Despite finishing with the second-best record in the NBA, most analysts didn't take the Phoenix Suns as the title contenders. The main reason? Their two stars, Devin Booker and Chris Paul, are still not considered to be top 10 guys in the NBA. In addition, the supporting cast is full of promising but young players with no playoff experience.
By these metrics, the Suns were considered a good regular-season team expected to flame out in the Playoffs due to the absence of a top 10 talent on their roster. Yet, as they completed a sweep of last year’s conference finalists, the Denver Nuggets, Phoenix is looking like a strong title contender on the back of some of the best team basketball we have seen since the 2014 San Antonio Spurs.
The eye test certainly proves this, but in a league where it’s seemingly all about having elite talent, it is the Suns’ elite teamwork that is proving to be the most dominant force in this year’s Playoffs. The Suns have done this on the back of some beautiful ball movement, leading them to become one of the best teams to share the ball in the past 25 years.
The Phoenix Suns posted an assist to turnover ratio of 2.15, which ranks as the highest by any team in the past 25 years. Yes, that dates back to 1996, which means they have taken care of the ball and shared it better than the triangle offense-led 72-10 Bulls, the 73-9 Golden State Warriors, and the team whose picture is in the dictionary next to teamwork - the '13/'14 San Antonio Spurs. Chicago won their second three-peat during this period, and Golden State was one win away from possibly four straight, so if this is any indication, it might be time to start hopping on the Phoenix bandwagon.
Of course, those teams were filled with superstars, and Phoenix simply isn’t despite the superb leadership of CP3, Book, and even DeAndre Ayton. With the rest of The Suns firing on all cylinders and most of the league’s best defensive teams out of contention, the Suns are going to be a very tough match-up for some of the star-heavy teams left in this year’s race. If you’re going out there to score 30 a night, it’s unlikely that you’re also going to have the energy to run through multiple screens chasing shooters all game. We can look back at the recent performance of the Miami Heat in the bubble to see how player movement and shooting from top to bottom can do more than just level the playing field, as a depleted Heat team made it to the finals and took the heavily favored Lakers to six games.
Dealing with this elite ball movement will prove to be challenging for any of the remaining teams, and unlike Phoenix Suns teams of the past, this team boasts a tough defensive pedigree as well. It looks like when Chris Paul says he has a great team it’s time we start believing him.
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