Suns

Suns Getting Ready to Stun in Second Half

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If you haven’t hopped on the Phoenix Suns’ bandwagon so far, it’s not too late just yet. This team is getting ready to send shock waves throughout the league.

Make no mistake, while the national media have taken their time giving the Suns their flowers, Suns fans have been riding an absolute roller coaster of a season thus far. While many think we should just be happy to be here, this Suns team is looking for more. They’re not stopping here.

Only two games out of first place in the Western Conference — and in the whole NBA — this team’s eye should be on the crown of the league.

That No. 1 seed is more than within their grasp. There is no reason not to take full advantage.

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First-Half Recap

As mentioned before, the Suns’ first half of their season was anything but a predictable ride. From Covid protocols causing reschedules, pesky injuries, to the perplexing play no one has been able to fully grasp yet, this Phoenix squad has been nothing less than exciting. Sitting at 25-11, on pace to end the year at 50-22, the Suns are stamping their name all over. They are tied for second in the NBA in assists at 27.1 per game. Simultaneously, they are also top ten in both field goal % and 3-point %. Keeping consistent with ball movement to get good-looking shots has been key for this team.

While the overall brand of basketball is looking good for the Suns, they’re killing it in the advanced categories as well. The Suns have been one of the few teams to consistently be in the top 10 in defensive and offensive efficiency all year. Their defense hasn’t left the top five once. This high-level play directly translates to why the Suns are second in assist-to-turnover ratio also. Success comes from taking care of the ball and sharing the wealth.

This is exactly what makes this team thrive and why the chemistry is so strong. Everyone wants to see each other win.

All-Star Backcourt

Chris Paul and Devin Booker were named NBA All-Stars this season. Both coming off All-Star selections last year, the dynamic duo, now having joined forces here in the valley, were looking to return to the star-studded event once more. Although it took a re-open of a spot due to injury to get Booker the nod again, it is good to know credit was given where it was due.

With all the uncertainty surrounding minutes around the roster, these two have given fans a net to fall back on. They come in night in and night out, and give their entire heart to this game and team. Led by Booker averaging 27.9 points and Paul with 9.4 assists in the month of February — Book also earning Player of the Month honors — they were able to lead this team to a month’s-best record of 12-3.

Catapulting them into contention.

Bench Turning Heads

The Phoenix bench led the entire first-half field in net rating at 4.8. The next-best bench in the league sits at 2.6. This same Suns bench has a box +/- currently sitting at an astounding +126, with the next best being a mere +70.

The gap here is more than just meets the eye.

This is everyone on this roster being okay with maybe not playing every single night. Guys going days without a start, or even playing time for that matter. But instantly being ready and willing to go all-in on the plan and task at hand. This is the result of everyone being “bought-in” and being on a team that truly roots for one another.

Super Dario

The true highlight off the bench to cap-off the first half? Back-up center Dario Saric.

Dario had himself a fantastic February, shooting 50/40/94 splits, meshing with every lineup imaginable, truly cementing himself as a must-have rotational piece. Among players averaging at least 20 minutes a game, Saric is the leader among score differential with a +9.6, making him the instant plug-in fix to any lineup issues. He just always figures out a way to get it done.

This is all not to mention the immediate connection with CP3 he’s had and what they do to elevate each other. Saric is the perfect big man for a point guard like Chris Paul. While one would disagree, easily remembering how insanely flashy lob-city was in the past, the IQ Saric brings to the table is unmatched.

The PnR/two-man game these gentlemen bring to the table is unwavering. You can clearly see above the two working together, deciding which side will be best to attack from. Both realizing both defenders are locked in on Paul, Saric knows to lets CP use his gravity and take the defenders away. Paul, then already knowing Saric will be right where he wants him, is able to sling an easy behind-the-back pass right to the shooter’s grasp.

This is only the start of a very lethal duo to come.

Starting Second Half Strong

With the first game of the second half under their belt, this Suns team is looking to build on yet another victory and keep climbing the rankings. Thursday night against the Portland Trail Blazers brought another super-star performance from Booker, another level up from Mikal Bridges to look-out for, and the resurgence of Cameron Payne trying to lock in that back-up spot.

Book Keeping the Heat

Booker amounted another 30-point game Thursday. This one officially puts him at 100 career 30-point games, making him 8th youngest to achieve such a feat.

Coming off a knee injury that halted Book from traveling to the All-Star game, it took until a couple of hours before game-time to get confirmation he was playing. “He different. For real, for real. He different,” Paul said. “Not only the fact that he played tonight, but that smooth 35 he had tonight. Me and Jae Crowder was just in there talking about it. He different”. Shooting an efficient 12-21 from the field, Book really was able to turn it on in the third quarter, scoring 13 of his 35 points in that period.

At the end of the game, however, it seemed Booker crashed his already-hurt knee into the leg of Derrick Jones Jr. sending Book to the ground. He got up after a minute or two, then proceeded to be removed from the game. Although it was a light hit on this last occurrence, another day off will tell if he is able to return.

Mikal’s Cuts Clinic

Teams have to game plan for how good Mikal Bridges is off the ball.  Thursday night, Bridges was earning his points with his smarts away from the ball, rather than with it having 75% of his made field goals assisted. Also, 6 of his 18 points came off cuts alone.

He even makes the team better with his gravity. Highlighted down below, Mikal makes a cut and attracts two defenders instantly to his direction. Thus, leaving Jae Crowder wide open for a three-ball.

Bridges’ IQ away from the ball is a huge reason why Phoenix is so high in the assist column. His play rubs off on the other players, influencing them to make multiple cuts after him. The Suns rank in the 72nd percentile on cut plays by team. Other teams having to constantly rotate their defenses and switch to accommodate the active off-ball movement from the Suns pays off with riches on the regular.

Payne Budges the Back-Up Spot

It seems some time off is all Cameron Payne needed to re-excel his game. Payne has been due for a bounce-back performance after his recent stretch. After getting strictly “garbage-time” minutes towards the end of the first half, Monty Williams flipped the switch. Payne notched 20 minutes against the Blazers, scoring 13 points off the bench, tallying up six assists as well. Maybe the most impressive stat of his big night, however, was Payne’s box +/- of +23(!). Payne’s playmaking fingerprints were placed all over this game, earning trust back from his teammates and coach, deservingly so.

Still with no true back-up in place for Chris Paul, it seems the Suns are going to be choosing from someone in-house to fill the occupancy. Cam Payne is surely the guy to fulfill this order.

Suns to Remain Steady to Secure Playoff Spot

With a couple of tough second-half stretches coming up, this team still has a lot of questions to be answered. With the chemistry and fight, however, this team has shown so far throughout the season, they are up for the challenge.

While the playoffs seem to be all but inevitable, seeding is the next worry this team will focus on in the second half. Match-ups are key to succeeding in playoff atmospheres. But with how this team is hanging around so far it seems they may be the ones putting fear into other team’s hearts. What better way to cap that fear off, with the No. 1 spot.

Follow us on Twitter @SunsLead for the latest Suns news and insight. 

About Cameron Prichard

Twitter: @TheValleyAthltc

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