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Suns GM attributes early success to Paul’s leadership, Ayton’s defense

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 23: Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball as Deandre Ayton #22 sets a pick on James Johnson #16 of the Dallas Mavericks during the first half of the NBA game at PHX Arena on December 23, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns are off to their best start in recent memory at 6-2.

After the first eight games of the 2020-21 NBA season, Phoenix is tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the top spot in the Western Conference.

The Suns’ hot start to the campaign might not surprise those that follow the team closely, especially after the Valley’s oldest sports franchise went 8-0 in the bubble and nearly ended a decade’s long playoff drought.

But nobody could have foreseen what NBA general managers called the move of the offseason in the acquisition of 10-time All-Star point guard Chris Paul.

“He’s a quarterback out there — a quarterback in our offense and our defense,” Suns GM James Jones told Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo on Wednesday.

“Chris is a talker and he has no problem where they need to be, when they need to be there, holding the guys accountable and also admitting when he’s not in the right spot. So he’s been good for us. His maturity, his experience — our guys lean on it and it’s paid dividends early in the year.”

Another intricate piece to the early success the Suns are seeing this season is the defensive emergence of third-year center Deandre Ayton.

Through seven games on the year, the former Arizona Wildcat is averaging 10.7 rebounds a game (No. 10 in NBA), including a career-best 7.7 defensive boards per contest.

“He’s been really good for us defensively,” Jones said of Ayton. “His rebounding, his offensive rebounding, but more so his defensive rebounding has helped us try to pack the paint, try to make teams take difficult shots against him at the rim.

“He’s been active and his activity helps us. We’re not the biggest starting lineup, so we rely on him to give us a lot of length and just have a presence and he’s been doing a good job. I think he’d tell you he’s most proud of his defensive progress this season.”

The Suns are coming off a 123-115 home win over the 1-6 Toronto Raptors.

Now Phoenix will travel to Detroit to take on the Pistons — the only other team in the NBA with less than two wins — in the first contest of a three-game road trip.

“You can’t take any of these teams lightly. You have to come in and understand that the other team across from you is desperate,” Jones said. “We all know early in the season, every team feels they have a shot.

“You’ll get their best shot night to night, so we don’t want to overlook anyone. We don’t want to take these opportunities to play at home for granted, so we have to win at home. We have to win every game, but if we take that mentality we’ll be fine in the end.”


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