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Phoenix Suns: They’re for Real and Soon the NBA Will Notice

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | I think we can all agree that some of the early success in the NBA can be disregarded.

Are the Philadelphia 76ers going to be near the top of the Atlantic Division? No. Should the Charlotte Bobcats book their playoff trip now? No.

The Phoenix Suns, on the other hand, are in a different spot. They're showing all the signs of being a team that will continue to develop and grow. This 3-2 start, which some would say is a fluke? It (and the team) is for real.

ACTUAL COACHING (WITH ADJUSTMENTS AND EVERYTHING!)

Aside from the financial aspect and the players having some rest, what good is halftime to an NBA team? It's an opportunity for coaches to sit back and assess what they've seen from their team and their opponent.

The idea is, the better coaches in the league make those adjustments at halftime and see better results. The better the job the coaches do in their matchups and adjustments, the better the team should fare.

The Alvin Gentry- and Lindsey Hunter-led Suns team from 2012-13 routinely got routed in the third quarter. On average, they scored just 23.3 points per third quarter, shot just 43.8 percent and were outscored by an average of 1.9 points.

The 2013-14 team has reversed that trend in a big way. The Jeff Hornacek-led Suns score 26.6 points per third quarter, shoot 49.5 percent from the field and outscore opponents by an average of 5.0 points. A lot of that can be attributed to those adjustments.

FINISHING DEFENSIVE POSSESSIONS

It's pretty simple on paper -- the defense either gets scored upon, forces a turnover, gets called for a foul or gets the defensive rebound. You can play suffocating defense, but, if you give up offensive rebounds like there's five Charles Barkleys on the other side, you'll be a failure.

The Suns are by no means a dominant defensive team, but they're much better than advertised and are trending in the right direction. Since 2000-01, the best a Suns defense has done was in 2000-01, when they held opponents to 43.5 percent shooting. This year's team is holding opponents to just 42.3 percent.

Opponents are rebounding at the lowest total (42.4) in four years. The Suns are forcing the most turnovers (15.6) since the 2003-04 team (15.9). Lastly, the speed and rotations of the defense has made it difficult to get clean looks from the perimeter, as teams are shooting just 32.6 percent from three (best in 10 years) against the Suns.

IT'S ONLY FIVE GAMES, RIGHT?

For the naysayers out there, yes, the sample size is very small. But, there's a lot of reasons to be optimistic. The Suns have been in every single game they've played. Last season, it felt like the Suns were down 20 at some point in every game.

The loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder was the result of sloppy play down the stretch by a young team. The loss to the San Antonio Spurs came in the last minute of the game. These are good teams that the Suns are playing down to the wire on the road. Don't overlook the win over the New Orleans Pelicans, who proceeded to rout the Memphis Grizzlies in their next game.

The Suns are for real. They have a lot of room to grow and mature and they're being coached by a guy who will garner a lot of Coach of the Year votes when the season finishes. He's taken a team expected to win 15-20 games and has turned them into a playoff threat.

Michael Dunlap is the author of the "Daily NBA Fix," an all-encompassing daily column that covers the NBA. He is an NBA credentialed writer who is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief for the NBA site HoopsHabit.com. He also covers high school sports for The Arizona Republic.

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