The Phoenix Suns have steadied the ship so far in 2024, pulling out their two most impressive wins of the season over the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings. That both are division rivals certainly doesn't hurt either, as the Suns look to keep climbing up the Western Conference standings.
They currently sit in the eighth spot out West, and will be hoping to move out of the play-in tournament positions altogether as the playoff picture begins to come into focus. They are unlikely to be active around the trade deadline - they only have a couple of players other teams would have any realistic interest in anyway - although they would surely love to bolster their ranks if they could.
One rival organization that certainly has done some big business recently are the Indiana Pacers, who traded for star Pascal Siakam from the Toronto Raptors.
The deal giving the Pacers a legitimate All-NBA level player to pair next to their own star in Tyrese Haliburton. Given that the Pacers play out East and are a longshot at best to make the NBA Finals this season - which let's be honest the Suns currently are as well - this trade is of little signifigance to The Valley.
But with the two sides set to meet twice over the course of a week beginning on Sunday, January 21st, the arrival of Siakam to the Pacers comes at a time when the Suns do have to take notice, and with good reason. Hard as it may be to believe, we will get a good indicator of just how far the Suns have come by matching up against these new look Pacers twice in quick succession.
Indiana has been a buzzsaw offensively so far this season, and they lead the league at 121.7. Not only a superb number, but one that will easily be the best in league history if it holds. Thanks to the talents of Haliburton and a supporting cast that works around him, the Pacers offensively are everything the Suns were meant to be by having Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal on this roster.
So the challenge for the Suns - even before Siakam was traded to the Pacers - was always going to be keeping this scoring machine quiet. To the credit of this team, they managed to come back from 22 points down to the Kings recently, last year's leaders in this category and the current holders of the greatest offensive rating of all time, at 118.6.
In the last 10 games the Suns have been league average on the defensive end, giving up 115.9 points per game. We use the last 10 games as an example, because that is the time Beal back back from his latest injury, an ankle sprain. The Suns also have a excellent five-man group on the defensive end that they can turn to as well, although it remains to be seen how well that can stop the Pacers.
It would be fair to point out that the Pacers' offensive abilities make take a small step back with Siakam in the starting lineup, in favor of a more balanced approach. Not that Siakam can't score when he wants to, but he is an excellent defender who in theory is a great fit next to Haliburton. Which the Pacers need, as there's only three teams worse than them in the league this season (119.6).
So now rather than having to try and outscore a fun, up-and-coming Pacers group led by a young point guard in Haliburton, the Suns will be facing a more serious opponent. The addition of Siakam makes them a better team, and elevates them to the level of the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers.
To face them twice so soon after adding a player of Siakam's ability - when the feel good factor around his arrival to the team will still surely be there - is a challenge that will give us some idea as to if the Suns are closer to contention than we think now that Beal is back and healthy, and Grayson Allen continues to play out of his mind.
The Pacers will be bringing plenty of scoring, a defensive stopper and a whole lot of youthful legs to these games, and it will be up to the Suns to figure those challenges out. Failure to do so in both games, and it will be clear that they are some way off scaring the Denver Nuggets, L.A. Clippers or even Minnesota Timberwolves ahead of the postseason.