Yes the Suns have three bigger stars, but wins and losses are determined by the quality of the next level down.
Sure, the Phoenix Suns have 10-time All-Star Chris Paul running the show, freshly minted All-Star Devin Booker ready to take over the league, and a double-double machine who’s one of the most versatile defenders in the league in Deandre Ayton.
But when the Suns are ON on, it’s thanks to the contributions of the rest of the team.
On Saturday night against a very good playoff-level opponent, the Suns as a team dished out 33 assists (on 46 total made baskets) against only three turnovers. Booker and Paul, the primary ball handlers, accounted for 17 and one. Booker, Paul and Ayton accounted for about 40% of the teams total production stats (points, rebounds, assists).
But every NBA team has two to three very good players who account for 40-plus percent of their team’s production. It’s the play of the rest of the team that usually makes the difference between wins and losses against good and bad opponents.
And at the center of that needed production are swing forwards Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson, both in the early stages of their NBA careers at age 24.
As those two go, so go the Suns. Why? Because Booker, Ayton and Paul are consistently predictable in their impact and production, while Bridges and Johnson are a bit less so.
Booker will almost always get you 20+ points and 4+ assists. Chris Paul will almost always get you 10+ points and 8+ assists. Deandre Ayton will almost always get you 10+ points and 10+ rebounds. Book it.
*I’ve touched on why all three of those players’ individual numbers are down a bit this season. But my point remains — these three are extremely consistent in their output and ultimate impact on the game.
But Bridges, the team’s second-leading scorer this year at 15.2 points per game, is not quite so predictable.
Mikal Bridges’ scoring impact:
- 3 games at 0-9 points — Suns record: 0-3
- 5 games at 10-19 points — Suns record: 5-0
- 2 games at 20+ points — Suns record: 2-0
The Suns are 0-3 in games where Bridges scores less than 10 points versus 7-0 when he scores 10 or more.
Coincidence in a small sample size? Maybe, but not probably.
Just look at Friday and Saturday’s games in microcosm.
On Friday, Bridges scored only six points against the feisty but hapless Detroit Pistons (1-7 coming in) and the Suns lost in overtime. He made only 3-9 shots, including 0-4 three-pointers.
On Saturday, Bridges scored 34 points against the very good Indiana Pacers (6-2 coming in) and the Suns won handily. He made 12-18 shots, including 6-8 three pointers.
Sure more shots equals more points, but clearly you can tell that he had no offensive mojo on Friday and was bursting with it on Saturday. He scored from everywhere on the court, using his length and ballhandling to finish at the rim on drives, his quickness to score on cuts and his shooting to make those threes.
Watch our buddies at Suns JAM here with Mikal’s highlights and hit that Subscribe button on the YouTube page to get notifications of their pods and videos in the future.
Bridges is very close with switch-mate Cameron Johnson, who shared with media after Saturday’s game that he knew this was coming.
“I told him yesterday on the plane he’s due for a big one today and I knew it was coming,” Johnson said.
Bridges recounted that conversation as well, saying it started with them hyping each other up after that bad-taste Pistons loss by talking about their career-high game memories. Now Bridges has a new one.
Cameron Johnson had a quietly good game himself, draining 16 points with 4s across the board (3s, rebounds, steals) including a behind-the-back, step-back three that none of us saw coming.
The numbers aren’t quite as stark with Cam — the Suns 4th leading scorer with 13.1 points per game — as they are with Mikal, but it’s pretty darn interesting.
Cam Johnson scoring impact:
- 3 games at 0-9 points — Suns record: 1-2
- 5 games at 10-19 points — Suns record: 5-1
- 2 games at 20+ points — Suns record: 1-0
Cam and Mikal are interchangeable on the court for Monty Williams and often are assigned to players they can switch between defensively when the picks come. Mikal is the better natural defender while Cam is the better natural jump shooter. Both are learning at about the same speed how to drive to the rim when they get run off the three point line.
But Saturday night was Mikal night, so let’s go back to Mikal for now.
Chris Paul loves him some Mikal Bridges.
“Been around a lot of guys in this league over the years and he’s one of the best guys I think I’ve ever been around.”
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) January 10, 2021
It’s great how the team met Mikal in the visitor locker room after the game.
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) January 10, 2021
I hope everyone can feel enough glee at one point in their life to skip the way CP3 did here after seeing a plan come together pic.twitter.com/KBuGSVsMqM
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) January 10, 2021
But now Mikal is plotting his revenge.