The Phoenix Suns are on a roll right now and have just taken a commanding 3-0 series lead over the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Semi-finals of the 2021 NBA playoffs. They are in the midst of one of the best NBA playoffs runs we have seen and have a very strong chance of reaching the NBA Finals. Devin Booker is shattering records, averaging stellar numbers and carrying the team on his back.
If the Phoenix Suns reach the NBA Finals, the narrative will be that they knocked out LeBron James and the reigning champions in the first round. They then sent reigning MVP Nikola Jokic home in the semi-finals and possibly toppled the 1st seed in the conference finals on their way. It isn't a bad story for the Suns' franchise, who haven't seen an NBA Finals appearance since 1993.
Several people believe they have a real chance of competing in the NBA Finals and let's take a look at five reasons why it is possible
#1 Chris Paul and Devin Booker run the most complex pick-and-roll in the NBA
Chris Paul and Devin Booker perplexed defenders by running one of the most sophisticated pick-and-roll offenses in the league. In an NBA playoff half-court setting, running an attack like this is bound to show success. Early in the season, the Phoenix Suns would get outscored when both the star guards were on the floor and the team thrived when each player went solo. But lately, they have found synergy in playing together and are outplaying defenders with ease.
Booker and Paul both love running pick-and-rolls and launching mid-range jump shot. Moreover, both are skilled passers and excellent three-point shooters so finding a common rhythm wasn't that hard. Think of it similar to the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors' half-court attack where Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry both provided equal threats.
Now add a skilled big man like Deandre Ayton to the mix while the star guards have two shooters like Mikal Bridges, Cameron Payne and Jae Crowder in either corner. Ayton has done an excellent job in finishing at the end of the action while Payne, Bridges and Crowder find themselves in the right spot, either setting a screen or sprinting for an open three.
ESPN NBA analyst Zach Lowe details the entire offensive action in his report and shows how the star duo are flummoxing the NBA with their pick-and-rolls.
#2 Phoenix Suns' three-point shooting prowess
In an era of three-point shooting dominance, the Phoenix Suns have the perfect personnel to succeed. Other than Deandre Ayton, the other four starters are all excellent at shooting the long ball. Paul is shooting 44.4% from beyond the arc, Booker is shooting 39.6%, Crowder is at 36.9%, and Bridges shoots 37.7% from three. Even their bench players like Cameron Johnson, Cameron Payne, Dario Saric and Torrey Craig are all astonishingly shooting better than 40% from beyond the arc.
The Phoenix Suns are averaging 12.6 threes per game on 32 attempts as a team that ranks fifth in the 2021 NBA playoffs. They are shooting 38.6% from three-point range as a team which ranks second in the league when averaged out for attempts a game. The Phoenix Suns dropped 18 threes twice in these NBA playoffs on better than 47% shooting. Hence, with the shooting skillset that the Suns hold, they are easily among the top contenders for the Western Conference title.
#3 Phoenix Suns' defensive efficiency
The Phoenix Suns are one of the best two-way teams in the league. They are ranked second in defensive rating and have the most wins in the postseason so far. Enough cannot be said about their defensive prowess. Ayton, Crowder, Paul and others are great defenders while Booker has improved in that regard drastically as well. They held the LA Lakers to 41% shooting from the field and just 24% shooting from beyond the arc. In the ongoing Nuggets series, the Suns have held their opponents to 42% from the field and 33% from beyond the arc.
It is a common saying in the NBA, "Defense wins championships" and the Phoenix Suns have maximized it perfectly. Chris Paul is a steel master and Jae Crowder is as great as it gets guarding the wing. However, a surprise this NBA playoff run has been the effort of Deandre Ayton, who is anchoring the team's defense in the paint.
#4 Phoenix Suns' excellent ball and player movement
As mentioned earlier, the Phoenix Suns ran an incredible pick-and-roll attack with Devin Booker and Chris Paul. It relies on them finding open shooters and cutters if they get double-teamed while Booker relocates for another shot attempt. This offensive attack has made way for fluid ball movement and excellent passing. Chris Paul, commonly known as 'Point God', is unsurprisingly leading the league in assists in the 2021 NBA playoffs with a total of 80 assists and is second-best with 8.9 per game.
82.3% of the Phoenix Suns' three-point field goals made are assisted on while only 17.7% are unassisted. And for two-point field goals, 55.3% of the shots made are assisted on. Hence, overall 63.8% of their field goals are assisted, which ranks first in the NBA in the 2021 playoffs. Moreover, they are ranked second in the league in assists per game as a team with 25.4 a night. What's astonishing is that they also have the second-lowest assist-to-turnover ratio with 2.20.
#5 Young and healthy players
Arguably the most important point for this season, the Phoenix Suns boast a healthy lineup. The LA Lakers were missing their second-best player, Anthony Davis. The Denver Nuggets are playing without Jamal Murray, who was the X-factor in last season's NBA playoffs. One could argue that the Suns have gotten lucky by facing injured teams but staying healthy throughout the season and the postseason isn't easy. The Utah Jazz are also facing injury issues and the LA Clippers are aggressively overplaying their two stars.
Another factor that bodes well for the Phoenix Suns is the youth on their roster. Other than Paul and Crowder, every other major player is under 26. They have fresh legs and a lot of energy and they display that by diving for loose balls and rotating on defense with grit. Players like Ayton, Bridges and Booker are playing 32+ minutes each with Booker playing almost 40 minutes per game. That helps the Suns drastically as the opposition are often forced to bench their stars for rest.