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Phoenix Suns' performance in the 2020-21 NBA season: A recipe for long-term success or a one-season wonder?

Phoenix Suns veteran Chris Paul has led his side to second in the West this season.
Phoenix Suns veteran Chris Paul has led his side to second in the West this season.
ANALYST
Modified 03 Apr 2021
Feature

A team many expected to succeed this campaign, the Phoenix Suns are duly living up to the hype - and then some. Sat second in the West - a position they have held for all but two days of the past month - the Phoenix Suns have won 22 of their past 27 matchups and sit only three games behind the Utah Jazz.

Since the 4th of February, Monty Williams' side have lost only four games - a stunning run that has raised their profile as genuine playoff contenders.

This will be a huge change for a fanbase that hasn't seen their team reach the postseason since 2010 - a result they hope won't be replicated this time around (the Suns lost to the Lakers in the Conference Finals).

As we near the business end of the season, teams have begun thinking about their playoff prospects.

We look at what the Phoenix Suns' performances this year could mean for the franchise going forward and analyze whether they're sustainable for long-term success or just a one-off.

Can the Phoenix Suns become a Western Conference contender, or is this season a flash in the pan?

Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker
Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker

Let us first rewind the clock all the way back to Friday, July 31st, 2020 - the Phoenix Suns' first game in the NBA bubble. A 125-112 win against Washington sparked an eight-game winning run. It was the longest winning run in the franchise's history since the 2010 season. It was also the longest in NBA history at the end of a season in which the team did not make the playoffs.

That run set the benchmark, however, for what was to come. Devin Booker was unstoppable in the bubble, averaging 30.5 points per game. The Suns' front office needed to make sure the young guard stuck around.

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They did so by acquiring future Hall of Famer Chris Paul and a player who had been to the playoffs in the last seven seasons with four different teams - Jae Crowder.

Both have proven their worth beyond expectation and have contributed to the Phoenix Suns having one of the most feared starting lineups.

Starting 5 consistency

The Phoenix Suns starters have played 38 times together.
The Phoenix Suns starters have played 38 times together.

Playing the second-most games of any starting 5 in the league, the Phoenix Suns' success can be attributed to their stars staying healthy in a year where many teams have struggled with health and safety protocols.

Chris Paul, Devin Booker, DeAndre Ayton, Jae Crowder and Mikal Bridges have all played in 38 games together. They hold an offensive rating of 114.2 and a net rating of +2.4.

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Having consistency in a season unlike any other has been crucial to the Suns' rise in the Western Conference, where both Los Angeles franchises have struggled with injuries.

Each starter averages more than 10 points a night, while DeAndre Ayton and Mikal Bridges are having the most offensively efficient seasons of their careers.

Most importantly, though, every player understands their role and contributes to the overall team effort. Having two leaders on the court in Paul and Crowder is essential in maintaining that status quo. The duo are also good role models for the Suns' young stars.

Defensive efficiency

Phoenix Suns stars Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton.
Phoenix Suns stars Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton.

Not only have the Phoenix Suns benefitted from their consistency in starts, but their defensive rating currently ranks fifth in the league. The Suns allow the fourth-fewest opposition points, largely due to their perimeter protection.

They currently allow the second-least three-point efforts and opposition three-point percentage. Furthermore, the Suns' close-out defense gives up the least assists per matchup.

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While their starting lineup has a defensive rating of 112.1, the Suns' bench has a 108.4 rating. They also have the second-best +/- of 2.5, proving that their depth has contributed to their success.

Playoff chances?

Phoenix Suns leader Chris Paul has vast experience in the playoffs.
Phoenix Suns leader Chris Paul has vast experience in the playoffs.

The Phoenix Suns are all but guaranteed to make the postseason this year. However, they have no Championship success in their starting five, let alone playoff experience.

Booker, Ayton and Bridges have never even played past the regular season before. So what chances do they have in a conference stacked with talent?

If the Phoenix Suns can hold onto home-court advantage, this will at least benefit them in a first-round matchup against the likes of the Dallas Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs, who currently hold the seventh and eighth seeds.

But against either LA side, Portland or Denver, a series could be a lot more challenging, with all of them having elite records on the road this year.

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Chris Paul and Jae Crowder's leadership is going to be essential if the Suns are to make a deep run. Paul has shown he still has what it takes at 35 years of age to lead the Phoenix offense and help develop their young stars, as he did last season in Oklahoma.

Jae Crowder, meanwhile, is a tenacious winner who will scrap for every possession and won't let the Suns go down without a fight.

At the end of the day, reaching the playoffs is a major improvement for the Phoenix Suns, and they have the pieces in place to challenge the West's elite. The primary worry will be if they come up against LeBron and Anthony Davis and if they have an answer to their experience.

Without facing them, you have Denver, who made the Conference Finals last year, and Portland, who made the Conference Finals the year before. The West isn't easy.

The road ahead

Looking ahead, though, there is little reason to suggest this season will be a one-off for the Phoenix Suns. Devin Booker is tied down to a long-term contract, while Chris Paul has one more year left before he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

They are the Suns' key pieces to any future success, and neither look like they would move elsewhere. If the Suns can make a deep run in the playoffs, this will only lead to future success with the ability to attract more talent. Phoenix Suns fans should be very excited for the road ahead.

Published 03 Apr 2021, 00:14 IST
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