Pro Prose: The battle for the West is heating up
The Suns are on fire. The Warriors won’t stop winning. The two best teams in the NBA will put their win streaks on the line when they face off Tuesday in Phoenix.
Both teams have had exceptional starts to their seasons. The Suns have won their last 16 games after starting the season with a 1-3 record. Golden State has lost only two games by a combined score of just 7 points.
The first quarter of the NBA season saw the Suns and Warriors dominate the standings. Golden State leads at 18-2, just a game ahead of Phoenix at 17-3. While the two are in the bottom 10 in strength of schedule according to their RPI ranking, they have shown one of the most important traits a team can have: consistency. The two teams have been beating inferior opponents and fighting to win each game.
Let’s start with Golden State. There is no doubt that Stephen Curry is the primary reason for the Warriors’ success this season. Predictably, Curry has been automatic from behind the 3-point line, shooting 42.3% from three. Curry averages 28.6 points per game, second only to Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant. So far, Curry is the unquestionable MVP of the league.
The looming return of another lethal shooter should have the league worried about how high the Warriors’ ceiling could be. Klay Thompson suffered multiple season-ending injuries in the last two years, tearing his left ACL in the 2019 NBA Finals and his right Achilles in November 2020. It has now been two full seasons since the five-time NBA All-Star has stepped on the court.
Thompson was recently assigned to the Warriors’ G-League affiliate in Santa Cruz, Calif., where he will continue to get in shape for his return to the NBA. Considering that the Warriors are already exceeding expectations, Thompson’s reintroduction could be a nightmare for the rest of the NBA.
The last time both Thompson and Curry played a season together, both stars averaged 21.5 and 27.3 points-per-game, respectively. Curry and Thompson were a lethal duo when healthy. Soon enough, they could be back in action.
Another Warriors veteran has been a big reason for their early success. Draymond Green, who claimed to be the best defensive player of all time back in March, is continuing to make his case this season. His hustle and defensive IQ have put him in the conversation for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award. The Warriors allow a league-best 100.9 points per game.
Meanwhile, Phoenix has been spreading the ball around, with six players averaging double digits in scoring. Led by Devin Booker, who is scoring 23.9 points per game and shooting 41% from three, the Suns are a game away from tying the franchise’s longest win-streak of 17 games.
The Suns’ most recent road trip yielded victories over San Antonio, Cleveland and both New York teams. Booker’s 30 points helped stave off the Nets’ 4th quarter comeback in Brooklyn Saturday.
Booker and Chris Paul’s partnership has worked well thus far. Paul’s pass-first mentality brings out the best in the Suns’ young stars. Paul is ranked first in assists per game with 10.1.
A former Warrior is quietly contributing to the Suns’ success. Center JaVale McGee is having one of his best seasons of his 13-year career. Averaging over 10 points and 7 rebounds while only playing 16 minutes per game, McGee is one of the most efficient players in the game. His player efficiency rating ranks in the top-12 this season, an unlikely feat for a role player.
The matchup between the Suns and Warriors could be the best games of the season so far. The Warriors will look to stifle Booker and Paul but could struggle defending Suns center Deandre Ayton, who is one of Paul’s favorite targets. The Suns will face their toughest opponent yet after a week on the road, and fatigue could play a factor. They will have to rely on their depth to overcome the Warriors’ fast pace of play.
Curry said it himself in a postgame press conference following his game against the Los Angeles Clippers: This game is a test. Buckle up for a high-scoring battle between two teams at the top of their game.
Patrick Warren is a junior providing updates and opinions on all things professional sports. His column “Pro Prose,” ran every other Tuesday.