Your Phoenix Suns are now 23-11 and in second place in the Western Conference at the (almost) halfway point of the season. No Suns team has been as high as second in the West or had a record this good this late in the season since the SSOL days — 2008 to be exact.
Talk about a turnaround! Just two years ago, general manager James Jones inherited a roster that would win only 19 games all year (19-63). He took the full-time job at the beginning of the 2018-19 season, after league rosters were final, and had to watch that team burn while he methodically planned their rebirth. They finished with the league’s third-worst offense, second-worst defense and the worst franchise record in 50 years.
But at least a foundation was there. Amid the rubble, he had a future All-Star in Devin Booker and a pair of promising rookies in Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges. Those three still form the long-term backbone of this playoff-caliber team.
Jones quietly build around them. He found a way to turn Trevor Ariza, De’Anthony Melton, Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren and a few draft picks into players who would help produce a resurgent 34-39 season and then flipped some of those guys into Chris Paul.
He’s now got one of the league’s most talented starting lineups. But all along, it’s the small under-reported moves for deep bench players that turn an okay team into a really good one.
Early this season, Langston Galloway, Cameron Payne and Jevon Carter were big contributors off the bench. Then it was Frank Kaminsky and Abdel Nader unleashing the Frank-Nad-o, joined soon by E’Twaun Moore.
And then there’s the best bench guys of them all. Against the Lakers, Dario Saric scored 21 points to help push the Suns record to 23-11 for the year and leapfrog the Lakers for the 2nd seed in the Western Conference. Right next to him, Cam and his Johnson drained three triples while using every last body part to protect the rim on defense.
Dario, Cam, Cam and Doolie led the Suns to a big win over the Lakers, holding the fourth quarter lead they were given and even expanding on it.
“It was one of our best games of the year,” Jae Crowder said of the team effort.
If you’re a casual Suns fan, new to the team this year, you’re asking yourself ‘who?’
Don’t worry, so were us hard core Suns fans a couple months ago. Heck, even two weeks ago. Heck, even mid-game last night. For evidence, here’s me in my infinite wisdom at work late in the second quarter.
Nader needs to see the bench
— Dave King (@DaveKingNBA) March 3, 2021
Then in the third and fourth quarters, Abdel Nader blocked three shots and drained a pair of key triples to help the Suns bench take an 11-point lead the Lakers would never even come close to erasing.
Nader was a throw-in to match salaries in the Chris Paul trade. Galloway, Moore and Payne signed league-minimum contracts in the off-season (Payne after washing out of the league for almost a year). Dario was originally dumped on the Suns by the T-Wolves to move up in the 2019 Draft for Jarrett Culver, while the Suns ‘reached’ for Cam Johnson at 11th overall. Jevon Carter was dumped on the Suns too, in the Jackson/Melton deal to clear space for Ricky Rubio.