Moore: 3 Reasons to Bet the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns.
The Phoenix Suns deserve their moment in the su … er … spotlight.
They have the 12th-most wins in NBA history despite the franchise beginning in 1968. Since ’68, they have the sixth-most wins of all NBA teams (playoffs and regular season). They have nine conference finals appearances, and are tied with the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets for conference finals games played.
Yet for all this, no titles.
Four more wins. That’s all it takes.
For bettors with a lean towards the Suns, looking for reasons why Phoenix will secure their first franchise championship, here is why the Phoenix will shine brightest in the Finals.
THE SUNS’ ORBIT
For as much as opponent injuries have dominated the conversation about the Suns’ playoff run this postseason, there were clear signs on their season resume if you looked for them.
The Suns went 17-7 vs. teams with a top-10 point differential, per Cleaning the Glass. That 70% win percentage was the best in the NBA vs. such teams. They were also a league-best 6-2 vs. teams that were top-10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They were literally the best team vs. the best teams.
The Suns finished with the most road wins in the league. The team that has done so has won the title in eight of the past 13 seasons.
They're the team that won the most road wins.
That team is 8 for the last 13 years in hanging a banner
and currently 10 for the last 14 years of making Finals. pic.twitter.com/alALVgvTs4
— StrictlyDataScience (@DataStrictly) July 5, 2021
They unsurprisingly have the best point differential of any team left in the playoffs, and haven’t gone seven games yet.
Most importantly, the Suns are balanced. They don’t suffer the same lows that the Bucks do, and they can generate as many highs. The Suns’ best offensive rating in the playoffs is better than the Bucks’ best offensive rating in these playoffs, and their worst defensive rating is better than Milwaukee’s worst.
Their highs are higher than the Bucks’ weakness (offense) and their lows are higher than Milwaukee’s strength (defense).
So if you don’t want to get into the matchup, you can look at the overall resume of the two teams, and come out with the conclusion that the Suns are just better.
THE MATCHUP: MORE THAN ONE WAY TO NAB A BUCK
At a base level, the Suns have tough shot makers, defensive versatility (to a degree), and are high-efficiency with low mistakes.
This is a matchup of the two teams with the lowest opponent field goal percentage at the rim in the playoffs. The Suns have the size with Deandre Ayton to combat the Bucks at the rim, and the perimeter defenders to stymie and limit drives.
The Suns have the athleticism on the perimeter to “build the wall” vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo (if he plays). Ayton held Antetokounmpo to 10-of-24 shooting in the regular season according to NBA.com’s admittedly wonky matchup data.
Meanwhile, the Suns have also held opponents to just 33% shooting on jumpshots in the playoffs, the best mark for any defense in the postseason. The Bucks’ defense is also great and will contain the Suns’ offense — this should be a frustrating, difficult series for both offenses — but the Suns have better tough shot makers.
The Suns have the top three players in the series in eFG% on contested pull-up jumpers in the playoffs, and Booker is the best among them. This series may come down to that; the fact that the Suns have Booker, Chris Paul, and Cameron Payne and the Bucks have a more system-led offense.
A shootout favors the Suns while a slugfest favors the Bucks, but the Suns are comfortable in those settings as well. They can manage a slugfest because they have the players to make the tough shots.
The Suns have size to throw at the Brook Lopez lineups with Ayton, while still having Jae Crowder to match up with Antetokounmpo, or switch those assignments. They have Mikal Bridges to make things difficult on Khris Middleton.
When the Bucks try and go small, especially before Antetokounmpo is back (if he doesn’t play to start the series), the Suns can counter with their lineup that has Dario Saric at the 5. Even when Giannis returns, Crowder can guard Giannis (with help) while Saric defends PJ Tucker in the corner. The Suns’ small-ball lineup is better offensively than what the Bucks have at their disposal.
The Suns aren’t just shooting better on contested jumpers than the Bucks, they’re shooting better on catch-and-shoot opportunities as well, 39% to 36%.
The paths to Suns wins, game by game, in this series are more varied than Milwaukee’s. Phoenix can grind out a win in a low-scoring game like in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals. They can in high-octane games like Suns-Clippers Game 1 when both teams had Offensive Ratings above 120.
ABLE BODIES, WILLING SPIRIT
And, of course, very obviously, the Suns are healthier. They’ve been healthier the whole season. They had the scare with Paul’s shoulder, which resolved itself, then another scare with Paul’s positive COVID test. The Bucks, on the other hand, are missing Donte DiVincenzo, who had the best on-court Net Rating of any player on the Bucks in the regular season matchups.
But the big story, obviously, is Antetokounmpo.
Yahoo’s Chris Haynes reported before Bucks-Hawks Game 6 that if the series had gone 7, Antetokounmpo was a “maybe” for Game 7, which would have been Monday. That of course opens up hope for him early in this series, if not Game 1.
However, with a new series, that gives the Bucks the opportunity to wait until he’s in a better place. Try and take one of the first two games without Giannis and then, if you fail, make the stand at home. Antetokounmpo may also get upgraded to questionable but ultimately be unable to go based off what his comfort level is on the leg.
A scary thought for the Bucks: Antetokounmpo is not a player who can rely on his skill. He needs his athleticism to power through for scoring and to put his impact on the defensive end. If Antetokounmpo is less than 100%, the Suns don’t have to worry about his ability to dominate matchups and force adjustments.
All of this comes with a gigantic knocking on wood, of course. We’ve lost key players in each round of the playoffs; why would that stop now?
FINDING VALUE UNDER THE SUN
Just taking the Suns to win the series seems simple enough if you started with a prior that the Suns would win and factoring what we’ve gone over above.
The issue of course is where the series is handicapped. Phoenix was -160 on Saturday night and are now -190 at BetMGM. After removing the juice the Suns’ implied probability is 62.55%. That’s below the actual line (-190) implied probability of 65%.
That’s still a little high. I think anything above -150 is a bad price on the Suns.
Even if we assume the Suns have the edge in the matchup, it won’t be a short series (barring another injury, which at this point, feels entirely possible). Suns in 6 and Suns in 7 are both +400 or better at various books.
You can get Suns in 6 or Suns in 7 at BetMGM at +150. That gets you a plus number for two outcomes that builds in two wins for the Bucks at some point in the series.
Suns to win Game 1 and win the series is -110, and that gets you better value, especially given the uncertainty of Antetokounmpo’s situation.
If you want to lay the -190, you wouldn’t be on the wrong side, but you’d be paying too much, even with as many reasons to side with the Suns as we’ve found.