If you were to ask anyone in March what they thought about the Phoenix Suns the opinion would probably be the same: Constant underachievers that will once again miss out on the playoffs. The team last saw a playoff berth in 2010 and as of March, when the season was put on pause, the team sat at 26-39, which was good for 13th in the western conference, out of the playoff picture. However, when Adam Silver created the NBA Bubble, the Suns were the last western conference team to get invited. They have made the best out of this invite to say the least.
Let’s start with the obvious. The Suns are 4-0 in the bubble and are the only undefeated team left after the Raptors suffered an embarrassing prime time loss to the Boston Celtics on Friday evening. Let’s also clear up that the Suns haven’t just beat up on bad teams. They’ve defeated the Wizards, Clippers, Mavericks, and Pacers. While the Wizards have been eliminated from playoff contention as of this writing, the Clippers hold strong as a title contender while the Mavericks and Pacers have both clinched playoff spots for this season. Now that their competition has been made clear, let’s address the burning question: How have the Suns done this?
The Suns, in the bubble, have looked like a completely different team. The keyword being team there. The Suns, through four games, have averaged 118.3 points per game while only allowing 110.3 points per game. Where would this measure up for the regular season? It would be the third-highest points per game and the 15th lowest opponent’s points per game. The Suns, as a team, have shot 46.8% from the field, which would be 10th best in the league. Furthermore, from three-point land, they’ve knocked down 37.6% of their shots, which would be the 4th best in the league. While shooting the lights out, they’ve taken care of the ball by only turning the ball over 12.7 turnovers per game, which is the 2nd lowest in the league. Even then, when looking at advanced stats, the Suns look even better.
In the restart, the Suns have had an offensive rating of 115.3. What is an offensive rating? It’s a statistic, created by Dean Oliver, used to predict how many points a team will score per 100 possessions. This rating of 115.3 would’ve been good for the 2nd highest rating in the NBA this season. The Suns, though, are not just a one-dimensional team. The team has a defensive rating of 107.6 inside the bubble. Similar to offensive rating, the defensive rating is a statistic created by Dean Oliver to predict how many points a team will allow per 100 possessions. That 107.6 rating would’ve been the 6th highest rating in the NBA, which gives the Suns a net rating of 7.7, which would’ve been the 2nd best in the NBA. What does this mean for Phoenix in simple terms? They’ve been playing like an elite team since the NBA has restarted in the Orlando bubble. Now that the team as a unit has been looked at, it’s critical to see just WHO has brought the Suns here. For that, we will look at their “big three”: Devin Booker, Ricky Rubio, and Deandre Ayton.
While those names don’t exactly strike fear into an opponent, they’ve bought into the system that Monty Williams has brought to the desert land. Devin Booker is a star that is trying to make that climb to being a superstar, Deandre Ayton is a sophomore-year player that is continuing to climb to his full potential, and Ricky Rubio is the veteran gatekeeper of this offense. In the bubble, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton have been doing their usual thing. Booker, the stone-cold scorer, has been averaging 28 points per game on 47.5% from the field while knocking down 35.1% on his threes on 6.3 attempts per game. Ayton has worked his magic down low, averaging 18.3 points per game on 56.8% to go along with 9.3 rebounds per game and 1.5 blocks per game. Those numbers are similar to their regular-season numbers, so what has created the change? You guessed it: Ricky Rubio. Rubio, who averaged 13.3 points per game on 41.5% with 8.7 assists in the regular season, has taken that small step up, which has proven to create change. His numbers within the bubble look as follows: 16.5 points per game on 44%, 6 assists per game, and only 2 turnovers per game. He has taken care of the ball and helped push the offense into a higher tier. This isn’t to take away from the collection of role players that they’ve assembled, either.
The Suns, after Friday’s slate of games, sit at 30-39, which is good for 12th in the Western Conference, but only two and a half games out of the last playoff spot, which is currently held by the Memphis Grizzlies (33-37). With the Grizzlies and Pelicans in a free fall, the Spurs in a state of up-and-down, and the Trailblazers catching fire similar to Phoenix, it’s a very real possibility that there could be a play-in tournament between Portland and Phoenix for the last playoff spot inside the NBA Bubble.