Last season in the NBA bubble, the Phoenix Suns became NBA fans darling, going 8-0 in the bubble, but still missing out on the playoffs. It seems kind of pointless that the NBA even invited them to play in the bubble if a scenario existed where they could win out and still miss the playoffs, but that is neither here nor there.
In this past offseason following their impressive bubble run, the front office could see that the team was one move away from being a serious contender, so they decide to ship off Kelly Oubre and other pieces for Chris Paul. The aging all-star has more than proved that he still has plenty of gas in the tank this season and has been one of, if not the most important player on the Sun’s roster this year. CP3 is averaging 16 points, five rebounds, and nine assists, but if you have ever watched a game Chris Paul has played in, his effect goes far beyond the stat sheet.
CP3’s court vision elevates the entire team, and no one has benefited more from his arrival than Devin Booker. The 24-year-old from Kentucky notched his second All-Star appearance this year and is shooting a career-best from the field. His 26 points per game have led the Suns, and they sit at 38-15 and second place in the Western Conference.
All of this success is coming even after making a massive mistake in the draft this year. Before the Chris Paul trade, the Suns were mocked to take point guards at their number 10 overall selection. Even after the blockbuster, point guard was still their most significant positional need, with their only back-ups being Jevon Carter and Cameron Payne. The pair has been solid and serviceable enough to get the job done. However, at 10, they decided to pick Maryland big man Jalen Smith, who has played only 79 minutes the entire year. At this spot, they passed on Tyrese Haliburton, Cole Anthony, Immanuel Quickley, who are all having great rookie years and would have added even more depth to the Sun’s roster.
Although their draft this year could have gone better, their 2018 draft landed them with one of the most underrated NBA players this season. Mikal Bridges was selected as a 22-year old rookie out of Villanova, a 2-time national champion, and contributed to both teams. He was expected to come into the league and contribute right away since he was a bit older than your typical first-round draft pick. And contribute he did. He was a polished three and d player in his first two seasons with the Suns. This season he has stepped up even further, averaging career highs across the board on 40% shooting from three. This has landed him at 17 on ESPN’s 25 under 25 lists.
Speaking of three and d, the Suns acquired Jae Crowder in free agency. Crowder has been as consistent as they come throughout his career and played a massive role in the Miami Heat’s title run last season. He has picked up right where he left off, averaging 10.3 points per game on almost 40% three-point shooting. His defense is top-notch, and much like Bridges, he knows his role, and when he was a solid team around him, he can raise the floor of any team.
You cannot talk about the Suns without talking about the former number one overall draft pick Deandre Ayton. This pick has been subject to revisionist history since, at one, the Suns could have selected Luka Doncic with the choice. However, Ayton has by no means been a bust and has career averages of 16, 10, and 2 and shoots a respectable 75% from the line. Ayton was born in the wrong era and had he played in the 90’s he would have been in the tier of the greats like Patrick Ewing and Hakeem.
Ayton may be the key to the Sun’s success in the playoffs. Phoenix plays excellent team offense and have the most assists in the league, both total and per game. They love to keep the ball moving to find shooters on the perimeter like Crowder, Bridges, Booker, and Cameron Johnson. Johnson is another shooter that the Suns acquired in the draft, who, like Bridges, was already in his early 20’s at the time he was selected. But in the playoffs, if the Suns happen to go cold from three-point range, what makes me think that they will be successful is the ability to dump the ball inside to Ayton and have him go and get a bucket.
The Suns can beat teams playing any style of basketball. They can get out and run with CP3 leading the break or play methodically in the half-court and let Booker iso or Ayton go 1v1 in the post. I don’t know if the Suns have what it takes to win the title this year, but they have all of the makings of a team who can make a deep playoff run. No big man in the west other than Anthony Davis will be able to take DeAndre Ayton consistently, so I think that the Suns will go as far as the Lakers but eventually fall to LeBron and AD.