• Gerald Malunga

Phoenix Suns are the surprise package in the West

What a difference a year makes! At this stage last season, the Phoenix Suns had a disappointing 1-7 record in their first eight games of the season, their season opening win was followed by seven consecutive defeats which all but ended their pre-season excitement.

The 2019-20 season has brought renewed hope within the franchise with the Monty Williams era in full effect, the Suns have been the Western Conference's surprise package this season with a healthy 5-3 start in the first eight games of the season.

One of the team's driving forces has been Devin Booker who is averaging yet another career-high progression, his numbers have made him an early contender for the MVP award and he looks set to earn an All-Star nod if he maintains his hot streak. Collectively, the team has also improved their road form, they are currently 2-1 on their travels having won their last two road games.

A battle-hardened supporting cast

The presence of battle-hardened players such as Aron Baynes, Kelly Oubre Jr, Dario Saric (to name a few) has made the team a lot stronger and more competitive. During his Boston Celtics days, Baynes was best known for his great energy off the bench given his rebounding and all-round defensive presence whenever he was called upon, this season he has replaced the suspended DeAndre Ayton as the starting center and he has proved to be a more effective offensive threat as well with a season tally of 16 points per game, which is more than double of what he averaged last season in Boston under restricted minutes.

Williams has managed to unearth the offensive beast in Baynes, this has cushioned the blow of not having Ayton around for the first part of the season, he is also shooting an impressive 47.1% from 3-point range. Saric is also a reliable double-digit scorer in the league, but his vision and ability to make a pass in tightly congested plays has also made him an asset in key areas.

He has slotted into the Suns rotation well, he dropped 15 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists in the win against the highly-rated Los Angeles Clippers, he later produced another stellar performance against the Golden State Warriors he recorded 15 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals.

Oubre Jr's athleticism and ability to record double-digits on a nightly basis has seen the forward elevate his game to career-high levels in the past two seasons, he is currently tallying 17.1 points and he is the Suns' second best scorer this season. The performances of the aforementioned players has ensured that the Suns will not just rely on the exploits of Ayton (when he returns) and Booker throughout the season, the sharing of the scoring responsibilities supplemented by the hustle and grit of the supporting cast will make the Suns a formidable team this season.

The Ricky Rubio effect

The primary role of a point guard is to be a playmaker and to control the team’s offensive flow, Ricky Rubio is one of the league’s purest point guards in this regard as his distribution has set the tone for the Suns’ impressive ball movement.

Last season, Booker had to double-up as a point guard at times, although his assist rate reached career high levels but he is still best suited as an offensive weapon given his usual 'shoot first' mentality. Rubio has ensured that Booker gets back to his favoured shooting guard role and this has seen the player elevate his game to another level. Rubio's selflessness has made the team better; their ball movement has been refreshing as many players have been getting open looks and being a part of the offense for the better of the team.

The Suns lost their most recent game against the Miami Heat with Baynes leading the scoring for them (23 points) and Rubio dishing out 11 assists, their overall form has exceeded expectations and they seem to be determined to contend for the Playoffs if their early start is anything to go by.

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