It has been nine years since the Phoenix Suns have played postseason basketball.
With a jolt of production from its young players and a hot start to the season, the Suns are no longer a rebuilding team.
With the balance of power still lying out in the Western Conference, several teams like the Suns are jockeying for position in the top eight spots in the standings.
While the NBA world may have written the Suns off before the 2019-2020 season even started, there is now a strong belief as to why Phoenix be favored over several other lower-level playoff contenders.
A Clear Cut leader and superstar:
In order to stay relevant in today’s NBA, you have to have at least one superstar on your roster.
For the Suns, Devin Booker is both that superstar and their leader.
Booker is among the leagues best in terms of putting the ball in the hoop, currently sitting 17th in the league in scoring.
While we have not seen a full season for Booker, we have seen him when healthy and suffice to say he has proven that he is one of the best shooting guards in the league.
Over the course of his career, he has evolved his game from being a shooter to an all-around scorer. The next step for Booker to become an all-around player was him progressing as a playmaker.
Nice awareness from Devin Booker. Comes off in P&R with Dieng in a drop. Keeps driving, engages the big and the weakside before skipping to Oubre for a 3 (nice pass). Wolves weakside defense has to be more disciplined and aware and avoid over helping. pic.twitter.com/oKzr1CeoBl
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) November 23, 2019
Last season, he took that next step and he went on to average 6.8 assists for Phoenix, a career-high and third amongst shooting guards.
Just like how a puzzle is easier to complete when the corner pieces are found first, the Suns have their franchise “cornerstone” and have done a good job filling in the rest of the roster.
Strong supporting cast:
Unlike several of the top contenders in the Western Conference, Phoenix is not in a major market and does not have the draw that entices big-name players.
So, when that is the case the only remaining option is to try your best stay competitive, hand out wise contracts and draft well.
This blueprint for the Suns has been laid out and followed step-by-step.
With current general manager James Jones inheriting the roster that was essentially set up by former GM Ryan McDonough, the Suns’ franchise is now at a turning point and must continue to look to improve in key areas.
2018’s top overall pick and potential All-Star Deandre Ayton was set to have a monster sophomore season.
After playing in the season debut where he tallied a double-double in the Suns’ dominant win over the Sacramento Kings, Ayton was suspended 25 games by the NBA for a violation of the NBA Anti-Drug policy.
When he comes back, however, the defense and offense for the Suns will be bolstered. Ayton is undoubtedly a great rim-protector and has a great back to the basket game that allows the Suns to feed it into the blender and come away with a tough-earned two points.
He finished fourth in scoring between all rookies last season and obtained the most rebounds off the glass. He was the only rookie to average a double-double last season with 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
With Phoenix awaiting his return, the other starting five around Booker consists of veteran journeymen and Suns several newcomers like Ricky Rubio, Aaron Baynes, and Dario Saric.
The last member of the starting lineup for the Suns is Kelly Oubre Jr. who was acquired at last seasons trade deadline.
Amongst lineups in the NBA that have played at least 110 minutes this season, that current starting five for Phoenix ranks 8th in Net Rating at 12.8.
To put that into perspective, last year the Suns finished the year 28th in plus-minus, 21st in PPG, 12th in FG%, and 29th in 3PT%.
Safe to say their starting lineup has improved through the acquisitions that were made.
It may not be filled with superstars, but these starters all compliment each other very nicely.
While the Suns have questions and holes that need to be addressed and filled throughout the season, it is clear to see that this season seems like it’s going to trend in a different direction than previous years.
Lying under the radar and continue to shake up the playoff picture in the Western Conference is what Pheonix plans on doing with nobody wanting to suspend belief.
No more tanking, no more draft lottery, the rebuild is over and the time for winning seems to have begun.