It has been seven weeks since the December blockbuster trade that reshaped the rosters of the Washington Wizards, the Phoenix Suns and the Orlando Magic, and much has been written (especially here) about the impact of the trade on Orlando. It’s clear that Wizards still suck. The Magic enjoyed a brief stretch where they looked like they were a championship contender again, but they have tailed off since then. Yet, somewhat under the radar, the third team in the mix, the Phoenix Suns have been radically transformed.
It’s not a good character driven story. Mikael Pietrus is still a datapoint for the contention that some NBA players peak at 25. Vince Carter is playing well for a 34 year old wing. Marcin Gortat has made a big difference contributing at a rate of 15 points and 11 boards per 36 minutes, but he’s only playing 25 minutes per game. However the cumulative effect on the Suns is undeniably positive.
For the first two months of the season the Suns, who took the L.A. Lakers deep in the Western Conference Finals last season, were a lottery team and the reason was simple. Their defense had gone from mediocre to abysmal. They ranked at the bottom of the league were on pace to be one of the worst units of all time. It had analysts wondering if they had undervalued Lou Amudson or Leo Barbosa or something.
The Suns have won 11 of their last 15 and consider these point totals 83, 87, 92, 77, 102, and 71. These are the four quarter totals of Suns victims during this run. Over the last 11 games the Suns are allowing less than a point per possession. And it isn’t as if they are playing offensively challenged teams like Milwaukee and New Jersey every night. That 71 belongs to the Boston Celtics, and not included in this litany is a 75-74 loss to Detroit.
Gortat’s 25 minutes per game allow the Suns to have a real pivotman on the floor at all times and my it makes a difference. The Suns are still a top 6 offense. Even if the defensive improvement tapers off a little, the Suns are on pace to be a bottom of the bracket playoff team in the West that no one will want to play in the first round.
So let’s put away the Steve Nash trade talk. The story out of Phoenix concerns what this year’s team will do on the court, not off.