At 16-10 through the first two months of the NBA, the Phoenix Suns have surprised everyone.
Having played less than a third of their games, the Suns are just three games away from meeting the expectation of the majority of the Arizona Sports panel, who anticipated 20 wins for the team in 2013-14, and just eight wins from the most optimistic of our prognosticators, who predicted 24 wins.
The team was expected to “tank,” but so far, they’ve been too good to tank — as Grantland’s Zach Lowe recently pointed out, when he called the Suns’ performance “the best story in the league.”
In an Insider story, ESPN.com’s Kevin Pelton echoed Lowe’s sentiment, calling the Suns the top surprise of the season.
“As stunning as the Blazers’ ascent has been,” Pelton writes, “at least everyone knew Portland was trying to win.”
ESPN originally forecasted just 19 wins for the Suns, pinning them at the bottom of the Western conference standings. Entering play Monday, the Suns are sixth in the West, while Pelton’s ESPN-owned SCOEHNE projections system only penciled in 17 wins for the team.
The assumption in October was that the Suns were more interested in collecting ping-pong balls, one reinforced by the trade that sent starting center Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards for a lottery-protected pick the week before the season. Yet Phoenix started the season hot and hasn’t stopped winning.
Phoenix’s overachieving has truly been a team effort… That points to the role of first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek, who has built an outside-in attack around the skills of guards Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. Without a single All-Star (injured Emeka Okafor doesn’t count), the Suns are sixth in the league in offensive rating, ahead of the likes of the Mavericks and Spurs. Hornacek also has Phoenix competing at the defensive end. Even if this run doesn’t result in a playoff spot, it’s been the NBA’s biggest surprise of 2013-14.
Pelton later notes that the Suns’ 16 wins has them now projected to win 49 games by season’s end.