A few months after a surprise run to the NBA Finals, the Phoenix Suns are proving to be legitimate contenders. The Suns are 32-9 through the halfway point, making them the first-place team in the Western Conference and entire NBA. Though when the NBA All-Star Game takes the stage on February 20 in Cleveland, you’re unlikely to see as much representation from the league’s top team as you’d expect.
Devin Booker and Chris Paul are leading the red-hot Phoenix Suns
Following six consecutive losing seasons, it caught many by surprise when the Suns went 51-21. Though even after last season’s shocking turnaround, it’s still hard to believe Phoenix is the top team in the NBA at the halfway point.
The Suns don’t have very many weaknesses. Phoenix is fifth in both points scored and points allowed per game. It’s third in field-goal percentage, plus fifth in 3-point percentage, assists, and steals per game. Not to mention, it’s also in the top half of the league in turnovers.
Phoenix has won 18 in a row this season while dropping two consecutive games just twice. And it’s thanks to a deep, well-rounded team that has been available for the majority of a wild season.
In a year where the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets have been heavily impacted by COVID-19 and/or injuries, the Suns have had eight players appear in 34 or more games. Two of them — Chris Paul and Mikal Bridges — have suited up for all 41 contests. But nearly all of their players have positively contributed in some way, including Devin Booker.
Booker, now in his seventh season, is averaging 23.7 points. While it’s a slight downtick from the last four years, he’s hitting a career-high 40.9% of his threes while securing a personal-best 5.4 rebounds. As for Paul, his partner in the backcourt, the veteran point guard is averaging 14.0 points and 10.0 assists, the latter of which leads the NBA.
The Suns are not feeling the love in All-Star voting
With six active players averaging 10.0 points or more, the Suns are clearly set up for success in the games that matter. But when it comes to next month’s exhibition, their collective balance is hurting their collective All-Star resumes.
The second round of All-Star voting returns was released Thursday afternoon. There weren’t many surprises, as players like Stephen Curry, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant served as top vote-getters. But the tallied number of votes didn’t exactly bode well for Phoenix’s star trio of Paul, Booker, and Deandre Ayton.
Booker ranked fifth among all Western Conference guards with 648,317 votes. However, he was approximately 100,000 votes behind Klay Thompson, who has suited up for three games after making his season debut last Sunday. Two spots below Booker sits Paul with 561,896 votes. Again, not a bad showing by any means, but the 11-time All-Star is 15,000 votes behind the disappointing Russell Westbrook.
As for Ayton, the former All-Rookie selection is a distant 10th amongst Western Conference forwards and centers. At 344,688, he trails Rudy Gobert by close to 80,000 votes and sixth man Carmelo Anthony by over 500,000 votes.
For what it’s worth, the fan vote only accounts for 50% of the total vote, with fellow players and media members splitting the other half. So Booker and Paul at least have a good shot to represent the Suns in Cleveland next month, even if the fans are overlooking them.
Phoenix faces stiff competition to win the West
As the league’s top team, Phoenix wants to be represented during All-Star Weekend. But the ultimate goal is not to put on a show in an otherwise meaningless game. It’s to win the franchise’s first title.
By just about every valuable measurement, the Suns are one of the league’s top three teams. Phoenix is second in Basketball Reference’s Simple Rating System, which combines margin of victory with strength of schedule. The only team ahead of the Suns is the Golden State Warriors, with the Utah Jazz a close third.
Phoenix must be prepared to go head to head against either of these conference foes if it wants to secure a spot in the Finals. So far, Golden State has beaten the Suns twice in three meetings, while Utah has yet to take on the top seed in the West. Both clubs have multiple All-Star players to compete with Phoenix, which should lead to some highly-intriguing playoff matchups.
It’s too soon to determine whether the Suns are on a collision course toward the NBA Finals. But nearly all the numbers suggest they’re heavily in the conversation. Even if the All-Star voting numbers don’t agree.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.