No doubt about it, no one would have guessed that after 21 games in the 2009-10 season, the Phoenix Suns would be 15-6. Expectations have been raised for a team that most predicted would win fewer than 40 games. Now it’s looking like the playoffs are a real possibility with an outside chance of home court advantage for the first round. Yet, despite the optimism, it’s still not clear whether or not this Suns team is for real.
The losses have been ugly. Their 27-point loss to the New York Knicks was an embarrassment. There have been blowout losses to championship-caliber teams. Then there was a bad loss to the up-and-down New Orleans Hornets. But the Hornets are always hard to beat when they shoot over 50 percent for threes, and at least the Suns had a glimmer of hope to win late in the game. For all the other losses, the Suns were no-hopers.
There have also been quality wins. Perhaps the best was the Suns’ upset on the road over the Boston Celtics. Overall, the Suns are playing well and doing an excellent job of sticking to their game plan. They have won games in the fourth quarter by executing in the half court, playing good defense, and denying opponents second-chance opportunities. Appearances suggest that this year’s team may go far. But statistics tell a different story. This team may be shooting better, but all other statistics are below previous seasons.
Here is a quick look comparison of this year’s Suns (so far) against the historic 2004-05 team that won 62 games and the last of the great Seven Seconds Or Less (SSOL) teams of 2006-07 that recorded 61 wins:
Points per game
2004-05 (82 games), 110.4
2006-07 (82 games), 110.2
2009-10 (21 games), 109.3
Points allowed per game
Rebounds per game
Rebounds allowed per game
Field goal percentage
Field goal percentage allowed
Record after 21 games:
Interestingly, the stats might have been nearly identical if it weren’t for the alarmingly large amount of blowout losses suffered by this year’s team. This season, the Suns have already lost 5 games by 15 points or more in just 21 games. In comparison, the 2004-05 team only had 4 such losses and the 2006-07 team only had 3 for their entire 82 games!
Even the great underdog Suns of 2005-06 that came within 2 games of moving to the NBA Finals lost only 6 games by 15 points or more during the regular season.
Perhaps the discrepancy this season is due to the bench playing more. In the past, the starters consistently played big minutes which probably meant the Suns would be able to stay closer in losing games. Perhaps it’s because this year’s star players are older than the past great teams which translates to more fatigue and less resiliency. Perhaps it’s the schedule, with 14 road games out of 21 this season compared to 10 out of the first 21 in 2004 and 11 out of 21 in 2006.
Favorably, this year’s team has already won 6 games by 15 points or more. In 2004, they had 7 such wins in the first 21 games but in 2006, they only had 3.
This year’s team is still young both in terms of age and in maturity. The 2004-05 team was the youngest in the league but had some amazingly mature young players. This year’s team has more players who are still emerging as regular contributors. For Frye, Dudley, Amundson, Dragic, Lopez and Clark, team success in the NBA is new to them. They will need to continue to improve, make the proper adjustments, and become more consistent and reliable as opponents familiarize themselves with the Suns attack.
The Suns are entering what might be the most important stretch of the season. Including Sunday’s game against the Lakers, during an 8-game stretch, the Suns will face 7 quality opponents: Lakers (already lost), Dallas, Orlando, Denver, San Antonio, Portland (minus Greg Oden), and Cleveland. The only respite is Washington on the December 19th. The Suns must win half of these games or better to continue building on their great season start. If they manage only 3 wins or fewer, there is the risk that this promising team may begin to struggle to hold on to a playoff position as the season wears on. This stretch will let everyone know what kind of team these Phoenix Suns really are.