2021-22 Kia Season Preview

10 key questions: Can Suns make return trip to The Finals?

With a trio of stars leading the way and solid depth, Phoenix isn't likely to backpedal this season.

With a core of Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker, the Suns remain a top-tier squad in the West.

For the next 10 days, we’ll be answering one key question surrounding the 2021-22 NBA season. Here’s question two:

Can the stars align again for the Suns, or is a return trip to The Finals a moon shot?

C’mon, what we saw from Phoenix in the postseason didn’t look like a fluke. The Suns’ 8-0 stretch in the bubble to end the previous season might have seemed fluky, but not their 51-21 record and second-place finish in the West with Chris Paul on board. That looked more like a team coming together faster than expected and, in getting within two victories of a championship, learning a lot in a short amount of time.

Certainly the Suns will have more of a target on their backs and a bunch of Western Conference heavyweights trying to snatch away their future. But that target is moving — getting better, stronger, more confident based on the 2021 playoff run.

Devin Booker had a breakout postseason in his first try, racking up 601 points in 22 playoff games and demonstrating to the NBA world that his numbers aren’t empty calories. The 6-foot-5 wing will be 25 on Oct. 30, and has shown he’s capable of being the best player on a top contender. You know he wants back.

The same goes for Deandre Ayton, who dialed up his game in the playoffs so effectively that more than a few second-guessers of his 2018 No. 1 pick status (over Luka Doncic and Trae Young) have done that Homer-Simpson-recedes-into-the-bushes thing. Ayton’s confidence should be at its peak, and his rapport with coach Monty Williams should keep it there.

Paul has finished in the Top 5 in Kia MVP voting the last two seasons and is the league’s ultimate game-controller, even at 36. The Suns’ cohesiveness is unsurpassed, they gained invaluable experience and now have added helpful parts such as JaVale McGee, Landry Shamet and Elfrid Payton. None of that suggests backpedaling.

Other questions: 

Which team is poised for a breakout season?
Which second-year players will flourish?
• Can Hawks build on their playoff success?
• How can Zion improve his game next season?
• How will Kidd help Doncic in Dallas?
• Will experience push Lakers to top of West?
• Are the Nets clearly the team to beat?
How can Lowry help the Heat?
• What will be the Bucks’ biggest challenge?

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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