannis Antetokounmpo is second. Rudy Gobert is sixth. LeBron James is ninth and Anthony Davis tenth. This is not a statistical category for slouches. It’s where superstars get their points, and the Suns have two guys in the top 11.
The Suns are just eighth overall in FG% from three feet and in—an even .700, sandwiched between the Bucks and Lakers, whose players populate the previous paragraph—but you’d have to shoot 46.7 percent from three-point land to beat that efficiency.
But, But…Their Shot Selection!
But that brings up another point, one we’ve been dancing around for this whole post.
The Suns are deader than dead last in the league in D’Antoni Index, a stat named for the coach who dragged the NBA out of the Dark Ages while coaching in Phoenix.
They’re last (18.6 percent of their total shots) in 0-3 foot attempt rate. They’re 27th in 3PAR. And lo and behold, they’re even 27th in free throw rate.
Their raw DAI score is .763, and adjusted for league average, that works out to minus-.136.
That’s staggeringly low. The San Antonio Spurs and their dinosaur offense stands at minus-.110, and not surprisingly the Spurs are 27-44 and have to hope the Pelicans fall apart to even get into the play-in games.
A team that plays like it’s 30 years ago should not be 57-14!
The Bottom Line
But plain and simple, the Suns have blown the dust off the old school, their point guard is shooting midrange jumpers like it’s 1992, and their center is throwing it down from in close like he’s the new Artis Gilmore—seriously, look Gilmore up, before four-out basketball was invented and guys like Gobert, DeAndre Jordan, and Mitchell Robinson broke FG% records, he was the gold standard for making shots under the basket for a solid decade between 1977 and 1986. Not for nothing was he a six-time NBA All-Star to go with his five ABA All-Star appearances, and he’s in the Hall of Fame.
But I digress. Phoenix is playing old-school basketball with new-school efficiency…and it’s a near mortal lock that unless they drop their shorts and take a dump on the court in the playoffs, we’ll be seeing Game 1 of the Finals in the home arena of a team that came up just short of glory in 2021.
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