Suns

Suns’ Offseason Moves Paying off Thus Far

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The Phoenix Suns have had a great start to their season and are looking good in the West. They have lost a couple of games lately, but those have been against good teams like the Boston Celtics and the LA Lakers, not to mention painfully close losses to the Denver Nuggets and the Utah Jazz. There are no easy games in the brutal West and their barely-impressive 7-6 record despite their solid play is a testament to that.

More than the record, the way the Suns play, defend, and compete is refreshingly different from past years. You can find numerous articles analyzing if the Suns are for real and if their record is sustainable. I am very comfortable saying they are legit! All of this is happening without Deandre Ayton, who is serving a 25-game suspension for a failed drug test. He played the first game of the season and looked good. The Suns can only get better when he returns.

Is this the “Bright Future”?

The Suns used to be affectionately called the “bright future Suns” ever since Devin Booker started looking like a star. This was based on the young assets they were collecting via multiple lottery picks. They were also tanking to work their way up those draft boards. It was painful for Suns’ fans to endure those losing seasons and the “bright future” was the only hope. Phoenix has finally turned it around and it seems like they are here to stay.

Is the proverbial “bright future” finally here? Yes and no. Suns are shining bright and hopefully this will be a sustained run, but this was not the same future we were all forecasting for a couple of years. This is a different future. Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss,and T.J. Warren are all gone. That’s a lot of wasted lottery picks. Those were the names expected to fire up the bright future for the Suns in our minds. It didn’t quite pan out that way. The Suns do still have Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and this year’s picks Cameron Johnson and Ty Jerome in the fold. But the key pieces behind this recent bout of success are not the home-grown young ‘uns. Except for Booker of course.

Old Faces in New Places

One of the main reasons for the Suns’ early-season success is their off-season acquisitions. GM James Jones and Assistant GM Trevor Bukstein were both roasted in the media for their off-season. The most popular off-season ranking for the Suns was an F. They seemed to have missed on D’Angelo Russell in free agency. This was especially rough after the lop-sided T.J. Warren trade, designed to buy them some cap space. Media killed the Suns for drafting sharp-shooter Cameron Johnson way ahead of his projected draft spot.

Fast forward five months, nobody is dropping the F grade on James Jones anymore. He signed Ricky Rubio once D’Angelo was gone. Aron Baynes and Frank Kaminsky were brought in for frontcourt depth. They traded for Dario Saric. They brought in a defensive specialist in Jevon Carter from the Josh Jackson trade to Memphis. Last but not least, they re-signed Kelly Oubre Jr. They had traded for him last season and understood his value enough not to let him walk in free agency. That’s a lot of old, familiar faces but in a new Suns uniform.

High-Impact Moves

Contrary to the consensus off-season grade for the Suns, they seemed to have nailed it all. Each and every one of their moves has worked out. Kelly Oubre Jr. has taken another step forward in his career. Kaminsky and Carter are playing meaningful minutes. Baynes has been a total revelation. The untimely suspension of Ayton thrusted Baynes into a starting role and he seems to have grabbed it by its neck! He is shooting 44% from the three point line and it has now gotten to a point where fans are seriously wondering if Ayton should be coming off the bench when he returns from his suspension.

Rookie Cameron Johnson is proving he is one of the best shooters from this year’s draft. It’s not easy for rookies to contribute to a winning team, but he is doing exactly that by shooting better than 40% from three. The only guy who has been a little inconsistent among the new guys is Dario Saric. Even he is at around the same numbers he has always put up. The sum of these parts have resulted in wins and the chemistry on the court is great. They will only get better when Ayton is back from suspension and their other first round pick Ty Jerome is back from injury. The future indeed looks good for the Phoenix Suns.

Coach and the Point Guard

They say success has many fathers and this is definitely true for the Suns. James Jones and the front office deserves all the credit in the world for bringing in these “fathers” to town. However, their biggest move and the grand daddies of them all has been the head coach and point guard. Ricky Rubio is looking like a poor-man’s Steve Nash and that’s a compliment, especially in the valley of the Sun. He makes everybody around him better, especially the bigs like Ayton and Baynes. Plus, he has relieved Booker off point guard duties and Booker can now be the primary scorer that he needs to be for this team.

At the end of the day, the best off-season move for the Suns has been the hiring of head coach Monty Williams. Every team in the NBA is talented. Often times, the difference between winning and losing is effort and attention to detail. Coaches can influence these dimensions positively and Monty seems to have totally accomplished that with this group early this season. He has them playing hard and that’s often half the battle in the NBA. There is a sense of purpose on offense and high-level effort on defense. None of this happens without Monty’s leadership. There is a long way to go in the season, but the Suns get an A for the last off-season, especially for the Monty Williams hire. Now they just have to go out and get an A grade for their play over the remaining 70 games or so.

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About Aravind Srinivasan

Aravind loves two things- the NBA and writing. He has been a long-time Phoenix Suns fans since the Charles Barkley-Kevin Johnson era of the mid-90’s. He now lives in the Golden State and follows the Warriors closely. An avid sports and NBA blogger since the early days of blogging, he is now a Suns and Dubs writer for TLSM. His favourite Sun is Steve Nash and his favourite Warrior is Steph Curry. Twitter: @15cent

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