The Suns are no longer burning up.
After surging out to a 6-3 start, Phoenix currently sits at 7-7 having dropped four out of their last five games.
The Suns started their season looking like a trendy playoff pick, but recently have looked more like the team projected before this season to draft towards the top of next year’s lottery.
So what’s changed as of late?
For one, Phoenix hasn’t been helped by minor injuries to Ricky Rubio and Aron Baynes, who has been revelation in the desert. Aside from his usually respectable defense, Baynes has posted a ridiculous 131.0 offensive rating — good for third in the league.
But even considering those injuries, their red-hot early start is looking flukier by the day. Opponents shot just 34.6 percent against them in October — and they only went 3-2 in that time span (the league average is 45.2 percent). During their current 1-4 skid, the Suns allowed a well-below average 49.1 percent from the field.
Are the Suns merely the victims of some unsustainable opponent’s shooting? It doesn’t look like it.
Over the past five games, they’re allowing the eighth-most shots in the league from less than five feet (34.0). That figure was slightly lower in October at 31.0 when they went 3-2. Even then there were 14 teams doing a better job of limiting inside shots.
In fact, there is reason to believe that it could actually get worse for Phoenix.
So far this season, Suns opponents have shot just 35.6 percent on “wide open” 3-pointers (defender six-plus feet away), the seventh lowest figure in the league. That negative regression has already started to even out, as Suns opponents have shot an improved 39.3 percent from deep during Phoenix’s current 1-4 skid.
If that keeps up, the Suns could start freefalling down the standings.
The Suns have actually done some decent things during this five-game stretch. Despite Baynes and Rubio missing two games apiece, Phoenix has forced 17.2 turnovers a game (good for third in the league in that span). There has been a bit of poor luck too — they are hitting just 36.2 percent of their “wide open” 3-pointers — but this stretch looks more like a team’s good fortune running out than a truly good team getting some bad bounces.
To this point, the Suns have forced turnovers at a high rate and shot the ball at a top-10 level. Devin Booker is a possible All-Star and certainly a floor-raiser, while Baynes’ scoring transformation — including his newfound 3-point range — is at least somewhat legit.
The Suns will be a good offensive team, but they’re luck has already started to run out on defense.
Add that to a further possible regression in opponent turnovers (they’re third in the league with 18.0 per game) — which has already happened between October and November — and the Suns’ charm could slip away fast.
This current stretch may be more of a reckoning than a fluke.