NBA

As Golden State prepare to host the best team in the NBA, can anyone touch the Phoenix Suns?

By Sports Desk March 29, 2022

In what may be a preview of this year's Western Conference Finals, the top-seeded Phoenix Suns make the trip to San Francisco to take on the three seed Golden State Warriors on Wednesday.

While these are undoubtedly two of the premier teams in the West, the real story is about how the Suns have been in a class of their own this season, eight games clear of the second-best record in the league.

In the 21st century, only two teams have finished the regular season with a top-two ranking in both offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency: the 2014-15 Golden State Warriors, and the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors.

Both of those Warriors juggernauts went on to win the NBA Championship, and if the season were to end today, Phoenix would become the third team to achieve those marks.

Phoenix's net-rating – which illustrates how many more points a team is scoring than their opposition per 100 possessions – is plus 8.5, which is nearly two points clear of the second-placed Boston Celtics at plus 6.8.

The Suns have not just been the best team in basketball this season, they have been historically good in a way that compares the peak of the Warriors' run, and ranks better than any of LeBron James' Miami Heat teams, or the three-peat Los Angeles Lakers from 2000-02.

The Warriors, on the other hand, have been sputtering since Stephen Curry was sidelined with an injury that is expected to keep him out of action until the playoffs.

After three consecutive losses, can the Warriors pose any real threat to such a great Suns team? Stylistically, they may have some factors working in their favour, and as the saying goes, styles make fights.

These are two teams that play in similar ways. Both teams are bottom-five in percentage of their total points coming from the free throw line, both teams are top-five in percentage of two-point baskets coming from assists, and both are top-three in fewest blocked shots.

What this means is when these teams go inside to score, they are playing a finesse game focused around passing, movement, and creating open shots, as opposed to a bully-ball style which focuses on creating contact and forcing a way to the free throw line.

For a team like the Warriors that gives up free throws at the fifth-highest rate in the league, having a team that is willing to match their style and be a willing dance partner will hide some deficiencies and allow the home side to lean into what it does well.

Golden State also attempts the second-highest percentage of three-pointers – nearly 46 per cent of all of their shots come from long range – while Phoenix is way down at 27th in the league, taking 65 per cent of their shots from two-point range.

Despite that stat implying Phoenix is dominant in the paint, they actually are 16th in paint scoring, but third in mid-range scoring thanks to the efforts of Devin Booker and Chris Paul.

It is well-established at this point that mid-range jump shots are the least efficient shots in all of basketball, while an open three-pointer is the best shot a team can take other than a dunk, layup or free throw.

Phoenix has been great on a diet of difficult shots this season, but if the Warriors can get hot from three-point range at the volume they get them up, the Suns may simply lose the math equation.

 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Phoenix Suns – Chris Paul

Of every player in the NBA this season averaging at least 20 minutes per appearance, only two – LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar Derozan – score a higher percentage of their points from the mid-range than Paul.

As discussed, Phoenix will need to score consistently and efficiently from the mid-range to counter how many three-pointers the Warriors will get up, and Paul is at the center of that.

Add into the equation that Paul leads the league in assists per game, while coming in at second in steals per game, and it's clear why he is so important at both ends of the floor.

 

Golden State Warriors – Klay Thompson

Simply put, the Warriors need to get hot from long range to win this game, and few players in the history of basketball can get hotter than Klay Thompson.

Thompson holds the NBA record for most threes in a single game, hitting 14 of them against the Chicago Bulls in 2018, and has made at least nine in a game on 10 different occasions.

While he is still working himself back into full form after returning from a two-year absence this season, over his past 10 games Thompson is averaging 24 points per game and is hitting a strong 40 per cent of his long range attempts.

 

KEY BATTLES – Can the Warriors compete with the Suns' size?

Golden State have only one player on their roster taller than six-foot-nine Kevon Looney, and it is James Wiseman, who will not play a single game this season due to lingering injuries.

Suns center Deandre Ayton measures in at seven-foot-one, and less than a week ago he physically dominated All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns en route to 35 points and 14 rebounds.

Towns is bigger than anyone Golden State can throw at Ayton, and while Looney is an above-average defender, basketball is a game where size matters, and the Warriors are small.

 

HEAD-TO-HEAD

These two sides met on three separate occasions in December, with Golden State winning twice.

Curry top-scored for the Warriors in both wins, while Ayton out-scored his season average in all three meetings.

