In Phoenix, he is called "Sweet D" and how sweet it's been for the hometown Suns since Walter Davis arrived.

Davis is the major reason the Suns have been transformed from a 34-48 club in 1976-77 to a 29-15 outfit that now ranks only behind Portland as the team with the NBA's best record.

Because Phoenix is in the same division as the Trail Blazers, the Suns have little hope of winning the divisional title. And Portland's sensational start has managed to overshadow, for the most part, what Phoenix has been able to accomplish halfway through the schedule.

But there is no doubt in the land of sunshine that Davis deserves not only to be named rookie of the year but that he also should get serious mention in voting for the league's most valuable player, along with teammate Paul Westphal, who may be the NBA's most complete guard.

"Walter's been the key to what we've been able to do," said coach John MacLeod. "He's come here and played like a seasoned pro from the start."

The irony here is that the Suns were going to pick Greg Ballard on the opening round of the draft, but the Bullets took him first. The club officially now says it was undecided as to whom it was going to select, but team sources say there is no doubt Ballard was the No. 1 man going into the draft.

Indeed, when the Bullets picked Ballard one selected ahead of the Suns, the crowd that had gathered at a downtown Phoenix hotel to listen to the draft groaned. And when Davis was chosen, there was only scattered applause.

Ballard, the talented forward from Oregon, has had little opportunity to play for the Bullets, but Davis took over the small-forward spot with Phoenix early in training camp and has played the most time of all the Suns.

Last year, when the Suns nose dived so dramatically after going to the NBA final in 1975-76, they were receiving only sporadic play from small forwards Curtis Perry and Tom Van Arsdale.

But Davis has been marvelously consistent. Averaging 23 points a game, he has led the team in scoring 16 times this year, hit a season-high 40 points against Boston and is shooting 52 percent from the floor and 82 per cent from the foul line.

He also has given Phoenix needed quickness on its breakand better forward defense. He's taken a lot of the scoring burden off the shoulders of Westphal and center Alvan Adams. He has fit in so well that when Adams recently missed 12 games with tonsillitis, the Suns still managed to win eight times.

"It's helped that we play almost the same kind of system as at North Carolina," said Davis. "The same type of defense - overplaying and helping out. And almost the same offense - a passing game, lot of picks and having a couple of plays where each player can go one-on-one."

Yet it seemed that the North Carolina system inhibited Davis and never fully let him display his talents. At Phoenix, he has had no such problems.

Toss in the fine play of guard Don Buse, who was obtained from Indiana in a trade for Ricky Sobers, and the development of reserve guard Ron Lee and the Suns rank among the most versatile of NBA clubs.

They rely on finesse rather than quickness, and the lack of a top-quality big forward, a position manned mainly by Gar Heard, could prove fatal in the playoffs. But they are perhaps the NBA's most relentless defensive club (they lead the league in steals with Buse, Lee and Westphal all in the top 10) and can go at least three men deep into their bench without a dropoff in talent.

"We've got a lot of quickness and I think we play well as a team," said MacLeod. "I also think we can get better. We are trying to use a lot of players so injuries won't hurt us that much."

It also helps that they have tremendous firepower, complimented by MacLeod's passing offense. The Suns' improvement, along with the presence of Denver and Portland in the Western Conference, should mean some wonderful matchups for Sun fans come playoff time.