Suns Turning Heads by Playing the Right Way

“I don’t think our guys, when they get between those lines that it matters to them if they’re on the road or in the gym down the street. They’re going to play the same way.” – Jeff Hornacek

The Suns aren’t supposed to be this good.

At least, that’s what most “experts” told us before any games were played this season.

In a sports world archetypally characterized by narcissistic, individualized play the 2013-14 Phoenix Suns have broken the mold.

And it has generated a significant amount of unsolicited buzz in the NBA community.

In fact, both “Eric Bledsoe” and “Suns” were featured as nationwide trending topics on Twitter Tuesday en route to capturing their third-straight win by beating the Lakers in Los Angeles to bump their record to 12-9 on the year.

But the excitement the Suns have inspired has less to do with the end result and more to do with how this team is winning games.

The Suns rank first in the NBA with 20.0 fast break points per game (Oklahoma City is next with 17.5) and first in the NBA with nearly 20 percent of the team’s total points coming on the fast break (next highest is Washington with 17.0 percent). They are now 9-3 this season when scoring 100+ points.

Perhaps more remarkably, the backcourt of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe is averaging nearly 37 points and 13 assists each game.

As a team, the Suns have scored at least 20 fast break points in 12 of the first 21 games of the season. For comparisons sake, Phoenix scored 20+ fast break points 12 times all season in 2012-13.

Indeed, the team’s offense certainly seems to be clicking, but the biggest difference has been their play on the defensive end of the floor.

The Suns currently hold opponents to under 100 points per game (99.9) compared to 101.6 in 2012-13 (fifth to last in the NBA). They’ve also held opponents to just 44.7 percent shooting this season compared to 47 percent last year.

Nevertheless, the most telling stat about the Suns’ improved defense has been in how they guard the 3-point shot; Phoenix catapulted from a tie for last in the league in allowed 3-point field goal percentage in 2012-13 (38.8) to first in the NBA this season (32.3).

There’s no denying that statistics have validated dramatic advances from the team on both ends of the floor. Still, what ultimately seems to be winning fans over – and not just Suns fans, mind you – has been the team’s collective energy, solidarity and unselfish play.

Case in point: Goran Dragic hit an incredible layup during the second half of Tuesday’s game versus the Lakers. As Dragic made his way to the Suns’ bench, Eric Bledsoe met him near halfcourt with a chest bump and a smile that lit up STAPLES Center.

The camaraderie is palpable. So are the celebrations of teammates’ successes.

It’s reminiscent of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s Suns with Kevin Johnson and Jeff Hornacek at the helm, anchored by a team without a prototypical superstar that believed in each other.

Those were teams that were predicated on playing together and with unmatched energy which resulted in capturing the collective hearts of Suns fans around the globe.

They left everything they had on the floor every night, similar to the 2013-14 Suns.

No, this year’s team isn’t perfect.

But they don’t have to be.