57-14 – 1st in West
(+350) To Win 2021-22 NBA Finals
The Valley has housed some great players over the years – including 2-time MVP Steve Nash, 15-time All-Star Shaq O’Neal, and everyone’s favorite golfer Charles Barkley.
The Suns embarked on some postseason runs in the 2000s decade with Nash, but never reached the NBA Finals.
Phoenix had a great 3-year stretch from 2004-05 until 06-07 in which they won 177 regular season games and reached 2 Western Conference Finals and 1 Western Conference Semifinals series.
The Suns became a losing team once 2010 hit – suffering through 10 consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs – only posting a winning record one time in that span. The team hit their low point in 2017-18 and 2018-19 when they won 21 and 19 games in back-to-back seasons.
This futility earned them the 1st overall pick in the 2018 draft which they used to select DeAndre Ayton. In the 2019 draft, Phoenix traded for the rights to Cam Johnson. Both of these players are now major factors in the Suns’ current success.
Last season, Phoenix broke out of their shell – winning 51 games, finishing 2nd in the Western Conference, defeating LeBron James in the 1st round of the playoffs, and advancing all the way to their 1st NBA Finals appearance since the 1992-93 season.
Phoenix Suns Basketball in 2021-22
The Suns retained their entire core and entered 2021-22 with high expectations. Save for a couple of days, the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors have shared control of the Western Conference for the entire 2021-22 season.
The following graphic depicts the conference leader on each day beginning the first of November. The Suns grabbed pole position on January 11th and have yet to look back – now up a whopping 9 on 2nd place Memphis. The Warriors are a close 3rd.
Propelling the Suns to the top of the conference was a league-long 18-game win streak spanning from late October into early December. Yes, Phoenix was a perfect 16-0 in the month of November.
Some teams spiral once the thrill of a long winning streak is snapped but not Phoenix. Shortly after seeing their 18-gamer end at the hands of Golden State, the Suns began a new streak.
From mid-January on through the rest of the month, the Suns won 11 games in a row. This means Phoenix owns both the longest and 2nd-longest winning streaks of the 2021-22 season. The Grizzlies also won 11 straight in December/January.
18 consecutive wins is the most for a team since Milwaukee also won 18 straight games during the 2019-20 season. The league has not seen a longer winning streak since the Spurs rattled of 19 during their championship 2013-14 season.
The Effect of the Chris Paul Injury
Phoenix was on a torrid pace after Christmas – on a trajectory for the upper-60s in wins. A bad thumb injury to 12-time All-Star point guard Chris Paul in late February has rendered the Suns more beatable of late.
Immediately after losing Paul, the Suns dropped 2 out of 3 games and saw their scoring numbers decline significantly. The team was in shock. They had hardly faced any adversity during this miraculous season and now needed to collect wins without their leader.
Phoenix began to plateau a bit, winning just 5 of 9 games following the Paul injury. Pretty good, sure, but the wins were against the Thunder, Blazers, Knicks, Magic, and Heat. At the time, these teams had combined for a record of 134-197 – most of those wins contributed by Miami.
The Suns’ 4 losses were against the Pelicans, Jazz, Bucks, and Raptors. Was this reason to panic? Is Phoenix incapable of beating other good teams without their star point guard?
As is the case with many Western teams in 2021-22, all it took was a home date with the hapless Los Angeles Lakers to straighten Phoenix out. The Suns bashed LA in the valley 140-111, igniting a streak of 4 consecutive double-digit wins.
The void left by Chris Paul has been filled by his frontcourt mate Devin Booker. D-Book has dropped 30, 27, 36, and 28 respectively over the 4-game heater – pacing his team in Paul’s absence.
All the smiles. 😁 pic.twitter.com/pno6EiJJ1C
— x – Phoenix Suns (@Suns) March 19, 2022
Phoenix Suns Stats in 2021-22
Despite a few bumps in the road, Phoenix is still the championship favorites and deserve the utmost respect from any opponent. What do they do well?
