The Phoenix Suns have just returned home from a tough seven-game road trip, but find themselves right in the thick of the race to finish in the top four in the Western Conference. This has been powered by their three superstar players, but even less used role players like Bol Bol have played their part recently.
When it comes to statistics on this team, there are very few that actually matter outside of the Suns' 29-21 record. Having a pair of All-Stars in Kevin Durant and Devin Booker is always nice - while the offensive rating is important because this group was built on scoring - but it all hinges on the record heading into the postseason.
That doesn't mean we can't stop and marvel at an unexpected statistical area where two Suns sit atop the standings, and how it has postively impacted this team.
Those two players would be Josh Okogie and Jordan Goodwin, who on the surface don't really have a lot in common. Okogie at this stage is one of the longest-tenured Suns players, and his job is to defend at a high level and knock down a 3-pointer every so often. This team's version of Torrey Craig or Jae Crowder before him.
Goodwin on the other hand is the backup point guard, and also the only true floor general on the roster. About the only comparison here is the fact head coach Frank Vogel doesn't really use Goodwin in this way all that much off the bench, preferring instead to see him also act as a disruptor on the court in much the same way Okogie is.
So far this season that has worked, as Okogie (1.8) and Goodwin (1.7) are the one-two combo when it comes to loose balls recovered per 36 minutes. Is this a niche stat? Absolutely. Can you make the argument that it is also a little bit pointless? Sure, if you want to. But to do that would be to not realize how and why these two players lead the entire league in this category.
Coach Vogel has quietly built a defensive system which is never going to get the credit it deserves, but which gets the absolute most out of guys like Okogie, center Jusuf Nurkic and even Durant on that end of the court. They don't have a single, defensively elite before anything else, type of player on their roster this season.
Yet in their last 15 games, the Suns have been 14th in defensive rating, at 116.1. Interestingly, the suddenly favored to go all the way to the NBA Finals L.A. Clippers sit one position below the Suns in this area, although it is fair to point out that offensively they've figured things out much quicker than the Suns have been able to.
But being able to keep their heads above water defensively while getting massive scoring games from Booker, Durant and Bradley Beal is the winning formula coach Vogel needs here. Which is why the loose balls recovered by Okogie and Goodwin are so important. It backs up the belief that they are playing hard and sacrificing for the team, so that the star players can go off each night.
It shouldn't surprise you then that - alongside the Dallas Mavericks - the Suns lead the league in recovered loose balls per game this season, at 6.2 per game. Given that they sit 13th in deflections per contest (14.7) though, this backs up the game plan coach Vogel seems to have of pressuring opponents into making mistakes, rather than throwing hands into passing lanes wildly.
This just bodes well for the rest of the season, and should give the Suns reason to pause when considering their options at the trade deadline. Being able to recover the ball well is not reason enough to keep either Okogie or Goodwin around. Have the both of them do it together though, and suddenly this becomes part of the roster's identity.
It also creates valuable extra opportunities for one of their star players to score the ball - as well as Grayson Allen who leads the league in 3-point shooting percentage this season at 49.1 percent - over the course of any given game.
Given that Goodwin hasn't managed to play more than 10 minutes in a game for the Suns since Christmas Day in a loss to the equally as dogged Mavericks, sitting second in this area may just be his path back to more minutes in the future. If nothing else re-committing himself on the defensive end is sure to be what coach Vogel wants to see.
So it might not feel like much, but it proves that two role players at least have bought into the selflessness required to take this team to where it is trying to get to. Next time you're watching the Suns, watch how both guys hunt for the ball, and the good things that happen when they are able to secure it for their team.