The Phoenix Suns have returned home from a three-game Western Conference road swing that yielded two wins, as well as a tough loss at the hands of the L.A. Clippers. That 138-111 defeat exposing the grim reality that for all the star power the Suns possess, the Clippers simply have more.
While there may be difficult conversations to be had down the road about just how deep this current roster can go, the manner in which the Suns won the next two games was much better. Their victory over the Los Angeles Lakers - at the fourth time of asking - potentially their most impressive win of the season to date.
That was followed by a routine victory over the Portland Trail Blazers - and while that may not seem like much - for a team that has lost twice to the San Antonio Spurs and also to the Trail Blazers already this season, it was important to take care of business. The Suns' 21-18 record now looking healthier than it has for much of the season.
Bradley Beal has been prevalent throughout this recent run, and is fast becoming the player the organization envisioned when they traded for him last summer.
Beal has now appeared in 15 games, and hasn't been on a minutes restriction in a while. In January he is averaging 36.3 minutes per contest, which is a full five minutes more per game than he has managed on the season as a whole. Clearly then this is a number that is going to keep trending in the right direction.
Which is just as well, because the Suns are built on the talents of Beal, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant. January's scoring output has also been easily the best of the season so far for Beal, at 22.1 points per game. Again four points higher than his season average, and which included a sizzling 8-for-10 night from 3-point range in the win over the Lakers.
That shooting performance also goes a long way to explaining the 44.1 percent from deep Beal has averaged this month, on almost five attempts per game. When you factor in the usage across the season - which sits at 24.3 percent and is the third highest mark on the team behind Durant and Booker - then it is clear Beal is quickly settling into the role the Suns had in mind for him.
He's going to get the most open looks of their "Big 3", and so far he is making opponents pay. Yet despite not creating his own shot as much as Durant or Booker - although as Austin Reaves recently found out, he can do that comfortably as well - his usage reflects a player who is also taking some of the ball-handling duties from Booker as well.
This was again noticeable on the West coast road trip, and perhaps partly explains the 31 points Booker hung on the Lakers. Beal himself had a game high 37 - outscoring LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined - and he also did a wonderful job of allowing Booker to get off the ball more to become the flamethrower that we all know that he is.
During this nine game span that Beal has been back since returning from an ankle sprain - and which reaches back into the tail end of 2023 - the Suns have the fifth best offensive rating in the league at 121.6. Coincidence? To watch Beal out there and how he is fitting seamlessly with his teammates on that end, it sure doesn't seem like it.
What Beal's return to the lineup has also done is allowed Grayson Allen to carry less of the load offensively, and become more of the role player he was also brought in to be. So far this month his scoring hasn't suffered -14.6 points per game compared to 14.8 in December - yet he is still shooting a ridiclous clip from deep, at 50 percent so far this month.
Allen has still started every game he has played so far this season, and combined with Beal, Booker and Durant, plus center Jusuf Nurkic, it goes a long way to explaining why the franchise has seen their fortunes change on the offensive end. There are still question marks about the end of the bench and rotation in the playoffs beyond these five guys, but they are as good as promised together.
So yes, Bradley Beal has proven in a short space of time that he was the right player - on the offensive end at least - to go out and get last offseason. Had he been healthy all season, there's no telling how much higher the Suns would be in the West right now. That will always be the rub with Beal though, the health concerns. He has started 2024 with a bang though, which the Suns really needed.