Phoenix can score! The Suns average 113.7 points per contest – 6th-most in the league. They were top-10 last season as well, clocking in 7th with 115.3 PPG. This is no fluke.
HC Monty Williams is the master at getting his guys to their spots. Phoenix’s offense churns out high-percentage looks. They don’t miss. The Suns achieve such high scoring numbers because they hold the 2nd-highest field goal percentage in the league at 48.1%. Only the Chicago Bulls shoot better.
The Suns like to play fast. Phoenix loves to get out in transition and is gifted with some rebounders who can start their own fast breaks – like Jae Crowder or Cam Johnson.
The Suns average 89.5 field goal attempts per contest – the 6th-most in basketball. I’m no NBA coach, but a large volume of shots going in at a high percentage sounds like a pretty good recipe for success.
Phoenix’s ability to maintain a high field goal percentage is due to their discretion from behind the 3-point line. The Suns launch just 31.7 shots from deep per contest – the 5th-fewest in basketball. For reference, the Bulls boast the highest FG% in the NBA and average the fewest 3-point attempts. There is something to that.
When Phoenix does elect to let it fly from deep, it is always a good look. The Suns are making 36.4% of their long balls in 2021-22 – the 6th-highest 3PT% in the league.
Elite offense makes for a good team. It takes effort on both ends to hold an unrelinquished lead in the Western Conference for over 2 months.
Defensively, the Suns allow the 6th-fewest points to their opponents – 105.8 per game. Other teams cannot hang with Phoenix’s fast play and relentless shot making. Opponents are shooting just 44.1% against the Suns from the field and 33.3% from deep. These are the 3rd-lowest and single-lowest marks in the league respectively.
Phoenix is long, fast, and excellent at not giving open looks. When you do get a shot up against the Suns, it’s going to be contested. Some teams don’t even get that lucky. The Suns force 13.9 turnovers per contest – the 8th-most in the NBA.
Each championship team needs the “it” factor – some resolve, some grit. Clutch shooting metrics are a great quantification of a team’s ability to pull out wins in closely contested matches with a postseason atmosphere.
We define a “clutch shot” as a shot in the last 4 minutes of the 4th quarter or OT of a 5-point game (or closer, of course).
Filtering out any outliers with fewer than 10 clutch shots this season – the Suns roster 3 of the league’s top 12 clutch shooters.
Per Stathead, Cameron Johnson is 2021-22’s best clutch shooter by effective field goal percentage. Johnson has connected on 7 of 10 3-pointers in clutch time this season. The Knicks witnessed this first-hand.
CAM TIME ⌚
CAM JOHNSON WITH THE GAME-WINNING THREE‼️ pic.twitter.com/KUXjTAajSf
— ESPN (@espn) March 5, 2022
Making our list as the 4th-best clutch shooter of 2021-22, Suns’ big DeAndre Ayton has hit 11 of 13 shots during clutch time this season. Forward Jae Crowder ranks 12th – finding the bottom of the net with 7 of his 12 3-point attempts.
Further down the list of clutch shooters are the Suns frontcourt pair – Devin Booker and Chris Paul. The duo each ranks in the 20s for clutch shooting this season – which would be more impressive if they didn’t play for a stacked Suns team.
Golden State Warriors
47-23 – 3rd in West
(+600) To Win 2021-22 NBA Finals
The Golden State Warriors have dominated professional basketball since 2014-15. The Dubs have won 68.6% of their regular season games over this 7-year stretch – the most in basketball by a large margin.
This includes a down 2019-20 season in which Golden State finished dead last in the West with a 15-50 record.
Zooming in on the 5-year span between the 2014-15 season and the 2018-19 season illustrates just how dominant the Warriors have been. Golden State’s 5-year run last decade is rivaled only by the 1959-1963/64 Celtics.
Not Jordan’s Bulls nor Magic’s Lakers nor Bird’s Celtics could match the dominance of Golden State in the late 2010s.
