The Phoenix Suns were halfway to the franchise’s first championship last summer…until they weren’t. A 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals gave way to misery against the Bucks, but if nothing else, the lessons learned from the journey should aid the Suns going forward, starting this season.
The Suns didn’t need a roster tinkering in the offseason, which says plenty about their makeup and ability to make a return trip to the championship round. The “run-it-back” approach makes sense once you consider the backcourt of Chris Paul and Devin Booker, the rise of Deandre Ayton and the surplus of supporting help that has room for growth. In that sense, the Suns have an ideal balance of youth and vets and — in the case of Booker and Paul — a pair of stars who can lead by example and show the way.
Coach Monty Williams connects well with this crew and therefore the Suns should make it through the regular season in fine form, assuming there are no injuries. Phoenix is under the belief that it has staying power beyond last season’s terrific run, and it’s hard to argue with that.
The Suns are clearly among the elite in the NBA, but where exactly? Their presence in the NBA Finals was deserved, yet they did have good fortune as well given the major injuries suffered by all of their playoff opponents and none by them. This season will be a tougher test, with the contenders in a handful of Western Conference towns who believe their chances are as good, if not better, than the Suns provided health is on their side this time.
Nobody will be surprised if the Suns boomerang back to the NBA Finals. Phoenix doesn’t have any glaring weakness and is a much wiser and experienced team now. There’s also the anticipation that Ayton, flushed with confidence, will make folks once and for all forget he was drafted ahead of Luka Doncic. He and Booker are poised to take the baton from Paul and run with it. Predicted Finish: 55-27.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Chris Paul: Coming off an MVP-caliber season, Paul continues to play at a high level at an advanced age, and the Suns believe he’ll keep the pace.
Devin Booker: The club’s leading scorer, he took a star turn in his first postseason and his ceiling as a player keeps getting raised.
Jae Crowder: He’s a defender who can check bigger players and floor-spacing 3-point threat who gets open looks because of Paul and Booker.
Mikal Bridges: The Suns are pleased with his development over the last three seasons and look for continued improvement by the athletic swingman.
Deandre Ayton: He took a big enough leap last season to move into the top collection of NBA centers and is just touching his potential.
Cameron Johnson: His confidence and ability just keeps growing, and he’ll always have that jaw-dropping dunk over PJ Tucker in The Finals.
Cameron Payne: Roughly a year ago he was playing in China. Last season he played his way into a three-year contract extension as backup to Paul.
Dario Saric: He suffered a knee injury during the NBA Finals and might not be fully recovered until the All-Star break; for insurance the Suns signed JaVale McGee.
Landry Shamet: He brings added shooting to the Suns and should play his way into the rotation after a solid stint with Brooklyn.
LAST 5 SEASONS
How the Suns have fared stats-wise over the last 5 seasons …
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
STAT TO KNOW
— John Schuhmann
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