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Some good ol’ numbers explaining why the Phoenix Suns are good

Ricky Rubio #11 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball ahead of Josh Richardson #0 of the Philadelphia 76ers during the second half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on November 04, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the 76ers 114-109.(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns are 5-2. They very well could be a playoff contender if they don’t experience significant drop-off.

They certainly will push for 30 or more wins even if it turns out they’re playing over their heads.

If you’ve watched the Suns’ first seven games under head coach Monty Williams, you might have been surprised to see good, solid basketball decisions being made. You might have even noticed that the good basketball decisions paired with some exceptional skills has made Phoenix a fun watch.

Statistics would agree with those assessments.

Phoenix is off until Thursday, where it will face the Miami Heat, the only other team in the top-10 of both offensive rating and defensive ratings as of Tuesday. With the help of and Basketball-Reference, here are the numbers behind the Suns’ strong start.

Both sides of the ball

The Suns are fourth in the NBA with a net rating of 7.8 thanks to their scoring 108.8 points per 100 possessions (10th) and allowing 100.9 (seventh).

How they’re scoring

Williams’ offense is all about the backcut. Phoenix is attacking via the cut on 9.1% of its possessions, second-most in the NBA.

It’s accounting for 14.3 points per game.

So how else are the Suns scoring points?

They aren’t driving the ball much (sixth-fewest drives per game) and aren’t pulling up off the dribble (also sixth). They have the fourth-fewest isolation possessions per game (4.0). All of this is a radical departure from the last time Phoenix had a starting-caliber point guard in Eric Bledsoe.

Surprisingly, the Suns aren’t even passing it that much this season.

Phoenix ranks 12th in passes per game, but it’s what they’re doing with those passes that’s impressive. They are third in assist-to-pass percentage (9.8%), meaning they’re finding points often out of each pass. That’s one reason they are second in the NBA by averaging 27.7 assists per game.

Open sniping season

Unsurprisingly, the Suns are shooting well and spacing the floor to go with that purposeful passing.

Ninety-three percent of the Suns’ three-pointers are assisted, second-best in the league, and they are hitting 37.7% from three.

The Suns are second to the Milwaukee Bucks with 28.9% of their field goals being taken “wide open,” with the closest defender six feet or further away. A quarter of their threes are wide open.

Phoenix is top-10 in catch-and-shoot points per game as well as in the percentage of possessions that get them spot-ups (20.9%). And despite a controlled pace led by point guard Ricky Rubio, the Suns are top-10 in percentage of transition possessions, possibly due to forcing opponents into turnovers 16.3% of the time, which is fourth-best in the league.

They have forced the second most turnovers per game (19.0).

Defensive dictation

Speaking of the defense, the Suns are controlling where their opponents are scoring when they aren’t turning them over.

They allow the fourth-fewest opponent three-pointers attempted per game (29.1) and have the ninth-best three-point defense (33.3%).

Phoenix also has the ninth-best defense of shots inside six feet: opponents shoot 57.8% in that area.

The Suns’ best player ….

Devin Booker has easily been the Suns’ best player, and the numb … wait, what?

Advanced analytics love center Aron Baynes, who is scoring positive numbers in total points added and defensive points saved. He’s only in an elite grouping of Karl-Anthony Towns, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Luka Doncic and Donovan Mitchell. No big deal.

That’s small sample size, yada, yada stuff. Even a dropoff will cast Baynes in positive light.

But Booker is doing things on both ends as well. This play to start the win over Philadelphia on Monday night elicited a rise in the Talking Stick Resort Arena crowd.

Offensively, Booker is efficient as ever. He’s shooting 53.5% overall, 50% from three and 90.3% from the free thrown line.

Booker ranks in the top-15 in transition possessions per game, cuts per game, off-screen possessions per game and handoffs taken per game. He’s fallen out of such high volume of pick-and-roll possessions per game — from 9.2 last season to 5.6 this year — now that he has Rubio as his backcourt mate.

So yeah, a varied diet has made Booker even better than before.


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