Phoenix Suns: One Thing Most Responsible for the Team’s Turnaround

Phoenix Suns. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Phoenix Suns. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

If you blinked, maybe you missed it, but the Phoenix Suns are back. Now soaring above the .500 mark after a shaky start to their 2021-22 campaign, the Valley Boys finally look fresh and motivated, ripping through their opponents with three straight victories.

But before all this, the Suns looked hungover from their championship run this past summer, desperately needing some pedialyte and a Tylenol.

Riddled with turnover issues that even persisted during Phoenix’s victory over the New Orleans Pelicans Tuesday night, the Suns looked nothing like the clean and concise on-court product we witnessed last year. Phoenix also looked allergic to the triple, hitting from range at an ugly 32.8 percent rate.

But Phoenix seemed to flip a switch this week, taking down the Cleveland Cavaliers, the aforementioned Pelicans, and the Houston Rockets last night. So what led to this sudden change in the tide?

At first, one might just chalk it all up to the Suns lighter schedule this week. When looking at the Rockets, Cavaliers, and Pelicans without Zion Williamson or Brandon Ingram, they all come across as easier squads to dismantle.

However, it runs much deeper than that. Beforehand, the Suns were still playing less impressive teams, and still losing to them all the same. Phoenix dropped an ugly game to the Sacramento Kings just last week, and also got blown out by the 3-5 Portland Trail Blazers prior to that.

Instead, the Suns need to look no further than their improved defense as the reason behind their upsurge as a team.

Through Phoenix’s first four games, they surrendered 114.8 points per game to their opponents, an average that would have them ranked as the worst defense in the league today if it were to stand. But over their last three games, the Suns allowed just 101.0 opponent points per game, which would represent a top five mark right now.

At the end of the day, it all came down to effort. Devin Booker, a career 0.2 blocks per game man, registered one rejection in each of his last two contests. Also with defensive anchor Deandre Ayton unavailable to play vs Cleveland, reserve players JaVale McGee and Frank Kaminsky stepped up huge. Against the Cavs, Kaminsky finished with a career-high four steals, while McGee added five boards.

Last season, the Suns put up the league’s sixth highest defensive rating, and allowed the seventh fewest opponent points per game. With the team bringing back almost the exact same roster this year, their abysmal defense to start off the season felt puzzling to say the least.

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But now it seems like the Suns have shaken off their rust and returned to their gritty and ferocious ways at the floor’s opposite end. They have that to thank for their turnaround more than anything, and need to keep it up if they hope to continue riding this wave.