Suns Sizzling at Start of NBA Season
By Chad Smith
January 8, 2021
8:07 p.m. ET
Everything seems to be clicking in Phoenix. After a fantastic end to last season in Orlando, the Suns have picked up right where they left off. Their off-season additions have paid dividends as they own the second-best record in the league and look like a well-oiled machine on offense and defense. They knocked down 21 three-pointers in their victory over the Raptors on Wednesday night as they moved to 6-2 on the season.
Having two genuine star players in Devin Booker and Chris Paul, the Suns have surrounded them with two-way wings Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder. Deandre Ayton is one of the most promising young centers in the league and has already shown signs of vast improvement. Mix in an exciting and productive bench, and you have the makings of something special.
There is one more ingredient that is often overlooked: the head coach. Gone are the days of long-tenured guys moving their way up the ladder. Steve Kerr, Ty Lue, and Nick Nurse all won the title in their first year as head coach. Nets head coach Steve Nash has a shot to become the fourth coach to do this in the last six seasons. They are essentially “leading” their respective team of star players to the championship.
Enter Monty Williams, who is no stranger to the game. He played in the NBA from 1994-2003, was an assistant coach for the US National Team under Mike Krzyzewski, and was VP of Basketball Operations for the San Antonio Spurs. Coming out of Notre Dame, he was a first-round draft pick by the New York Knicks and played for five NBA teams during his career.
Monty began his NBA coaching career as an assistant in Portland in 2005. After five seasons he moved on to New Orleans, where he coached Paul. He had two assistants with him that have gone on to become head coaches in James Borrego (Hornets) and Mike Malone (Nuggets). In his rookie year as head coach, New Orleans finished with a 46-36 record and lost to the Lakers in six games in the playoffs.
Paul was traded to the LA Clippers the following season, and the rebuild began. After joining the coaching staff in Oklahoma City in 2015, tragedy struck. A car crash took his wife, Ingrid, and Monty took some much-needed time away from the game. Williams returned in 2018 to join Brett Brown's staff in Philadelphia, then was hired on May 3, 2019 as the new head coach of the Suns.
Expectations weren’t very high as teams descended upon the bubble in Orlando to finish the season. Phoenix didn’t care though, as they finished the season with an unblemished record in Florida, compiling an 8-0 record in thrilling fashion. Booker was in the spotlight for most games, but it was a collective effort each and every night.
While the starters have gotten most of the attention, it is the play of the rest of the rotation that has pushed them over the edge. From recent draft picks like Cameron Johnson and Jalen Smith, to reclamation projects like Cameron Payne, Jevon Carter, and Dario Saric, the Suns have been thriving. The veteran additions of Paul and Crowder have overshadowed the other additions of E'Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway, who have both been positive contributors.
The emergence of Bridges has been one of the most notable differences this season. It is still very early, but Bridges has been tremendous in all facets of the game. He is averaging 14 points per game while shooting 49% from the floor, 46% from three-point range, and made 18 of his 19 free throws. He has career highs in nearly every statistical category, but his play on the defensive end of the floor has been very impressive.
Nearly two weeks into the season, the Suns have the 2nd-best net rating (+11.5) trailing only the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
After finishing with the best record at Disney World, expectations for the 2020-21 regular season have gone up drastically. They already have victories over some of the top teams in the league including the Mavericks, Jazz, and Nuggets. They haven't had a winning season since the 2013-14 campaign, but there is plenty of optimism in Arizona.
The Suns have yet to face adversity on the floor, but should Phoenix stay the course, they could return to the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade. If that happens, Monty very well just might earn Coach of the Year honors, and it would be well-deserved.