Overview of their 2021-2022 season
Last season was a dream season for the Phoenix Suns. They were an absolute juggernaut. Offensively, they were a well-oiled machine that finished with the fifth best Offensive Rating in the league. Defensively, they bought into Coach Monty Williams’ philosophy and played as one solid unit that was good enough to finish in the top three of defenses in the NBA. They had a supreme shot-maker in Devin Booker, a lockdown defender in Mikal Bridges, and a tank in DeAndre Ayton. When things got dicey, the maestro Chris Paul almost always bailed them out.
They racked up wins and individual awards in the regular season. But things were different in the playoffs. The breaks that they got in their 82-game conquest of the league didn’t go their way in the postseason. Booker injured his hamstring in the first round and sat out some games. Paul, who was healthy for most of the regular season, was also dealing with a quad injury in the playoffs.
After having all the answers in the regular season, the Suns just couldn’t solve the riddle of the Luka Doncic-led Mavericks in the second round which led to their surprising elimination.
What’s new this season?
Nothing much. They’re actually losing a key player in Jae Crowder who publicly requested a trade from the Suns. While the issue between Ayton and Coach Williams has been smoothed over, the strain in their relationship can’t be denied. Then there’s CP3 who’s actually turning CP38 this season.
The Suns are banking on their current core to continue to dominate the league like they did last season. That’s actually a troubling sign. While Phoenix stood pat, teams around them reloaded with shiny new weapons. So while continuity is the name of the game for the Suns, the rest of the league has gotten better.
The only way for Phoenix to keep in step with their fellow contenders is to improve internally. That has to begin with their best player, Booker.
He actually took a massive step forward last season. While the improvements in his stats have been incremental, how he led the team the whole of last season was impressive. He was the steadying force of the Suns, especially when their roster was riddled with injuries. Because he filled a lot of holes, Phoenix was able to stay at the top of the standings even with players in and out of the rotation.
Last season he was already a top five MVP candidate. This season, Booker has to even be better. He has to elevate his game into the stratosphere that fellow young stars Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Nikola Jokic are in. He can’t just be in the MVP conversation. He has to be leading it, if Phoenix wants to stay on top.
Sneaky fun guy
With Crowder on his way out, there’s an opening for the starting power forward position that he’s leaving behind. The player that takes that role has to be able to stretch the floor like Crowder did. More importantly, he also has to be able to defend all kinds of players, from post beasts to shifty wings.
Right now, there’s only one player on the team that fits the bill: Cameron Johnson. Johnson is actually a better shooter than Crowder. He ranks second on the team in terms of 3-point percentage and 3-pointers made per game.
What limited Johnson from overtaking Crowder last season was his versatility on defense. At 6’8” with a 6’10” wingspan, he has the length and athleticism to defend all kinds of players. What he needs is that dog in him that Crowder had. If he can show Coach Williams consistent effort in staying in between his man and the basket, then the starting four position is his to lose.
Are the Suns the best team in the league heading into the new season? Nope. Can they win 64 games once again? Probably not. But, do they need to dominate the regular season to win a championship? No.
Phoenix doesn’t need to be the same regular season destroyers that they were last season. They just need to continue to be a consistent, efficient team that plays hard on both ends of the floor. Something that they’ve already proven through 82 games last season. That’s enough to get them into the upper half of the playoff bracket.
Then the real work begins. They need to prove to the rest of the league that they’re not just a regular season team. They need to show everyone that continuity works. They need to dismiss all the talk that last season’s team was a fluke. The real test for the Suns starts after the first 82 games.