At the beginning of the season, there was little doubt that the Los Angeles Lakers seemed farther in their rebuilding process than the Phoenix Suns. LA had the second pick of the last two drafts and used them on D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram. With Kobe Bryant retired, the Lakers were ready to create a new identity.
Phoenix, meanwhile, had more questions with their roster. Devin Booker gained a lot of attention with his play in the second half of his rookie season, but the 13th pick of the draft still needed to improve on his shooting percentage in order to be labeled as the centerpiece for the rebuilding process. It was unclear what would happen to some of the other players, especially for some of the veterans that would be vulnerable to the trade deadline (Tyson Chandler and Brandon Knight).
On Wednesday, a lot of questions were answered between the two worst teams in the Western Conference. Although the Suns have one fewer win than the Lakers, their development over the first four months of 2016-2017 has been much more encouraging, and it showed in their 137-101 blowout win at home.
Both teams had come off close losses to non-playoff teams. The Suns lost to the Pelicans on Monday after a game-winning jumper from Anthony Davis, while the Lakers fell on Tuesday to Sacramento after DeMarcus Cousins made one of two free throws in the final seconds.
So how did a grudge match between two evenly matched teams become Phoenix’s most lopsided victory of the season? Simple. They have figured out their identity way better than the Lakers.
Eric Bledsoe, who has been questioned about his health since arriving in the desert, has put together his best season in the NBA. He is currently on pace to set career high in both points and assists (21.6 ppg and 6.2 apg). After eclipsing 40 points three times in a six-game span in January/February, he registered his first triple-double of the season on Wednesday. He had 25 points, 13 assists, and 10 rebounds. He was dishing out alley-oop dunks all night long, especially to Marquese Chriss, and ended the first half with a half-court shot.
Booker added 23 points on 9-14 shooting, and he now at least 20 points in 20 of his last 22 games. He is shooting 45% from the field in 2017, and his lofty expectations at the beginning of the season are being met. Bledsoe and Booker have become one of the scariest backcourts in the league and they are likely going to get better in the next couple of years.
Chriss, meanwhile, has emerged as the most intriguing rookie in Phoenix. Like Booker last season, Chriss’s rookie season started off slowly, but he has picked his game up as the season progressed. His scoring has increased to 8.3 ppg in December and January, and he set a career high with 27 points on 9-15 shooting in a loss to Milwaukee on Feb. 4. On Wednesday, he was on the receiving end of a half-court length alley-oop from Bledsoe that sparked the blowout.
The Lakers have been fortunate to have Louis Williams on their roster because their young core of players has not lived up to expectations. While Julius Randle has been a bright spot in both the rebounds and shooting percentage, both Russell and Ingram continued their trends of shooting under 40% shooting this season. The poor shooting was made worse with the fact that Phoenix countered with 41 fast-break points and 13 dunks.
The Suns are still last in the Western Conference, but their recent dominance on offense suggests they should pass the Lakers shortly after the All-Star break. The Lakers have scuffled on both sides of the ball, but Phoenix has shown explosiveness of the offensive end, especially from its backcourt. That has proven to be the edge between the Suns’ development process and that of the Lakers.
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