The Phoenix Suns played the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, and for the first time since Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash graced the floor, it was appointment viewing for any fan of competitive basketball. The Lakers, of course, feature two of the NBA's premier stars in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Suns, on the other hand, are one of the big surprises of this year, and even though they lost 123-115 last night, they proved their 6-4 start isn't a fluke.
Devin Booker has naturally been the driving force behind the Suns' early jump from league doormat to competitive squad. He's averaging 25.3 points per game on 54 percent shooting with 5.8 assists and has already had three 30+ showings in 10 games. If we know anything, it's that Booker is a born scorer, but he's had the most efficient start of any season in his career thus far.
A large part of the reason that Booker has been so effective has been the impact of Phoenix's veteran offseason acquisitions. Aron Baynes has been an absolute life-saver after DeAndre Ayton's suspension, setting hard screens to give Booker room and (in an unforeseen twist) has transformed into a stretch five by shooting four threes a game at a fifty percent clip. Ricky Rubio, who was signed to a 3-year, $51 million contract that was mocked by most of the league, has allowed Booker to focus on his more natural role of shot creation rather than running the entire offense.
Along with some stingy defense, Rubio is averaging 14.4 points per game with 8.8 assists; his lack of shooting will impact Phoenix against the better teams in the league, but in general he can make his living with off-ball cuts and sneaking to the rim as defenses zero in on Booker. This isn't to mention Dario Saric and Kelly Oubre Jr., who have been contributing in their own ways with good spacing and energetic defense.
After yet another offseason spent getting destroyed by analysts from every network, the Suns have become a balanced team who are fun to watch. Booker by himself has always been a good League Pass viewing experience, but as the rest of the team meshes, it becomes clear this isn't just a hot start and the Suns will suffer an inevitable heat death. Booker has been good, and sometimes great, but not unsustainably so. Everyone else has settled comfortably into their roles earlier in the season than we might've expected.
Last year, the Kings were the young team that blew everyone's expectations out of the water. This year, it may very well be the Suns. Who would've guessed?