The Phoenix Suns aren't sneaking up on anyone anymore.
They aren't favorites to come out of the West, but a 32-8 record since the start of February - including a 4-0 record against the Jazzand Lakers - has forced the league to recognize them as legitimate contenders.
Considering this is a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs in nearly a dozen years, this is a remarkably well put together roster. Chris Paul is a lock for an All-NBA spot and Devin Booker may not be far behind him. Jae Crowder, Cam Johnson and (future 3-and-D superstar) Mikal Bridges make up a perfect wing trio. That rotation screams title contender. The questions only arise when examining the final piece.
Deandre Ayton will be the key to Phoenix's title contention and, going a step further, he might be the biggest swing player in the entire Western Conference.
Ayton's perception around the league can vary wildly depending on who you ask. Statistically, he looks like he's regressing. His scoring is down, he's grabbing fewer rebounds and he's blocking fewer shots; but that dip hasn't been commensurate with a decrease in quality.
This is a Chris Paul team now and Chris Paul teams play at Chris Paul's pace. The Suns were the 10th-fastest team in the league a year ago and are now the sixth-slowest. The previous version was never quite seven seconds or less but the half-court nature of this year's team has forced Ayton to become more economical with his offensive game.