The Phoenix Suns have won five of their last seven games including victories over the top teams in each conference and most of the credit goes to the development of their young leaders.
Every team in the league is structured differently and it takes time for players to develop a culture in a new location, but it looks as if the Suns are starting to piece it together.
“We’re younger, so we’re still figuring it out a little more,” Jamal Crawford said. “That’s part of it. You’ve got to know who you are and who you’re not. That comes with time and opportunity and experience.”
Crawford was brought in this year to provide a veteran presence in Phoenix, but his biggest impact lies in what he has helped teach his teammates: how to lead. Crawford credited almost every guy in the locker room for leading in different ways and said it’s a committee of leaders that has guided the Suns to their recent success.
While it’s taken time this season for everyone to learn their roles, the addition of Tyler Johnson has seemed to be the missing piece. There has been a noticeable difference on the court and in the locker room since the 26-year-old guard arrived in Phoenix.
“When we’re on the plane, he’s the type to come by with film and ask why I did something or this play,” Devin Booker said about Johnson. “He’s a student of the game. I’m a student of the game. I think that’s why our relationship kicked off right away.”
Booker hasn’t been the only player impacted by Johnson’s work ethic as other players have also strived to get better in response to Johnson’s dedicated approach.
“It’s kind of contagious,” Booker said. “You look around the plane, you see the guys that are locked-in, still trying to get better and you want to be a part of it. Everyone’s giving the suggestions that they have and the advice that they have and we’re getting better. It’s showing on the court.”
Johnson and Kelly Oubre Jr. were both sixth men at the beginning of this season in Miami and Washington, respectively, but both took on new roles starting in Phoenix. While neither are old in NBA standards, their playoff experience in their previous locations has propelled them to become leaders in the eyes of their young teammates.
“Those guys are usually young guys on teams,” Crawford said. “Now they’re vets. They have to take the experience they learned as young guys and give it to these even younger guys.”
The Suns roster has shaken up quite a bit from the beginning of the season until now, but as the lineups have solidified and the players have gotten more comfortable with each other, the success has continued to grow.
“One thing that is very notable and obvious is their communication on the court,” Head Coach Igor Kokoskov said. “They’re building chemistry. They’re talking about tweaks and stuff during the game… Leadership is coming with spending more time together as a group and winning some games. I can see that there is huge improvement.”
That time spent together has been crucial for the players to grow closer and build chemistry as “The Valley Boyz” continue to develop the culture in Phoenix.
“We spend a lot of time together on busses, on planes,” Booker said. “There’s a lot of good conversation. Obviously starting with basketball, but then it gets outside of basketball. You start meeting people and know that person as a person and I think that directly translates to the court.”
The Suns will look to continue the momentum of their recent success as they host the Utah Jazz on Wednesday at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Be sure to catch the action on Fox Sports Arizona.