In the NBA, the franchise that covets the biggest superstars almost always wins it all when all is said and done. At the start of the 21st century, it was the unstoppable athletic dynamic duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant that allowed the Lakers to three-peat for the second time since they accomplished this feat in the 1952-1954 seasons. Recently, the Heat have stolen the limelight as one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA as they have already won two world championships and look to three peat themselves at the end of this season. However, despite the lopsided competition that as allowed teams with gifted stars to succeed consistently, one franchise has been able to garner the same intriguing notoriety without the big name athletes. Although they may not be the flashiest team in the NBA, the Phoenix Suns are arguably the most cohesive team in basketball. While the Suns are without veteran leadership, they have compensated for this absence with a strong mix of youthful and disciplined players who have developed an inspirational chemistry with one another to win valiantly where they have been utterly embarrassed in years past.
Although the Suns were clearly distraught after the loss of their noble point guard Steve Nash after the 2011-2012 seasons, they have finally found a gifted guard who is both accurate from the field and methodical in his decision making when moving the ball down the court. In his three years with the Los Angeles Clippers, Eric Bledsoe was an under the radar point guard who spent most of his brief tenure studying under Chris Paul’s tutelage. Although Bledsoe hardly exploded statistically in Los Angeles, he clearly had potential as a swift guard who could not only divvy out impressive passes at the right time, he could also score fairly consistently especially from beyond the perimeter. This year, Bledsoe has easily become the Suns unsung hero, as he has been vital to this teams well-balanced success on the court. Not only has Bledsoe’s overall accuracy sky-rocketed from 44.5% to 48.6% this year, he has quickly developed into one of the most prolific point guards in the game. Although Bledsoe may not consistently garner double digit assists, his scoring abilities and overall physicality has made him a coveted player on Suns youthful roster.
Speaking of assists, the Suns miraculous regular season run has been hampered by this teams inconsistent ball movement. To be fair, the Suns lack of unselfish play from time to time isn’t due to this teams overinflated ego. Rather, the Suns have realized that their potential for success is predicated on allowing this young team to play with a sense of gusto and wild tenacity. As a result, the Suns have sacrificed methodical ball movement (they are ranked 28th in the NBA for assists per game) for fast paced scoring (the Suns score 103.7 points per game, 8th in the NBA). Although the Suns can’t expect to go far in the playoffs with this one dimensional form of attack, it is still an ideal way for the Suns to wear down older teams who lack the endurance and stamina to keep up with their unmatched speed down the court.
Surprisingly, the Suns high-powered offense hasn’t resulted in this team being lackadaisical and exhausted when it comes to playing defense. Although the Suns defensive tactics aren’t revolutionary, they are respectable enough to allow them to hold opponents to around 100.5 point per game (15th in the NBA). On top of that, the Suns abundant athleticism allows them to effectively garner rebounds off the boards that typically result in a well-orchestrated fast break play. Thanks to the innovative use of centers Miles Plumlee and Emeka Okafor, the Suns have found a way to be quick and scrappy without wearing down their sizeable centers. Although Plumlee and Okafor aren’t necessarily the most reliable scorers, they are nearly identical in rebounds per game (9) and blocks per game (they each garner around 1-2 per game). Having two centers that are equally matched in their defensive abilities has allowed the Suns to have the best of both worlds in a high-octane offense and well established defense that never gets tired.
When all is said and done, the Suns could go far in the western conference simply off the strength of their young and underrated athletes. Although the Suns will have to remain resilient and patient to maintain this level of impressive success, they have proven that they can make the proper adjustments to go toe to toe with some of the deeper teams that exist within the NBA. For now, the Suns are content with riding the emotional wave of their unexpected success to one mesmerizing victory after another. If the Suns can continue to make strides as they have thus far this seasons, they have the potential to be a legitimate threat in the western conference come post season play.