After several years of incompetence and planning for the lottery with no sense of direction, the Phoenix Suns might just have started to pull something together, for real this time.
While they boast only a 2-1 record in a loaded Western Conference, their first three results are encouraging enough to give them more than a slight vote of confidence this 2019-20 season. The Suns started their season with a 124-95 shellacking of the Sacramento Kings, who have found themselves 0-3 through the early stretch, despite contending for a playoff spot for the bulk of last season.
The Suns picked up their first loss against the Denver Nuggets in heartbreaking fashion, losing by a made free throw and a last-second blocked layup in overtime.
From that second game, I was sure the Suns had something else this time around, no longer complacent with getting the second seed of last year’s West to that extra period, but hungrily hunting for a result, which reflected a clear change in mindset.
Saturday’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers seared that belief into actual proof, as the Suns hung a whopping 130 points over one of the best defensive teams in the league, shooting a crisp 50% from the floor and burying 17 threes against a strong perimeter defensive team.
These two wins and this close overtime loss are no accident — they are the byproduct of a change in mindset and the correct tools to put out a winning product.
New general manager James Jones did well in the hiring of head coach Monty Williams, who will be the fifth of Devin Booker’s five-year career, but hopefully also the last for a while after a series of changes during his early tenure with the team.
It only took a game for the Suns to see some misfortune, now down Deandre Ayton for 23 more games after he was hit with a 25-game suspension the day after a season-opening win over the Kings. Aron Baynes has done well as a replacement, but the Suns have had a collective effort from Booker, Kelly Oubre, and others to keep this train going.
Phoenix leads the league in point differential (plus-12 points per game) while also being one of only eight teams to average more than 120 points per game.
The Suns demolished the Kings by 29 points in the season opener and barely lost by a point against the Nuggets in OT, then handed the Clippers an eight-point loss, despite being short two starters in Ricky Rubio and Ayton.
This team is playing with a chip on its shoulder, and it’s showing. Booker took Beverley’s challenge head-on, and even fouled him out on Saturday with six minutes left in regulation.
— SLAM (@SLAMonline) October 27, 2019
Booker has shouldered a lot of the scoring load, but unlike past seasons, he’s actually getting some support from the likes of Kelly Oubre Jr., Dario Saric, Frank Kaminsky III, Baynes, and Rubio.
That alone is allowing him to have some gas left for clutch shots of this nature, forcing overtime after a closely-contested three to tie the game over one of Denver’s best defenders in Jerami Grant.
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) October 26, 2019
The Suns could be one of those teams fighting for a playoff spot later this season, but even if they fall short, it would be a massive step forward to be in the conversation.
Monty Williams has come in with a mindset to change the culture there and it’s clear the players are buying in, now more focused on defense and playing an offense based on Booker and a co-star in Oubre, no longer leaving the former to produce scoring from tough unassisted looks.
Phoenix might not get Ayton back until Christmas, but Baynes has done well as an experienced and rugged defender, a polished screen-setter, and a veteran leader that can produce enough points and boards to keep the Suns in games.
So long as they stay true to Williams’ teachings, the Suns should be able to make a massive statement this season and finally climb out of the West’s cellar, a place that has grown way too familiar for a team that is willing to show they’re for real, for real this time.