322 wins is the most ever for an NBA franchise through 5 seasons. 5 Finals appearances and 3 ‘ships is pretty darn good!
Seemingly the entire Warrior’s roster was injured during that fluke 2019-20 season in which GS lost 50 games. Earning a high draft pick, the Warriors selected James Wiseman 2nd overall.
Wiseman pitched in with decent contribution during his rookie campaign (2020-21) – 11.5 points and 5.8 boards per game on 51.9% shooting in 21 minutes a night.
Wiseman helped the Warriors back to respectability. The team played to a 39-33 record – grabbing the 9 seed in the West and were forced to play-in against the upstart Grizzlies.
Ja Morant led the way and got the best of Steph Curry and Co. – winning an OT thriller 117-112. With the health of Klay Thompson in question, it was unclear whether Golden State could return to their winning ways.
The 2021-22 season began with mixed expectations in Oakland.
Golden State Warriors Basketball in 2021-22
Looking at the graphic in the Suns section, you can see that GS bounced back and forth with the Suns for supremacy in the West during the first few months of the season.
Steph Curry was on an MVP pace – hitting 5 to 6 three-pointers per game. Andrew Wiggins was an All-Star. Draymond and Andre Iguodala were doing their thing. Jordan Poole came into his own. Klay Thompson and James Wiseman were hurt but they weren’t terribly missed. The Dubs were stringing together wins.
The Warriors were once again in peak form and everything was rosy – until the Dubs began slumping in mid-January. Klay Thompson returned on January 9th – syncing up with the loss of Draymond Green. Green went down with a calf and back injury the very game Klay returned.
The Warriors managed to hold on and win that game versus Cleveland but immediately dropped their next 3 contests. Golden State fell out of 1st place in the West on January 11th and their deficit to Phoenix has only since grown.
The Warriors then lost another key piece – veteran forward Andre Iguodala – on February 7th. Without Green or Iggy, Golden State is just 6-6. Golden State has the Splash Brothers, but their recent struggles have caused experts to question whether this team can win without their heart and soul of Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala.
In the 12 games GS has played without the duo, their PPG ranks 15th in the NBA. Steph and Klay have found it more difficult to get good looks from deep as the Warriors’ 3-point percentage ranks just 16th over this span.
Defensively, the Warriors have also been a middle of the road team – ranking 15th in points allowed per game. The magic just isn’t there in the Bay right now.
Golden State currently sits in 3rd place in the Western Conference with a 47-23 record. Should the Dubs get healthy, they will be a tough out in the WC playoffs. That’s a big if, though.
37-34 – 8th in East
(+500) To Win 2021-22 NBA Finals
In New York you got the Yankees and the Mets. The Giants and the Jets. The Rangers and the Islanders. The Knicks and the Nets.
Each sport has a New York team that clearly runs the city while the other hopes to ride coattails and get some extra media buzz. The Nets are the 2nd-most popular team in New York.
The Nets franchise – moving from Long Island to New Jersey to Brooklyn – have experienced 2 seasons of excellence since the merger. Playing as the New Jersey Nets, the team won back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals in the 2001-02 and 02-03 seasons – losing in the NBA Finals both years.
Since the ’03 playoffs, the Nets have failed to even get back to the Conference Finals, let alone win them.
The franchise underwent a rebrand following the 2011-12 season – moving from New Jersey to Brooklyn and swapping out the blue and red uniforms for a simplified black and white look.
The Brooklyn Nets snuck into the postseason each of the first 3 years of their existence – advancing past the 1st round just once.
After several more seasons of futility, the Nets finally accumulated some talent. The hottest free agent following the 2019 playoffs was 6’11 forward Kevin Durant. Durant is a 12-time All-Star, 4-time scoring champ, and won the league MVP in 2013-14.
Deciding against signing with his hometown team Washington, Durant elected to play in Brooklyn with the expectation that other stars would follow. This move was a catalyst – igniting a flurry of front office action which gave Brooklyn the most talented roster in basketball.
