Surprising Suns provide an example of what Chicago Bulls are missing

  • Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) drives as Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019, in Phoenix. The Jazz won 96-95.

    Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) drives as Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019, in Phoenix. The Jazz won 96-95.

Updated 10/31/2019 7:29 PM

Between the end of the Chicago Bulls' loss Wednesday in Cleveland and the final out of the World Series, a couple of NBA stories generated some buzz.

One was Houston's 159-158 no-overtime victory at Washington. It was the second time in NBA history a team scored 158 points in regulation time and lost.


The other notable score was Phoenix jumping to a 43-14 lead at Golden State by the end of the first quarter. That game became notable later for Warriors star Steph Curry suffering a broken left hand during a hard fall to the court.

Curry's injury doesn't hide the fact that Phoenix might be the most surprising team in the league. The Suns are 3-2, with victories over the Clippers and Warriors. The 2 losses both were by 1 point, to Denver and Utah.

Before the season, Phoenix was generally picked to finish 14th in the West, ahead of Memphis, and had a projected win total below the Bulls.

Obviously, it's early in the season and plenty could still happen, but it's worth asking: What are the Suns doing right that the Bulls are not?

Few teams have botched as many top-10 draft picks as Phoenix in the past decade. The list includes Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Alex Len. None of those players are still with the Suns.

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Considering second-year center DeAndre Ayton is serving a 25-game suspension for violating the league's anti-drug policy, the only Suns draft pick making a major contribution right now is top scorer Devin Booker, the No. 13 overall pick in 2015.

Phoenix made a good trade last year to acquire Kelly Oubre from Washington, which gave the Suns a young nucleus of Booker, Ayton and Oubre to build around.

Is that better than the Bulls' nucleus of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Coby White? At the moment, yes, mostly because Oubre, in his fifth season, is well ahead of White in NBA experience.

There's an important ingredient Phoenix has right now that the Bulls don't. They're able to pair their younger guys with veterans on the court.


The Bulls' primary veteran addition, Thaddeus Young, usually doesn't play with the starters, although coach Jim Boylen has tried to make it happen on occasion.

Like the Bulls, the Suns added vets over the summer. They signed free-agent point guard Ricky Rubio, 29, and he still can't shoot, but he might be having a greater impact than most people imagined.

Another addition to the starting lineup is power forward Dario Saric, acquired in a draft-night trade from Minnesota. The Ayton replacement at center is Aron Baynes, who may be a journeyman, but he's played in 54 playoff games and won a title with Boylen and the 2014 Spurs.

And it's worth noting the Suns signed a couple of suburban natives in the off-season who are helping off the bench -- Benet Academy's Frank Kaminsky and former Proviso East point guard Jevon Carter.

In April, Phoenix hired James Jones -- the guy who spent most of his career as LeBron James' personal 3-point shooter -- as general manager. He moved on from coach Igor Kokoskov and hired Monty Williams, who has previous head-coaching experience. He was the guy New Orleans hired in 2010 after Tom Thibodeau turned down the job to join the Bulls.

For a young team going in the wrong direction, look no further than Sacramento. The Kings are 0-5 with a pair of 30-point losses, so things could always be worse.

The Bulls could easily be 4-1 right now but have had 3 competitive losses to relatively weak teams. Ideally, the Bulls would want to let LaVine serve an apprenticeship, where he actually plays next to an established veteran who can help teach him winning habits.

That will be tough to pull off, though, since there has been no evidence Otto Porter Jr. is a guy who can fill that role.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls


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