Championship or Bust
The 2021-2022 season marked a redemption tour for the Phoenix Suns. After making an unexpected NBA Finals appearance, the 2020-2021 season put the Suns firmly in the conversation as contenders. Losing in the NBA Finals prompted a hot start for the organization, as the club took yet another step forward by winning an NBA-high 64 games. Phoenix’s rise came to an abrupt halt in the second round of the playoffs, losing to the underdog Mavericks in seven games.
Despite all the contract drama with Deandre Ayton and the potential acquisition of Kevin Durant, the Suns were able to keep their core intact while adding more bench depth at every position. Signing MVP candidate Devin Booker to a supermax extension was a no brainer. It’s time for the Suns to make that Finals push, knowing that most of their depth is set to hit the open market after the 2022-2023 season. This season is considered a “Championship or Bust.”
For years, Hall of Fame point guard Chris Paul had a reputation as the type of star who steps up during must-win games. His struggles scoring the basketball proved to be detrimental to Phoenix’s success. Chris Paul posted career lows in scoring, failing to score more than 13 points in the last five games of the Mavericks series. Paul did lead the league in assists, making it known that he still is the “Point God.” Paul has no real weakness on the floor besides age.
Entering his 18th season, one can only wonder how much Chris Paul has left in the tank. The Suns don’t expect Paul to be the same player he once was. They do expect him to show up when it counts. Cameron Payne enters the 2022-2023 season as the backup point guard, proving to be a microwave off the bench. The Suns may look to bring on another point guard if Payne isn’t more efficient scoring the basketball.
The Suns arguably have the best shooting guard in basketball with Devin Booker. After finishing 4th in MVP voting, the 26-year-old star has only gotten better each year with CP3 in the backcourt, proving that Booker has yet to scratch the surface on what he can do in this league.
In Booker the Suns clearly have a number one option on a championship team, earning him a four-year, $214 million supermax. 3-point specialist Landry Shamet returns to the Suns alongside newly signed NBA Champion Damion Lee. Lee provides the Suns with much needed championship experience after losing Javale Mcgee to free agency. Both should receive minutes at the backup shooting guard position, knowing that both are able to stretch the floor at a high percentage.
Kevin Durant threw a wrench into the Suns’ plans hours before free agency, requesting a trade and listing the Suns’ as one of his preferred destinations. With Ayton signing the max, a trade between the Suns and Nets seems very unlikely, with Brooklyn wanting Devin Booker in any deal for Durant. Mikal Bridges, who was also mentioned in trade talks for Durant, is one of the top 3-and-d players in the league and is certainly a star in his role.
Mikal is finally recognized as not only a 3-and-d guy, but one of the top defenders in the league, earning him NBA All Defensive First Team last season. The Suns hope that Bridges is able to continue to up his scoring. Newly signed Josh Okogie is bound for a breakout season, with the help of defensive minded coach Monty Williams. With a 7-foot wingspan at 6-4, Okogie will have the chance to learn from other smart, veteran, 3-and-d players in hopes of taking his game to the next level. At 24 years old, Okogie has a chance to cement himself in this league if he is able to raise his 3-point percentage.
Jae Crowder, Cameron Johnson, and Torrey Craig are all expected to hit the free agent market after the 2022-2023 season. This may be the last real push for this current roster, knowing that all three players’ services are needed around the league. Jae Crowder is a hard-nosed, 3-and-d veteran who brings a certain toughness and attitude every night. Jae Crowder’s name has been involved in plenty of trade rumors, due to the importance of veteran leadership in today’s game.
Cameron Johnson continues to grow as a 3-point specialist, upping his 3-point percentage to 43% last season. Johnson must be able to create offense for himself as Phoenix lacks a real scoring punch off the bench. Torrey Craig is another 3-and-d forward with size. Craig, Johnson, and Crowder should all crack the rotation and provide the Suns with valuable minutes.
Deandre Ayton is one of the most skilled big men in all of basketball, proven by his four-year, $133 max extension. The former No. 1 overall pick became a star during their NBA Finals run with efficient play and excellent defensive prowess. Things didn’t end well for Ayton in the 2022 postseason, only playing 17 minutes in their final game. The young center is a dominant post scorer and is able to score on all three levels, shooting 36.8% from three and 63.4% from the field last season. Chris Paul has elevated Ayton’s pick-and-roll game, making him one of the best pick-and-roll partners in the league.
Ayton must average 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds) in hopes of giving the Suns a chance in a stacked Western Conference. The Suns lost a key bench player in Javale Mcgee. The three-time champion and rim protector received a multi-year deal in Dallas. Bismack Biyombo resigns with the Suns, providing additional veteran leadership and more mobility on the defensive end.
As the Suns continue to position themselves for contention, the biggest critical question remains are more roster upgrades needed to seriously contend for a title, or was this just a bad series from a championship caliber team? And how will Chris Paul’s age and Deandre Ayton productivity factor into the Suns outlook going forward?
With Phoenix losing most of its depth to free agency next year, it seems that this season could be a make it or break it type year. Devin Booker needs a consistent second scoring option and another shot creator. The Suns have the talent to give Booker what he needs. If Ayton and Bridges are able to alleviate Booker with more offense, the Phoenix Suns are positioned to make it back to the NBA Finals as long as the “Point God” is at the helm.