Joining KD in Brooklyn for the 2019-20 season was championship-caliber guard Kyrie Irving. The Nets failed to play to their full potential in their 1st season with Irving and Durant as the former missed many games with mental health issues and the latter with injuries.
A blockbuster trade in January of 2021 gave Brooklyn the final piece to their roster – James Harden. Bringing in The Beard gave the Nets a Big 3 on par with any trio in history.
With expectations sky high in 2020-21, the Nets were once again hampered by injuries. Brooklyn had the best roster in basketball but there were very few games in which they were at full strength.
Despite the inability to build chemistry or experience together, the Nets still finished 2nd in the Eastern Conference with a 48-24 record. Brooklyn dismantled Boston in 5 games in the 1st round of the postseason.
This is where the Nets met their match – dropping a closely-contested 7-game series to eventual champion Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference Semis.
Brooklyn Nets Basketball in 2021-22
For the second-straight year the Brooklyn Nets entered the 2021–22 season as the odds-on favorite to win the NBA championship.
Did they have chemistry? No. The best coaching? No. A distraction-free environment? No.
Although internally Brooklyn was a mess, their starting 5 contained 3 of the most talented basketball players currently walking the face of the earth.
Surely the Big 3 of Durant, Harden, and Irving could use brute force to get wins. Problems always seem to evaporate when the team is winning.
As the season began, it appeared that the Nets’ time had finally arrived. Brooklyn rocketed out of the gates, grabbing an early lead in the Eastern Conference while other top teams struggled.
The defending champion Milwaukee Bucks middled around .500 for the first couple of months of the season – causing pundits to cite the dreaded Super Bowl hangover.
The Philadelphia 76ers were supposed to contend for the Eastern Conference, but their start was rather slow as well. It was nearing Christmas time and the best teams in the East were the Brooklyn Nets and the Chicago Bulls.
The 2021-22 Bulls can go by Brooklyn Lite. This year’s Bulls team is a conglomeration of star players from around the NBA deciding to join and create a superteam. The Bulls trio of Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, and Zach Lavine it’s not quite as intimidating as Brooklyn’s, but talented enough to contend for the Eastern Conference nonetheless.
Things looked great for the Nets. Brooklyn was clicking on all cylinders and their only real competition appeared to be the unproven Chicago Bulls.
Looking at the graphic below shows that the Nets held an unrelinquished lead in the Eastern Conference for a very large chunk of the season. Then Kevin Durant went down with another injury … and the skid began.
Entering play on December 30th, the Nets were 23-9 and in 1st place in the East. Checking in today, Brooklyn sits at 8th in the East with a 37-34 record. This means Brooklyn is a sour 14-25 since the New Year – including a horrendous 11-game losing streak in late January/early February.
In a desperate attempt to both remove a distraction from the locker room and change the scenery, the Nets made a blockbuster trade with Philadelphia – dealing James Harden to the Sixers in exchange for Seth Curry and Ben Simmons.
The Nets sold one-third of their Big 3 as reports surfaced that Harden had become intolerable in Brooklyn. The Nets took a chance on diva Ben Simmons who has yet to suit up in 2021-22.
In Philadelphia, the new tandem of Joel Embiid and Harden clicked instantly – shooting the Sixers up the Eastern Conference standings while Brooklyn continued to struggle.
KD finally returned from injury on March 3rd, joining Kyrie Irving who is playing some of the best basketball of his career.
These 2 studs are carrying Brooklyn who has begun to find their winning ways once again. There is still no timetable on the return of Ben Simmons. Truth be told, Brooklyn might not even want him to play this season.
Despite the horrible losing streak, the rumors, and the distractions – experts have not lost faith that the Nets can resurrect this season and bring home the Larry O’Brien trophy. The Nets are receiving the shortest odds in the East and 2nd-shortest odds in the NBA to do so.