Last season, it took the Phoenix Suns 81 games to earn victory number 25.
They only needed 43 games to reach that mark this season.
Going into the season, the Vegas odds had the Suns winning fewer than 20 games total, so it's understandable that they are considered to be the biggest surprise in the entire NBA. But why are the 2013-14 Suns so much better than the 2012-13 version?
Here are five reasons the Suns have gone from a team with the league's fourth-worst record to one with its ninth-best.
Often times when people judge a defense they do so by looking at points allowed per game, and by that metric this year's team isn't much better than last year's. After all, is the difference between 101.6 points allowed per game and 100.9 really that big? No, but that's not the story. Much like it was during the "Seven Seconds or Less" days, when the Suns would allow a lot of points due to their fast pace, the effectiveness is not shown in that statistic.
Where the Suns are excellent is in defensive field goal percentage, improving from .470 last year to .449. Whereas 24 different teams finished ahead of them in that statistic last season, just 10 can make that claim right now.
Changing of the guards
When he was acquired from the L.A. Clippers in exchange for Jared Dudley, the prevailing thought was that Eric Bledsoe was ready to break out and become a star. Having been a backup for the majority of his career, the former first-round pick had shown potential, but had yet to really capitalize on it.
Potential met production in Phoenix, as the 24-year-old has posted averages of 18 points, 5.8 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game, while playing good defense and coming up big in clutch situations. Of course, the only negative in his brief Suns tenure is injuries, which have limited him to just 24 games and may keep him out the rest of the season. That would seem like a death sentence for this upstart group, except for the play of Bledsoe's backcourt mate, Goran Dragic.
Dragic's first season back with the team last year was a productive one, as he averaged a team-best (and career-high) 14.7 points and 7.4 assists per game, while chipping in 3.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals per night. He's taken things to a different level this season --- an All-Star one.
The 27-year-old lefty is averaging 19.3 points, 6.1 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. He's shooting a ridiculous .490 from the field, including .364 from three-point range. He is, with LeBron James and Kevin Durant, one of just three players in the NBA to be averaging at least 19 points and 5 assists per game while shooting at least .480 percent from the field. Sure, you can use stats to push nearly any agenda, but there's no arguing the fact that Dragic has been playing at an elite level this season. Oh, and since Eric Bledsoe went down with his knee injury Dragic has stepped up his level of play, averaging a cool 21.2 points, 6.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game while hitting 50 percent of his shots from the field and 40 percent of his three-point attempts.
Jeff Hornacek > Lindsey Hunter.
Welcome back, Channing
It was difficult to quantify just how much Channing Frye's absence due to a heart defect hurt the Suns last season. He is not exactly a superstar, and it is tough to believe a role player such as himself would have made much of a difference for the disaster that was last year's team.
But seeing him back on the floor this year is enough to make one rethink that idea.
Frye is averaging 12.5 points per game while shooting .459 from the field and .427 from three-point range. He has started every game this season, providing an emotional boost, leadership and sound post defense that were missing last year. As good a "stretch-4" as you'll find in the NBA, his ability to connect from long range opens things up for teammates who excel closer to the basket.
Raise your hand if, when you saw that the Suns traded Luis Scola to the Indiana Pacers for Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and a draft pick you looked at the first two and sarcastically said, "Championship!"
The two have hardly been "throw-ins" for the Suns, with Plumlee starting every game at center and Green starting more than half the team's games due to Bledsoe being injured.
Green's 13.5 points per game are third on the team and would be a new career high for the journeyman, and his knack for hitting big shots has saved the Suns on numerous occasions. An incredibly athletic 6-foot-8 swingman, Green is now with his eighth team in seven NBA seasons, but may have finally found a home in Phoenix.
As for Plumlee, the second-year pro went from appearing in just 14 games last season as a rookie to starting all 43 thus far this season. His progression allowed the Suns to trade former starting center Marcin Gortat shortly before the regular season, and while many viewed it as a "tanking" move, it actually appears to have been made with basketball in mind. The former Duke Blue Devil is averaging 9.6 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, numbers that are very comparable to what the man he replaced is doing in Washington.