Related items

  • Ja Morant inks five-year rookie extension with Memphis Grizzlies worth up to $231m Ja Morant inks five-year rookie extension with Memphis Grizzlies worth up to $231m

    The face of the Memphis Grizzlies will be staying put for the foreseeable future after Ja Morant agreed to a five-year max rookie extension that will pay him at least $193million over five years. 

    The extension is the largest deal in franchise history and has the potential to reach up to $231m if Morant makes one of the league’s three All-NBA teams. The deal surpasses the five-year, $153 million contract Mike Conley signed with Memphis in 2016. 

    "Memphis is my home," Morant tweeted six minutes after midnight.  

    Morant took home the NBA’s Most Improved Player award and finished seventh in MVP voting after averaging 27.4 points and 6.7 assists per game this season. He earned his first All-Star appearance and was named second-team All-NBA after helping Memphis to a 56-26 record, matching the 2012-13 team for the most wins in franchise history. 

    He averaged 21.5 points, 10.5 assists and 8.7 rebounds as the Grizzlies defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves in six games in the first round of the playoffs. He also scored a combined 115 points over the first three games in the next round against the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors, but missed the final three games with a bone bruise in his right knee.  

    He joins Jaren Jackson Jr. as members of the Grizzlies’ young core who are locked into long-term deals. Memphis has one of the league’s youngest rosters, and would appear to be set up to challenge for championships for the next few years.  

  • USC and UCLA receive approval to join the Big Ten USC and UCLA receive approval to join the Big Ten

    USC and UCLA could be joining the Big Ten Conference as soon as 2024 after league officials voted Thursday to approve the schools’ application for membership.  

    The move is just the latest in a wave of realignment among college football powers, moving away from the strictly regional model that had organized the sport for more than a century.  

    In two years, the Big Ten will stretch from coast to coast with campuses from California to New Jersey.  

    USC athletic director Mike Bohn called the conference "the best home for USC" in a statement on Thursday night. 

    "Ultimately, the Big Ten is the best home for USC and Trojan athletics as we move into the new world of collegiate sports," he said. "We also will benefit from the stability and strength of the conference." 

    UCLA chancellor Gene D. Block and AD Martin Jarmond also released a combined statement Thursday, announcing the move.  

    "Each school faces its own unique challenges and circumstances, and we believe this is the best move for UCLA at this time," they said. "For us, this move offers greater certainty in rapidly changing times and ensures that we remain a leader in college athletics for generations to come."  

    With Oklahoma and Texas scheduled to join the SEC and both L.A. rivals headed to the Big Ten, many pundits have predicted continued movement until two giant leagues contain all the sport’s traditional powers.  

    According to multiple reports, USC and UCLA initiated conversations with the Big Ten. The sides first met on Wednesday, with the unanimous membership vote coming just 24 hours later.  

    The Pac-12 loses two charter members while negotiating a new media rights deal and leaving the conference scrambling to keep up in the realignment arms race.  

    Since receiving news that Oklahoma and Texas were leaving, the Big 12 has arranged for new members in Cincinnati, UCF, Houston and BYU.  

    The Pac-12 will now likely look for new members of its own in order to keep up.  

    "While we are extremely surprised and disappointed by the news coming out of UCLA and USC today, we have a long and storied history in athletics, academics and leadership in supporting student-athletes that we're confident will continue to thrive and grow into the future," the Pac-12 said in a statement. 

    The Big Ten is currently negotiating its own media rights deal that is expected to exceed $1 billion annually.

  • Karl-Anthony Towns signs four-year, $224m supermax extension with the Timberwolves Karl-Anthony Towns signs four-year, $224m supermax extension with the Timberwolves

    Karl-Anthony Towns has agreed to a four-year, $224million 'supermax' contract extension with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    It is a move that ties Towns, 26, to the franchise until after the 2027 playoffs, as he still has two seasons remaining on his five-year, $158m deal he signed ahead of the 2019-20 season.

    The Timberwolves centre – who called himself the greatest big-man shooter of all time after winning this past season's Three Point Contest during All-Star Weekend – is coming off his second career playoff appearance, and the first since 2018.

    He averaged 24.6 points, along with 9.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists, shooting 41 per cent from three-point range on 4.9 attempts per game.

    Partnered with the number one pick of the 2020 NBA Draft, Anthony Edwards, the Timberwolves believe they have the cornerstones of what could turn into the most successful era of Minnesota basketball since Kevin Garnett left for the Boston Celtics in 2007.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.