Just removed from a stunning 48-win season (and no playoff berth in the West!), the Phoenix Suns were expected to turn the page in 2014-15. Sadly, such was not the case as the team took a giant step backwards, posting only 39 victories and looking like a bunch of deer in headlights not knowing what to do.
But after an eventful offseason, the Suns have once again put themselves in the race in the Western Conference. Never mind the fact that they’re sitting at 7-7, which is good enough for sixth in the conference and second in the Pacific Division, as the whole conference has been tainted by the Golden State Warriors’ 16-0 start. Throw in the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and the surprising Dallas Mavericks as early-season leaders in the West, but after that, there’s no reason to believe that the Suns couldn’t pose a threat to one of the aforementioned favorites.
Offensively, the Suns have shown the ability to be a fast-paced, potent squad, thanks in large part to their explosive backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, who are each putting up over 21 points per game. Some felt that having Bledsoe and Knight share the backcourt would be problematic as they’d have to adjust to playing on and off the ball, both mentally and physically. But while it’s still a work in progress, their individual stats have shown that they’re accepting of the adjustment.
Up front, the team is getting a nice contribution from second-year forward T.J. Warren, who despite not starting a game to date, has averaged nearly 11 points on the year on efficient shooting. Markieff Morris has been inconsistent after an offseason full of ranting and complaining due to the trade of his twin brother, but he’s starting to show signs of getting out of his doldrums. Free-agent pickup Tyson Chandler has done a nice job on the offensive glass to give the team more opportunities.
The Suns are middle-of-the-pack defensively, but they do some nice things on that end. Phoenix is in the top five in defensive rebound percentage and is seventh in steals. Chandler has paced the team on the boards, while Bledsoe and Knight have combined to average 3.4 thefts on the year.
There’s no superstar on this roster; there may not even be an All-Star this season (although both guards are making a strong early case). So if the team is going to have success throughout the regular season and make some noise come playoff time, depth is going to be a huge asset. After moving a boatload of talent between last year’s trade deadline and the offseason, including Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas, the Suns need consistent production out of their second unit.
While head coach Jeff Hornacek plays nearly the entire roster every night, the scoring drop-off between the first and second units is incredibly noticeable, with Warren the only player coming off the bench scoring over 10 points a night. The hope is rookie Devin Booker will develop and become another viable threat off the bench, and the youngster is starting to show flashes of ability over the last few weeks.
Following an early-season schedule that presented Phoenix with a slate of games against lower-tier teams, the club faces a four-game run through San Antonio (98-84 loss), New Orleans, Golden State and Toronto, which is a tough slate for any team. As one of the youngest squads in the league, the Suns are bound to have their struggles throughout the regular season as they learn to play with each other. However, if the team comes together, Phoenix could be a dangerous team come playoff time.