On Sunday, Tyler Ulis started March Madness early. When fellow sub-6-foot guard Isaiah Thomas lost the ball in the final seconds, the Phoenix Suns guard recovered it behind the 3-point line. Ulis confidently took one dribble to his right and let it fly near the Suns’ bench. When it dropped through the net, his teammates -- and coach Earl Watson -- mobbed him. 

The bucket gave Ulis a career-high 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting and Phoenix a 109-106 upset victory over the Boston Celtics. When Watson met the media postgame, he started with a statement. 

“Tyler Ulis,” Watson said, via the Arizona Republic’s Doug Haller. “No more questions, thank you for coming,” 

Ulis’ minutes were inconsistent before the All-Star break, but he’s running the second unit now that the Suns have fully committed to playing their young guys for the remainder of the season. Before the switch, they were dead-last in the league in assist ratio, per NBA.com. After it, they’ve been 11th in the league, and it’s no coincidence. Ulis can score, but he’s most concerned with keeping the ball moving and making quick decisions. 

“Any time the ball gets sprayed around like that you see the scoring has become more balanced for us,” Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough said, via the Arizona Republic. “Players run harder in transition, they cut harder off the ball and it just becomes more of a fun environment. Hopefully, we can keep it going over the last 19 games to build on something heading into next season.”

Here’s the best compliment I can give Ulis: Phoenix, one of the more joyless teams in the NBA for much of the season, is suddenly fun again. 

Tyler Ulis, hero
Tyler Ulis is already a fan favorite in Phoenix. USATSI

This week's rankings
Dario Saric Philadelphia PF

Last week: 1

No one has unseated do-it-all forward Dario Saric, who had a career-high eight assists to go with his 19 points and six rebounds against the Pistons on Saturday. The Sixers are obviously not as fun to watch as they were when Joel Embiid is healthy, but Saric did lead them to a victory over the Knicks last Friday, scoring 12 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter. 

Malcolm Brogdon Milwaukee SG

Last week: 2

Jason Kidd told reporters this week that he might be biased, but he believes Malcolm Brogdon should be Rookie of the Year. He doesn’t fit the profile of your typical award winner, but the No. 36 pick in the draft continues to play like a 10-year veteran. Brogdon had a poor shooting night against the Knicks on Wednesday, but he doesn’t let that kind of thing affect the other parts of his game. 

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Tyler Ulis Phoenix PG

Last week: Unranked

He’s not here just because of the Boston game. Ulis has had at least five assists in each of his last five games -- not bad for a reserve -- and the Suns won three of them. I love his knack for making off-balance shots and his ability to get wherever he wants on the floor. 


Last week: 6

Jamal Murray is a dark-horse choice for ROY because he could go on a scoring binge in the final few weeks and it wouldn’t surprise anybody. He had 17 points and five assists in just 24 minutes against the Wizards on Wednesday, and I’d be shocked if he wasn’t the Nuggets’ full-time starting point guard next year.  

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Skal Labissiere Sacramento PF

 Last week: Unranked

It’s a little frustrating that Sacramento didn’t give Skal Labissiere any real minutes earlier on in the season. The best part about the post-DeMarcus Cousins Kings is seeing him and Willie Cauley-Stein show what they can do. The skilled big man has scored 35 points on 15-for-23 shooting in the last three games where he’s played 15 minutes or more. 


Last week: 3

One of the few bright spots in a gloomy Knicks season, Willy Hernangomez is still regularly putting up stat lines like his 13-point, 12-rebound, 6-for-10 performance against the Bucks on Wednesday. He is finding it difficult to stay out of foul trouble, but when he’s on the court, he’s giving New York solid minutes at center. 

Buddy Hield Sacramento SG

Last week: 7

Sacramento has lost six games in a row, but at least Buddy Hield is making the most of his green light. In his last four games, he has averaged 12.8 points on 52.9 percent shooting, including 64.7 percent from deep. He’s good in March.


Last week: Unranked

Yogi Ferrell isn’t stuffing the stat sheet every single night, but he has balanced his scoring instincts with distribution and formed a nice backcourt duo with Seth Curry. The Mavericks have won three games in a row and five of their last six -- if they keep playing like this, Ferrell might be starting in the playoffs next month. 


Last week: 5

Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown made headlines when Stephen Curry taunted him, but his game against the Warriors was probably his least interesting performance in the last little while. Coach Brad Stevens loves to take advantage of his length and quickness in small lineups, and there’s an argument Brown should be higher on this list because of the small amount of rookies contributing to a playoff team.  

Patrick McCaw Golden St. PG

Last week: Unranked

Like Brown, Patrick McCaw is getting a chance to play in games with actual stakes. The Warriors rookie has been thrown into the starting lineup with Kevin Durant injured, and he has made few mistakes in his new role. I wish he was more aggressive, but that will come with time. His nine points, seven rebounds and 3-for-4 shooting from deep were crucial to Golden State’s win in Atlanta on Monday.