Suns cite process after starting lineup held worst plus/minus

Jul 9, 2021, 9:48 AM

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, left, celebrates with Jae Crowder after the Suns defeated the Milwau...

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, left, celebrates with Jae Crowder after the Suns defeated the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 2 of basketball's NBA Finals, Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Devin Booker and Chris Paul eventually clicked despite both being alpha leaders. They say it’s because they have aligned goals.

But they also have the same appreciation for the process to reach those. They love the daily grind to get there.

The Phoenix Suns’ two stars have been surrounded by like-minded players who show up to the gym on practice days or the offseason ready to work, and as good as Phoenix has made things look through 18 playoff games, it wasn’t always that way.

It took time, tough conversations and sacrifice — not only on the part of the team’s two All-Stars — for the whole thing to snap into place.

Just two wins from the franchise’s first title, it looks like no opponent will be able to snap the Suns out of it.

Yet back in January, just 11 games into the season, the Suns weren’t doing all that great in terms of plugging in offseason additions Chris Paul and Jae Crowder with the returning youngsters.

“I just know that I remember being on that one road trip and (head coach Monty Williams) telling us we had the worst plus/minus starting five. That hurt,” Paul said Thursday after Phoenix went ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks 2-0 in the NBA Finals.

“I ain’t never been on a minus side or any of that stuff. But we knew that we had to figure it out. Like if we wanted to get where we are now, we knew we had to figure it out. So, we did it and we are going to keep it going.”

They sure did.

On Jan. 17, the Suns were 7-4, and COVID-19 protocols had led to three games being postponed.

Their current starting lineup of Paul, Crowder, plus returning core members Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges had the worst plus/minus in the league (-2.5) among five-man units who’d appeared in at least 10 games with one another.

By net rating (-6.5), only the Golden State Warriors’ starting five — Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr., Draymond Green and James Wiseman — had played worse.

Obviously, things changed from those early samples.

Williams went away from Crowder and with Cam Johnson in the starting lineup coming out of the coronavirus-caused hiatus, and the Suns lost Booker three games into that stretch. The team lost four of five after the postponements.

But over a five-day span of three games from Jan. 18 to Jan. 22, the current starting lineup (again, not starting) posted a positive 4.5 plus/minus before Booker went down with an injury. It bumped the season plus/minus of the group from -2.5 to -0.9.

From there, Paul went on a scoring binge until Booker returned, and the Suns never looked back.

Phoenix didn’t record a losing streak until late April. It wasn’t until mid-May, shortly after Crowder returned from an ankle injury, that he was reinserted into the starting lineup.

Williams has maintained that starting unit this postseason aside from two games Paul was lost due to COVID-19 protocols.

“We sat down — it wasn’t just me and Chris. It was the whole starting five,” Booker said on Wednesday when asked about making it work with such a significant running mate. “We were just really honest with each other. I always say we hang our hat on the defensive end, and that’s where most of the conversation was.

“We obviously have to figure out chemistry on the offensive end and how we’re going to move and what pace we’re going to move at, but if we’re not going to be scoring, the other team can’t be scoring either.”

In the playoffs, the Suns’ starting lineup holds the sixth-best plus/minus (4.4) of groups who have appeared in more than four games together.

They’ve played consistently good basketball while appearing in 309 minutes together this postseason. That’s 309 minutes out of 864 total, which makes for a huge chunk of pretty good basketball.

That has the Suns, to borrow a few phrases from Booker, in good shape and coming for Larry.

Empire of the Suns

Royce O'Neale of the Phoenix Suns...

Kevin Zimmerman

ESPN’s Marks: Royce O’Neale’s contract details show bargain for Suns

If we're to shrug at how Mat Ishbia cares to spend his money, Royce O'Neale's four-year, $42 million contract is a bargain.

1 day ago

Amen Thompson #29 of the 2024 USA Basketball Men's Select Team guards Devin Booker #15 of the 2024 ...

Kellan Olson

Devin Booker continues to look the part for Team USA vs. Canada

Devin Booker continued to prove why he will be a valuable asset in the Paris Olympics for Team USA in an exhibition win against Canada.

2 days ago

Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns during a 124-108 win over the LA Clippers at Crypto.com Arena ...

Kellan Olson

Kevin Durant clears up his reported frustration in Phoenix Suns offense

Kevin Durant provided some clarification on reports regarding his frustration with the Suns' offense and standing in the corner.

3 days ago

Kevin Durant and Anthony Edwards...

Kellan Olson

Anthony Edwards has ‘butterflies’ to be Kevin Durant’s Olympic teammate

Anthony Edwards has been Kevin Durant's favorite player for a long time, and after the two battled in the postseason, they are now teammates.

4 days ago

Devin Booker #15 of Team United States poses with his gold medal during the Men's Basketball medal ...

Kellan Olson

Devin Booker back for Olympic gold after thriving as ‘perfect FIBA guy’ in Tokyo

Devin Booker didn't struggle at all with a large role change for Team USA in the 2021 Olympics and he should thrive again this summer.

4 days ago

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns dribbles the ball while being guarded by Tyrese Haliburton #0 o...

Kellan Olson

Tyrese Haliburton was open to Suns drafting him, had zero pre-draft communication

Tyrese Haliburton told Arizona Sports he was open to being selected by the Suns in 2020 despite reports he forced his way to the Kings.

5 days ago

Suns cite process after starting lineup held worst plus/minus